About Port Stephens
Port Stephens is a water wonderland paradise located 2.5 hours north of Sydney. Port Stephens is not a town or city, but rather a region blessed with amazing natural beauty. Nelson Bay is just one of the many lovely suburbs, each with their own sandy white beaches and many things to see and do, which make-up Port Stephens. With 26 magnificent beaches and a breathtakingly beautiful harbour, which is 2.5 times the size of Sydney Harbour, it’s perfect for those who adore all the relaxation and activities that superb beaches, the harbour and ocean provide. Combine this with the amazing National Parklands, bushwalking, marine wildlife, the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, restaurants and cafes, boutique wineries and breweries, markets and festivals, adrenalin activities and sports, and boutique shops, and it’s easy to see that Port Stephens has something for everyone.
Port Stephens’ pristine beaches and glorious harbour, which is over double the size of Sydney’s, is world class. The 26 beaches offer a seemingly endless choice of ocean surf beaches or calm watered harbour beaches. Visitors are spoilt for choice trying to choose between relaxing on the beach, swimming, surfing, snorkelling, diving, kayaking, sailing, parasailing, ferry rides, whale and dolphin watching cruises, jet skiing, jet boating, and much more…..There’s something to appeal to everybody’s pace and interests.
Port Stephens has more sightings of giant Humpback whales, as they pass by on their annual migration from June to November, than any other place on the east coast of Australia. A truly spectacular sight, which can be enjoyed from many whale watching cruises, or even from the headland in Tomaree National Park. The harbour is also fortunate enough to be home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins. These splendid creatures can be observed from dolphin cruises or even from the beach, and Port Stephens is home to Dolphin Swim Australia, the only permitted wild dolphin swim in NSW, offering the thrill of a lifetime.
Stockton Sand Dunes are the largest in the southern hemisphere and must be seen to be believed! Occupying 4,200 hectares and with dunes reaching heights of 40m, it’s no wonder so many movies (including a Mad Max) have been filmed there. They can be enjoyed in your own 4WD, or you can take your pick from the many tourist businesses that offer such thrills as sand boarding, quad biking, horse and camel rides, and tours of the dunes to explore the area’s unique attractions, such as the Signa Shipwreck and Tin City.
The natural beauty of Port Stephens will mesmerise you, but there’s also just SO much to do! Whether it be golf, markets, fishing tournaments and festivals (such as Clans on the Coast Celtic Festival) and alfresco waterside fine dining, feasting on freshly, locally caught seafood for the grown ups, or Oakdale Farm (a lovely animal farm), Toboggan Hill Park and The Australian Shark and Ray Centre for the young at heart, you’ll be having non-stop fun! But first you’ll have to drag yourself away from relaxing on our picture-postcard perfect beaches….Good luck with that! Port Stephens has it all. Come find out for yourself ; )
History of Port Stephens
These notes were once a free handout from the Port Stephens Visitor Centre. Measurements are in imperial units not metric. This is a reflection on the venerable age of the information.
Cook, sailing by on Friday, May 11, 1770, noted in his Journal:
‘…a low rocky point which I named Point Stephens. . . on the N. side of this point is an inlet which I called Port Stephens … that appeared to me from the Masthead to be shelter’d from all Winds. At the entrance lay 3 Small Islands, 2 of which are of a Tolerable height, and on the main, near the shore, are some high round hills that make at a distance like islands. . .’
Stephens was one of the secretaries to the Admiralty at that time. North of the port, Cook noticed smoke from Aboriginal campfires on the flat land. This suggested to him that there must be coastal lagoons providing good subsistence for the Aborigines. Worimi Aborigines lived in the coastal area centred on Port Stephens and stretching from the north bank of the lower Hunter to the northern end of Wallis Lake (present Forster), then inland to the Chichester area and down to Maitland. Their language must have been similar to that spoken by the Awabakal around Lake Macquarie, as Threlkeld who worked there is said to have addressed gatherings of Aborigines at Port Stephens as well, in their own tongue.
It seems that the earliest Europeans to live in this area were five escaped convicts, wrecked at Port Stephens in 1790. They were befriended by the Worimi, who took them into the tribe, giving them wives, by whom some had children, and taking them along on their wanderings. Five years later the white men were ‘rescued’ by Captain Broughton of the Providence, when he entered the Port to shelter from a gale.
On the point, or intermittent island, named by Captain Cook, is the Port Stephens Lighthouse built in 1862, and a lighthouse-keepers residence, built about 1861. The lighthouse was designed by then Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson, and is built of Sydney sandstone. The residence, also sandstone, has three separate living units within the single structure. The point was linked to the mainland by a permanent sand spit. In1891 it was washed away in a gale and the spit has become an intermittent landform, covered at high tide.
