Every Saturday we cycle to Billinudgel to collect the weekend papers. Last Saturday was Anzac Day, 25th April so beforehand we made our own dawn service at the beach. ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is commemorated across Australia and New Zealand to remember those soldiers who have lost their lives in defence of their country. It originated from the terrible loss of life which occurred at Gallipoli in Turkey during the Great War on 25th April, 1915. It’s a solemn reminder of the cost of war and is commemorated ‘Lest We Forget.’ At the dawn service each year, wreaths are laid at the Australian War Memorial and cenotaphs across the country, while the Ode – For the Fallen is read and a lone bugler plays the Last Post. This year due to the social distancing requirements of the Corona pandemic, Australians were asked to stand at the end of their driveways and light a candle in memory.
We stood in silence at our walkway to the beach as the dawn broke. At 6am, two army helicopters flew up the coast, backed by a lone osprey circling our beach and a lone bugler played the haunting Last Post behind us from a balcony. It was a rather special moment of reflection.
Afterwards we resumed our usual activity and set off on our bikes along the Old New Brighton road to Billinudgel. The bikeway travels under the M1 Freeway along Marshalls Creek, over the old disused railway line and meets up with the road to the Pocket and Main Arm before detouring into Billinudgel. Marshalls Creek looks docile enough under normal circumstances but can become a raging torrent flooding the town. The last major inundation was in 2017 when the tail of Cyclone Debbie clobbered Billinudgel in the middle of the night.
Billinudgel began as a white settlement in 1892. The name is based on the Bundjalung word ‘Bilihnadhihl‘ meaning ‘once belonged to a parrot’ and the parrot features on the railway siding.
Billinudgel was built to service the construction of the railway line from Lismore to Murwillumbah in the 1890’s. The rail service stopped running in 2004 and remains a contentious issue among locals who want a better public transport service. The station now hosts a community free shop for those in need.
The Billinudgel Hotel was the first building in the town and the current building dates from 1907. The pub is famous for its ability to continue serving beer even when flood waters reach the counter, which they did in 2005. Mar Ring, the licencee from 1929 to 1983, had the reputation as oldest publican in Australia and was still licencee at 103 when she died.
The Billinudgel Pub hosts the annual Anzac Day Two-Up competition. Two-Up is an illegal gambling game originating in Australia amongst convicts and played extensively in World War I by Diggers. It is now illegal except on Anzac Day. It is played when two pennies are placed in a ‘kip’, a wooden block about 20 centimetres long with two indentations at the end where the pennies sit, one heads up and one tails up. The pennies are thrown into the air and the betters bid on the outcome of the toss. The last time we attended such a game, an eye-rolling amount of cash was being exchanged out the back of the pub, with support from over 100 rowdy locals. This year, the pub was only serving take-away meals and was disturbingly quiet.
Billinudgel is also famous for featuring in the latest season of Sea Change. The main character Laura Gibson, played by Sigrid Thornton sits outside the general store with a coffee and makes a great friend of the publican of the Pearl Bay hotel – aka Billinudgel pub.
Having collected our paper and chatted to the newsagent-cum-post office owner’s daughter who served us behind a sneeze guard, we headed home via the Lloyd Ponting bridge over the freeway.
Our route home was via the Billinudgel Nature reserve along Shara Boulevard, through North Ocean Shores and back to South Golden Beach.