Local, Opinion/Comment

The history and future of City Hill, Coffs Harbour – Part 2

Earlier this week we published Part 1 of this story. Now we publish the second of four parts.

By Margaret Beckett

It is 1987:  Mr John Smith, Councillor and former Mayor (pictured below) , and Mr Bob Bosler, met with the Minister for Administrative Services, Mr Tom Uren, in Canberra.  The purpose of the trip was to retrieve the site carelessly cast aside by a member of Council staff.   

Former Coffs Harbour Mayor and Councillor the late John Smith

The men now had to purchase  the DCA Hill.  The price was $200,000. The Minister agreed that a caveat should be placed on the land to secure it as a cultural centre for successive generations.   City Hill was signed over to Council by the Commonwealth of Australia on 20th May 1988, with a caveat which included the following possible uses;

  • art gallery, display areas and related  workshops
  • library
  • civic, community centre and senior citizens centre
  • theatre and/or cinema and museums
  • music education centre
  • open space and amenity area together with necessary roads and services
  • education facilities
  • restaurant, café and taverns
  • radio studio and other media facilities
  • visitor and tourist accommodation, ancillary and convention facilities.

Below is a 2010 visualisation of how they might have looked as published then by the Coffs Coast Advocate;

How things on City Hill were visualised in 2010. Picture – The Advocate.

It was recognised that the whole 22 acres may not be needed for cultural purposes.  The restriction was that all profits generated from the site MUST be used for cultural activities only.

Council has spent $700,000 to-date on the roads and services on City Hill.  This infrastructure was essential to prepare the site for the opening of the Bunker Cartoon Gallery and future development. Recently additional land was purchased for $50,000 and the site now stands at 25 acres (excluding the areas occupied by roads and the Bridge Club).   More exactly it is 11ha – this was penned in 1998.

Now, I am going to quote from a letter by John Smith who was an Alderman and Shire President between 1980 and 1987 and popularly elected Mayor from 1991 to1999.  He is writing to The Special Minister of State. He is asking that the Minister not accede to a Coffs Harbour City Council request to remove the caveat.

“Dear Senator

The basic facts are:-

  1. The rapid growth of Coffs Harbour during the 70s to the 90s triggered a demand for better community facilities for the visual and performing arts including library , museum ,art gallery, live theatre, convention centre etc. In the ’87, ’91, and ’95 elections most councillors indicated their support for such facilities it being argued that Council had and was spending millions of dollars on sporting facilities, but very little on the other side of our leisure time; the arts.
  1.  In 1986, Council appointed a committee to investigate a suitable site for a cultural centre. Seventeen sites were evaluated and the subject land , then known as DCA Hill was determined the best site by far.
  1.  The site purchased has an area of 9ha to which has since been added 2ha making the present site 11ha. It is bounded on the east and north by wide arterial roads, and on the south west by the Golf Course. The site is triangular in shape and is readily accessible for all traffic. The hill is to the North of the site and rising to a height of about 30 m; it has 360degree views encompassing the golf course, the mountain backdrop, the city centre, the airport and the racecourse.
  1. It is a unique site that must be retained for specific community cultural purposes.
  • It is unlikely that the cultural facilities will be self-supporting.
  • The intent of those framing the caveat was that portions of the land not required now or in the future for cultural purposes, could be developed by Council to generate income to defray the capital and ongoing cost of  the facilities or alternately, sold or leased to developers for the same purposes. The underlying principle is that any income from the sale or by leasing or renting a development on the site must be used and/or reserved for capital development on the site or for maintenance of facilities on the site.  I understand that Council’s current proposal is to use proceeds from a sale of portion or all of the subject site to fund the construction of an entertainment centre in the Coffs Harbour Showground.  That would not meet the intent of the caveat which was put in–strapped future council. 
  • Well over one million dollars has already been invested by Council on the ‘City Hill ‘site which already has Australia’s best, if not only, Cartoon Gallery and a very well patronised Bridge Club.  The entrance road is already connected to the main arterial road.  Water, sewerage, power and telephone are also available on site. Plans to the tendering stage have been prepared for two live-in visiting artist’s studios that would be suitable for tuition in pottery, painting, wood working, spinning, calligraphy or musicians, vocalists and the performing arts.

Thank you Sir for your consideration of this important matter.

 Yours faithfully,

 John B Smith


Margaret Beckett is a long time resident of Coffs Harbour and she has been active in the Friends of City Hill group. The group has a strong desire for there to be a centre for multi-cultural activities and place for visual and performing arts at City Hill. (Our emphasis added above)

In Parts 3-4 the background to how a caveat has been placed on the land to secure it as a cultural centre for successive generations is discussed. Also covered is what that means given the Coffs Harbour City Council has now announced alternative cultural centre plans for Gordon Street.

Part 1 was published earlier in the week and can be found here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/the-history-and-future-of-city-hill-coffs-harbour-part-1/


  1. Interesting. Does this mean it could have been used for the Uni?

  2. Hi Dave,

    I think the Council did a deal with the Ex-Services Club on a land swap for what is now the education campus/current Ex-Services premises in town.

    I suspect that is separate from anything relating to City Hill although Margaret may well know more in that regards.

    Grant – Editor, Coffs Coast Outlook

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