A small garrison of soldiers was established here in about the late 1820s to try to prevent escaped convicts from Port. Macquarie crossing the narrow section of Port Stephens en route to settled areas further south. Captain William Cromarty came to NSW with his wife in 1824. He had associations with the Australian Agricultural Co., and received a grant of 340 acres near Booral, but did not settle there. Cromarty became pilot at Newcastle, succeeding William Eckford in 1833, when he was also engaged to sound and chart the Hunter River. After receiving a serious injury while piloting a vessel, he resigned and settled at Soldiers Point where he had been granted land in lieu of the piece at Booral. Here he did cargo work with his ship Fame. He and his son William both died in 1838 apparently in an attempt to salvage a boat from One Mile Beach. His wife, with another son and three daughters, stayed on at Soldiers Point, where they kept a small store for passing whalers and fishermen. Mrs Cromarty died in 1862, and was buried at Soldiers Point, as storms prevented the crossing to Carrington where her husband’s remains had been taken.
An extravaganza of stone-work welcomes you to Tanilba Bay. The Centenary Gates, designed and erected by Henry F. Halloran in 1931, commemorate the arrival of the first settler, William Caswell. Lieutenant William Caswell RN had served as a midshipman on the Victory at Trafalgar. He settled on his grants at Tanilba, where he built Tanilba House in 1831. He lived here for about ten years before moving to the Williams River, where he built Ballikera. Caswell’s daughter married Andrew Lang of Dunmore. He died at sea in 1859. The house faces Port Stephens across Meridian Park, and has extravagant stone landscaping. In the 1940s it was leased as their headquarters by the Gospel Fisherman Mission, before their move to Tahlee on the northern shore of the Port.
Grahamstown Lake was constructed on the former Grahamstown Moors, beginning in 1957. It is now linked to the Williams River by the Balikera Canal on the site of Caswell’s property. The scheme was originally developed by a firm of Swedish consultants, and was built to augment water supply from Chichester Dam and Tomago Sandbeds. The link to Seaham Weir on the Williams provides for adjustment of water levels in the river as well as the dam, so incorporating flood mitigation with water supply. Water from Grahamstown was first used in 1960, some years before the whole scheme was completed.
Port Stephens was discovered by Captain Cook in May 1770, and was named after Sir Phillip Stephens, Secretary of the Admiralty In his log book Captain Cook wrote:
“Friday 11th, Winds southerly in the day and in the night westerly and gentle breeze and clear weather. At 4 p.m. passed 1 mile low rocky point which I name Point Stephens. On the northern side of this point is an inlet which I call Port Stephens that appeared to me from the north head to be sheltered from all winds. At the entrance lay 3 small islands, two of which are of a tolerable height and on the main near the shore are some high round hills that make it (something) like hills. In passing this bay at the distance of 2 or 3 miles from the shore our soundings were from 33 to 27 fathoms from which I conjectured that there might be a sufficient depth for shipping water in the bay.”
Lieutenant Shortland, in the Alexander transport on his return voyage to England, sailed out of Port Jackson on July, 14th 1788 with the intention to touch at Lord Howe Island, ran into very heavy swell which made it very difficult to keep the ships off shore. On 16th July the rocks off the entrance of Port Stephens bore northwest and Lieutenant Shortland very much regretted that this place had not been surveyed, had it been known to afford safe anchorage, it would have been much more prudent to put in there and wait for a change of wind.
Port Stephens was not entered until late in 1791 when the “Salamander”, a convict transport paid a visit, during which an eye-sketch of the harbour and some of its arms was made. The Salamander was a ship rigged vessel of 320 tons, three decks and 16 foot draught when loaded. It was built on the river Thames in 1776. The Salamander sailed from Plymouth with 160 male convicts – on March 27th, 1791. Five convicts died during the voyage.
In March 1795, Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, wishing to obtain some information which he could depend upon respecting the harbour of Port Stephens, sent Deputy Surveyor Charles Grimes in the Francis to Port Stephens. Charles Grimes described the land as low and sandy and he had seen nothing in the harbour which in his opinion could render a second visit necessary. The natives were so unfriendly that he made few observations of them- He thought they were a taller and stouter race of people than those about Sydney and their language was entirely different. Their huts and canoes were something larger than those which we had seen in Sydney, their weapons were the same. They welcomed him on shore with a dance, joined hand in hand, round a tree to express perhaps their unanimity, but one of them afterwards was on the point of throwing a spear and was prevented by young Wilson. Charles Grimes noted on his plan of exploration that the Harbours and Rivers above Direction Island (now Boondabah or Middle Island) were traced by rowing front point to point, and estimating the distances by the eye.
