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There is something gently amusing about a town that proudly claims that it is "The Scottish Town in Australia." Of course it looks nothing like a Scottish town. LocationMaclean is located 1.5 km west of the Pacific Highway and 656 km north of Sydney on the Clarence River. Origin of NameWhen Maclean was laid out  in 1862 the surveyor, in a suitably ingratiating action, decided to name the town after Alexander Grant McLean who had been made NSW Surveyor-General in November, 1861.
One of the town's most distinctive, and overtly Scottish, symbols are the numerous Scottish tartans which have been painted on the base of the telegraph poles. Located on the corner of Wharf Street and Grafton Street, the Stone Cottage Museum was originally the home of Johann Georg Schaefer and was built between 1879-1889. The cottage was built from local sandstone and it has been set up as a typical Maclean house from the 1880s. The town churches are a window into the different theologies of the early settlers. At the southern end of River Street, beyond the Post Office, is an intersection, with two churches virtually directly opposite each other.
At the inland end of Wharf Street (continue driving beyond the Stone Cottage Museum) is the Maclean Lookout which offers fine views over the town and the district's cane fields, east along the Clarence River to Yamba and Iluka at the river's mouth, and along the coast. This is a self-guided tour around the town which can be downloaded to an MP3 player or iPod. The project was created in 1992 and the information brochure (a single A4 sheet) was published in 1996.
This signposted 65 km walk which is recommended to take four days although it can be done in less.
Known to the locals as 'The Broom' this small village, which is located 22 km from the Pacific Highway, is surrounded by Yuraygir National Park. Visitor InformationClarence Coast Visitor Information Centre, Ferry Park, Pacific Highway, Maclean, tel: (02) 6645 4121. Post Office in the background and the Sugar Derrick sculpture at the end of the main street. The mighty Clarence River has been showing me a side to NSW’s Northern Rivers region I never knew existed.
I found this to be a bit of a novelty, as Scottish history, at least glaring Scottish history, is not a commonality in Australia.
From the cairn I continued to the top of town, to The Lookout, which boasts fine views of the Clarence River’s journey to Yamba, as well as the surrounding cane fields. Back down the hill I visited the Bicentennial Museum, which luckily was open, as it only opens its doors on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 1pm until 4pm. Inside the museum I found photos and clippings of Maclean’s involvement in WWI and II, along with memorabilia such as clothes, bicycles, sulkies and carriages belonging to Scottish settlers. If you’re in the area during Easter, it might well be worth popping your head in for the Highland Gathering – a celebration of Scottish culture involving events such as drumming, bagpipes, dancing, hammer tossing, stone putting and even a haggis hurl.
Wandering around Maclean’s green, leafy backstreets, I discovered a number of heritage buildings worth peeking at. Back in town, near the Clarence River, lie buildings such as the post office, police station and courthouse, all which date to the late 19th Century. Of course the Gumbaingirr or Yaygir Aboriginal clans hit Maclean’s shores well before the Scots, and there are a number of Aboriginal sites in the area. However, perhaps the real, immovable star of Maclean is the Clarence River, which has ravaged the town from time to time, reminding folk of who’s boss. The claim is based on two simple facts: a large number of the early settlers in the valley were originally from Scotland and the town itself, although the spelling has changed, was named after a good Scot, Alexander Grant McLean, who was the New South Wales Surveyor-General from 1861-1862.
Visitors who are interested can drive around town identifying a wide range of clan tartans which, conveniently, have all be named. Vernon, dates from 1893 and replaces earlier post offices which were built in 1862 and 1875.


