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History of Billen Cliffs

The Village of Billen Cliffs is nestled on the slopes of Mount Billen on the Rock Valley road between the villages of Larnook and Cawongla, at the crossroads of the towns of Lismore, Kyogle and Murwillumbah in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia.

Beginning as a new rural residential model in 1982 with blessings of the Lismore City Council, the village of Billen Cliffs gives residents all the comforts of freehold ownership through the strata title with the benefits of ownership in common of hundreds of acres of nature reserve and the village business centre.

History of the District

Up till 1847 the landscape surrounding Mount Billen was shaded by a wealth of tall timbers and maintained by the Wiyabal tribe of Bundjalung people who inhabited the lands on the South-Eastern rim of Mount Warning from Wadeville and Cawongla to Kyogle and Lismore.

Soon after the arrival by Captain Rous at the mouth of the Richmond River in the Frigate “Rainbow” the region was settled through pastoral leases at Fairymount, Larnook, Cawongla and throughout the district. The squatters were followed by a wave of timber getters, followed in turn by dairy farming cooperatives when the railway was build into the district. Over the course of a hundred and fifty years the combined effect of forestry and farming practices dramatically changed the natural landscape of the Big Scrub.

The Creation of the Village of Billen Cliffs

The lands that now form the village of Billen Cliffs had been a cattle farm since the beginning of the last century. Purchased under company title by the first forty residents, the village settlement stems back to 1982, when the first stage of Billen Cliffs was approved, and road works and surveying transformed the estate.

The growing number of new settlers did not stand still from 1982 to 1986. Much of the ground work was performed in these years by the first residents, working tirelessly as volunteers, building causeways, planting trees and making firebreaks, revitalising the old farm house, building dams, clearing weeds and gradually improving the newly constructed roads into graceful curving country lanes.

Billen Cliffs was conceived as an intentional community that valued the natural environment, and the founders made generous commitment to wilderness areas in the village with renewable energy, organic and grass roots small is beautiful development guidelines.

While the first eight houses went up as ‘workers cottages’ on the farm, the initial development was passed by Council under the M.O. code. Lismore City Council had forward thinking policies in economic development, and was facilitating new rural residential use on old farms after the near collapse of the Dairy Industry.

The Campaign for Strata Title

Early on, the right of granting development consent was questioned in the land and environment court. Residents mounted a credible case why settlement should be allowed and how the environment would benefit. The hearings were eventually in Sydney, and much to everyone’s delight Justice “Diamond Jim” McClelland found for the Lismore City Council. From that day the settlement started to blossom with investment in housing and infrastructure with renewed vigour.

A practical solution was worked out with the help of Lismore City Council to convert company title into strata title. In doing so Billen Cliffs Village pioneered a new and more practical framework for sustainable rural residential development, with accents on renewable energy, permaculture, organics and co-existence with the wildlife through extensive green belts and nature reserves.

Developing a Village Economy

Residents of the Village of Billen Cliffs usually centre on Lismore for work and services. Residents also generate income home based industry or trades but local employment is limited. Mt Billen is a part of Webster’s Creek Cawongla/Wadeville catchment, which moves in economic activity more with Kyogle’s farming district.

During the early 1990’s Billen Cliffs received funding to build a Craft Centre with community volunteers under a project funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Training, pioneering NSW first Community Enterprise Incubator to foster creative industries. The facility was officially opened by the Hon. Peter Baldwin, the Federal Minister for Higher Education and Employment Services in the Keating Government, on February 2, 1993. The Craft Centre was the focal point of many small enterprises.

Funding was also received via Lismore City Council to construct the community hall.
The hall has a special acoustic design and a recording studio for multi media production work. Its design and size could be the venue for plays, dances, markets, weddings, celebrations and all sorts of events. The hall is still under construction and the Hall Committee is always looking for new ideas and participation.

From Intentional Community to Sustainable Village

The aspirations of new residents to the district often include a passion for gardening and caring for the land, pursuit of creative activity, a belief in community, and for some the dream of being an owner builder in pioneering circumstances. The self regulating system of governance that came with strata title allowed the village of Billen Cliffs to be innovative in its development standards.

The creation of the village of Billen Cliffs was driven by the growing market for small rural acreage in the Northern Rivers. As a rural residential development, the village community benefits from cost-effectiveness that comes with body corporate management of the roads, fencing, firebreak, nature reserves, village commercial zones and administration. It makes living on the land easier and more affordable and guarantees minimum standards of maintenance.

Another important aspect of our heritage as a village is our strong foundation in arts and crafts, fine musicians and performers, graphic, audio-visual and creative industry, traditional crafts like wood working and instrument making, rural skills, hospitality and healing. Now several decades old, the village of Billen Cliffs is coming of age like many communities in the district. The village centre development is still in progress, aware of its sensitive location surrounded by world heritage forests, slowly building a sustainable village community and encouraging enterprise.