A perfect sunny day at Pretty Beach, south coast NSW
It's not often in my research that I come across and article that is so informative, inspiring and one that truly provides a snapshot into a region over a period of nearly 200 years. As soon as I stumbled upon the publication 'They came to Murramarang - a history of Murramarang, Kioloa and Bawley Point" by Bruce Harmon (published by ANU Press, 2015), I knew I had to contact the publisher and editors to see if I could use some of the content to share the wonderful stories of this region from before white settlement to its present day. The book itself has become part of the history of Murramarang and remains the only comprehensive account of the region. I am grateful to Margaret Hamon, Alastair Greig, Sue Feary and the Australian National University press (ANU Press) for allowing me to use Bruce's words on my site, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the following excerpts from the publication as much as I do. All words from here on are those of the author, Bruce Hamon, unless otherwise stated.
Surfers in the water at Guillotines, Bawley Point NSW
In the author, Bruce Hamon's words "They Came to Murramarang was first published in 1994, providing the New South Wales South Coast villages of Bawley Point, Kioloa and the surrounding area with an authoritative history from colonial settlement through to the contemporary era. This book tells the story of a small part of the coast of New South Wales: Bawley Point, Murramarang and Kioloa; with some mention of Durras, Pebbly Beach and Termeil. Why this small area? And why me? The two questions are certainly connected. My parents, Les and Alma Hamon, moved to Bawley Point in 1918, when I was less than a year old. I lived there till 1930, and have been back there every year since, so I have known the place for about three-quarters of the time since its settlement."
The boat ramp at Bawley Point
Batemans Marine Park sign - not overly popular with fishermen
In Sue Feary's words "Imagine a time, around 20,000 years ago. The landscape of Murramarang and Kioloa looks markedly different. Most noticeable is the absence of the ocean, which is not even visible in the distance, being about 120 metres lower than today and 14 kilometres further out. The climate is cold and dry and ocean water is captured in the massive polar ice caps. In place of the ocean there is a large rolling plain with rocky outcrops, ridges and hills, covered in forest and bush, and providing sustenance for Australia’s grazing megafauna — giant kangaroos, wombats and diprotodons."
The headland at Cormorant Beach NSW
"Around this time, a geological epoch known as the Pleistocene was coming to a close, having commenced around 100,000 years earlier. Around 20,000 years ago the greater Australian continent (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania) was already occupied by Aboriginal people who had ‘island-hopped’ from Southeast Asia some 30,000 years earlier when sea levels were at their lowest, although the exact route will probably neve be known. Over generations, this founder population fanned out across the continent and, as numbers increased, settlement occurred along what we now call the NSW South Coast."
The small inlet at Cormorant Beach
"Although rising sea levels may have drowned much of the earliest archaeological evidence, two important sites demonstrate the great antiquity of Aboriginal occupation in the region. The first is a large shell midden at Bass Point, near Kiama, where archaeological excavations conducted in the late 1960s showed human occupation commencing around 17,000 years ago. Much of what we know of ancient Aboriginal life comes from a study of these shell middens, where calcium carbonate in the shell preserves organic material such as charcoal from fires, animal bone and occasionally plant remains."
Cormorant Beach, popular with families and locals
"Closer to home, archaeological excavations in the floor of a large sandstone overhang on the southern side of what is now Burrill Lake found that humans had lived there from 21,000 years ago. The Burrill Lake rockshelter would have been next to a river flowing out onto the plain, and the archaeological evidence in the lowest levels of the cultural deposits reflect a diet based on terrestrial resources. It is not until the higher and younger deposit levels are reached that marine species appear amongst the food remains, correlating with palaeoenvironmental data showing that the sea reached its current level around 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Those first generations of Aboriginal Australians must have experienced and adapted to climate change on an unparalleled scale."
The beautiful scenery of Cormorant Beach headland
"In the early 1980s, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) covered the floor of the rockshelter with a thick layer of gravel to protect the precious cultural layers underneath. Today the Burrill Lake rockshelter is surrounded by houses but it still manages to convey a powerful sense of the past. The rockshelter is situated on a small piece of land owned by the Shoalhaven City Council, who manages it in conjunction with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH, formerly NPWS) and local Aboriginal communities. The rockshelter’s significance is reflected through its listing in the Shoalhaven Local Environmental Plan and on the State Heritage Register. It remains of cultural significance to Aboriginal people, has historical value as one of the earliest systematic excavations in Australia, and has scientific value, due to its age and its provision of important information on early Aboriginal occupation."
