Clarence River (New South Wales)

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Clarence River
Big River [1]
The Grafton Bridge across the Clarence River.
Etymology Duke of Clarence [1]
Native name
Country Australia
State New South Wales
Region NSW North Coast (IBRA), Northern Rivers
Local government areas Kyogle, Clarence Valley
City Grafton
Physical characteristics
Source Border Ranges
  locationnear Tooloom National Park and Bonalbo
  elevation252 m (827 ft)
2nd source Maryland River
Mouth Coral Sea, South Pacific Ocean
near Iluka and Yamba
29°25′32.6″S153°21′19.4″E / 29.425722°S 153.355389°E / -29.425722; 153.355389 Coordinates: 29°25′32.6″S153°21′19.4″E / 29.425722°S 153.355389°E / -29.425722; 153.355389
Length394 km (245 mi)
Basin size22,850 km2 (8,820 sq mi)
  average160 m3/s (5,700 cu ft/s)
  minimum1 m3/s (35 cu ft/s)
  maximum20,000 m3/s (710,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left Nymboida River, Mann River, Tooloom Creek, Cataract River, Orara River, Esk River
  right Coldstream River, Timbarra River
River islands Woodford Island, Chatsworth Island, and Harwood Island

The Clarence River (Bundjalung: Boorimbah, [2] Yaygir: Ngunitiji [3] ) is a river situated in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, Australia.


The river rises on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range, in the Border Ranges west of Bonalbo, near Rivertree at the junction of Koreelah Creek and Maryland River, on the watershed that marks the border between New South Wales and Queensland. The river flows generally south, south east and north east, joined by twenty-four tributaries including the Tooloom Creek and the Mann, Nymboida, Cataract, Orara, Coldstream, Timbarra, and Esk rivers. The river reaches its mouth at its confluence with the Coral Sea in the South Pacific Ocean, between Iluka and Yamba; descending 256 metres (840 ft) over the course of its 394 kilometres (245 mi) length. [4]

On its journey it passes through the towns of Tabulam and Copmanhurst, the city of Grafton, and the towns of Ulmarra, and Maclean. The river features many large river islands, including Woodford, Chatsworth, Ashby, Warregah and Harwood islands; and Susan Island Nature Reserve. The river supports a large prawn trawling and fishing industry.

The Clarence River system is an extensive east coast drainage with many tributaries of differing size. Apart from the Murray River, it is the largest river in mainland Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Its basin is, together with the very similarly-sized Hawkesbury, Australia's largest Pacific watershed south of Bundaberg. The extremely intense rainfalls that typify the North Coast mean, however, that major floods can temporarily raise the flow of the Clarence to 24 feet, as happened in 1890. [5]

Rainfall and climate

The Bruxner Highway crossing the Clarence River at Tabulam. ClarenceRiverCrossing NewEnglandHighway.JPG
The Bruxner Highway crossing the Clarence River at Tabulam.
The Grafton Bridge over the Clarence River showing Bascule span lifted to let shipping through. (Postcard from about 1932; The "Southern Cross" aeroplane has been added to the photograph.) GraftonBasculeBridgeSpanLiftingCirca1932.jpg
The Grafton Bridge over the Clarence River showing Bascule span lifted to let shipping through. (Postcard from about 1932; The "Southern Cross" aeroplane has been added to the photograph.)
The Clarence River, as it flows past Susan Island Nature Reserve, near Grafton. Susan Island Clarence River.jpg
The Clarence River, as it flows past Susan Island Nature Reserve, near Grafton.

The climate of most of the basin is subtropical (Köppen Cfa), though the highest areas with cooler weather are of the temperate Cfb type. Annual rainfall ranges from 1,600 millimetres (63 in) on the coast at Yamba down to 1,080 millimetres (43 in) in the shielded valley at Grafton (BOM Grafton Olympic Pool). At higher altitudes, rainfall may reach 2,000 millimetres (79 in) on exposed slopes but data are very poor. Most of the high areas actually receive no more rain than Grafton though variability from year to year is less. Temperatures are generally very warm, with maxima in lower area ranging from 27 °C (81 °F) in January to 19 °C (66 °F) in July. In the highlands, however, temperatures are much cooler and in July range from lows of around 2 °C (36 °F) to maxima around 13 °C (55 °F) - though in January days remain very warm at around 25 °C (77 °F). Rainfall per month on the coast typically ranges from around 220 millimetres (8.7 in) in February and March to around 70 millimetres (2.8 in) in September; it can average as low as 40 millimetres (1.6 in) between May and September inland, where exposed areas sometimes suffer bushfires after droughts, as occurred in 1915 and 2000.


During Cyclone Oswald, the Clarence was subject to minor flooding, brought about due to the storm's residual effects and associated monsoon trough that passed over parts of Queensland and New South Wales. At Grafton, the river peaked at a new record height of 8.1 metres (27 ft). [6] Two years earlier, the river peaked 7.6 metres (25 ft), forcing the evacuation of 3000 people from their homes. [7] On both occasions, the city's levee was credited with preventing more severe flooding.