The large adjacent folk museum, known as the Bicentennial Museum, has a display which includes some particularly fine examples of sulkies, drays, cane carts and carriages. The Baptist Church was built in 1907 from timber provided by the dismantling of the disused local fish cannery. It is located in the Herb Stanford Memorial Park at the intersection of Bent Street, Taloumbi Street and Harwood Street.
It lists 13 significant Aboriginal sites around Maclean and down the Clarence River to Yamba and Angourie.
It stretches along 65 km of pristine Northern New South Wales  coastline from Angourie to Red Rock. It traverses the coast from Angourie to Red Rock, and along the journey, as the brochure explains, "you will encounter vast heathland plains, long sandy beaches, crystal clear creeks and lagoons, rocky headlands and abundant wildflowers and birdlife". It covers 18,000 hectares, 38 km of beaches and ranges from rainforest through heathland, coastal cypress stands, lagoons and wetlands to coastal plains. European observers spoke highly of their crafts, skills, material culture and intelligence.
He landed on the northern headland, near present-day Iluka, but found the waters shallow and dismissed the whole area as "deserving of no more than a superficial examination". There is also useful information and souvenirs at the Scottish Corner Shop in River Street near the McLachlan Park and Wharf.
The town seems to have capitalised upon this relatively recent history, as its telegraph posts are painted with Scottish tartans, some of its street signs are written in both English and Gaelic, and Scottish banners flap aside knotted trees that stretch above the esplanade.
Furthermore, as much as I’m fascinated by and admire Australia’s Aboriginal culture, it’s something I often feel disconnected from, as I’m not Aboriginal and wasn’t brought up living in the bush. In fact, I wondered how I’d managed to avoid this town for so long given it lies just across from its illustrious neighbour, Yamba. Just before the lookout is The Pinnacle – a pile of hulking rocks stacked on top of each other that juts above forest. Out front is a sandstone cottage built in 1879 that contains household items from the same period. St Mary’s Catholic Church is a beautiful Gothic stone building dating to 1894, while just around the corner in Stanley Street is the town’s old brewery, dating to 1870. Strolling down Maclean’s main street, I was happy to see that one of its pubs, the Argyle, retains much of its external facade from 1894. The town’s information centre can steer you towards the Lower Clarence Aboriginal Tourist Site Drive, which takes you to 13 significant Aboriginal sites. To compound this for over 100 years (it had its 112th celebration in 2015) the town has held the Maclean Highland Gathering where pipe bands, caber tossing, wearing of kilts, a parade down the main street and highland dancing are all part of the celebrations. There are now over 200 poles around the town and if you are looking for your family name's telegraph pole (a rather eccentric thing to do - "oh look! Amusingly the third clergyman, Reverend Jock Garden, gained the rights to operate the Publican's Booth at the Maclean Show and proceeded to serve only soft drinks in a Temperance Booth. The Monument Australia site points out "The Maclean 'Scottish Town in Australia' Committee decided to construct its own Cairn under the supervision of Scottish stonemason George Kerridge of Canberra. In total it covers ten main places around town - the Ulugundahi Island, Woolitji House, Hollywood Theatre, Conroy & Stewart, Post Office, Police Station, Court House, Old Ashby Ferry Ramp, Tartan Poles and Maclean Showground. The sites include middens, camping locations, meeting places, a fish trap at Angourie, creation and Dreamtime stories, and the Ulugundahi Island mission site. The fact that it is some 20-30 km from the Pacific Highway means that it is a mixture of peaceful, isolated beaches, excellent coastal bushwalking and high quality fishing, surfing and swimming. Whilst it’s a smashing spot to take in the town, the cairn is also a handsome commemoration to Maclean’s Scottish settlers.


I didn’t venture into the forest below, although apparently there’s a cave network down in there, somewhere. Adjacent to the stone cottage lies the museum, which is a $3 entry fee for adults (free for kids). The brewery has been converted into two houses but still retains the archway leading to its courtyard and is well preserved.
Heading inside, I bought a beer and sat on the verandah, taking in life as it shuffled back and forth along the river’s edge. Nearby Bundjalung National Park contains a large amount of Aboriginal middens, which indicates it was a popular food source for indigenous clans. And if you’re into your seafood and fishing, the Clarence is a major source of Australia’s seafood supply.
The town is located where the southern and northern arms of the Clarence River meet but, being only 6 metres above sea-level, it has been prone to flooding and is now protected by a levee bank which runs beside River Street. Well it was named after a Scot - Alexander Grant McLean - even if the name has changed over the years; and it is true that the district was settled by a large number of Scots although it is a typical irony that the Presbyterian kirk is a modest and dour building while the Catholic church is large, Gothic and impressive. Interestingly in 1914 it was described as having two bedrooms, a parlour, kitchen, dining room (the residence of the local policeman) as well as a charge room, three cells, a prisoners yard and a barracks room. At the end of MacNaughton Place, across the road from the river, is the impressive courthouse which was designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and built in 1893 for ?2,581. To the right, over the road, is the very simple and ascetic Free Presbyterian Church which has been in continuous use since its construction in 1864 by the early Scottish settlers. Stones were obtained from parts of Scotland, Scottish families throughout Australia and locally.
There is a transcript available for those who don't want to listen to the commentary and songs.
Continuing from last week’s post, I followed the Clarence again, this time into the heart of Scottish Australia, to the southern tip of sugar cane country into a curious little town called Maclean. The Maclean Scottish Cairn is a fitting memorial to the contribution Scottish settlers made to the Clarence and to Australia. A typical entry is the Tartan Poles where you listen to: "As you wander through the streets of Maclean, you cannot help but notice the myriad of decorated power poles featuring the numerous individual Scottish clan tartans. Its physical orientation harks back to a time when the river was the town's focal point for business, transport and communication. Further up the hill on the corner of Woodford and Stanley Streets is St Mary's Catholic Church (1893), a beautiful stone Gothic building with an 18.29 metre high tower capped by battlements.
Scottish Settlers who came to the Maclean area were mainly Highlanders driven from their land during the Highland Clearances. This amazing project began life in 2000 and was initially developed by the Maclean Scottish Town Association to coincide with the arrival of the Olympic Torch in Maclean that year. At first, only a small number of poles were painted however, following much favourable comment from the community, the committee decided to extend the project. The facade has the coat of arms of Victoria Regina and there is an attractive cast iron veranda.
Today, Maclean’s streets feature more than 200 tartan poles stretching from the Harwood bridge through the town and all the way to Ferry Park at the town’s southern end.



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