Gold was discovered at Araluen in 1851. It became one of the three principal gold fields in Australia. Estimates vary dramatically as to the numbers of miners initially attracted to the area — Bayley has it at about 15,000; Gibbney suggests not more than 3,000. However, after a few years there were about 7,000 people working at Araluen.
In 1858 there was a strike at Mogo, and mining went on there intermittently for the next fifty years. There was another significant strike at Nerrigundah in 1861 and a village of about 600 was established. That same year, silver mining commenced at Moruya, but it didn’t come to much. The gold at Araluen and at Nerrigundah was very profitable for years but was largely played out by the end of the century. It recurred in fits and starts, and at Nerrigundah the town received periodic boosts from timber, wattle bark and eucalyptus oil, but they are both small, quiet hamlets today. When Araluen and Nerrigundah prospered the flow-on trade offered considerable support to Moruya.
With the gold came the bushrangers. In 1862 and ’63 they raided Nerrigundah three times. The Clarke gang terrorised the Araluen goldfields for years. In 1864 a gang operating on the road in and out of Nerrigundah took over the village itself. In a battle for the town, they shot dead Constable Miles O’Grady, to whose memory an obelisk yet stands in the centre of the village.
A mile or two downstream from the bridge at Moruya, a bar of granite surfaces on both sides of the river. In 1868, Louttit’s quarry on the south side of the river provided granite for the construction of the Bank of NSW building in Martin Place, Sydney. In 1872, the quarry provided the stone for the columns of the GPO in Martin Place.
The quarry on the north side, in 1925, commenced to extract, shape and pre-assemble the granite for the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The quarry manager, John Gilmore, was brought in from Scotland and was joined by 909 stonemasons and their families. They too were mostly Scots.
The village of Granite Town sprang up and the wharf which still stands was erected. Granite Town achieved a population of about 300 and provided a great stimulus for Moruya. However, its sole purpose was its contribution to the building of the Bridge and by the time the Bridge opened in 1932, the quarry had closed, the masons had dispersed and the town had been largely dismantled. One of the few side orders the quarry had attended to was the provision of the 50 ton stone which forms the Cenotaph in Martin Place.
Walking down Martin Place today, taking note of the GPO building, the Westpac Bank and the Cenotaph, Moruya’s thumbprint is plain to see. Continue on down George Street to marvel at the Harbour Bridge and it is clear Sydney Town could never have made it without Moruya.