Moruya Farms and Sawmills

Like the Bodalla and Nerrigundah areas, Moruya had a widespread seasonal farm industry. The picture emerging from the oral recollections presented here is that of an Aboriginal labour force supporting the development and ongoing success of the seasonal vegetable industry. At the beginning of the 1900s, most if not all of the seasonal pickers were Aboriginal, until other ‘cheap labour’ forces immigrated to the region.

‘‘When picking was ‘on’, Moruya was a ‘blackout’. ..all the workers went to Prices Café, the Adelaide Hotel and to the banks of the Moruya River, at the park. You needed licence papers, a ‘dog tag’, to be exempt from the law. You gave up rights under the Aboriginal Protection Board. I was 19, so this was in 1962……” [Tom Davis 18.12.2005].

Ken McKay’s farm was behind the Pearly Shells. Until the age of 17, during the school holidays and sometimes after school, Trisha would ‘go picking’ with her mother and Nan. With the income, the kids would buy new clothes. They would choose a row each and ‘go for it’. They would be wet and itchy, their clothes heavy with mud. If the kids got caught having a feed of peas they would get ‘hit with a clod of dirt ’. You would meet people from all over, including Wallaga Lake, and learn stories about the land, whilst picking. Pop Connell was a ‘bagger’. He would collect the bags from paddocks, tally them up, stitch and label them. The pickers would mark their personal initials onto each bag with mud, so that the bagger would know how many bags each picker had produced [Trisha Ellis 4.2.2006].

A French man by the name of Diont owned a farm along North Head Road, Moruya [Georgina Parsons 14.12.2005].

Linda Colburn camped on Diont’s farm, Moruya, to pick for a week or two. She was with her twin sisters; they would hitch a ride from Bodalla, and return when the work had been complete [Linda Colburn 11.5.2006].

Albert Solomon picked peas at Palmers farm on the Moruya River. Loutitt’s farm near the aerodrome grew sac choline. Turner and Reed also had farms in Moruya [Albert Solomon 11.4.2006]

Turner’s paddocks were near the sewerage plant in Moruya [Trisha Ellis 1.6.2006].

Symalene took her children to pick beans at Moruya farms, whilst living at Mogo. ‘ I wasn’t a real good picker, but made a bit of money. I took my kids along…’[Symalene Nye 15.11.2005].

Dave recalls working on Murphy’s farm in Moruya as a 14 year old with his grandfather. There were not enough beds, so first in best slept. Dave recalls Patsy and her mother [Trisha’s mother and grandmother], also working there. Hessian sheets divided family sleeping quarters [Dave Tout].

Along Ryans Creek, South Head Road, Norm Macintosh owned a farm where peas, corn, potatoes and beans were picked. In 1951, aged 15, Linda Cruse met her husband to be Ted Davis at this farm. He was paddock boss and loaded beans onto the truck [Linda Cruse 1.3.2006].

In 1943 the Connell family worked picking peas at Macintosh’s farm, Moruya South Heads. Ernest John Richard Connell, Margaret’s father knew Mr Macintosh from when he was young. During the 196o’s Margaret returned to work in the Moruya area picking for Vic Macintosh, Ted Hunt, Brian Loutitt, Jimmy Turner and Ken McKay. Margaret was told that ‘Moruya’ means ‘Place of Black Swan’ [Margaret Carriage 31.5.2006].

The Aboriginal workers, picking peas and beans at Macintosh’s farm would camp behind ‘Toughwood’, the Gilmore’s house, close to the farm [Nell Greig 19.12.2005].

Georgina lived at the Macintosh’s farm where her parents worked. She recalls swimming from Macintosh’s farm to Ryans Creek. At the time they lived at Macintosh’s farm in wooden houses devoted to the pickers [Georgina Parsons 14.12.2005].

Ziegler had a farm near the Moruya industrial area. Margaret and her family cut sac-choline here with a machete [Marg Harris 9.3.2006].

Our family picked at Ted Hunt’s farm along Mountain View Rd, Moruya. Margaret’s sister Phyllis was ‘the quickest picker……we made pillows by stuffing grass into old seeds bags…’. [Marg Harris 9.3.2006].

Mr Hunt had paddocks at Yarragee and Kiora [Trisha Ellis 1.6.2006].

Mary Duroux views the contribution her community made to the sawmill industry, for instance, as self determined and motivated people gaining employment without training and support. ‘….people started at the bottom and worked their way to the top…..’ Margaret Harris’s father for instance began working in the sawmill industry as a stacker in the yards, working his way to becoming a well sought after benchman selecting, measuring and sorting logs. ‘…..there was the Manager who, in those days, was never an Aboriginal person. Below the manager were the benchman, then the sawyer, the docker, the tailor and the contractor who loaded the logs onto the trucks and delivered them. There was also the feller and the snigger out in the bush as well as the team of a few men at remote spot mills. There were never any women in the mills either; we were usually doing seasonal picking work at farms nearby the sawmills. The men worked on the farms on the weekends, but the women never worked in the mills. ….’ [Mary Duroux 6.2.2006].

Booth’s sawmill was located near the present day Shell Depot, Campbell St, Moruya. As a child Margaret Harris and her family camped in a tent close to the Booth Mill, where Margaret’s father was employed. After being flooded out in mid 1960s, the family relocated to the sawmill house at 23 Hawdon St. The mill house was clad in rough sawn timber and painted with creosote. Margaret recalls the Davis, Brierley, Stewart and Connell families living in Moruya during the 1960s [Margaret Harris 9.3.2006].

Ray Fitzgerald’s sawmill was located opposite the Moruya Golf Course, east side of the highway along South Head Road. In 1953 at the age of 14 Georgina Parson’s lived in a paddock close to Ray Fitzgerald’s Mill. Her father worked at Fitzgerald’s sawmill at the time. Rawley, a Chinaman in a blue truck, delivered tins of Sulphur and ointment ‘out of town’ [Georgina Parsons 14.12.2005]

Maureen’s father Roy Davis worked at Ray Fitzgerald’s sawmill located next to the Shell Depot on the South side of Moruya opposite the Golf Course. There were many Aboriginal men employed there at the time [Maureen Davis 8.6.2006].

Crokers sawmill was originally located in the vicinity of the ‘old Moruya Caravan Park’, east of the Moruya Town Wharf. It was later relocated to the vicinity of the Moruya Bus Depot [Margaret Harris 9.3.2006].

Doris’s father Wally ‘Jerry’ Davis worked at the Crokers sawmill in Moruya. He always wore a white shirt to work; most people thought he had an office job. He moved to Stony Creek when the Crokers shut down. Two sawmills were owned by Croker [one of which relocated to near the Moruya rubbish tip] and the other was owned by Ray Smith [which subsequently was taken over by Fitzgerald] [Doris Moore 14.12.2005].

William Davis Snr worked at Roger Croker’s Sawmill in Moruya [William Davis Jnr 22.5.2006].

Ray Smith’s sawmill was once owned by Croker. It was located opposite the town Wharf in Moruya on the South side of the river. Maureen’s grandfather Walter Davis was employed here for a number of years. Croker’s sawmill was later moved to the back of Moruya near the Waste Disposal Dump. Crokers sawmill used to be managed by Ray Smith. Maureen’s father Roy Davis worked at this sawmill during the 1960s when Ray Fitzgerald was the manager. There were many Aboriginal men employed here including Danny Parsons; William Davis Snr; Basil Andy and Terry Connell [Maureen Davis 19.12.2005].

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.