The Catholic Community
Generations of Catholic parishioners have played an integral role in contributing to the spiritual and social life through the Catholic Church and School system in Yamba. Acquiring land and buildings has spanned many decades. In 1878 a plot of land had been surveyed for a church but in 1880 the Legislative Assembly decreed that no more free grants were to be given to churches.
In 1882, Palmer’s Island was separated from Maclean, and a new Catholic parish created covering Palmer’s Island, Chatsworth, Yamba and Iluka. Prior to this, Mass was celebrated at the Palmers Island home of Thomas Landrigan with the priest coming by boat from Grafton about twice a year. Catholic settlers on Palmer’s Island and Iluka donated money and land to build small churches but even then, only occasional services were held.
After the convent was opened above what is now Convent Beach at Yamba in July 1900, elderly Father Reade had to celebrate Mass at all four centres of Maclean, Palmers Island, Yamba and Iluka. As a result, Yamba had Mass in the little school building on Sunday only once every 4-6 weeks. The priest had to drive his horse and buggy over a rough and often boggy road from Palmers Island to Yamba, then up the hill to the Convent following a circuitous track through the bush.
Following the removal of the Sisters of MercyConvent in 1910 (due to its isolation) to the corner of Coldstream/Clarence Streets, the original Angourie school building was also moved there and used as a church and an infant’s school. When the Palmers Island Catholic Church was dismantled in 1931, the materials were used to build a weatherboard church on the corner of Yamba/Beach Streets. This church was dedicated to St James on 23 March 1931.
A hall, originally from St Dominic’s Convent School Harwood Island, was transported around 1945 to the Yamba Convent site in Clarence Street and was used as a classroom until 1969. It was moved again to Beach Street behind the Catholic Church to become a community hall. This same hall was moved yet again in January 1995 to become the Community Hall at Wooloweyah.
The Convent school closed in 1964 and local children had to travel to St Joseph’s Primary in Maclean to continue their catholic education. Meanwhile, in 1969 The Star of the Sea Convent was rebuilt and blessed in January 1970. It functioned as a retreat for the nuns before being redeveloped in 2000 as a conference centre and short-term accommodation. St James Catholic Church was rebuilt in brick 1975, where it still stands today.
It was not until 1996 that St James Primary School was built on donated land on Carr’s Drive. The school recently celebrated the 20-year anniversary of their first Foundation Day in 1997. As a relatively new school they are working hard to establish their own history – proudly using an antique wooden altar from the original Convent and displaying wooden crosses created by carpenters who built the school in 1997. A cedar door, from the original wooden church, has also been installed in the front office of the school.