Covering 10,485 hectares and 47 km coastline, Ben Boyd National Park is comprised of three sections : a small area north of Pambula; a central section, north of Eden ; and a large area, south of Eden. Here is a map from ‘The NPA Guide to National Parks of Southern NSW’ by Peter Wright. First gazetted in 1971, it was named after Benjamin Boyd, a larger-than-life, boom-and-bust entrepreneur of the Alan Bond variety, whose financial empire collapsed after only 7 years. Given that the local aborigines had inhabited this area successfully for over 3000 years, we feel an aboriginal name might have been more appropriate!
Ben Boyd National Park is significant for its old growth forests; extensive heath land; estuarine and freshwater wetlands; dune ecosystems; a large number of threatened native animal species and biogeographically significant plant species; aboriginal sites; and historical structures associated with whaling and lighthouses, including Boyd’s Tower, Green Cape Light Station and the ruins at Bittangabee Bay.
Ben Boyd National Park is a geologist’s heaven with two geological zones: sedimentary base rock in the north and middle section and much older metamorphic rock in the southern section. The northern part of the park covers the southern section of the Merimbula Bay barrier dunes, which began accumulating 7000-8000 years ago and stabilized in their current form 5000 years ago. They are one of only four major stationary barriers in Southern New South Wales.
The southern section has some of the oldest rocks on the NSW coast, with more than 80 percent of the Upper Devonian rocks exposed along the coast of South-Eastern Australia found in Ben Boyd National Park. During the Devonian Period, sediments similar to those in the northern section of the park, were laid down in estuaries and were later compressed, heated, folded and twisted into arches and curves. The soft sediments hardened and formed new types of rocks : brown and green shales, sandstones, red siltstones, conglomerates and quartzites. These metamorphic rocks of the Devonian Merimbula group are exposed along the cliffs and coastal headlands north to Terrace Beach and west from Haycock Point along the Pambula Estuary. There are only small areas of Tertiary deposits in the Southern section of the park. Red Point below Boyd’s Tower (photos 1-3) and the rock platform, south of Saltwater Creek (photo 7), are excellent examples of heavily folded metamorphic beds.
During the Devonian period (345-410 Million years ago), forests did not exist, though a few land plants grew in local swamps and primitive fish swam in nearby seas. During this time, the drying out of one of the floodplains trapped a school of fish in mud, forming Devonian fish fossils. These extinct species include a plate covered fish and a previously unknown species of air-breathing lobe-finned bony fish, measuring up to 1.5metres long. Younger and softer Tertiary deposits of sands, gravels, clays, ironstones and quartzites lie on top of the Devonian strata in the central section of the park, as seen in the sandy ridges of Long Beach.
The Pinnacles are an erosion feature formed in the finely-mottled well-lateritized Pinnacle Lens of the Quondolo Formation with cliffs of soft white sand, capped with a layer of red gravelly clay, which was laid down in the Tertiary Period, which started more than 60 Million years ago.
Below are more photos of the erosion process.
The sandy soils support a wide variety of coastal habitats from open forest and woodland; dune dry scrub forest; small pockets of warm temperate rainforest; closed heath land and scrub land; estuarine and floodplain wetlands; and perched swamps.
In the central section of the park, Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera) and Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) grow on the Devonian strata, as well as Rough-barked Apple (Angophora floribunda), Brown Stringbark (E. baxteri), Mountain Grey Gum (E. cypellocarpa), Coast Grey Box (E. bosistoana), Swamp Gum (E. ovata), Ironbark (E. tricarpa), Manna Gum (E. viminalis) and Woollybutt (E. longifolia), with an understorey of Black Sheoak, Large-leaf Hopbush, Coast Tea-tree, Port Jackson Pine, Black Wattle, Coast Banksia and Grass Tree. Silvertop Ash (Eucalyptus sieberi) predominates in the south.
The Dune Dry Scrub Forests of the northern section include Red Bloodwood; Blackbutt; Woollybutt and Forest Red Gum. Moist gullies, next to Disaster Bay, support Warm Temperate patches of rainforest species including Lillypilly, Sassafras, Scentless Rosewood, Cabbage Tree, Smooth Mock Olive, Sweet Pittosporum, Bolwarra, Sandpaper Fig, Muttonwood, Smilax vines and tree ferns.
