Lismore, New South Wales

Lismore is a city in northeastern New South Wales, Australia and the main population centre in the City of Lismore local government area; it is also a regional centre in the Northern Rivers region of the State. It is situated on a low flood plain on the banks of the Wilsons River near the latter's junction with Leycester Creek, both tributaries of the Richmond River which enters the Pacific Ocean at Ballina, 30 km to the east. The original settlement initially developed as a grazing property, then became a timber and agricultural based town and inland port based around substantial river traffic, which declined and then ceased around the mid twentieth century. The city is also located on the Bruxner Highway which crosses the Wilsons River at Lismore, and was formerly a stop on the Casino-Murwillumbah railway line. It is the home of one of the three campuses of Southern Cross University.

New South Wales
Lismore from helicopter, overlooking the Bruxner Highway and Lismore CBD
Coordinates28°49′0″S 153°17′0″E
Population28,720 (2018)[1]
Elevation12 m (39 ft)
LGA(s)City of Lismore
State electorate(s)Lismore
Federal Division(s)Page
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
25.5 °C
78 °F
13.2 °C
56 °F
1,343.0 mm
52.9 in

With its low lying position adjacent to the Wilsons River which can rise rapidly following periods of high rainfall in its catchment, the centre of Lismore is susceptible to flooding, although it is partly protected by a system of levees and flood gates; noteworthy recent floods occurred in 1974 and again in 2017 in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie. A budget was announced for additional flood mitigation works in November 2018.

As at June 2018 the urban population of Lismore was 28,720.[1]


The city of Lismore lies in the Bundjalung people's nation area.[2] However, the actual area of the Bundjalung people from Evans Head is currently under examination, as well as the actual origin of the name Bundjalung. It has been suggested that the Aboriginal people called the area Tuckurimbah meaning "glutton."[3]

The European history of the city begins in c.1843: a pastoral run covering an area of 93 square kilometres (36 sq mi) was taken up by Captain Dumaresq at this time covering the Lismore area and was stocked with sheep from the New England area. Ward Stephens took up the run in the same year, but the subtropical climate was unsuited for sheep grazing, so it was eventually abandoned. In January 1845, William and Jane Wilson took it over. The Wilsons were Scottish immigrants, who arrived in New South Wales in May 1833. Mrs. Wilson named the property after the small island of Lismore, one of the Inner Hebrides in Loch Linnhe, Argyleshire.[4]

In 1855, the surveyor Frederick Peppercorne was instructed by Sir Thomas Mitchell to determine a site for a township in the area. Peppercorne submitted his map of the proposed village reserve on 16 February 1856.[5] The chosen site was William Wilson's homestead paddock and the area was proclaimed the "Town of Lismore" in the NSW Government Gazette on 1 May 1856. The township was soon settled and its Post Office was opened on 1 October 1859.[6]

From the 1840s onwards, timber cutters moved up the Richmond River from its Ballina entrance felling timber from the extensive, previously untouched subtropical rainforest covering the region known as the "Big Scrub"; their primary interest was the Australian red cedar, Toona ciliata, known locally as "red gold", which was highly prized for its appearance, ease of working, and pest resistance. At that time there was no substantial network of roads so rivers were the primary means of access and bulk transportation; despite its low lying position and propensity for flooding (which was to cause problems in subsequent times), Lismore developed as an inland port owing to its location at the highest navigable point for large cargo carrying vessels on the north arm of the Richmond, later renamed the Wilsons, River. For the second half of the 19th century the primary industries of the Lismore region continued to be cattle grazing and timber, supporting a growing economy and population and the development of secondary industries which included ship building, transportation, saw milling, tallow manufacturing and more.[7] As the Big Scrub was cleared, it was steadily replaced with new pasture which formed the basis of a flourishing dairy industry, and many processing plants ("butter factories") and dairy cooperatives were established throughout the region. Infrastructure development in Lismore continued apace, including the presence of three schools by 1879, a new Government Wharf in 1880, two new bridges over the river in 1884 and 1885, and a new post office building (1898); by the end of that century Lismore had a population of over 4,500, although had suffered from some ravages including numerous floods plus a period of drought in the last half of the 1890s.[7]

