Of all the tiny towns dotted along the Pacific Highway, the small cane farming village of Harwood is one place that’s determined not to be overlooked.
From the outside, it’s easy to see it as little more than a few rows of houses, a school, a pub and a general store perched on the idyllic edge of the mighty Clarence River.
What you don’t see, until you spend some time here, is that this village of about 300 people is a place steeped in rich history, from its ties to cricket as the proud owners of Australia’s oldest private cricket pitch to its charming antique stores.
Harwood’s story has always been heavily intertwined with the Clarence River. Imagine, if you can, sugar cane is cut by hand and tugged to the mill via the river in 1875.
In 1908, an average Saturday meant the old steam ferry (brought to Harwood in 1885) carried 176 foot passengers, 31 bicycles, 130 horses, 16 buggies, 71 sulkies, 6 wagons, 15 horses and 152 head of cattle, across the river.
As motor traffic developed after 1910, the Harwood punt became ever more important, because it carried traffic on what was slowly becoming the main road from Grafton to Lismore, and later, from Sydney to Brisbane.
When the first Harwood Bridge was built in 1966, it too became a dominant feature of the town.
Today, with a new, multi-million-dollar bridge quickly taking form in the village’s backyard, alongside the first, the locals are looking for even more ways to capitalise on their charm.
Well, we think it’s already a pretty charming place.
The Harwood Hotel
Harwood Hotel owners Mike and Cheryl Smith know it’s the atmosphere and larger-than-life characters, not the fittings, that keep locals and visitors coming back each week.
“Everybody on this side of the river comes here because this is their local,” Mike quips.
“It’s the local for the locals.”
The hotel is not only the hub of the region when you’re in need of a good feed or an ice-cold beer – it is also the centre of local fundraising efforts through its Friday raffles, and – in true country style – it becomes the go-to place during a flood.
After the 2009 flood, the locals rallied together to raise funds for a flood boat to enable the pub to get emergency supplies to the isolated and the elderly.
“We really want to promote the river culture and get that going again,” Mike adds.
“Originally Harwood had four pubs and a brothel, it was a big place. There were ships coming up and down the river and pulling in – big steam ships that would go all the way to Grafton.
“The new bridge gives us some good opportunities if we can get people coming off the highway. Instead of stopping at a service centre they stop at a little town, where they can get a feed, go to the general store and wander through the antique stores.”
The Harwood Hotel has two self-contained units available for nightly, weekly or longer-term stays. Each unit can accommodate up to four people. To check availability, phone 6646 4223
Harwood Farm Store
As it suggests on the label, the Harwood Farm Store is the place to go for all things agricultural. But for outsiders, the biggest draw card is perhaps the iconic mural emblazoned across the front of the building. If you do enter, be warned – you might leave with a kilo of fresh local honey and a couple of chickens.
Sharon Holloway, who’s owned and run the store for the past four years, said she and her husband had always seen themselves running a country store. Then they stumbled on Harwood.
“It’s nice to have the luxury of being on the river, close to the ocean, and still on acreage,” she says.
“You feel like you’re in the country; it’s not really. You get the best of both worlds.”
Being the agricultural hub of the area also means visitors who are happy to stop for a chinwag – everyone from hobby farmers to the local cane producers and cattle farmers.
“Everyone here is super supportive; we’ll sit out the front and have a good old chat. That’s really important, we’re very lucky,” Sharon says.
Ever wondered where the sugar in your Tim Tams comes from? There’s a good chance this is it. Harwood’s biggest employer, the sugar mill really is the lifeblood of the town. Here’s a few sweet facts: beginning operations in 1874, it’s the oldest sugar cane crushing mill still operating in Australia, and supplies nearly 20% of sugar to the domestic market. The first crop was 25,550 ton of cane and the crushing rate was 10 ton per hour. Nowadays, the crushing rate is closer to 210 tonnes an hour. Another little-known fact, perhaps a more palatable one, is that in 1883, the Harwood CSR Company produced 3000 gallons of rum per week.
If you’re a fan of cricket, you’ll definitely find something to chat to the locals about at the pub here – in fact, Harwood’s cricket ground on Mill Rd is one of the oldest privately-owned pitches in Australia. Its grandstand is even heritage-listed. Today, the local Harwood Cricket Club fields a premier league team, from first grace to several Under 14 and Under 12 teams. If you see the cricket whites out on the field, they’re worth a sticky-beak.
Get on the water
Explore Harwood from the beautiful Clarence River by jumping aboard the Harwood Island Cruise.
The ferry departs every Wednesday and Friday from Yamba at 11am, returning 3pm, and from Iluka at 11.45am, returning 2.30pm. Refreshments are available, with a fully licensed bar on board.
Enquiries: 0408 664 556, bookings recommended