Gerringong's Early History
Gerringong's origins date back to 1810
The Gerringong district has a proud history all of its own that stems as far back as 1810 for white settlement and, of course, thousands of years for the indigenous community. The following history of Gerringong features work researched by Gerringong and District Historical Society, Margaret Sharpe and an extract published in the Kiama Independent in 1951, written by Gerringong Town Clerk, the late A.M.Trevallion.
The early settlement of Gerringong was closely related to the timber industry and various primary industries such as cattle, agriculture and dairying.
As early as 1810 the area was visited by cedar getters, wealthy merchants in Sydney organising the despatch of small vessels to the South Coast where, at various points, timber was loaded, having been brought in by bullock teams.
The clearing carried out by the sawyers encouraged further clearing for occupation and agricultural use. The natural richness of the soil was soon apparent in good crops of corn, maize, barley and, to a lesser degree, tobacco.
The first land grants in the district were made in 1817 including, at Gerringong, William Smith (600 acres at Omega in 1825).
Lieutenant Thomas Campbell secured 1280 acres from Omega to Mount Pleasant in 1825 before transferring it to his brother-in-law, James Mackey Gray in 1834. James became an outstanding citizen throughout the Illawarra.
Michael Hindmarsh and his wife Cecilia were the first permanent settlers in the Gerringong district. Michael obtained a grant of 640 acres in 1827 and later built his home Alne Bank, which is still occupied by members of the family today.
Robert Miller arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1834 with his wife and six children and, in 1835, he bought 600 acres from William Smith, naming the property Renfrew Park after his Scottish home.
He immediately set to work on what was considered an impossible task, draining and clearing the swamp lands on his property and transforming it into some of the area's richest pasture lands. (His descendant, Mr J.M.Miller, later obtained council's permission for the subdivision of part of his farm to include 280 seaside town blocks, which became the nucleus of a separate little community - today's Werri Beach.) Not bad for an area that was originally dismissed as valueless swamp!
Others to follow included the Emery family and Ewan Campbell and his family in 1838.
In 1849 a new road was cleared from Kiama to Gerringong. It was, until that time, only a rough track. As the Omega swamp was difficult to cross, the early road went into Rose Valley and around the hills.
When the swamp was drained the main road came up Fern Street, turned into Belinda Street at the Memorial Hall and down to the present Princes Highway.
In August 1824, Governor Brisbane instructed surveyor James McBrien to survey the land surrounding "Long Nose Point" (Blackhead, Gerroa).
The governor's instructions were to map the area and lay out areas suitable for land grants and a township.
He was also to reserve exclusively for the Crown all lands located near the entrance to harbours, creeks, bays and rivers. The survey resulted in the reservation of 600 acres at the present day site of the Gerringong township.
While Gerringong was first gazetted as a postal town in 1829, it wasn't until January 17, 1854, that the Governor of NSW proclaimed the site of the "Village of Jerringong".
The street names of Jupiter, Belinda, Blackwood, Greta, Fern, Coal and Percy Streets were designated on the village plan. (No information can be found from the Lands Department or Mitchell Library as to why these names were chosen.)
The year after proclamation saw the first town blocks put up for sale the first purchasers being J Emery, G Gray, R Miller, J Miller, A Armstrong, Margaret Campbell, J Blow, C Moffitt, T Mclntyre, R Boxsell, T Boxsell, W Marks, S Timms, J McCLelland, J Sherwood and J Wilson.
Many of the original business premises were built just south of the present township, this being because of the closer proximity to Boat Harbour.
Businesses included a blacksmith and the Boat Harbour Store. Later came the Ocean View Inn, which was the place where the horses were changed for the stage coaches going on to Coolangatta and Nowra. Churches were built in the 1850s, the first began in 1850 when the Methodists built a slab and bark church. In 1854 the Presbyterian Church was built of timber, followed by the Church of England in 1856 and the Roman Catholic Church in 1882.
When the first official post office was opened in 1857, Gerringong became the official spelling for the town.
Gerringong was proclaimed a municipality in 1871, however, prior to this it came under the banner of the Kiama Municipality in 1859.
As the production of the district increased, better methods of transport and marketing were required. In the 1850s small vessels called in at Boatharbour and, although early difficulties were overcome with the fixing of mooring chains in 1863, regular visits were not at first made.
