Tathra is a small coastal township (population 1622) on the Sapphire Coast and is one of our favourite spots! It has the closest beach to Bega and is situated between Merimbula, 25 km to the south and Bermagui, 44 km to the north. It is 446 km south of Sydney via the Princes Highway and sits high on a bluff, overlooking its famous wharf. The 3rd and 4th photos show the view north to Wajurda Point and Moon Bay.
The area has a rich aboriginal history, which I will cover in next week’s post (A Slice of History), due to its abundant land and sea food resources. The name ‘Tathra’ means ‘beautiful country’ in the local Yuin dialect, though other sources suggest it has a slightly different meaning : ‘place of wild cats’!!!
The first Europeans in the area settled to the west of Tathra, illegally squatting on Crown Land in the 1820s and 1830s. At that stage, the area was outside the limits of legal settlement, known as ‘the 19 Counties’. See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Counties for more information. This rich dairying country is regularly flooded and teams with birdlife, especially water birds. Apparently, in the 1971 Bega Valley flood, water covered the 45 foot telegraph poles all the way along the mile long flat!
An enquiry into transport facilities in the Bega area in 1851 led to the formation of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company in 1858. It was an amalgamation of smaller steamer services along the South coast : the Kiama Steam Navigation Company and vessels of the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association and Edye Manning’s fleet. The name was changed in 1904 to the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company. The first cargo vessel, a 50 ton sailboat called ‘Vision’, arrived in Tathra that same year and moored offshore, its cargo being transported on a small boat to Kangarutha, where a store shed was erected at a small anchorage, ‘Stockyards’, later that year.
Tathra started out as a small jetty, known as the ‘Farmers’ Sea Wharf’. It was a shipping outlet for a group of local farmers, led by Daniel Gowing, who were fed up with having to transport their produce to Merimbula 25 km away, especially as the wagons often had to wait for the tide to go out when they crossed the beach at Bournda. Daniel Gowing was a farmer from Jellat Jellat, who opened the first store in Tathra for produce to be shipped soon after from Kangarutha.
In 1860, it was decided that Kianinny Bay was more sheltered for loading than Kangarutha, so a store was built at Kianinny. Cargo was still shipped from the beach by small boats to vessels, like ‘Gipsy’, ‘Ellen’, ‘You Yangs’ and ‘John Penn’, moored in the bay. Bad weather often held up the produce wagons on their way to the boats, so loading was uncertain and the freight costs high.
Tathra township was surveyed in 1861 and that same year, the jetty was replaced by a wharf, funded by donations from local farmers and The Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company. Regular shipping commenced in 1862 with PS Mimosa being the first ship to moor. The wharf was designed by prominent colonial engineer, Ernest Orpen Moriarty, and built by R. Mowatt with the help of Daniel Gowing and John Kirkwood. Turpentine logs, from the North Coast, driven into solid rock. It was sited in its current location, due to the protection from southerly winds, though the northerly waves still caused enough damage to necessitate continual repairs, including re-piling and changing the location of the piles, as piling techniques improved. The steep road down to the wharf also caused problems, requiring extra teams of animals to haul the fully-laden carts back up the hill.
With the opening up of Crown Lands to free selection in 1861, the population rapidly expanded and the increased trade was reflected in major additions to the original wharf. A cargo shed was built in 1866. In 1868, the Bega-Tathra road was cleared to a width of one chain and in 1879, Tathra opened its first post office in Gowing’s Store, a general store and guesthouse, on the corner of the main road and the road down to the wharf.
Due to the expansion of shipping needs and the increase in the size of visiting ships and depth of moorings, major extensions to the wharf were made in 1873; 1878; 1886; 1889; 1903 and 1912, under the guiding hand of another well-known colonial engineer, Ernest Macartney de Burgh. In 1901, cattle and pig yards were built. The route between Tathra and Sydney became known as ‘the Pig and Whistle Line’, due to the transport of pigs, produce and passengers between the two locations. Apparently, as the boats rounded the corner, they would always blow a whistle and the pigs would start squealing!