At the beginning of the 20th century, river navigation was still the mainstay of transportation in Lismore, the principal operator being the North Coast Steam Navigation Company. The dairy industry was performing strongly, employing hundreds of small family-owned operations, the Lismore region becoming the centre for dairy production from the surrounding farms and the richest dairy district in Australia.[7] A railway station had opened in 1894 as a stop on the Murwillumbah railway line which ran from Lismore to the coast at Byron Bay and then on to Murwillumbah, and subsequently in 1903 inland to Casino, but was not connected to any national network. However as the century progressed, development of a better road network and the advance of motor transportation made inroads into the long term success of both the river and rail traffic which eventually declined: river traffic was also affected by requisitioning of ships during the second world war and the largest shipping line operating on the two arms of the Richmond River, the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, went into liquidation in 1954; the railway line lasted until 2004 when it was closed on purely economic grounds after advising that it was "unprofitable" to continue providing services to Murwillumbah, putting an end to 110 years of rail transport in the region. Meanwhile economic development in Lismore continued, including construction of a new School of Arts (1907, destroyed by fire in 1932), building of churches for four denominations, opening of a new Norco (dairy farmers' cooperative) factory in 1931, and other utilities. Lismore was officially gazetted as a city on 9 September 1946, with grant of an official coat of arms in 1947. In the early 1950s civic pride was boosted by a visit from the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II with her consort who visited the city in February 1954, staying at the city's Gollan Hotel.

Television came to the city in 1956 and a local channel commenced broadcast in 1962 in the suburb of Goonellabah, which had been incorporated into the city of Lismore four years earlier. In 1969 the aerodrome at South Lismore received its licence from the Department of Civil Aviation, becoming the basis of the future Lismore airport. The 1960s were something of a boom time in development for Lismore, although the dairy industry was starting to decline and by the end of that decade and into the 1970s, many farmers turned to raising beef cattle instead, or simply let their land condition lapse.[7] Later, especially following the 1973 "alternative society" Aquarius Festival which was held in the nearby village of Nimbin, the area began to attract so-called "alternative lifestylers" who were able to buy ex-dairying land at reasonable prices and re-invigorate the area with a range of pursuits and values of interest to a new generation, including an interest in owner-building of residences, experiments in communal living, environmental awareness and various artistic and creative activities, leading to badging of the area around Lismore as the "rainbow region".[8] Meanwhile, Lismore has also become a regional centre for higher education: the original Lismore Teachers College (1970 onwards) becoming first the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education in 1973, then an associate member of the University of New England, and finally (together with UNE-Coffs Harbour Centre), forming the Lismore Campus of the new Southern Cross University (established 1 January 1994).[9] In addition, tourism has become an important contributor to the region's economy as well as the development of new agricultural products such as macadamias, avocado and stone fruit, pecans, and boutique coffee plantations, which are well suited to the rich volcanic soils, subtropical climate and moderately high rainfall of the area.

As traditional agricultural and manufacturing sectors have declined somewhat, so employment in the service sector has expanded. At the 2016 census, within Lismore City and the surrounding region (43,135 persons) the top employment sectors reported were Health Care and Social Assistance (4,534 persons), Retail Trade (2,491 persons), Education and Training (2,448 persons) and Accommodation and Food Services (1,297 persons), followed by Public Administration and Safety (1,204 persons), Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (1,018 persons), Manufacturing (1,000 persons) and Construction (967 persons).[10]

Surviving buildings of historical interest within Lismore City include the old Council Chambers (1928) in Molesworth Street designed by William Gilroy, now home to the Richmond River Historical Society Museum with a collection of objects, documents and photographs relevant to the historical development of the area, including Aboriginal artifacts; the Art Nouveau Post Office (1897), designed by W.L. Vernon; the original Australian Joint Stock Bank (1891), built in the Italianate style, now the T & G Building; the classical revival courthouse (1883) in Zadoc Street; and various churches including St Andrew's Anglican Church (1904), St Carthage's Roman Catholic Cathedral (1892-1907), the Uniting (formerly Methodist) Church (1908-09), the Church of Christ (1923), and St Paul's Presbyterian Church (1907-08).[11][12] The commercial city centre retains many shopfronts ranging in date from the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries with little modern intrusion; a feature of interest is the presence of numerous arcades, for example the 1920s Star Court Arcade, which includes the 1921 Star Court Theatre,[13] which allow shoppers to continue to shop in comfort in the presence of subtropical downpours as well as extremes of heat or cold.

