The History of Moruya: South of the Moruya River

The Moruya area needs to take account of places as far south as Bodalla. South of the Moruya the squatters had continued to squat. Both those who were licensed and those who were not were a constant problem for the Colonial administration. Ultimately, what was to happen to the land they occupied? Would they finally acquire it simply by allowing time to weary the opposition? What of other people who had been more orderly (or less venturesome, depending on which side of the argument one wished to push) and were still waiting their chance? It all got sorted out by a succession of systemic changes which go well beyond the scope of this note. However, as an instance, Governor Gipps’ Imperial Wastelands Act of 1842 provided that squatters might obtain ownership of one square mile surrounding a homestead they had constructed. The rest of the land they had occupied could be leased to them but later go to public auction when the Government felt the time ripe. Sometimes this worked well for the new settlers. But sometimes it worked well for the squatters.

They had the means to out-bid others for the best of the run. People who then set out to farm the poorer blocks tended to fail and desert the block, leaving the squatter in control by default. This system lasted but five years to be replaced by the next administrative scheme, but it serves to illustrate the problem and the causes of some considerable discontent.

In Broulee, the discontent flowing from squatting found a spokesman in William Willmington, a storekeeper who, having fallen for Oldrey’s tall tales, had set up a store at Broulee and was going broke. Not a happy man. He wrote to the Governor and complained about three of the squatters:-

The first Station on the banks of the Moruya River, which divides the Territory of New South Wales from Port Phillip, is taken as a Squatting Station by Messrs. Abercrombie & Co., Distillers, Sydney, carried on by a Mr. W. Campbell as Superintendent (who as a matter of course was appointed a Magistrate). This Station contains 32,400 acres — employing from 12-15 men. The second Station adjoining is ‘Brigalia,’ about the same in extent, and also held by Abercrombie & Co. This employs from 8-10 men. The third Station ‘Boat Alley’, held by Mr Hawdon JP, contains about 64,000 acres employing from 12-15 men. The last in this neighbourhood called ‘Bigga’ is taken by a Mr George Imlay, JP. It consists of 960,000 acres giving employment to about 100. The men employed by these Gentlemen are principally convicts. Here is an extent of land equal to a 30th part of England and Wales, the greater part admirably fitted for agricultural purposes, occupied by three persons, for which the enormous yearly sum of sixty pounds is paid.”

The squat which was to have a marked effect on the development of the Moruya area was John Hawdon’s at Bodalla or the ‘Boat Alley’ referred to by Willmington. Hawdon had got out of the Bergalia lease which became attached to the Gundary property forming a large holding which was acquired by Henry Clarke. Clarke was an influential man in the development of the district and represented as Member of Parliament for Moruya and Bega for 25 years.

Hawdon’s attention was focussed on Bodalla, where he had a nice block of 13,000 acres, but he needed to borrow heavily to finance the purchase. He borrowed from the entrepreneur, Thomas Sutcliffe Mort. Mort entered into a partnership with Hawdon. They carried on for a while but, in the end, Mort bought Hawdon out and took over the property. Before he was done the place ran to 56,000 acres. He set about managing the property along what were described as ‘model farm’ lines.

Mort was an unusual man. He had high Christian principles, an excellent grasp of business and finance, means, and a number of financial successes to his name. He had a stylish residence at Darling Point. Yet it was the project at Bodalla – a most uncomfortable journey from Sydney – which increasingly absorbed his attention, his means and his ambitions. He set out to attract share farmers or farmers who wanted a small holding in this area for which he had established his objectives and plans. He imported good stock and good seed for grass and grain. He encouraged hard work, sobriety, church going and a community spirit, At first he concentrated on wheat and other grains. It was successful until the rust practically wiped out the wheat. Dairying, cheese and pigs, using the latest and best techniques then became the main focus. It was successful and there was employment or a business for over 300 men. The Mort family created the village of Bodalla itself and left to it both the Anglican and the Catholic churches. The name ‘Brou’, as in Brou Lake and Brou Beach also came from the Mort family. It came from a family association with a place in Belgium and has no connection with the Aboriginally derived ‘Broulee’.

Meantime, small tenant farmers working on Flanagan’s and other north bank properties had been gazing wistfully at the attractive land on the south bank of the Moruya river, much of it occupied by Campbell’s squat at Gundary. Thus, Surveyor Parkinson was sent to lay out a new town. The town of Moruya was gazetted in 1851. It centred about the track opposite where the road from Broulee terminated at the river bank, the two being linked by a punt. There being a blacksmith on that track, it was named Vulcan Street. Campbell Street owed its name to the squatter, Queen Street to patriotism and Church Street to the Catholic Church’s presence there. Land sales commenced in1852. Many of the blocks went to local settlers but Campbell cornered a large slice of the market.

As Broulee wound down, its facilities and responsibilities, particularly including the Court House and Police Station, were transferred to Moruya.

Contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School published in 2015.