A demonstration of the early difficulties was the fact that, in 1870 a butter wagon was sent from Kiama, travelling as far as Foxground to bring back the kegs of butter and other products to Kiama Harbour where it was loaded onto steamers bound for Sydney and elsewhere.
To overcome their problems somewhat, farmers joined together and bought their own vessels, including the Agenoria and, in 1875, the Dairymaid.
Still, small cargo boats had to be loaded with the produce and taken out to sea some distance before being loaded onto the larger vessels. The process, naturally, was painstaking, and work soon began on the construction of a jetty, which was completed in 1884 with the help of government funding. Extensions were then made by respected council contractor John Britain Taylor.
As the district prospered and production further increased, the need arose for a central depot and, eventually, for the manufacture of butter along co-operative lines (whereby farmers pool their produce).
The Gerringong Cooperative Factory was first worked on September 3, 1888. Until its closure, it was the longest continuing co-op in Australia.
A dairy company was formed at Omega in 1880 and, in 1883, sent its first consignment of condensed milk to Sydney.
From 1880, regular visits by the Peterborough brought added business to the village, but the cessation of shipping following extension of the Illawarra railway line to Gerringong in 1893, saw much of the produce transferred to the railway system and the reliance on shipping for the export and import of produce slowly dwindled.
The official death knell sounded in 1891 after a great storm smashed the jetty to pieces.
When the municipality of Kiama was established in 1859, it included the townships of Kiama central, Jamberoo, Gerringong and Broughton Vale.
There was much dissatisfaction expressed by Gerringong residents with the arrangement. As early as 1859 a meeting was held at Gerringong to discuss the possibility of having the area break away as a separate municipality.
The discontent continued until 1871 when Gerringong property owners were successfully petitioned for independence. The Gerringong Municipal District was incorporated on April 24, 1871, and the first election held on June 2. Nine councillors were elected, led by mayor M.E. Robson. The first meeting was held three days later on June 5 in the Lanterrick Hotel, which, in the absence of an official meeting place, served as the council chambers over the ensuing months.
While Jamberoo gained its independence 20 years later, the wheel turned full circle in June 1954, when the three townships were once again amalgamated under the Kiama Municipal banner.
THE GREAT FIRE
One of the most dramatic events in the history of Gerringong was a great fire that burnt out most of the commercial district in 1872, leaving the community devastated.
The disaster occurred in July of 1872 when a grass fire started in Willow Vale and, whipped up by a strong westerly wind, raged across paddocks before destroying a large part of the town including the Church of England, minister's residence and church school, the Lanterrick Hotel, the blacksmith's and other buildings.
As there was no water supply and most buildings were made of timber, the devastation was great.
With the Lanterrick Hotel razed, council held its meetings in the offices of the Gerringong Navigation Company until a council chambers was built in Fern Street in 1877.
Many outlying schools were built before the Gerringong Public School in the town. Omega School was built in 1860, Rose Valley in 1868, Toolijooa in 1871 and Foxground Public School in 1876.
Gerringong Public School was built in Fern Street and opened with Mr Bousfield as headmaster and 60 pupils in 1876. A student teacher, Miss Catherine Rutledge, was soon appointed.
The school stayed in this location until 1994 when a new school was opened in Archibald Road, Gerringong.
All outlying schools eventually closed as roads and transport became more accessible.
The only high schools for children up until about 1945 were Wollongong and Nowra Intermediate High School.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT BUILDINGS
The township's first police station - which exists today as a private residence - was opened in 1882 in Fern Street, It was a handsome brick building with lock-up cells at the back.
The School of Arts was built in 1883 and used for all public functions until the Gerringong Town Hall was opened in 1958.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The Australian land speed record was set on the beach at Gerroa in 1929 by a bloke called Wizard Smith.
On January 11,1933, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith made the historic flight from Gerroa Beach to New Plymouth, New Zealand, in a time of 14 hours and 10 minutes. He was sent off in his plane, the Southern Cross, by great crowds of Gerringong residents who braved the chilly conditions of the 2.50am departure.
© This Article is Copyright: Gerringong and District Historical Society - 2014