In 1862, the Illawarra Steamship Company fleet consisted of 3 schooners : ‘Ellen’, ‘Gipsy’ and ‘Rosebud’; a clipper : ‘White Cloud’; and 3 steamers: a paddle steamer : ‘Hunter’ and 2 screw steamers : ‘John Penn’ and ‘Kameruka’, but the sailing ships were superseded by steamers after 1881.
The steamer service was crucial to the Far South Coast, as the roads were very poor and there was no railway service. The Princes Highway from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border was gravel up until the 1940s. Consequently, there was a chain of 15 reliable all-weather wharves up and down the coast, where the steamers would berth and deliver and pick up goods and passengers. Rixon’s wagon left Bega Post Office for Merimbula every Wednesday and Tathra on Mondays and Thursdays to take mail and passengers to and from the steamer. Produce from Tathra included : bacon, cheese, butter, timber, tallow, wattle bark, corn and wool. The boats would also carry prime beef and sheep, horses, pigs, poultry and turkeys, both for the Sydney markets and the Royal Easter Sydney Show. Mobs of up to 700 pigs would be walked to the wharf from local farms. One Bemboka farmer even walked her flock of turkeys over 50km to the wharf by coating her turkey’s feet in tar with a light dusting of sand! Ships arriving from Sydney brought tea, bags of flour and sugar, biscuits, farm machinery and parts, grains and seeds and household furniture.In 1907, the buildings were reconstructed and the present two-storey structure was built. Spring-loaded wrought iron buffers were introduced to assist the berthing of larger vessels in the difficult north-eastern seas. A mooring buoy was positioned north-east of the wharf, to which ships would attach a spring line. Between 1907 and 1912, there were more major extensions, including a subdeck; a jib crane to facilitate loading; a cattle race; a loading ramp and a passenger shelter. In 1914, soldiers and horses were farewelled from the wharf on their way to fight in the Great War. Here is an old photo of the volunteers leaving for the war, as seen on the noticeboard on Tathra Headland.The increase in transport by road had a major effect on the amount of shipping trade everywhere, but because the Far South Coast had no adjacent railway line to carry bulk freight to Sydney, shipping trade lingered on till 1954. By 1919, the number of passengers travelling by sea had greatly decreased, so the passenger shelter was replaced by a single storey shed, next to the two-storey building. Freight and cargo became the predominant trade from Tathra. During World War II, enemy activity off the Far South Coast of NSW, including German mines and Japanese submarines, had a further impact on the amount of trading. The last ship to work cargo was the 1929 SS Cobargo in 1954 and the even older SS Bergalia was the last steamer to visit the wharf later that year to remove valuable items of wharf equipment. The Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company suspended trading in 1958.Gradually, the wharf structure fell into disrepair and became unsafe, so a demolition order was issued in 1973. Fortunately, an active local group and National Trust banded together to oppose the demolition. The Tathra Wharf Trust was formed in 1977 and launched an appeal for the conservation and preservation of the old wharf. By 1982, only minor parts of the wharf, the mezzanine deck and a few of the more recent buildings had been demolished. The decking was replaced and the two-storey building was restored, the top storey becoming the Tathra Maritime Museum, dedicated to steamer history, and the bottom storey being used for a cafe and tourist outlet.
Between 1982 and 2010, road access was difficult, as one leg of the access loop road was closed by boulders after heavy seas smashed over the headland.These photos show the old road.It is now the only coastal steamer wharf left on the NSW coast and 1 of only 6 timber wharves still listed for preservation on the Register of the National Estate, as well as the NSW State Heritage Register. It is such a beautiful old building with chunky solid wooden beams and spectacular views and it is a wonderful reminder of our shipping past. The cafe is so impressive and provides top-quality meals, which are beautifully presented. It is also a great venue for selling local arts and crafts – we have some highly creative artists and artisans in the area.