The city also encompasses a range of parks and gardens, some bordering the river, as well as Rotary Park, a patch of regenerated rainforest close to the centre of the City, and a 27 ha remnant of the "Big Scrub" in the form of the Wilson Nature Reserve (see below).

Heritage listings

Lismore has a small number of sites listed under New South Wales Heritage Act, including:

An additional c. 85 items are listed by the local council on Local Environmental Plans under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, including:

  • The Commonwealth Bank building, Molesworth Street (details)
  • Dalley Street Conservation Area (details)
  • The former Government Savings Bank, Woodlark Street (details)
  • Lismore Fire Station, Molesworth Street (details)
  • Memorial Baths, Molesworth Street (details)
  • The former Post and Telegraph Office (details)

and others. A full listing can be generated via a search for surburb/town = "Lismore" at


Lismore and surrounding towns were once part of the rainforest referred to as the "Big Scrub", of which less than one percent remains following settlement. A section of this rainforest is viewable in the grounds of the Southern Cross University and at Wilsons Nature Reserve on Wyrallah Road.


Lismore is located on the Bruxner Highway and it lies at the confluence of the Wilsons River (a tributary of the Richmond River) and Leycester Creek, The state capital city of Sydney is located 764 km (475 mi) to the south by highway.[14] Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, is 200 kilometres (124 mi) to the north.

Lismore's central business district is located 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the eastern coast, and 46 kilometres (29 mi) southwest of Byron Bay. The coastal town of Ballina is 36 kilometres (22 mi) away. There are a number of rainforest patches in the area, remnants of the Big Scrub. These are preserved today, with a small pocket known as Boatharbour Reserve just east of town on the Bangalow road. The nearest large and publicly accessible national park is Nightcap National Park.

Climate and weather

General characteristics

Lismore experiences a humid subtropical climate with mild to warm temperatures all year round and ample rainfall, with a long term yearly average of 1,343 mm. Temperatures in summer range between 20 °C (68 °F) and 35 °C (95 °F). The subtropical climate combined with geographical features means the urban area is unusually humid when compared with surrounding areas, with humidity levels often reaching 100% in summer. Lismore has 109.6 clear days annually.


Although no major environmental hazards affect the area, Lismore is renowned for frequent floods. One of the worst of these occurred in 1974, when waters rose to a height of 12.1 metres (40 ft), which was preceded by a major flood of the same height in 1954, and others of somewhat lesser severity in 1966, 1962 and 1989.[15]

In 1999 a government-funded scheme to protect the CBD and South Lismore from a 1-in-10-year flood event was approved. This proposal would mean that most of the smaller floods would not enter the central area of Lismore and substantially improve the time available for the evacuation of residents and the business community in larger floods.[16] Nonetheless, around 3000 residents of Lismore were evacuated after floods affected much of the area on 30 June 2005,[17] many being temporarily housed on the campus of Southern Cross University. However, the new levee that had been completed two weeks prior limited damage and stopped the water reaching the Central Business District.

In the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie in March 2017, Lismore was again badly affected by flooding of up to 3.5 metres (11 ft) through all CBD businesses. Wilsons River reached 11.6 metres (38 ft) and the levee was overtopped for the first time since its completion.[18][19] A budget of $8.2 million for additional flood mitigation works was announced in November 2018.[20]

A summary of Lismore flood events from 1870 to 2017 is available here.