The closed heath land on the headlands and cliff lines, typified by the vegetation at Green Cape, includes Dwarf Sheoak, Silky Hakea, Coast Westringia, Common Heath, Coral Heath, White Kunzea, Daphne Heath, Native Fuchsia, Boronias, Croweas and Hibbertias. The heathland is significant, not only because of its restricted distribution, but also because it provides important habitat for threatened species like the vulnerable Striated Field Wren.
Closer to the coast, the closed scrubland/ woodland includes Giant Honey Myrtle (Melaleuca armillaris), Large-leaf Hopbush, Coast Banksia and Sydney Green Wattle.
The estuarine and floodplains at Pambula are important habitats for salt marsh and mangroves.
The perched swamps of Woodburn and Bittangabee Creek support Bauera, Melaleucas, Sprengelias and Mimulus.
Ben Boyd National Park is also significant, because it contains plants at the limit of their natural distribution. For example, it is the southernmost limit of Blackbutt (middle section of park and on track to the Pinnacles) and Plum Pine and the northernmost limit of Brown Stringybark and Furze Hakea.
The wide variety of habitats are home to 150 species of birds, of which 48 species are water birds; 50 native mammals; 15 reptile species and 2 frog species.
These include :
1 critically endangered bird species : the Hooded Plover (only 50 left in NSW);
4 endangered animal species : Southern Brown Bandicoot: important for the dispersal of fungi; green and Golden Bell Frog; Regent Honeyeater and Gould’s Petrel.
25 vulnerable species including the Ground Parrot and Striated Field Wren of the coastal heathlands; the Powerful Owl, Sooty Owl and Masked Owl and Yellow-Bellied Gliders of the tall open forest; Glossy Black Cockatoos; Tiger Quolls, Koalas, Long-nosed Potoroos and White-footed Dunnarts; Pied and Sooty Oyster Catchers; and Providence Petrels and Wandering Albatrosses.
The sea life is amazingly abundant too.
There are also a significant number of feral weeds and pests including: pine trees; bitou bush; blackberry; bridal creeper; sea spurge; wild dogs; foxes; deer; rabbits and cats (especially round the Eden tip, which is the gateway to Terrace Beach, Lennards Island and North Head). The pines are remnants of Forestry plantations from the 1940s.
Ben Boyd National Park has a long history of aboriginal occupation with more than 50 sites, most of which are on headlands, including middens and artefact scatters, campsites and rock shelters, scarred trees, stone arrangements and possible axe grinding grooves. In South Eastern New South Wales, there were 2 aboriginal nations, the Monaroo and the Yuin, and within these 2 nations were a number of tribes and language groups. The aborigines of Twofold Bay, the South Coast and the South Monaro Tablelands included the Dhurga; Dyirringan; Bidawal; Dthawa; Maneroo; Kudingal and Ngarigo language groups and clans. There were well-established trade routes for trade and exchange of white pipe clay used for white ochre, quartz crystals and twine, and large groups would congregate for celebrations and the exchange of marriage partners.
At Severs Beach on Pambula River, there is an occupation site dating back 3000 years and there are a number of middens on the headlands and banks of estuaries, including Lennards Island, Haycock Point, Pambula Estuary and Severs Beach.
The middens are basically giant rubbish heaps and contain :
: the shells of oysters and mussels, collected from the rock platforms, reefs and estuaries;
: fish bones. Fish were baited with pieces of crayfish, sea eggs or cunjevoi or stunned by biodegradable poisons, then caught with spears, grass nets and fish traps;
: the bones of sea mammals. From 2300 years ago, increasing population and pressure on fish resources led to the expansion of dietary resources from fish to marine species, enabled by the use of canoes;
: the bones of kangaroos and wallabies; potoroos and bandicoots and possums and gliders;
: charcoal; and
: bone tools and artefacts : cores, flakes and resharpening fragments.