The wharf is also very popular with anglers, as well as seabirds!Tathra Beach has been a tourist destination from very early days. It is 3 km long and stretches from the wharf and Tathra Headland in the south to Moogareeka Inlet and the mouth of the Bega River to the north. It is protected from the Southerlies by the steep headland. Beach fishing yields :
- Salmon, tailor and gummy shark – caught with pilchards, fresh fish fillets and stripy tuna;
- Bream, whiting and mullet – using beach worms, pippies, prawns and fresh nippers as bait; and
- Sand whiting – caught using sand worms and nippers.
It is a great spot for swimming with the Tathra Surf Club (formed in 1909) patrolling the beach every weekend from October to April, as well as Christmas Holidays and Public Holidays. Sail boarding, surfing and snorkelling off the wharf are also popular activities. It has been voted one of the cleanest beaches in NSW, which is not surprising, given the progressive and forward-thinking spirit of environmentally aware locals, who are establishing a solar farm in Tathra. See : http://cleanenergyforeternity.net.au/. Another very active local organization is the local volunteer fire brigade, which was established in 1945, with a 2nd new fire station built next-door in 2011. It is one of the most well-equipped fire brigades on the Far South Coast.
Another tourism drawcard for Tathra is its proximity to 2 wonderful National Parks : Bournda National Park in the south with 13 km of unspoilt coastline and Mimosa Rocks National Park in the north, which extends for 16 km. I shall be discussing Moogareeka Inlet, Ford Headland and Moon Bay, all within the southernmost section of Mimosa Rocks National Park and 4 km north of Tathra, in a separate post next week (A Slice of History), but will focus now instead on the spectacular Kianinny Bay, just to the south of Tathra.
Kianinny Bay is a protected bay with immediate access to the ocean. It is sheltered from Northerly winds and is an incredibly beautiful spot in all weathers, as seen in these photos taken from Chamberlain Lookout above.The coastline between Tathra Headland and Kianinny Bay includes steep cliffs and rugged rock masses, providing wonderful opportunities for rock fishing, using cunjevoi, abalone guts and cabbage weed to catch Black Drummer, Silver Drummer, Leatherjacket, Groper, Luderick and Banded Morwong all year round. From December to May, Bunito, Kingfish, Tailor and Salmon can be caught with live baits.Tathra really is a fisherman’s paradise with its beach and rock fishing, reef and bottom fishing and estuary fishing, as well as all the freshwater streams and dams. The closest reef section is 6 km south of Tathra, 800 m out from White Rock and extending several kilometres out. Fish caught here include : Snapper, Morwong, Flathead, Leatherjacket and Gummy Shark. We found this flathead in a rock pool left high and dry on White Rock after the tide receded – a very easy catch (though we didn’t!)Boats leave Kianinny Bay to drift fish the outskirts of Tathra Bay, catching Sand Flathead and Tiger Flathead, using flesh baits and plastic jigs, and Gunnards and Gummy Sharks. Little wonder that Kianinny Bay is home to the Tathra Fishing Club. There are excellent boat launching facilities : a concrete boat ramp for vessels up to 7 m long; plenty of parking; areas to wash down the boats and tables to clean the fish, as well as a BBQ and picnic area and playground. Sting Rays regularly cruise up and down the shallows, competing for fish scraps with the local sea gulls and cormorants, and can be a little disconcerting for swimmers! Snorkelling and spear fishing are also popular. These photos show a very relaxed swimmer, two very large, friendly sting rays and a sea hare.
Kianinny Bay forms the north-eastern tip of Bournda National Park and is the starting off point for the 9 km long Kangarutha Track, south through cliffs, rock debris and small inlets to Turingal Head. See : http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Kangarutha-walking-track. I will be covering this national park and walking track in a later post. It is a beautiful walk with fabulous coastal views and plenty of bird and animal life, as well as interesting vegetation. I will finish with photos of a Golden Whistler on Tathra Headland, some stunning feral vegetation and a very street-wise local resident!
For an explanation, see : https://candeloblooms.com/2015/10/13/birthday-blessings/