Drought and water security

A high degree of year-to-year variation in rainfall is typical of the Northern Rivers region. Periods of reduced rainfall are often associated with El Niño events and increased rainfall with La Niña events. For example, the region experienced a significant reduction in rainfall between late 2002 and mid-2003 and again in 2007 in association with persistent and recurrent El Niño events. In common with other areas in Australia, the Lismore region can experience drought but in general, the Northern Rivers region is less drought prone than many of its neighbours, especially those west of the Great Dividing Range (see example map for the drought-affected month of September 2019 here). The municipal water supply is provided by Rous County Council via Rocky Creek Dam, which is situated in a high rainfall area within the Whian Whian State Conservation Area approximately 20km north of the city, and can be supplemented by drawing additional water from the Wilsons River when required.[21] According to data in the Drought Management Plan adopted by the Council in 2016, level 1 water restrictions for the whole supply region (which stretches from Woodburn in the south to Ocean Shores in the north, as well as westwards to Lismore) would be triggered if the level in Rocky Creek Dram falls to 60%, level 2 restrictions at 45% of capacity, and so on. From 2002 up to late 2019, only one period of severe water restrictions was recorded (reaching level 5 in March 2003) with one other period of lesser severity (level 1 restrictions) during the second half of 2007.[22]

Other severe weather events

Lismore is often hit by severe storms in spring and summer. For example, there was a severe hailstorm on 9 October 2007. A tornado is an extreme rarity, but later that same month one struck nearby Dunoon. It was captured on video as it hit an electrical transformer station there.[23]

Quantifying natural hazard risks

In a 2016 report prepared for Insurance Australia Group (IAG),[24] the consulting company SGS Economics and Planning rated and mapped different Local Government Areas (LGAs) across Australia against a range of natural hazard risks, namely Tropical Cyclone, Storm, Bushfire, Earthquake and Flood. On a 0-5 scale where 0 = no exposure, 5 = extreme risk, the region which includes Lismore rated 1 for Earthquake, 2 for Storm and Bushfire, 3 for Tropical Cyclone and 4 for Flood risk (SGS report, Figures 1, 3, 5, 6, 8).

Climate data for Lismore
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 43.4
Average high °C (°F) 29.9
Average low °C (°F) 18.8
Record low °C (°F) 11.6
Average rainfall mm (inches) 155.4
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2mm) 12.9 13.9 15.6 12.5 11.6 9.5 8.3 7.5 7.4 9.0 10.0 11.4 129.6
Average afternoon relative humidity (%) 58 61 60 58 59 56 51 46 45 50 51 55 54
Source #1: Bureau of Meteorology[25]
Source #2: For February record high: Weatherzone[26]


According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 28,407 people in Lismore.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 6.1% of the population.
  • 83.3% of people were born in Australia. The most common other countries of birth were England 2.0%, New Zealand 1.0%, Philippines 0.5%, Italy 0.4% and Germany 0.4%.
  • 87.5% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Italian at 0.8%.
  • The most common responses for religion were No Religion 30.7%, Catholic 22.4% and Anglican 15.0%.[27]

The population reached a recent peak of 29,320 at June 2012 and since has experienced a gradual decline to 28,720 in 2018.[1]


The Northern Star is a tabloid newspaper based in Lismore. It covers the region from Casino to Ballina and up to Murwillimbah and Byron Bay. The Northern Rivers Echo is a free weekly community newspaper for Lismore, Alstonville, Wollongbar, Ballina, Casino, Nimbin and Evans Head.

The commercial radio stations of Lismore are Triple Z (Hit Music) and 2LM 900 AM (also broadcast on 104.3FM). Both are run by Broadcast Operations Group. The community radio station is River FM 92.9 which offers an independent alternative media voice playing a diverse range of music. Other radio stations are JJJ 96.1 FM, Radio National 96.9 FM, Classic FM 95.3 and ABC North Coast 94.5 FM.

All major television Network channels are available in Lismore and in the general Northern Rivers region. The networks and the channels they currently broadcast are listed as follows:

Subscription television services are provided by Austar.


The Norco Co-operative has its headquarters in Lismore. The main campus of Southern Cross University is in Lismore.


  • Southern Cross University is located in Lismore, offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in disciplines including business and law, tourism, humanities and social sciences, creative and performing arts, education, environment, marine and forest sciences, engineering, health and human sciences, law and Indigenous studies. The University was established in 1994 and has campuses at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, and Gold Coast, Queensland.[28] The University has students from more than 80 countries around the world.[29]

Lismore and the surrounding area is home to a number of public and private schools, including:

Sport and recreation

Lismore is a strong-hold of Association Football, with six clubs affiliated with Football Far North Coast being located in Lismore and near surrounds:

  • South Lismore - formed in 1943
  • Lismore Workers - formed as Eastwood in 1949
  • Lismore Thistles - formed in 1958
  • Richmond Rovers - formed in 1961
  • Italo Stars - formed in 1966
  • Goonellabah - formed in June 1969

The Lismore Marist Brothers Rams is the local rugby league club that competes in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition.