The local historical society has published an account of newspaper reports documenting flooding of the river from the late 1800s to 2011. [8]

Catchment land use and industry

Tourism is also a significant industry in the Clarence Valley generating around A$457million per annum and employing around 2500 people.[ citation needed ] Most of the Clarence basin is heavily forested, with important areas of remnant subtropical and temperate rainforest occurring all along the course. Only in alluvial areas where soils are less leached is there major agricultural development: in these areas the chief industries are cattle rearing and the growing of sugar cane in lower-lying areas.

Of particular interest is the small island town of Harwood, where a Sperry New Holland factory and a quaint Bush Pub overlook the Clarence delta. Harwood is also the location of the local sugar mill, the Harwood Sugar Mill built in 1873 and is the oldest Australian mill still operational. The sugar mill is situated on the river due to its importance in transporting sugar cane from farms in the surrounding area in previous times. Harwood is just after the Harwood Bridge on part of Australia's National Highway from Sydney, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour to Brisbane.

The freshwater reaches of the Clarence River support important populations of native freshwater fish including Eastern freshwater cod, an endangered fish species unique to the Clarence River system, and Australian bass.


Southgate Ferry Ulmarra-Southgate NSW ferry.JPG
Southgate Ferry

The Indigenous Bundjalung people call the river Boorimbah, [2] while the coastal Yaygir people call it the Ngunitiji. [3] The Aboriginal people from the Tenterfield district used the word neyand, meaning "top" as the name for the headwaters of the river. [1]

The river remained unknown to British authorities until the mid 1830s when escaped convict Richard Craig, who had been living with Aboriginals in the area, reported its existence. It was initially called the Big River, but this caused confusion as the Gwydir River in northern New South Wales was also colloquially known by this name. [9]

In November 1839 the Governor of New South Wales, George Gipps, officially changed the name to the Clarence River [10] in honour of the previous King of the British Empire, William IV, 1st Duke of Clarence and St Andrews. [1]

The local government area of the Clarence Valley Council draws its name from the river and covers the lower half of the river valley.


Harwood (Clarence River) Bridge Clarence River Bridge - panoramio.jpg
Harwood (Clarence River) Bridge

There are very few fixed crossings of the Clarence River. Going downstream, these include:

Crossings over the south arm of the Clarence River are:

Crossings over the north arm of the Clarence River are:

See also

Related Research Articles

Grafton, New South Wales City in New South Wales, Australia

Grafton is a city in the Northern Rivers region of the Australian state of New South Wales. It is located on the Clarence River, approximately 608 kilometres (378 mi) by road north-northeast of the state capital Sydney. The closest major cities, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, are located across the border in South-East Queensland. In June 2018, Grafton had a population of 19,078. The city is the largest settlement and, with Maclean, the shared administrative centre of the Clarence Valley Council local government area, which is home to over 50,000 people in all.

Northern Rivers Region in New South Wales, Australia

Northern Rivers is the most north-easterly region of the Australian state of New South Wales, located between 590 and 820 kilometres north of the state capital, Sydney, and encompasses the catchments and fertile valleys of the Clarence, Richmond, and Tweed rivers. It extends from Tweed Heads in the north to the southern extent of the Clarence river catchment which lies between Grafton and Coffs Harbour, and includes the main towns of Tweed Heads, Byron Bay, Ballina, Kyogle, Lismore, Casino and Grafton. At its most northern point, the region is 102 kilometres (63 mi) south south–east of the Queensland capital, Brisbane.

Clarence Valley Council Local government area in New South Wales, Australia

Clarence Valley Council is a local government area in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia.

Yamba, New South Wales Town in New South Wales, Australia

Yamba is a town in northern New South Wales, Australia at the mouth of the Clarence River. The first European to visit the area was Matthew Flinders, who stopped in Yamba Bay for six days in July 1799.

Electoral district of Clarence State electoral district of New South Wales, Australia

Clarence is an electoral district of the Legislative Assembly in the Australian state of New South Wales.

North Coast railway line, New South Wales Railway line in New South Wales, Australia

The North Coast Line is the primary rail route in the Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers regions of New South Wales, Australia, and forms a major part of the Sydney–Brisbane rail corridor.

Maclean, New South Wales Town in New South Wales, Australia

Maclean is a town in Clarence Valley local government area in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia. It is on the Clarence River and near the Pacific Highway. At the 2016 census, Maclean had a population of 2,628, total urban area including Townsend and Gulmarrad is more than 5,200. The Maclean, Yamba and Iluka area known as the Lower Clarence had a combined population of 16,279. Its industries are tourism, sugar cane production, farming and river-prawn trawling. Together with Grafton, Maclean is the shared administrative centre for the Clarence Valley Council local government area.

