In 1988 during the Bicentenary year the Port of Yamba Historical Society hosted Yamba’s first Official Flag Raising Ceremony on Australia Day, in Story Park adjacent to the museum. Since then every year on 26 January the Australian, NSW State and Indigenous flags are hoisted on the signal staff that was once part of the Pilot Station and provide an exceedingly rich display.
Flags of all colours and designs serve both practical and ceremonial purposes. In acknowledging their rich history we forget that the flagstaff on which they fly have a history too which offers glimpses into changes in technology and culture. To facilitate communication in the days before telephones and radios signal staff sites were chosen for their long, clear views from headlands to the open sea. Equipped with a telescope the duties of trained Maritime Service Board employees included keeping watch for approaching ships, acknowledging requests for a pilot and relaying messages that were sent by flags and balls flown from the signal staff during the day. The use of these signal flags can be traced long before the early sailing ships entered the Clarence River as a method of communication because it was easier to fly a flag than to shout.
In the days before GPS and radar, the signal staff standing 22 metres from the ground, its yardarms 8 metres wide from the centre and weighing more that three tonnes controlled movement of vessels in and out of the river since 1854. Until the advent of the railway link it was instrumental in controlling most commerce in the Clarence/New England Districts and Ports of Grafton, Lawrence and Maclean. Over the years it became a victim of the elements and on several occasions had to be repaired or replaced. In the 1970s the current model became redundant due to improved telecommunications and it was dismantled. Local resident Clive Pike was approached to dispose of it. However with foresight Trevor Phillips gained permission in 1977 to relocate it to Story Park with help from Maclean Council and the Maclean Rotary Club.
While no one lays claim to its ownership it has survived due to the efforts of individuals, Yamba Yacht Club members, Yamba Museum and Clarence Valley Council who have retained it for the community. Over the years many of the signal flags have made their way into the Yamba Museum’s collection. The signal balls and cones in black, red and green tightly stretched canvas over steel frames are on display in the museum each with their meaning as to provide safe passage to those who would enter the dangerous bar.