Nerrigundah and Belowra

The Nerrigundah Sawmill was located on the southern side of the township, and close by was the sawmill housing, for the workers and their families. There was only one sawmill in Nerrigundah. Lionel recalls the Bodalla school bus picking up the kids from the mill early in the morning and stopping to collect kids all the way along Eurobodalla Road, at the various farms where they stayed [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].

In 1974 Donney Wellington worked pushing logs through the Nerrigundah Sawmill. Danny Chapman was a benchman; his father Henry Chapman was a chipper. They all lived in the Nerrigundah Mill houses [Stephen Deck [NPWS] 16.3.2006].

Harry Palmer purchased the Nerrigundah Sawmill from Rex Crawford when George Parsons worked here with his family [Georgina Parsons 6.6.2006].

Throughout his childhood Les Simon stayed with his extended family at the Nerrigundah Sawmill Houses, during Christmas school holidays, whilst his grandfather and granduncles worked at the Nerrigundah sawmill. Later, Les himself worked in the Nerrigundah Sawmill between 1974 and 1975. At the time Les was in training and playing for first grade Rugby with Batemans Bay. On a Thursday night he travelled with the manager of the Nerrigundah mill, Tommy Dunn, to Batemans Bay for training; he would play a game on Sunday and return to Nerrigundah with Tommy on Monday to start work [Les Simon 30.11.2005].

As a young child in the 1960s Jennifer Stewart lived in the Nerrigundah Sawmill House with her uncles, her mother’s brothers; ‘Jiggzy’ James Jnr Chapman and brothers Henry Chapman, Jo Chapman and Syd Chapman who worked at the Nerrigundah Mill. Jennifer’s brothers worked at the mill for fifteen [15] years [whilst the women worked picking crops on nearby farms]. The workers, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, occupied the mill house which has since been knocked down, [or maybe burnt down]. The mill and the old church have also been destroyed [Jennifer Stewart. 09.11.2005].

Terry Parsons lived in the old mill cottages at Nerrigundah when he was about 10 years old. His father Cyril worked in the mill, whilst his kids went to Bodalla School. He bet on the races and brought groceries with his winnings. There were fifteen [15] cottages and 1 sawmill. On weekends they would go bean picking. Farm trucks from Bodalla would come and collect the women. Dudley Murphy drove the school, pickers and mail bus all in one. He would pick everyone up at 6.30 am and return at 6 pm [Terry Parsons 18.12.2005].

‘…..During the 1950s we had a hut at Nerrigundah, a tin and bark hut that my father built when he was working at the mil. There was 1 mill and 1 shop at the time. I was still going to school. We would get picked up in a blitz wagon; an old army truck owned by Lyle Egan, he would also pick up the groceries. Egan also did the bus run. We were at Nerrigundah for a few years, I then moved around the place, getting on to be a teenager, chasing the girls up the river. …At Nerrigundah, we ate Kangaroos, rabbits, echidnas, fish, beans and other greens. My father taught me how to catch possums. 10 –15 young blokes with older ones would go out hunting. We would poke eels out of the river from under the logs, poke the spear in and chase them out. When the goanna climbed up the trees, some of the big blokes, like my brother Sonny or one of the Montga boys would spear the goanna’s out of the tree, we’d be down the bottom waiting with dogs to catch the goanna when it dropped. We had good hunting dogs, beagle hounds and grey hounds. The Beagles would chase the rabbits out of the blackberries, out of the holes and the greyhounds would bring them back live.

Mongta’s Stewart, Sutton mob, Solomon, Parsons families were also at the mills in Nerrigundah. Chock Noble was an initiated man, from Wallaga Lake, he was a ‘full blood’. He travelled with us, we had a truck, the Mongta’s had a car. We would pack up the kids and dogs and go to wherever the work was. We were paid wages, paid by the bag, they had bully beef that we could buy……” [Ronnie Mason 5.1.2006].

In the 1950s Violet lived in the wooden mill huts next to the Nerrigundah sawmill where her father, Robert Parsons, worked from time to time. Harry Palmer managed the mill at the time. Generally, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men worked at the mill, whilst only Aboriginal people, both men and women were employed as pickers. It was in the holidays, when the mills closed down, that the men joined the women and children in the pea paddocks [Violet Parsons 6.4.2006].

In 1965 Margaret’s family moved to Nerrigundah, which was to become, ‘the best part of my life…in the middle of nowhere’. At Nerrigundah the family lived in the sawmill houses, as her father worked as a benchman. Ray Gum managed the mill then. Margaret attended the oneroomed Nerrigundah School. ‘…..Mr Stewart O’Toole was a very good teacher, he provided the kids with a lot of freedom. ……he wore shoes with no socks, his trousers were tied up with string and he smoked in the classroom….’. [Margaret Harris 9.3.2006].

