Expansion of European Settlement: Dairying and Timber

Timber getting began along the south coast in the 1840s, with sawmills proliferating in the 1860s. The large forested areas lying between the valleys, in which European settlement was focused, provided a major resource historically as it continues to do today. The dairying and other agricultural activities that occurred in the valleys involved large scale land clearance.

The late nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in timber getting on the south coast as contracts to supply sleepers for the state’s developing railway network were acquired. By 1883 there were 13 mills operating in the Clyde River area alone. These mills were located in many areas including: Bawley Point, Kioloa, Pebbly Beach, Bateman’s Bay, Tomakin, Mogo, Runnyford, Benandarah, Brooman, Shallow Crossing, Currowan Creek, Bridge Creek, and Termiel.104 Although there are only limited references relating to the involvement of Aboriginal people in the timber industry in the Eurobodalla area, it is undoubtedly the case that Aboriginal people were involved as workers in the timber industry as they were throughout the state.

From the mid 1860s a shift began on the South Coast from beef cattle to dairy cattle. The Bodalla area, at that time the property of Thomas Mort, was one of the early properties intensively developed as a dairy from the mid 1860s onward. The Tilba Tilba area was also developed as a dairying centre early on. By the end of the 1870s, all of the good dairying land in the area had been selected.

The 1880s and 1890s saw a large scale move to dairying throughout the region and the development of the butter and cheese industry in the region. While the Bega Valley was the centre of the development of the dairying industry the shift impacted throughout the region.

In an article published in the Moruya Examiner in 1888 the author wrote of the emergence of the towns of the area:

Nelligen also became a busy little town, as large quantities of wool found its way from the Braidwood district to the steamer at that place, en route for the metropolis. Bateman’s Bay, too, sprang into note, by reason if its saw mills; and Mogo kept a small, but steady body of diggers at work, and there are yet very strong indications of a good gold-field being found within its limits. Tomakin, on the shores of Broulee harbour, has supplied Sydney and other ports with a vast quantity of timber, and is still able to do so, if prices would only improve.

Speaking of what essentially constitutes the Eurobodalla district the author described the area in 1888:

The district has made great strides within the past few years, and tens of thousands of acres have been selected. As a rule the inhabitants are an exceedingly thrifty body, and not behind any part of the colony. The district is well supplied with schools, and churches are numerous, large sums of money being collected every year for the advancement of religion…. The productions of the district have so far been grain (maize, wheat, oats, and barley), potatoes, hardwood timbers (both sawn and wrought, ironbark girders and sleepers), wattle bark, and dairy produce. The latter has assumed large proportions, but it must be confessed that the quality has sank very low indeed, the consequence being the article is unsaleable.

The extent of small scale settlement is clear in the statement in the same article that, “Within a few miles from Nerrigundah we come to the only squatting station left in our district. Cadgee is the property of Mr. Charles Byrne, and comprises a vast amount of country. This portion of the district is exceedingly rugged and difficult to travel.” Large pastoral concerns were no longer a common feature of the Eurobodalla landscape.

Plate 2: Aboriginal family outside their house, from the W.H. Corkhill Tilba Tilba Collection, c.1900.
Plate 2: Aboriginal family outside their house, from the W.H. Corkhill Tilba Tilba
Collection, c.1900.

The shift to dairying, and associated small cropping, involved an increase in the intensity of European land use and an associated increase in the permanent European population, as opposed to the itinerant population associated with the mining of gold. The impact of such an increase in population and land use by Europeans placed further pressure on the Indigenous people of the area in relation to their access to land and resources. As the picture above illustrates some Aboriginal families were able to acquire access to sufficient land, as share farmers or more rarely lease holders, within the new European land regime to try and adapt to the new situation by themselves becoming small scale farmers. The actions of the Aborigines Protection Board in the late 1800s and early 1900s made it harder for Aboriginal people to maintain or develop economic independence in such ways.

Excerpt from Eurobodalla Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, South Coast New South Wales, 2005. Story contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.