As evidenced by the archaeological remains throughout the area, it is likely that the area was utilised well before the arrival of Europeans. Located between the community centres of Narooma and Wallaga Lake, the area has been highly utilised by the Aboriginal community over the past century. Tilba Lake was popularly used as a camping base during the 1950s and 60s; families’ fishing in Tilba Lake, around Pooles Point to the north and along Wallaga Beach to the south. Mystery Bay continues to be a highly valued place to camp, initially due to its proximity to a fresh water source and seafoods, as well as providing shelter from the wind and sun. Today a government-supplied tap has replaced the fresh water source, and fishing has its limitations. However, the need to unite with family, to maintain cultural connections with the land and sea, and teach younger generations traditional fishing techniques, for instance, remains strong.
Beryl Brierley, born in the Tilba area, has memories of camping and fishing at Mystery Bay throughout the 1940s. ‘……people from Wallaga Lake always collected white clay along the creek. The place has been covered over by the road now. Everyone painted their wood fire chimneys with the white clay, everyone was proud of their white chimneys. There was a fresh water spring where the houses are now. It is probably in someone’s back yard…..’. [Beryl Brierley 12.5.2006].
‘…Traditionally, Mystery Bay was the place to find muttonfish. Nan Stewart cooked muttonfish on the beach at Mystery Bay. ….Once I saw the rocks in water light up, …..the surface and the rocks under the water were luminous…” [Vivienne Mason 5.1.2006].
For the residents of Wallaga Lake, Mystery Bay is one of the main camping and fishing places. Sisters Harriett and Pam often walked with their parents between Wallaga Lake and Mystery Bay. Harriett’s mother once found a skeleton on the point at Mystery Bay. So the families choose to camp in the bush, closer to where the houses are now. Harriet remembers her grandparents fishing and camping here, and also at a place between Bunga Head and Mystery Bay. There was a fresh water spring flowing onto Mystery Bay, near where the campground is today. Pam recalls collecting abalone here [Pam Flanders and Harriett Walker 11.4.2006].
Lionel Mongta recalls the Andy, Parsons, Davis, Noble and Carter families camping at Mystery Bay. The Noble family had tribal markings on their bodies. Fresh water once flowed onto the beach. There is also a man made well on the north side of the campsite. This campsite was good all year around, so people could stay for months at a time. Fish would be fried with butter bartered, in exchange for snapper, from the Thompson’s farm. Percy Davis’s brother, ‘Uby’ camped at the most easterly end of Mystery Bay. ‘Uby’ travelled between Tilba Tilba Lake and Mystery Bay depending on the availability of fish. If bream were plentiful at Tilba Lake he would camp there. If snapper were on at Mystery Bay he would camp there.
Lionel spent much of his childhood with his Uncle Gundy [Ted] Davis. Gundy was married to Lionel’s mother’s sister Lizzy [nee Andy] Davis. In the 1940s Gundy Davis worked at Mystery Bay fishing with hand lines and hauling in fishing boats up the slips. Lionel was taught traditional hunting and gathering skills by Gundy Davis. He was shown the ancient fish traps at Mystery Bay, located immediately off the point, amidst the rocks. During the war, Lionel regularly collected fish from the fish traps. Gundy Davis’s totem was the sandpiper, now his descendants hold the same totem.
Lionel’s grandfather, Bob Andy worked as a tracker in search of the gold missing from Mystery Bay from off Le Mont Young’s boat which was sailing from Bermagui to Sydney. The story, as told to Lionel, was that the boat anchored in the Bay in search of water, a smaller rowboat came ashore. The smaller rowboat was found with spears, and bullet holes but without people [alive or dead] or gold [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].
“…….Dad always took us here to fish and camp. There were a lot of Aboriginal families living at Mystery over summer. They picked up the river when the work was on. I was last there 20 years ago. We camped on the beach just south of the Mystery Bay. ….where fresh water came onto the Beach …” [Linda Cruse 1.3.2006].
It is mainly the Solomon family from Victoria who camp at Mystery Bay today. Ted Thomas used the traditional fish traps at Boat Harbour Point when he was a child [Chris Griffiths’ consultations 16.3.2006].
John camped at Mystery Bay with his mother and father during the 1950s. His father fished and his mother was the camp cook. John slept in a tomato box. The family moved around depending on where the fish are. John’s mother and aunties Mavis Longbottom [nee Page] and Lola Ryan [nee Page], made shell trinkets ‘they were shell workers’. The kids collected shells from Mystery Bay for them to use. John’s mother would come here to catch up with her family; the Moores, Masons and Mongtas.