The Nerrigundah shop was owned by the Hennessey family. The first farm from the shop was owned by Roy O’Toole and his father Ewey owned the next one. The next farm was owned by the Cardons, the next by the Dihont and the next by the Murphy family. We worked at each of these farms picking, living in sheds and barns along the way [Georgina Parsons 6.6.2006].

There use to be a gold mine past Nerrigundah. Percy Mumbler was known as ‘Yellow Boy’, because he found gold wherever he went [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].

‘…People went fossicking at Nerrigundah, after it rained, there were good-sized gold nuggets on the streets. You could get a pound for the larger ones and a few shillings for the smaller ones. Peter Hennessey, a red bearded man, would buy them from us…..People passed through Nerrigundah and Tin Pot on their way through to Belowra. …..Only some of them returned, the others probably died out there. ….’ [Margaret Harris 9.3.2006].

William Thomas had two golden false teeth. He collected the gold in the clay gutters after the rain [Terry Parsons 18.12.2005].

Linda picked seasonal vegetables on the Nerrigundah farms as a teenager [Linda Colburn 11.5.2006].

Ursula Rose Connell and Ernest John Richard Connell lived and worked at Nerrigundah, during the 1950s and 1960s. They had a contract to strip wattle bark. They also cut sac choline and picked corn under contract with local farmers. The whole family lived and worked there. Trisha herself was later conceived at Nerrigundah. Years later she too picked at Nerrigundah with her mother and Nan [Trisha Ellis 4.2.2006].

“…..When camping here at ‘Brou’ [Mummuga Lake], we make day trips to Nerrigundah, and we all go. The women decide what is happening each day, and the whole camp goes…” [Maricia Ella Duncan 5.1.2006].

Alan Mongta picked peas, corn and beans with his mother and father at Nerrigundah. As a child Alan mainly ate peas, corn, beans, rabbit, kangaroo tail soup and kangaroo steak, along with government rations. Alan’s Aunty Bella and Uncle Jabba Stewart showed him how to collect wattle gum, echidna, turtles and kangaroos in the Nerrigundah area [Alan Mongta 25.11.2005].

Georgina Parson’s mother, Jessie Chapman was born in Batemans Bay and died at Nerrigundah, whilst she was working there [Georgina Parsons 14.12.2005].

During the 1950s, one of the places Mary did seasonal work was at Nerrigundah. Picking days at Nerrigundah were ‘the best times of my life, together with friends and family you were always sharing a laugh…’. Regular church services were held at the Nerrigundah Barn. The barn also served as accommodation for the pickers [Mary Duroux 6.2.2006].

Norman Russell picked in the Nerrigundah area [Norman Russell 1.3.2006].

Maxine Kelly worked picking peas and beans at Nerrigundah [Maxine Kelly 11.4.2006].

In the 1960s and 1970s, during school holidays Uncle Henry and Joan Chapman would take Violet and her family to Nerrigundah in their car to pick peas and beans; the entire family squeezed into the car all the way to Nerrigundah. The first bag the kids picked was to feed the family, the rest was for their own pocket money, which they would spend at the Batemans Bay carnival located in the Catholic School grounds.

At Nerrigundah the family camped in a tent by the Tuross River close to whichever farm they were picking at [often at Kenny Riches]. Every Monday the women and children would cart the dirty washing down to the Tuross River to wash and boil it clean. A boiling pot remained permanently stationed by the River. They would cart the clean wet washing home to hang dry.

Violet remembers bush tucker collection expeditions with her mother and Muriel Chapman, Les Simon’s mother. Violet would walk next to the women as they pushed prams carrying Les Simon, Danny Chapman, and Rita Parsons. The group would collect a variety of bush tucker including raspberries, wild cherries, gum, wondarma [apple berry], snot-gollions [clear berry], as well as yabbies from the creek. They didn’t take much home; rather they ate it along the way. Violet saw these expeditions as teaching exercises as the family did not really need the extra food; they had jobs and money to buy food. They mainly grew [and picked] vegetables and purchased meat from the Bodalla Butchery. The last time Violet worked picking at Nerrigundah was in 1975 [Violet Parsons 6.4.2006].

Gundy Davis and his father-in-law Bob Andy drove cattle between Belowra to Bodalla and knew the area well. Lionel was shown a traditional stone quarry where stones for knives, axes and spearheads were sourced and made. As a kid, Lionel travelled with his uncle Gundy out to Belowra [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].

Trisha’s mother and Nan told her that the Belowra area was good for gathering food and medicines. The resources there are not found on the coast [Trisha Ellis 4.2.2006].

Taken from “Stories About the Eurobodalla by Aboriginal People”. View the full study

Excerpt from "Stories About the Eurobodalla by Aboriginal People", 2006. Story Contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.