The midden near Boyds Tower was used as a source of lime in the construction of the tower. An Aboriginal Cultural Camp has been established at Haycocks Point. The photos below show dolphins surfing at Aslings Beach, Eden.Aborigines played a major part in the early whaling history of Twofold Bay, working for the Imlay, Boyd and Davidson families. The men crewed whale boats for rations, tobacco and whale products, while some of the women worked as servants in the houses of the whaling families.The aborigines had a unique relationship with a pack of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca), who returned to their base in Leatherjacket Bay every June to November between 1843 and the 1930s to hunt for migrating whales, including Finback, Right Whales and Humpbacks. Every June, whales migrate north to the tropics to give birth and in Spring, return back south to their Summer feeding waters in the Antarctic. Up to 36 orcas would split into 3 packs and herd whales into Twofold Bay. Their leader, Old Tom, whose skeleton can be seen in the Killer Whale Museum in Eden, would swim to Kiah Inlet, where he would leap out of the water and splash to alert the whalers that a whale was in the bay and then, he would lead them to the whale. After the men had harpooned and killed the whale, its carcass was anchored to the seabed and marked with a buoy and the killer whales would eat the tongue and lips, after which they disappeared to look for more whales.
Twofold Bay is the third deepest natural harbour in the Southern Hemisphere and has 6.5 square miles of navigable water with safe anchorages. Captain Thomas Raine opened the first shore-based whaling station here at Snug Cove back in 1828. The Imlay brothers were the first to settle the area in 1834, exporting pigs, sheep, cattle and whaling products from Cattle Bay. By 1840, the Imlay Whaling Station was producing 200 tuns ( 1 tun is equivalent to 252 gallons or 1150 litres) of whale oil from 50-60 whales. The whale oil was used to lubricate engines and for lighting, the clear smokeless flame far superior to that of tallow and far cheaper than beeswax candles. The baleen strainer plates of the upper jaws, used by the whale to sieve plankton and krill, was used to make stays for corsets and hooped skirts. By 1845, up to 27 whaling boats were operating out of Twofold Bay. Competition between rival whaling stations was fierce. The Imlays built an unfinished house at Bittangabee Bay to catch the northbound whales before the crews at Eden, but by 1847, they were bankrupt. This is a photo of an information board at the Killer Whale Museum, Eden. See: http://killerwhalemuseum.com.au/.Benjamin Boyd, a London stockbroker, arrived in New South Wales in 1842 with the dream of creating his own empire, based on trading, shipping, grazing and whaling. By 1844, he was one of the largest land owners in the colony with huge properties in the Monara and Riverina and a whaling station at East Boyd, managed by artist Oswald Brierly. Boyd established Boydtown as a port to serve his Monaro properties, using coastal steamers to export his cattle, wool, wheat and whaling products. At one stage, the depot at Boydtown held 9 ocean-going vessels and 30 whale boats for deep sea and offshore whaling. In 1846, he built a lighthouse at Red Point on the southern shore of Twofold Bay, also known as South Point. Pyrmont sandstone was shipped from Sydney, unloaded at East Boyd and hauled to the building site by bullock teams, where it was worked by master stonemasons into a tower with 5 timber platforms and etched with Boyd’s name on the top. A dispute with the government meant it could not be used as a lighthouse, so the tower became a whale watching lookout. Boyd’s empire collapsed within 7 years and he left Australia, his businesses in liquidation, in 1849. Two tears later, he went ashore at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and was never seen again.Alexander Davidson emigrated from Scotland with his wife and 6 children in 1842 and initially worked as a carpenter in Boydtown. In the 1860s, he bought whaling boats and operated a try works at Kiah Inlet. The business was continued by son John, then grandson George, who built a cottage with his wife Sara at ‘Loch Garra’ on 17 acres of freehold land on Kiah Inlet in 1896. The family were self-sufficient in fruit, meat, vegetables and dairy products. This is a photo of the National Parks map at Davidson Whaling Station. The Davidsons used Boyd’s Tower to watch out for whales. The minute a whale was spotted, a gun was fired and the resultant puff of smoke alerted waiting whalers to launch their boats, then row within 8 metres of the huge beast, which would then be harpooned. At the height of their operations, the Davidson family were catching 10-15 whales each year. In between sightings, life would have been very cold and boring for the watchers and they often whiled away the time with board games like draughts (photo below).
The try works below the house was housed in a 10 m shed with cutting tables, brick furnaces, try pots for boiling down the blubber and storage tanks for cooling the whale oil, after which it poured into casks and shipped across the bay to Eden. A capstan was used to winch the whale carcass into position and to remove the blubber as it was cut away with a sharp boat spade. George Davidson continued to use the capstan, even after steam-powered winches became available to whalers, thus preserving the history and integrity of the 19th Century whaling station. Large flensed blanket strips of blubber were winched up to the try works, then cut into manageable pieces and sliced finely before being dropped into the try pots to boil them down for oil. The blubber scraps were used to fuel the fire. This is a photo of the National Parks information board at the Tryworks at Davidson Whaling Station. It was a very smelly business and I wouldn’t have fancied being Sara, looking after all those men! Life was hard and tough in those early days and the Davidsons had their fair share of tragedy. Son Jack (1890-1926) drowned, trying unsuccessfully to save his children Roy (10) and Patricia (3) after their dinghy capsized, though his wife Ann and 8 year old daughter Marion survived. Apparently, a film called ‘The Law of the Tongue’, chronicling this event, is in the offing.