The boat ramp at Kioloa
Words by Bruce Hamon "The Aborigines are believed to have been on the South Coast of New South Wales for at least 20,000 years, judging from dating of carbon found in a cave near Burrill Lake. It is hard to get such a number of years into perspective. A thousand generations? A hundred times the duration of white settlement? Few legacies of the Aborigines remain. Murramarang headland has a large midden which was found by anthropologists from the Australian Museum in the 1920s, and from which many artefacts were collected. At that time, the midden area was bare, with shifting sand dunes that would cover or expose parts of it, so on each visit you could expect to see something new. The present vegetation is recent, and the result of deliberate efforts to ‘stabilise’ the dunes."
Wasp Island off South Durras
"On 23 April 1770, Cook described Brush Island, but did not name it, nor did he name any other features in the vicinity except Pigeon House Mountain. He contemplated a landing in the shelter of Brush Island, but decided against it because of onshore winds. Later that same year, George Bass was sent to check on the strait, which now bears his name. He had six men with him, in an open boat less than nine metres long. On the afternoon of 13 December he saw a pole or stump sticking up on Brush Island, which he thought might have been set up by shipwrecked sailors. Due to a ‘heavy and fiery sea’ he could not investigate at the time, but did land there on his return in February 1798; he found the ‘pole’ was only a dead tree. He spent the night either on the island or anchored nearby."
A quiet sunny day down at Kioloa Beach
"The first Europeans to travel along the coast did so in tragic circumstances. They were survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove, which was beached on an island in the Furneaux Group, Bass Strait, in February 1797. Seventeen survivors set out on 15 March from near Point Hicks (now Cape Everard) to walk along the coast to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). Only three reached safety, two others having been left behind only the previous day."
Man made rockpool at Kioloa Beach - perfect for a swim
Sand for days - Kioloa Beach
"The earliest settlement in the Murramarang region occurred around 1830, only 42 years after the first settlement at Sydney and 27 years after the crucial first crossing of the Blue Mountains. The total white population in the colony was only around 40,000, more than half of whom were convicts or ex-convicts. For the most part, these people had come from town backgrounds in England or Ireland, and so had few of the practical skills needed in a frontier society. And by virtue of their having been forced to come to Australia, most of them had little incentive to work. The first two settlers at Murramarang were Sydney Stephen and William Turney Morris. I am still amazed at the speed with which they selected and occupied their blocks. Land fever, indeed! Both arrived in the colony in 1828, a scant 40 years after the first settlement. Yet before the end of that year, both had selected blocks at Murramarang, and Stephen at least sent men and stock to start work on his block in January 1829."
Plenty of reasons to be merry - Merry Beach NSW
"The turn of the century was a time of change: roads extended and improved; deliveries from stores in Milton and Ulladulla began; dependence on ships for supplies declined; the ships were changing from sail to steam; schools were established. But the 1890s were depression years, and many families suffered great hardship. The earliest road in our area was almost certainly the road from Murramarang to Ulladulla, said to have been finished before 1837. Princes Highway was officially named in 1920, but at least parts were in use much earlier. Around this time (the 1920s and 1930s), the Forestry Department built many roads in State Forests."
Present day Bawley Point
Bawley Point Sawmill circa 1915 - Source: National Library Canberra, ACT
"Timber was always important in the district. Cedar was the earliest timber exploited in the Illawarra district, but it did not extend further south than Ulladulla. In 1883, the Town and Country Journal claimed the timber trade was almost the sole industry in the Batemans Bay and Clyde River district, with 13 mills operating and another three being built. They provided employment for 250–300 families. This mill was kept going with difficulty during the 1890s depression. The main building was completely destroyed by fire in March 1894."
Large shark hangs off the end of the old Bawley Sawmill crane (almost 30 years after the the mill was destroyed). Source: Bruce Hamon
"The beach provided much entertainment. We trundled hoops on the firm, wet sand at low tide, built the usual sandcastles, and had bonfires in the evenings. ‘Bungers’ were available free, in the form of the float bladders on seaweed. Surfing was not encouraged, at least not in the absence of the grown-ups. The first surfboards appeared around this time, brought I think by the Nicholsons. They were small flat rectangular boards, about 0.5 x 0.3 metres, which were held under the forearms."
