2018 marks two hundred years since Surveyor General John Oxley’s journey of discovery, during which he and his party travelled to the place he named Port Macquarie. Over the past two hundred years, Port Macquarie has celebrated its naming in numerous ways.
In 1918, the Centenary of Oxley’s arrival was recognised with somewhat subdued celebrations, due to the First World War. On the anniversary of Oxley’s arrival, 8th October, there was a procession featuring what was described as “a convincing touch of realism”, with the inclusion of horsemen attired and equipped to represent Oxley and his team and well known aboriginals Murray and Clarefield Dungay clothed in traditional attire. Later a tree was planted at the Flagstaff to commemorate the memory of Oxley. Local historian Thomas Dick gave a lantern slide lecture in the evening.
In 1929, Port Macquarie Municipal Council followed the lead of other communities, including nearby Harrington, which had obtained an anchor from the Royal Navy to mount as a monument to Oxley. Council purchased a compass stand from the HMAS Sydney and mounted it on a pedestal near Town Beach, which was believed to be the site of Oxley’s camp. The Oxley Memorial was unveiled on the 111th anniversary of John Oxley’s arrival at Port Macquarie. A local newspaper article congratulated Council on obtaining the historic relic and by using it for the Oxley monument, “in the killing of two birds with one stone”.
“Oxley Day” was celebrated on 8th October 1948 with a march by school pupils to the Oxley monument, where a playlet representing the arrival of John Oxley and his party was performed by a number of the children. Oxley Day was an initiative of the children and after the play and speeches, the children were treated to games and ice cream. There was some discussion that the day could grow into Oxley Week; however, this did not eventuate.
Port Macquarie and district celebrated the Oxley Sesqui-Centenary in 1968 with a year-long program of events. Regular events, such as surf carnivals, bowling competitions and the Carnival of the Pines were badged as Sesqui-Centenary celebrations. Visits from the Governor-General Lord Casey and NSW Governor Sir Roden Cutler were highlights of the main program held from 5th – 13th October. The program included re-enactments of Oxley’s historic ride, river and air pageants, an aquatic regatta, colonial ball, a comical revue, What Really Happened, beard growing competition and openings of restorations at St Thomas’ Church, museum extensions and the Port Macquarie Race Track.
On 8th October 1818, Oxley wrote in his journal “… to our great joy and satisfaction we arrived on the sea-shore about half a mile from the entrance of what we saw (with no small pleasure), formed a port to the river …” and on 11th October he wrote “… I name this inlet, Port Macquarie, in honour of His Excellency the Governor …”
However you plan to celebrate the Oxley Bicentenary, please remember and respect our First Nation’s Peoples, the first inhabitants and custodians of this wonderful place.