As whale oil was replaced by coal gas lighting, kerosene, mineral oils and electricity and the fashions changed, the demand for and income from whale products decreased dramatically and by the 1920s, the family had to supplement their earnings from other sources. Only 2 whales were taken in 1925 and the last whale was caught in Twofold Bay in 1929 and the Davidson Whaling Station was closed, thus ending the longest continuously operating whaling station, run by 3 generations of the same family, in Australia. George and Sara moved into Eden in the 1940s, though family members continued on at ‘Loch Garra’. The present garden was established by Dr and Mrs Boyd between 1954 and 1984, then the 6ha property was acquired by the Coastal Council of NSW, before being taken on by National Parks and Wildlife Service as an historic site in 1986. Even though it has a fairly gruesome history, it is well worth visiting ‘Loch Garra’ as an example of early pioneer life in coastal NSW, as well as being an incredibly beautiful spot! Ironically, when my husband was a young schoolboy, he and his classmates were taken on a school trip to see Tangalooma Whaling Station on Moreton Island off Brisbane before it closed in 1962. Little wonder, that he turned into a keen environmentalist! The photo below is the National Parks and Wildlife map of Green Cape Light Station.The other site of major historical significance in the southern section of Ben Boyd National Park is the 29m high Green Cape Light House, built in 1883. It is a very early example of the use of mass concrete and was the largest mass concrete structure in New South Wales at that time. The lighthouse was designed by Colonial architect, James Barnett, and has an octagonal tower on a square base, corbelling, a domed oil store and a distinctive balcony railing.
The light station complex also includes 2 cottages for the Head and Assistant Keeper; several sheds including a generator shed, a former telegraph office and a signal flag locker; a quarry; a garden/ tip site and old stables, later used as a workshop and garage. Nearby is the Cemetery, housing bodies from the Ly-ee-Moon shipwreck in 1886. The steamer struck an offshore reef on its journey from Melbourne to Sydney and only 15 of the 86 people on board survived.The lighthouse was manned all night, every night in four-hour shifts from 1883-1992, after which it was replaced by an automated light tower (now powered by solar panels). The National Parks and Wildlife Service took over management of the historic site in 1997 and now rent out the cottages for holidays. It would be lovely to stay there for a few days to enjoy all the natural history and atmosphere of the place.
It is a wonderful spot for whale and dolphin watching, October and November being the best months to see Southern Right and Humpback whales, as well as observing the annual migration of Short-Tailed Shearwaters, Puffinus tenuirostris, which travel from the Northern Hemisphere to their breeding burrows on islands in Southern waters from late September to early November. I remember watching this spectacle from Coffs Harbour years ago – there was a long, low, endless black cloud of migrating birds. Other birds of note seen at Green Cape include the Yellow-Nosed Albatross (late Winter/ Early Spring), gannets and the Southern Emu-Wren, which loves to hide in the coastal heath.
I remember visiting Green Cape one day and seeing what appeared to be the burnt-out broken carcass of a rowboat off-shore… except, it kept moving! On careful inspection through the binoculars, we discovered it was in fact a ring of bachelor Fur Seals, Arctocephalus pusillus, who commonly exhibit this behaviour!The lighthouse is now the bottom end of the 31km Light to Light walk, which starts at Boyd’s Tower and takes 3 days to complete. There are camping grounds along the way at Salt Water Creek (14 sites)and Bittangabee Bay (30 sites) and it is also possibly to drive into these spots. Here is a photo of a map of the Light to Light Walk, taken from an information board at Green Cape. Next week, I will post a photo essay on Ben Boyd National Park, with a few brief notes about all the wonderful spots to explore, but in the mean time, more information can be found at : http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/final/20100979BenBoydBellBirdCreek.pdf
P.S. The feature photo is Terrace Beach, one of our favourite spots!