The History of Moruya: Tourism and Sea Change

The location of the national capital at Canberra in the 1920s has proven to be no small thing in the life and development of the Moruya area. As the Federal Government’s workforce began to assemble in Canberra, so they commenced to trickle down to the coast for their holidays. At first it was a daunting journey. One of the early routes required catching the evening train from Canberra to Tarago. There they huddled in the waiting room through the night with the Station Master calling once or twice — railway cap squarely atop his pyjamas and dressing-gown — to put another block on the fire. At 4.00 am they were picked up by the mail car coming through from Goulburn to Braidwood. After breakfast, they caught the 10.00 am bus to Batemans Bay. From there, there was another bus to Moruya with stops along the way.

Broulee, which had been deserted since 1892, was rediscovered in the 1920s by a few people who drove in through private tracks and fences and set up their tents by the beach. They drew their fresh water from the spring and powered their lamps and stoves with kerosene and methylated spirits. The early holidaymakers at Broulee who sought to erect their own shacks were advantaged by the fact that it was about the only seaside spot that had been surveyed into building blocks. They started to buy them and build on them in 1926. The next subdivision of Broulee, between Train and Clarke Streets, was not affected until the 1950s. On the other side of Candlagan Creek, at Connell’s Point, now Mossy Point, the subdivision into 361 building blocks was done in about 1930. They went on at one pound down and the balance at six per cent.

At Tuross Head it was much later before building blocks became available. The Mylott family, having held the 875-acre block since about 1870, sold it to Hector McWilliam in 1924. It was 1960 before he had it cut up into 1600 blocks.

The tourist trade from Canberra increased markedly when the highway was upgraded and when the bridge at Nelligen replaced the ferry in 1964. Earlier, in 1956, the advent of the bridge at Batemans Bay cut the travelling time not only for the Canberra traffic but for the holidaymakers from Sydney. At Moruya, the first bridge had been built in 1876, to be replaced in 1900, 1945 and 1966.

Today, the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s website refers to tourism as “our main economic base”. Tourism is estimated to bring about $250 million into the Shire each year. The visitors from Canberra, who provide about 20% of that, have now been overshadowed by the people from Sydney who provide about 46%. The other factor in the growth of the Moruya area in recent years has been what the demographers refer to as the Sea Change phenomenon — a notable increase in the numbers of people, Australia-wide, gravitating to coastal areas. Eurobodalla Shire Council is sufficiently impressed with the theory that they have it incorporated in their planning process.

Eurobodalla Shire takes its name from an early 800-acre farm south and west of Bodalla which developed into a minor hamlet when the first state school in the area, a hotel and a cheese factory were located there. In 1906, the NSW Government created and named the Shire. Its choice of the name was a mystery at the time and remains so. The good people of Moruya suggested there was a better name to be had but their advice was not acted upon.

As of 2001 the population of the Shire stood at 33,137 — about double what it had been twenty years earlier. However, over the Christmas holiday period, it swells to about 130,000. The Moruya postcode area, consisting of Moruya itself and the strip from Tomakin to Tuross Head, held a population of 9,757 in 2001 — a very modest increase on Moruya’s 1891 population of 1236.

The changes in the Moruya district, from an agriculturally based society, are such that less than 5% of the working population is now engaged in agriculture, forestry or fishing. The main employment groups, in order, are retail; health and community services; accommodation, cafes and restaurants; and construction.

Moruya’s history is a bit like the road south from Batemans Bay. By the time it gets to Moruya it’s had its ups and downs. But the road ahead looks good.

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