The Albert Park complex is home to the Far North Coast Baseball Association and Lismore is considered one of the strongest centres for Baseball in Australia.[30]

Sister cities

Lismore formed a sister city relationship with the Japanese city of Yamatotakada in Nara Prefecture in 1963. The first such relationship established between Australia and Japan, it was initiated by Lismore-born Marist priest and writer Paul Glynn. Lismore is also a sister city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland.


Notable people

Notable people from or who have lived in Lismore include:

Lismore is featured in the first verse of the original version of Geoff Mack's "I've Been Everywhere" and also mentioned in the Midnight Oil song "Outside World".

See also


  1. "3218.0 – Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2017-18: Population Estimates by Significant Urban Area, 2008 to 2018". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019. Estimated resident population, 30 June 2018.
  2. "Local Tribes", History of Lismore, Lismore City Council
  3. "The Romance of Australian Place Names". The Australian Women's Weekly. 13 May 1964. p. 45. Retrieved 3 August 2019 via Trove.
  4. "Early History of Lismore". The Northern Star. 16 May 1894. p. 6. Retrieved 1 August 2017 via Trove.
  5. Map R.6.1246, N.S.W. State Archives
  6. Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  7. Fielding, Lloyd D. "A history of Lismore". Lismore City Council. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  8. "Preserving Rainbow Region history". Lismore Echo. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  9. "From teachers college to university". Southern Cross University. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  10. "Lismore City Employment by industry (Census)". Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  11. "Lismore". Sydney Morning Herald. 8 February 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  12. "Lismore, NSW". Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  13. "The history of the Star Court Theatre". Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  14. "MapMaker". Archived from the original on 25 March 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2008.
  15. History of Lismore Flood Events 1870-2017. Lismore City Council
  16. "Flooding Information: A Short History of Flooding in Lismore" by Lismore City Council , 2017
  17. "Thousands evacuated as floods hit NSW". The New Zealand Herald. 30 June 2005. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  18. "NSW flooding: Lismore ordered to evacuate, Murwillumbah residents stuck on roofs". ABC News. 31 March 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  19. Hansen, Jane (2 April 2017). "Cyclone Debbie aftermath: Lismore floods tear heart out of city business zone". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  20. "$8.2 million for Lismore flood mitigation works". Northern Star. 9 November 2018. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  21. "Wilsons River". Rous County Council. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  22. Figures 13-16 in Hydrosphere Consulting, 2016. Rous County Council Regional Water Supply Drought Management Plan. 88 pp. Available online at
  23. "Recent Australian Tornadoes, Waterspouts and Funnel Clouds",, accessed 3 August 2019
  24. SGS Economics and Planning. 2016. "At What Cost? Mapping where Natural Perils Impact on Economic Growth and Communities." Report for IAG, 27 pp. Available online at
  25. "Lismore (Centre Sreet)". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. March 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  26. Over 40 Temperature Records Broken over the Weekend by Joel Pippard, Weatherzone, 13 February 2017
  27. Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Lismore (SUA)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  28. A Brief History of SCU
  29. SCU International Students
  30. Clark 2003, p. 70.
  31. Feain, Dominic "WikiLeaks founder's Lismore roots," Northern Star, 29 July 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  32. "Celebrating the Achievements of our Past Students", Education Directorate, ACT Government, archived from the original on 30 January 2017, retrieved 30 January 2017
  33. "Local heroes go back to school". The Northern Rivers Echo. 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  34. Baxter, Rob (7 December 2016). "Baseball History: 15 more don green and gold". The Northern Star. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  35. (1989) 63 Australian Law Journal 712.
  36. Priestly, Angela: Business Bosses, no. 9: James Strong Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine, The Power Index, Private Media, 7 June 2012.
  37. "Wharton, Ronald Harry (1923–1983)". Encyclopaedia of Australian Science. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  38. "Biographical memoirs – Ronald Harry Wharton". Australian Academy of Science. Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2011.


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