Remembering Harry Bailey

In October 2014 Coffs Harbour City Council re-instated the name Harry Bailey Memorial Library at the Coffs Harbour branch of the Coffs Harbour City Library Service.

Many of you will remember from a previous blog post  that the Library had been named the Harry Bailey Memorial Library from 1973 until 1997, when its name was changed to ‘Coffs Harbour City Library and Information Centre’ as part of a wider library movement to market themselves more heavily as an information service.

Long term residents will remember the contributions that Harry Bailey made to the Coffs Harbour community, but younger generations and newer residents may be left scratching their heads and wondering who Harry was.

So who was Harry Bailey?

Harry was many things – a husband, father, businessman, soldier, friend as well as a civic leader.

Harry was a local through and through – having been born in Glennifer in 1898 and staying in the region his whole life, with his family still residing in the region today.

Harry lived an active life, as did many people of that era. He was particularly well known for his love of fishing which is something he shared with his entire family. Harry used to spend many a night and day fishing with his mother and siblings, with the Bailey fishing tradition still carrying on today. He was also a champion axeman and even judged wood chopping competitions at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Harry served his country in World War I, enlisting with the A.I.F. on 30th July 1917 into the Army Medical Corps and was posted to the 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance.

When Harry returned from war, he was suffering from malaria and stayed at Concord hospital to recuperate. It was during his time at Concord Hospital that Harry entered a ballot for soldier settlement and was fortunate to select a block on Paddy’s Plain, North Dorrigo, considered the most fertile on the plateau. This was virgin bush and took considerable effort for Harry and his friend Mervyn Short to clear by hand. Harry didn’t end up keeping his soldier settlement block, instead using the proceeds from the sale to buy himself another farm on Snows Road in North Dorrigo and using the additional funds to build his parents a home at Bonville Reserve at which they would spend their retirement years.

In 1923 it was a time of romance, with Harry marrying Amy (Meryle) Grace on October 23rd and going on to have a family of five sons and two daughters – Stanley Richard, Beryl Grace, Ivan (Toby) John, William (Bill) Henry, Dulcie Merle, Barry Lisle, and Murray Mostyn. Harry had met Meryle when contract fencing for Meryle’s father Richard Grace. Tragedy struck when Meryle died at the young age of 39, leaving Harry as the sole parent of seven children, the youngest being just 18 months old.

Following a period of deep mourning, Harry got on with the job of raising his family and running his business. He had the help of his older children, who assisted with the younger siblings, as well as helping in the business. This assistance stood the children in good stead for their future business endeavours.

According to Reverend Canon Saunders, Harry Bailey was at his best, not as a civic leader or prominent citizen, but rather as a father and family man. He focused his attention on raising his family and making sure they stayed together. Five of his children received musical tuition and it was during and following the war years that the Bailey Family orchestra played for many dances in the Dorrigo region. Harry would put the family into the back of the truck, along with their instruments and off they would go to play their music, donating any fees received to the war effort. Many older residents at Dorrigo would still remember the Bailey Family orchestra.

Harry is still remembered fondly by his children and grandchildren, with Margaret Newby (nee Bailey) saying ‘I remember that he was revered by his family. He was our pop, a large man who bounced us on his knee and never forgot to give us a silver coin on departing for Dorrigo’.

Harry was well known for his business sense having owned a number of local businesses including ‘Mountain Mist’ cordial factory, the Caltex fuel station as well as being involved with grain later in life. Harry’s family is still involved in the business scene in the Coffs Harbour region, with the W. H. Bailey and Sons business in Dorrigo, and The Bailey Centre in Coffs Harbour.

It was whilst the children were growing up that Harry became interested in politics. Harry had become friends with Charlie Banfield, who encouraged him to look into the ideology of the Labor Party and it was through this that Harry became heavily involved in local politics. Harry Bailey was to become not only a long serving Councillor, but also Shire President of the previous Dorrigo Shire and the first Shire President of the subsequent Coffs Harbour Shire. Harry served for 14 years as a president of the shire and 17 years as a Councillor. He had a strong involvement in establishing and developing the library service in Coffs Harbour and was an active member of the Clarence Regional Library Committee up until the time of his death.

He left his mark on Coffs Harbour in more ways than one, but certainly one long standing monument to the work of Harry Bailey was the development and establishment of the Coffs Harbour Civic Centre and Library. The Centre was considered ‘something to be marveled at which would be a monument to the initiative, courage and progressive spirit evident in the town of Coffs Harbour’.

Harry died on 24 September 1965 and is buried at the Coffs Harbour Historic Cemetery.  He passed away peacefully at the age of 67 at his daughter’s home in Gordon Street. The day of his death, Harry had apparently felt well enough that he had enjoyed a full round of golf in the morning before retiring to his daughter’s home for lunch and an afternoon rest in preparation for an engagement later in the day.

It was a sleep that he was never to awaken from.

Harry’s funeral was held at the St Johns Anglican Church in Coffs Harbour where the community showed their love and respect for this civic leader by filling the 360 seat church to capacity, with hundreds more congregating outside the church to listen to the service via loudspeakers.

Afterwards the funeral cortege slowly travelled past the Civic Centre which meant so much to Harry, where a minute’s silence was observed.

A poem that Harry repeatedly used to quote and which his family continues to remember him by gives insight into the man.

Harry’s adaptation of ‘Be the best of whatever you are’ by Douglas Malloch:

If you can’t be a big tree on the top of the hill,
Be a shrub in the valley — but be,
Or a small little bush on the side of the hill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

We can’t all be captains, some must be crew,
There’s something for all of us here,
There’s big things to do and little ones too,
But the one we must do it the near.

If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the moon be a star;
For it’s not by the size that we win or we fail —
So be the best at whatever you are!

Harry had a heavy involvement in many aspects of the development of the Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo regions and because of this, Coffs Harbour City Library is proud to have its central library in Coffs Harbour named in his honour.

Special thanks to Margaret Newby, Callan Bailey and Dorrigo & Guy Fawkes Historical Museum for their assistance with researching this story.

Written by Liz Thomas


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