A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published April 25th 2021
I love a good road trip and have travelled the Pacific Hwy/M1 from Sydney to the Gold Coast many a time with family and have found that no amount of planning makes for the perfect trip. Quite often the unexpected happens and usually, it is not a positive, however, on one occasion the 'not so good' had an opposite end result.
Prime examples of the unforeseen are accidents and traffic congestion due to roadworks. The latter is what we have encountered on a number of occasions as upgrades to the highway take place. One trip saw us between towns in the middle of nowhere, crawling at a snail's pace, with only towering trees surrounding us. With nothing to look at or distract us, frustration was building.
Going nowhere fast, our situation turned itself around when we came upon a sign that simply said 'Cafe'. As it was warm and getting close to lunch, we thought we would make a quick stop for a bite to eat and to use the amenities but we found so much more. Not just a cafe, but a little gem of a village was upon us that made for a surprise discovery showcasing quintessential Italy.
New Italy is the little piece of delight we had stumbled on and it can be found between Grafton and Byron Bay (12kms south of Woodburn) in the Northern Rivers district of NSW. It is not a new town, but one founded in 1882 and the 'museum complex' is one that is special for its history, its memorabilia and what it conjures up.
A Piazza area is the centrepiece for surrounding buildings that contain much of the interest here at this site. The cafe, Tastes of Italy, serves up classic breakfast items, light and hearty lunches from sandwiches and wraps to gourmet burgers, pizzas and lasagne, along with home-made cakes, snacks, ice cream and drinks. Their coffee is often raved about as the best on the highway. You can sit in comfy booths inside or at tables outside in the fresh air under the vine trellises. Else you can do takeaway but, if you have time, you'll want to see the other gems here.
After filling our stomachs, we headed into the New Italy Museum. It honours the legacy of Italian pioneer families who came to farm here in the late 1800s. The land was poor here and required hard work, however, the Italians turned this area of Australian bush into producing award-winning silk, making wine, salami and other food items.
The extensive displays include the likes of old farm tools used in making a living (from dairying to cane cutting and timber getting), a walk-in pioneer kitchen, family cabinets of photos and household items, old writing desks, treadle sewing machines (which conjured up images from my childhood) and more. Murals add further interest and lots of information panels relay stories of old that preserve the history of the community.
Next, we headed to the other side of the Piazza to the Italian Pavilion, a building showcasing the broader history of Italian migration to Australia and the Northern Rivers region from different areas of Italy.
Lovely displays represent 20 Italian provinces (including Veneto, Tuscany and Umbria), with stories of settlement down under. These exhibits were originally part of the contents and structure of the Italian Pavilion building at the 1988 World Expo in Brisbane. This was definitely a highlight for me as it brought back memories of both my visit to the Expo and my travels in Italy.
On another side of the Piazza, there stands the Casa Vecchia Gift Shop. Looking like a two-storey pub with a verandah, the heritage-listed mud brick house was a replica of Antonelli's wine shop. It has since had the ground floor converted into the gift shop we see today. The speciality is, of course, all things Italian. A range of products of quality design and style (of which Italy is known for) are available, from colourful jewellery to clothes, hats, books and homewares, to name just a few.
More gifts can be found in the Glass Blowers Art Gallery and Workshop, another area in this village complex. Artist Ian O'Driscoll is the man at the helm here. He first began glass sculpting in Sydney before moving to the Northern Rivers area in 1984. He has had retail stores in Lismore and Byron Bay over the years and now solely works at New Italy. He has been praised for his technical precision, attention to detail, use of colour and artistic versatility. With over 30 years of experience behind the torch, fascinated with the refraction and reflection of light, he has dabbled in expressive artistic forms that dance a fine line between liquid and solid states of matter. You're sure to find something special here.
This museum complex (with free entry) is part of a site that also includes an interesting community function hall, a memorial to the New Italy pioneers, a bocce court and the Park of Peace.
New Italy was a nice distraction and well worth the stop. It's a spot we wouldn't have seen when driving at around the normal 100kms per hour on the highway.
The negative had turned into a positive on this occasion and, upon leaving, the traffic on the highway had also dispersed. A win-win from our earlier frustration.
When I visited New Italy's Italian Museum years ago, in one of the display cabinets I saw a hand made embroidered pillow case and sheets which my Italian godmother had made, I think part of her trousseau. A seamstress in the Friuli region of Italia, she immigrated to Australia in 1925, settling in Melbourne and in retirement at an Aged Care facility in Mullumbimby. She made my christening dress. I have recommended to friends and acquaintances to stop in at the museum on their way north or coming south.