New South Wales - Tour of the South Coastal District

Stanwell and Coolangatta

LINKS to other pages in the New South Wales website and the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

Home Page
1 : Stanwell
2 : Milton
3 : Granite Falls and George Boyd Lookout
4 : Walter Hood Bay
5 : Shoalwater River and Yalwal Valley
6 : Bateman's Bay and Nelligen
7 : Mogood Mountain and Shallow Crossing
8 : Ulladulla
9 : Bundanon and Arthur Boyd
10 : Journey's End and Guest Book
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These pages are a record of a five day visit to the south coastal region of New South Wales in Australia. The journey from Sydney to Milton (our tour base), is broken for a morning refreshment stop at Stanwell Tops.

Stanwell Park was the name given to the farm established on a grant given to Matthew John Gibbons in 1824. He was given most of the area called Little Bulli which included present-day Stanwell Park and Coalcliff.

The area, originally inhabited by the Wadi Wadi Aboriginal group, has attracted some extraordinary people: Major Sir Thomas Mitchell, one of Australia's best-known explorers built the first house at Stanwell Park; Supreme Court Judge John Fletcher Hargrave later owned and holidayed in the area, his inheritance coming to Lawrence Hargrave, one of the world's most important aviation pioneers of the 1890s who performed his most important experiments at Stanwell Park.

Stanwell, or The Park, is now home to about 1200 people and serves as a dormitory suburb for commuters to Sydney and Wollongong. It is also a popular tourist destination. The area is famous for paragliding and hang gliding activities from Bald Hill. Stanwell Tops offers a great view over the beach and village which lie between high sea cliffs.

The village is serviced by the CityRail line between Sydney and Wollongong. The railway bends picturesquely around the village and crosses Stanwell Creek on an historical brick viaduct. Stanwell Park railway station is one of the few railway stations accessing an open ocean beach in Sydney area.

Stanwell Park is famous for its connections with the early history of human flight. This beach resort was once the home of Lawrence Hargrave, the inventor of the box kite and one of the founding fathers of modern aviation. Hargrave, who had been an explorer and worked as an astronomical observer at the Sydney Observatory, was able to retire and spend all his time developing his theories about flight. He carried out many of his experiments, particularly those with box kites (now on display in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney) on Bald Hill.

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Views of the coast and local beach from Stanwell Tops (above and right)

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The new Sea Cliff Bridge skirting the cliffs (left). The bridge is also visible in the top picture from Stanwell Tops.

The Lawrence Hargrave Drive Link Alliance was awarded a 2006 CASE Earth Award for the project which delivered not only an outstanding engineering feat, but a new icon for the Wollongong region, i.e. the stunning Sea Cliff Bridge. The Alliance comprises the RTA, Barclay Mowlem (Pymble), Maunsell Australia and Coffey International.

The project involved upgrading 1350m of road, and included the building of the Sea Cliff Bridge.

Originally built in the 1860s to service the coal mines on the Illawarra Escarpment, the road was, at times, seriously dangerous. The cliffs, especially the section between Coalcliff and Clifton, had a tendency to slide into the sea, sometimes taking sections of the road with it. Falling boulders frequently narrowly missed school buses, and family cars on their way to the local shops. The road was closed in 2003 pending a solution to the problem. This resulted in the construction of a 665-metre-long multi-span balanced cantilever bridge at the base of the 300m high rock escarpment and follows the natural shape of the coastline. It curves around the cliffs 50 metres out to sea and away from any harmful rockfalls.

The bridge was opened by the NSW Premier in December 2005, and has become an iconic structure as well as reconnecting the local coastal villages. It also enables access to a 71km cliff-hugging coastal route that meanders along part of the coastline south of Sydney.

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Coolangatta is a local aboriginal word meaning "splendid view". In 1822 a Scotsman and surgeoon, merchant and explorer, Alexander Berry, became the first European to settle, and build an estate later called 'Coolangatta', in the Shoalhaven area.

