The Yaegl and Bundjalung people are the traditional custodians of the coastal areas around Yamba, Iluka and Maclean. The ancestors of the present day Yaegl people lived around the mouth of the Clarence River and spoke Yaygirr which was closely related to Gumbaynggirr. There is evidence the Yaygirr had permanent settlements and a developed material culture. Matthew Flinders (1799) described large bark huts with rounded passageway entrances to protect dwellers from wind and rain. Similarly Captain Perry (1839) described canoes of a superior construction. (See Eleanor H McSwan’s ‘A history of Yamba and Iluka’)
In 1799 Matthew Flinders landed on the present southern headland at Yamba. He’d been despatched from Sydney to find a new Eden, but from his vantage point atop a craggy promontory, now Pilot Head, he dismissed the turbulent estuary as dangerous and unworthy of further examination, and then sailed away. In the 1830s, timber harvesting commenced. In 1861, the townsite was surveyed, and by October 1862 construction of the breakwater Clarence River Heads Post Office was completed. Originally named Shoal Bay in 1885, it was renamed Yamba with a population of approx 340.
In 1908 the Yamba Surf Lifesaving Club was formed and is one of the oldest surf clubs in the world. Yamba began to develop as a tourist destination in the 1930s following the arrival of the railway line at nearby Grafton. Guesthouses were replaced by motels and holiday apartments following the sealing of the main road in 1958, with visitors now able to use bridges rather than punts and ferries.
Fishing and oyster industries were established in the 1880s, with prawn trawling pioneered in the 1940s. Sugar cane farming is now the major cropping industry in the region following full mechanisation of the cane cutting process in 1978. Riverboats and steamers that plied between Grafton and Sydney were gradually replaced by rail and better road connections from the 1970s.
There are two theories as to the meaning of Yamba, one being that it is the local Aboriginal word for “headland”. However, J.S. Ryan, following R.L. Dawson’s early Recollections and Records of the Clarence Aborigines, believes the most likely derivation is an Aboriginal word yumbah meaning a rough edible shellfish the size of a man’s hand that clings to rocks and is similar to an oyster.
Since 1 December 2011, the Port of Yamba has been managed by the Sydney Ports Corporation, which on 1 July 2014 became the Port Authority of New South Wales, a corporation owned by the Government of New South Wales. The major export from the port is timber. There are regular general cargo services from Yamba to Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and New Zealand.
In year ended 30 June 2012, the port handled approximately 6,000 tonnes (5,900 long tons) of cargo and vessels up to 120 metres (390 ft) in length. In addition to the Port wharf, Yamba has privately owned slipway and repair wharves.
Yamba is surrounded by Yuraygir National Park, the Clarence River, Pacific Ocean and rural land. The town is within reach of Ballina, Lismore and Grafton. Yamba is only an hour and a half drive from Lennox Head, two hours from Coffs Harbour and three hours to the Gold Coast and four hours from Brisbane. It is also a two-hour flight from Sydney.
Yamba is a 7hr 20min drive north of Sydney and 3hr 20 min south of Brisbane. You can also fly into Clarence Valley Regional Airport near Grafton, a one-hour drive to the southwest or Ballina – 1 hour 10 minutes to the North. You’ll find plenty of accommodation options, from campgrounds and holiday parks to an award-winning youth hostel, farm stays and luxury retreats.