The Sydney Morning Herald Monday 4th July 1887

(By Our Special Reporter)

With the exception of those whose business took them to the southern coast between Kiama and Twofold Bay, Bermagui was scarcely known to anyone until about eight years ago, when the discovery of gold in the vicinity brought it into prominence, not only in this colony, but the sister colonies, and even New Zealand.

A rush quickly set in, and in a comparatively short time a large population had settled in and about Bermagui. The name of the township itself, as well as Montreal, the centre of the goldfield, became familiar to many thousands of people. While the gold fever at this particular point was at its height, the interest in Bermagui was intensified by the mysterious disappearance of Lamont Young and party, which caused such a deep sensation, not only in Australasia, but far beyond seas. For a long time Bermagui was on everyone’s lips, and when all immediate hope of any elucidation of the terrible mystery had been abandoned and the goldfields worked out, Bermagui remained in the minds of the great bulk of Sydney people only as a dim and melancholy landmark of the past.

With the departure of the two or three thousand diggers the place seemed to have been almost forgotten, and it has seldom been alluded to, except, perhaps, as a small village on the sea coast, whose prosperity had altogether waned.

The other day, however, the accidental discovery of some aboriginal remains attracted renewed attention of the locality and revived painful associations. As the result of the recent inquiry is no doubt fresh in the minds of the public, I need not further refer to it, and my only object in writing the present article is to give some idea of the district and its importance in regard to agriculture and dairy farming, which is likely, under certain conditions, to promote the permanent welfare of the population residing on this portion of our coast.

Bermagui itself is merely a village containing not more than 100 residents. It boasts of a very fair public-house, dignified by the name of the Royal Hotel, and kept by P. Engstrom, who provides good accommodation to his customers, and a plain but wholesome bill of fare. Two stores appear to maintain a healthy existence, and the public school has, I believe, an average attendance of about 30 pupils. There is also a post-office which dispatches and receives mails four times a week, twice via Cobargo, and twice via Tilba Tilba.

The great industry at present on the Bermagui River or more properly speaking, Tidal Creek, is a sawmill which is carried on by Mr. T. Moorhead, who appears to carry on an extensive business between Bermagui and Sydney, as well as intermediate ports. For this purpose he has two vessels running, the Jane Moorhead and the Sarah Beattie, which are his own property, and the Morunna which is chartered by him. These vessels being of light draught manage to navigate the shallow entrance to the creek without much difficulty, and when the tide and wind serve, are able to run right up to the Government wharf, a distance of fully half a mile.

The landing-place for passengers by the Illawarra Company’s steamers, which call twice a week, is in a small bay on the other side of the creek, and is perfectly safe except perhaps in heavy north-easterly weather. At present passengers are conveyed to the above in the ship’s boat, but in a very short time the steamers will be able to rest snugly alongside a substantial jetty. This structure, which is in Horseshoe Bay, South Bermagui, was commenced about 10 months ago by the contractors, Messrs. Sutherland and Norris; Mr. J.G. Love being the Government inspector under Mr. M. Moriarty, Assistance Engineer of Harbours and Rivers, in charge of the southern Coast district. The original intention was to carry out the jetty a distance of only 175 feet, but in consequence of the discovery of some sunken rocks within that distance an additional 40 feet, were added, making the jetty now 215 feet in length, and 22 feet in width. Ironbark and box were used for the girders, turpentine for the files, and spotted gum for the flooring, and the work has been performed in a thorough manner. The depth at the end of the jetty is from 23 to 26 feet, thus allowing ample water for the coasting steamers to come alongside. The last pile has now been driven, and the moorings are to be laid immediately.

One great drawback, however, which threatens to seriously injure the value of the jetty for a large number of settlers who may desire to use it, is the absence of any bridge or punt to connect North with South Bermagui. The farmers of Dry River, Upper Brogo, and Murrah, which lie to the South of Bermagui will be able to enjoy the shipping facilities that the completion of the Jetty offers, while the producers of Cobargo, Wandello, Tilba Tilba and Dignam’s Creek will be shut out from all participation in the benefit unless they have some permanent means of crossing the creek. This, I am informed, could be provided by a comparatively small expenditure.

Bermagui is the natural port of shipment for a district covering a radius of 25 to 30 miles, the main industry of which is dairy farming. Maize, cheese, and wattle bark are the principal exports, and, the soil being extremely fertile, vegetable gardening is carried on to a considerable extent and with marked success.

Another important requirement, the absence of which created the utmost surprise last week among those who has to visit Bermagui officially in connection with the recent discovery of human remains, is a telegraph office to connect Bermagui with Cobargo. At present there is an absolute break of 14 miles between the two towns, and it will hardly be credited that it is not an uncommon thing for persons telegraphing to Sydney to pay four or five times the cost of the message itself for delivery at Cobargo.

I am informed that the convenience of telegraphic communication was denied to Bermagui on the score of expense; but I am told by persons who have worked the matter out that the line could be constructed for about £300, and that the residents are prepared to guarantee the salary of the operator. The want of a telegraph office was severely felt last week, when the official and press messages, which should have been dispatched without undue delay, had to be forwarded by messenger to Cobargo, where in several cases they remained until the following day.

Apart from the industries which will probably in the near future bring it once more into prominence, Bermagui is situated in one of the most picturesque portions of the southern coast, and now that a suitable jetty has been provided, the locality will no doubt be visited by a large number of persons from the metropolis in search of rest or recreation when increased accommodation is afforded and the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company become enlightened as to the necessity of reducing their fares to something a little more reasonable. Two pounds for a journey of 160 miles is an enormous charge; and the residents complain not only of this, but of the heavy freights charged for the conveyance of the produce to market. These things, however, may be adjusted by healthy competition and more energy and enterprise on the part of the residents themselves, who so far have taken no steps to secure a remedy of the grievance under which they labour.

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