The estate, nestled in the trees, is seen here (left) from the slopes of Mount Coolangatta, following a steep climb by our 4WD coach.

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The nearby town of Berry was originally called 'Broughton Creek' but the name was changed by an Act of Parliament in 1890 in honour of the entrepreneurial Alexander Berry and his brother David Berry. After studying medicine Alexander became a surgeon's mate for the East India Company. He decided to quit the profession out of antipathy for the whippings he was obliged to attend and sympathy for the profits that lay in commerce.

In 1819 Berry formed a partnership Edward Wollstonecraft, and went to Sydney. The two men sought a land grant and, after Berry had investigated the Shoalhaven area, they took up a run there in 1822. To allow boats access to the Shoalhaven River, Berry had Hamilton Hume and a party of convict labourers cut a 209-yard canal between it and the Crookhaven River. Completed in twelve days it was the first canal constructed in Australia.

The initial grant on the south side of the river soon expanded to the north with the agreement of the partners to take charge and expense of one convict for every 100 acres of land, extending the property to more than 40 000 acres by 1863. While Wollstonecraft looked after affairs in Sydney, Berry, who married his partner's sister in 1827, set up his headquarters at the foot of Mount Coolangatta, north of the river.

A self-supporting village began to develop around the homestead. The partners used a combination of convict and free labour to drain the swamps, grow tobacco, potatoes, maize, barley and wheat and rear pigs and cattle, the latter kept for their hides and the production of milk and cheese. These items, destined to supply their Sydney stores, were transported by means of a ship that they purchased and a sloop which they had built. Mills and workshops were established with tradesmen engaged in cask-making, building prefabrication, experimental leather treatment, the production of condensed milk and gelatine, and shipbuilding; the first vessel being completed and launched as early as 1824. The town of Coolangatta in Queensland is named after one of Berry's schooners which was wrecked there in August, 1846.

Coolang4a.jpg - 83208 Bytes However, it was the cedar in the area, much of it exported to Europe, that was the most profitable resource. In 1828 Berry's men crossed Kangaroo Mountain to find a million feet of cedar south of Broger's Creek. By the 1840s a water-driven sawmill was in operation, supplied by an earthen water race originating in Broughton Mill Creek.

Many of the employees were Aborigines. An 1838 census of the estate indicates 242 black employees from seven tribes. Indicative of the passing of tribal life is the fact that the last known initiation ceremony on the coast occurred at Mt Coolangatta in 1890.

After Alexander Berry died in 1873 the Coolangatta Estate passed to his brother. David Berry nurtured the development of Broughton Creek (now the town of Berry), donating land for an agricultural showground and for four churches on the four corners of town: Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Catholic and Anglican. In 1882, a survey was carried out on the western side of Broughton Mill Creek and the first town land was sold the following year.

The railway arrived in 1893 and the Berry milk factory, described as the 'largest and most complete in the colony' opened two years later. 1899 saw the establishment of the Berry Experimental Farm where the Illawarra Shorthorn breed of cattle evolved. Electricity arrived in 1927 and the last ship visited its wharf the following year.

David Berry died in 1889 and by 1912 nearly all of the property had been sold off. Fire gutted the old Coolangatta homestead in 1946. Eventually the site was restored and in 1972, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of settlement, it was opened as the Coolangatta Historic Village.

Many of the original buildings on the Coolangatta estate have survived including part of the homestead with its maids' quarters and laundry (the rest was destroyed by fire in 1946), a large mid-Victorian cottage, the stables and coachman's quarters (c.1823), tinsmith's shop, two coach houses (one c.1832), a billiards room, blacksmith's shop, convict cottage (c.1840), estate office, the community hall (c.1840), stables, coachman's quarters, cemetery and a monument to David Berry (pictured above left) A pottery craft centre is located in the original schoolhouse (established in 1861). The old library was transported to Shoalhaven Heads where it became St Peter's Church.

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