The Coffs Coast is a place of epic natural beauty, but look a little closer and you’ll discover a rich tapestry of art, history and culture.
Australia’s major cities might be known as culture capitals, but there’s an incredible legacy of creativity and storytelling in this coastal paradise. It’s everywhere if you know where to look – tucked behind the sparkling sand dunes, in hinterland villages, and hidden down lane-ways so artistically graffitied they could make Melbourne weep.
Nestled in the heart of the city is a contemporary cultural hub – the newly opened Yarrila Place. Named after a Gumbaynggirr word meaning “illuminate, brighten, light up or illustrate”, this state-of-the-art building is home to the Yarrila Arts and Museum (YAM), a dynamic three-level library, City services and plentiful community and creative spaces.
Yarrila Place was designed by homegrown lead architect Matthew Blair and the team at BVN Architecture, weaving together bold shapes and colours that are reminiscent of the many cultural threads that make up this vibrant community. Built around a 150-year-old weeping fig, it is a welcoming and accessible space that celebrates knowledge, arts, heritage, community and creativity.
The building’s signature artwork, let them feel the light is by accomplished Australian artist Emma Coulter. The steel and glass sculpture leaps up walls, illuminating the central atrium with colour, light and energy.
Yarrila’s Arts and Museum, YAM, boasts five exhibition spaces hosting national and local touring exhibitions such as the Archibald Prize and STILL: National Still Life Award. It’s home to a permanent display, Yaamanga Around Here, which explores the history and identity of the Coffs Coast through themes of place, community and belonging, with Gumbaynggirr culture at its heart.
Complete your YAM visit with a journey across Country, following the Gumbaynggirr Art Trail throughout the building – six exceptional artworks that represent each of the six clan groups on Gumbaynggirr country.
Be immersed in rich cultural heritage
Dig into Coffs Harbour’s origins with a visit to the South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic, the most valuable and unique object in YAM’s collection. From 1880 to 1975, the optic shone in New South Wales’ most isolated lighthouse on rocky South Solitary Island, 18 kilometres offshore. A beacon of safety for sailors, it was replaced by an electric light in 1975. This change ended the legacy of lighthouse keeping on the island, and after years of careful storage, the optic has been given a new home in the Jetty Foreshore Precinct where it belongs – in sight of the ocean.
For theatre steeped in history, you can’t miss the Jetty Memorial Theatre. The heritage-listed space has lived many lives – it started in 1928 as a public hall and memorial for World War I soldiers, was a cinema from the 1930s to the 70s, and now, after extensive renovation, shines as a 250-seat contemporary theatre venue. You’ll find local and international theatrical productions and musicians, regular movie screenings, rousing musical theatre and more.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into Indigenous culture, the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Red Rock is home to the Wadjar Art Gallery, showing traditional and contemporary art from regional First Nation artists, as well as a Bush Tucker Cafe and a range of cultural activities. Their Jalumbo Cultural Heritage Keeping Place displays cultural artefacts from over 6,000 years of Gumbaynggirr life on the Mid-North Coast.
Each month the Giingan Gumbaynggirr Cultural Experience celebrates local Aboriginal people, language and culture. The experience takes place at an important cultural site of the Gumbaynggirr people, the stunning location of “Niigi Niigi” (Sealy Lookout) within the Orara East State Forest. Guests bask in the ambience of 360-degree views and immerse in the culture through stories, songs, language and bush foods.
And don’t forget the Sikh Heritage Museum in Woolgoolga – a visually rich space devoted to showcasing and preserving the traditional and religious life of the Sikh people in Australia and beyond. The Sikh people have long been part of Coffs Coast’s history, with Woolgoolga home to the largest regional Sikh/Punjabi population in Australia.
Marvel at exceptional art
Long have artists been drawn to the Coffs Coast’s unique landscape – marvelling in the magic where the mountains meet the sea. This attraction means art aficionados can take their pick from numerous local galleries. From the National Cartoon Gallery housed in an underground WWII bunker to the bright and bold Jeffrey Baker Art studio and gallery perched amongst the boats on the marina. You can head north or south to the region’s beautiful seaside villages to find the Sawtell Art Gallery or the Woolgoolga Art Gallery… both showcasing local talent.
Or, for something different, discover Coffs’ street art with Bite Food & Art Tours. It’s an exploration of the city centre, from laneways to YAM and the unique 2D Coffee House, handpainted by a local tattoo artist.
And if you’re after a holiday souvenir with meaning, there’s regularly changing art and craftwork from local makers, growers and artisans for sale at Kaleidoscope, a one-of-a-kind retail store in Coffs City Centre. You’ll be delighted by the selection of unique, handmade pieces… take a little bit of the Coffs Coast home with you!
Story by Julia Greacen