John was recently sitting on the rocks at Mystery Bay with his 70-year-old uncle [Keith ‘Hooks’ Page]. His uncle had sat in the precise location as a 12 year old, in the 1940s. John sees him and his family as having ‘visiting rights’ to Mystery Bay. His contact with Mystery Bay keeps on going, although it is a bit harder to stay there for more than a week due to the camping fees. Christmas 2005, New Years Day was a scorcher, reaching 43 degrees. John described how all the campers, elders and kids, came onto the beach to cool down. All of those koori people have an affinity with that place, as a meeting place for families that have been moved or have relocated to distant towns and cities. Families from Victoria and Sydney, meet up at Mystery Bay, annually. John has brought his children to Mystery Bay to ensure that they meet their relatives. ‘……Mystery holds power, power sitting in the land, you can almost hear the corroborees, singing in the bush. …it comes to you when you are there. …’ [John Pender 4.5.2006].
On weekends and during school holidays Margaret and her parents went to Mystery Bay to camp with their extended family. They would travel there in a taxi Friday afternoon and return Sunday evening. They would hang a tarp between two trees and feed off the sea. They ate bimbulla sandwiches, and curried or rissole muttonfish [Marg Harris 9.3.2006].
People residing at Wallaga Lake also used 1080 Beach, also known as Tilba Beach during the 1950s and 1960s as a summer camping area. It was not a long walk from Wallaga Lake. Pam Flanders recalls fishing for flat head, prawning and collecting blackberries here. The area is seen as a teaching place where traditional ecological knowledge can be passed onto the younger generations. Families from other areas would meet here with Wallaga Lake families. The Tilba Lake was once open, but is currently closed to the ocean [Chris Griffiths 16.3.2006].
Lionel recalls there being a spring fed fresh water creek at the northern end of the beach however, weeds presently choke the creek and the water is not running [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Merv Penrith and Shirley Foster frequently took their kids to camp at Tilba Lake, Mystery Bay and 1080 Beach. They slept in a tent and fished on the beach and in the lake. They took fresh water to Tilba Lake from Wallaga Lake. ‘I have been through a lore that is 1000s of years old, if I can’t fish in Tilba Lake, there’d be hell to pay, I need to fish…’. [Mervyn Penrith 11.4.2006].
With her family and friends, Beryl would camp at Tilba Lake in the school holidays, when people did not have to work all day long. The usual camp was under the fig tree, now covered by sand dunes. The sand is creeping towards the lake. There were always plenty of prawns and fish in the Tilba Lake. We slept in ’woggas’, with canvas and corn bags sewn together like blankets to keep the dew off, like a fly over a tent. When camping at Tilba Lake, we always went to Tilba Beach [1080 Beach] and around the rocks to Mystery Bay for lobster and muttonfish. We usually returned to Tilba Lake to camp. ‘I crave our natural foods…I try to eat fresh food when ever I can….’. [Beryl Brierley 12.5.2006].
Pam Flanders and Harriet Walker recall prawning in the Tilba Lake. They camped in the sheltered heath land, near a fresh waterhole. Alex Walker recalls a lot of koori families camping there throughout the 1950s [Alex Walker and Pam Flanders 11.4.2006].
During the war years, a well-used camp was established and used by the Wallaga Lake mob. When camping at Tilba Lake, if night fishing was on at Poole’s Point, those fishing would camp over night at Pooles point, returning back to the main camp the following morning. Lionel recalls camping here over the summer holidays when the picking work was at a stand still [Lionel Mongta 2.1.2006].
Jeff Bates owned Haxstead farm, near Tilba Lake. Bob Andy and Valerie Andy worked there. Pam and Harriett’s father, Arthur Thomas worked here also, milking cows, cleaning and building [Pam Flanders 11.4.2006].
Pam Flanders and Harriet Walker have memories of fishing with lines and spears off Pooles Point, a rocky point close to Tilba Lake. This area is commonly used by residence of Wallaga Lake for day trips, as it is a short walk from Wallaga Lake along the Wallaga Beach. Harriett recalls camping at Poole’s Point with her grandparents. They took a little swag eachand made wind breaks from the shrubs and trees in the area. There was running fresh water near Poole’s Point [Pam Flanders and Harriett Walker 11.4.2006].
Excerpt from "Stories About the Eurobodalla by Aboriginal People", 2006. Story Contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.