Kangaroos on the beach and everywhere at Merry Beach
"Rock fishing was for snapper, and to a lesser extent for grouper. The beaches were fished for bream and whiting. Blackfish (luderick) or tailor were not fished for at all, and I don’t think we even suspected the existence of black drummer. Octopus, usually called starfish, was the preferred snapper bait, as it stayed on the hook well, but fish bait was used occasionally. The north-east corner of Bawley and the rather ill-defined gutter due east of the Trig Station were the favoured spots on Bawley Point, but if there was too much sea at those places my father fished the ‘Basin’, or even from the rocks about 100 metres east of the wharf."
Plenty of friendly locals at Merry Beach
Time for a bite to eat - Kangaroos on the beach at Merry Beach
"Another important event has been the gazetting of Murramarang National Park in May 1973. This park extends from Pretty Beach to Batemans Bay, and includes some areas that were previously privately owned, such as the land on Durras Mountain. The National Parks and Wildlife Service also administers the Murramarang Aboriginal Area, which includes the extensive midden referred to earlier. Setting up the park was the culmination of many years of investigation and planning by NPWS staff and by private groups, including the National Parks Association."
The scenic Merry Beach on a typically quiet day
"For the rest of the area, the period since World War II has been one of continued growth, and improvement in facilities. The number of houses rose slowly at first, to only 72 in 1964, but then increased more rapidly to 220 in 1977 and an estimated 650 in 1993. About one third is permanently occupied, so there are enough residents to support local shops and tradespeople."
Such a nice place to wake up to - Merry Beach NSW
The southern corner of Pretty Beach NSW
Pretty Beach NSW - living up to its name
Pretty Beach is a popular destination for holiday makers
"Demand for holiday accommodation (mainly from the Sydney–Illawarra region, but also from the Canberra region) remains strong, and has been serviced partly through the growth of small to medium-sized family-owned guest houses as well as bed and breakfast accommodation, near the beaches and in the bush west of Murramarang Road."
Pretty Beach NSW looking like a scene from a postcard
Ominous large swell day at Depot Beach NSW
Early morning mist at Depot Beach NSW
Looking through the trees at Durras Beach NSW
Looking east towards Wasp Island
These marine park signs are all over the Murramarang region
"Batemans Marine Park covers 85,000 hectares of the Tasman Sea, between Bawley Point in the north and Wallaga Lake in the south, and extends from mean high water mark to three nautical miles offshore, where it adjoins Commonwealth waters. The marine park contains numerous lakes and estuaries and several offshore islands. Many people robustly opposed the creation of the marine park but much of this was fuelled by a misunderstanding of the perceived constraints on fishing. Some commercial fisher livelihoods were affected, but they received compensation for their hardship. Recreational fishing is deeply embedded in the Australian psyche and the community is divided in its views on the marine park."
Beautiful early morning colours at Durras Beach
Looking north along Durras Beach
Looking over Myrtle Beach NSW from the northern headland
"I have enjoyed writing this book. It has brought back and refreshed many memories; old friendships have been renewed and new ones made. In the immediate future, Kioloa and Bawley Point will continue to cater mainly for tourists and retirees. The two villages have attracted people who like the peace and beauty of natural areas. There is always a threat that too much ‘people pressure’ on natural areas will destroy the very qualities which attracted people to the areas. Only continued vigilance will keep that threat in check."
Great place for a quiet stroll - Myrtle Beach
Once again I am grateful to the editors Margaret Hamon and Alastair Greig, the ANU Press and of course Bruce Hamon for allowing me to share this wonderful account of the Murramarang region on my website.
Myrtle Beach in all its natural glory
Simply drive down the Princes Highway for half an hour south past Ulladulla and follow the signs to Bawley Point. From here, you can explore the coastline down towards Durras and the myriad of beaches along the way.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. The Bawley Point to Durras region of NSW is situated in the Murramarang National Park and is one of the country's most pristine stretches of coastline. If solace, nature and scenery are at the top of your list when choosing a place to visit, then definitely put this stretch on your destinations to visit list.
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