Tabulam Town in New South Wales, Australia

Tabulam is a rural village in the far north-east of New South Wales, Australia, 800 kilometres from the state capital, Sydney. Tabulam is located on the Bruxner Highway between Tenterfield and Casino and on the Clarence River. According to the 2016 census, there were 470 people living in Tabulam. The main village is administered by Kyogle Council, while the section of Tabulam west of the Clarence River is part of Tenterfield Shire.

Ulmarra Town in New South Wales, Australia

Ulmarra is a small town on the south bank of the Clarence River in New South Wales, Australia in the Clarence Valley district. At the 2006 census, Ulmarra had a population of 446 people.

The Gidabal, also known as Kitabal and Githabul, are an indigenous Australian tribe of southern Queensland, who inhabited an area in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, now within the Southern Downs, Tenterfield and Kyogle Local Government regions.

Bundjalung people

The Bundjalung people are Aboriginal Australians who are the original custodians of the northern coastal area of New South Wales (Australia), located approximately 550 kilometres (340 mi) northeast of Sydney, an area that includes the Bundjalung National Park.

The Lawrence Ferry is a cable ferry across the Clarence River in New South Wales, Australia. The ferry operates between the town of Lawrence and Woodford Island, and forms part of the route east from Lawrence to the coast. It is the busiest vehicular ferry in New South Wales.

The Daily Examiner is a daily newspaper serving Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. The newspaper is owned by News Corp Australia. At various times the newspaper was known as The Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (1859–1889) and Clarence and Richmond Examiner (1889–1915).

Harwood Bridge Mostly disused roadbridge in New South Wales, Auatralia

The Harwood Bridge is a two-lane steel truss bridge which carried the Pacific Highway over the Clarence River in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia from 1966 until 2019, when it was replaced by a four-lane 1.5-kilometre-long (4,921 ft) concrete bridge, located 20 metres (66 ft) to its east. The Harwood Bridge has been retained to provide access to Harwood Island.

Australian rivers have been subject to devastating floods in New South Wales, recorded since colonisation. Flooding in New South Wales has predominately been caused by excessive flows into rivers located in New South Wales and, to a lesser extent, excessive flows into rivers located in Queensland and Victoria. Floods can devastate local communities and impact the entire local economy.

The Western Bundjalung or Bundjalung people are an aggregation of tribes of Australian Aboriginal people who inhabit north-east NSW along the Clarence River, now within the Clarence Valley, Glen Innes Severn Shire, Kyogle, Richmond Valley, and Tenterfield Shire Council areas.

Ulgundahi Island Historic site in New South Wales, Australia

Ulgundahi Island is a heritage-listed Aboriginal site, formerly an occupational settlement, with ongoing usage as farmland and as a site of ongoing significance, at Clarence River by North Arm, Maclean, Clarence Valley Council, New South Wales, Australia. The property is owned by the Yaegl Local Aboriginal Land Council. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 24 December 2004.

Copmanhurst Shire was a local government area in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia.

Harwood is a village on the Clarence River, 5 km north-east of Maclean in northern New South Wales. As of the 2016 census, Harwood had a population of 291. It is known for sugar cane production, with the Harwood Sugar Mill located on the eastern side of town.

2022 Eastern Australia floods 2022 disaster in New South Wales and Queensland

The 2022 Eastern Australia floods was disaster with a series of floods that occurred in South East Queensland, the Wide Bay–Burnett and parts of coastal New South Wales. Brisbane suffered major flooding, along with the cities of Maryborough, Gympie, the Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, Toowoomba, Ipswich, Logan City, the Gold Coast, Murwillumbah, Grafton, Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore, the Central Coast and parts of Sydney.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Clarence River". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales . Retrieved 29 January 2013. OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
  2. 1 2 3 Hoff, Jennifer (2006). Bunjalung Jugun (Bunjalung Country). Richmond River Historical Society. ISBN   1-875474-24-2. Yamba Yesterday, Howland and Lee, Yamba Centenary Committee, 1985
  3. 1 2 3 Barry, Derek. "Crossing the Ngunitiji". Woolly Days. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  4. 1 2 "Map of Clarence River". Retrieved 29 January 2013.
  5. "Historical flood information - Clarence Valley Council". Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  6. "Thousands isolated as flood threat continues". ABC News. Australia. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  7. Drummond, Andrew (21 January 2011). "People take flood in stride as thoughts turn north". The Age. Australia. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  8. "Publications produced by the Society". Clarence River Historical Society Inc. 2012. Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  9. Milliss, Roger (1992). Waterloo Creek. Ringwood: McPhee and Gribble. p. 93.
  10. "Government Gazette Notices". New South Wales Government Gazette . No. 470. New South Wales, Australia. 27 November 1839. p. 1323. Retrieved 13 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.

Further reading