Below Direction Island, by taking the bearings from the vessel as she lay at anchor off Salamander Point (now Nelson Head and Fly Point). The country to the South and West is a mangrove swamp, on the North side there are a few hills, but the ground is very bad sandy and stoney. There are mangroves and oysters growing as far up the rivers as we could go, though the water is perfectly fresh. The rivers appear to be supplied more from the swamps on each side than from the high heads, for we never found the ebb tide run more than a quarter of a mile, nor did the trees on their banks appear bent by floods
A vessel running in must keep the North head close on board, within half a cable, and runover the bar till they find three-fathom water, then steer for Salamander point and keep the South shore on board there is a good passage on the South side of Direction Island and a vessel may lay perfectly secure in three and a half fathoms within Point Friendship (now Soldiers Point). There is a bar across the mouth of the harbour of three fathoms at low water. Grimes explored up the river (Karuah) to what are now the localities of Hamilton and Allworth, The Branch or Larpent, as now known, to about the locality of The Branch Public School site, and from the creek junction (The Little Branch) will the Larpent River. Salamander Bay on Grimes’ plans is shown where Nelson Bay is today, and not as applied, east of Soldiers Point, on present day maps. The Point which Grimes refers to as Salamander Point is now Nelson Head. Port Stephens Point, as now known, is shown by Grimes as Mistaken Island
Captain W.R. Broughton, of H.MAS Providence, during a voyage from England as escort to the Transports Reliance and Supply, after a voyage of six months, was driven by bad weather past Port Jackson and was obliged to run into Port Stephens for shelter on August 23rd, 1795. To Broughton’s amazement he found four white men, survivors of a party of 5 convicts who had escaped from Parramatta. The convicts from the time of their arrival in Port Stephens lived with the Aborigines.
Another early visitor was Governor Macquarie, who had thoughts of forming a settlement north of Newcastle and with that purpose in mind inspected Port Stephens from 31st December, 1811 to 2nd January, 1812. He travelled in H.M. colonial brig Lady Nelson then commanded by Bryan Overland, and was accompanied by Mrs. Macquarie, who thus became the first white women to enter the port. Through the medium of the Lady Nelson and its boats, Macquarie inspected practically the whole of the harbour including the mouth of the Karuah River (which he named Clyde) and he bestowed numbers of names on minor parts of the area. The port itself he considered “Good, safe, and capacious” but he found the land barren and he did not proceed with the idea of founding a settlement there.
On 1st November, 1818, Explorer John Oxley, accompanied by Surgeon John Morris, surveyor Evans and others made way to the coast of Port Stephens at the finish of an exhausting trek of over 5 months in an effort to find the source of the Macquarie River.
In 1824 Captain William Cromarty was allotted a grant of 300 acres “for efficient services rendered to the Government”, at Hunters River, but later he decided that land on the northern side of Port Stephens was more valuable and transferred his land grant to a site on the Karuah River. The A.A. Company was anxious to claim the land stretching northward from the shores of Port Stephens and wanted it without the encumbrances of independent settlers.
Surveyor General John Oxley, was sent to Port Stephens and after long negotiations, another land transfer was effected with Captain Cromarty taking up final permanent residence on “300 acres, more or less” at Salamander Bay on a Iong finger of land poking north-east into the harbour. While holding property at Salamander Bay with his wife, 3 daughters and 2 sons, Captain Cromarty was Pilot No. 2 at Newcastle and traded between Port Stephens, Newcastle and Sydney in a small brig named “The Fame”.
Captain Cromarty and his eldest son disappeared at sea off One Mile Beach on 1st September, 1838. The grant was authorised by Sir Ralph Darling, but not fulfilled by law until July 1845 as William Cromarty and his eldest son, William Cromarty, died 7 years before and the grant was established in the name of the surviving son Magnus. Mrs. Cecilia Cromarty was left a widow and remained at the homestead at Salamander Bay where she ran a small store to serve the needs of whalers, occasional fishermen and aborigines who lived in the vicinity.
For a time soldiers were stationed on Cromarty land to protect the widow and her family from escaped convicts (from Newcastle in the South and Tahlee on the northern side of Port Stephens). From then on the land was known as Soldiers Point. Mrs. Cromarty’s headstone has been preserved by the Historical Society and remains in its original position.
Captain William Cromarty’s daughter, Cecilia, married a Captain Banks, and afterwards settled a few miles from the Cromarty home on the shores of Port Stephens. Captain Banks also had a small trading vessel and carried dredged shell from the Port to Newcastle where it was burnt for lime at the Stockton kilns. His wife was a well-known identity in the pioneering days for her bushwife capabilities.
Magnus Cromarty, William Cromarty’s younger son, left Port Stephens as a young man, and headed for the Bendigo Goldfields. Four years later he returned with 800 pounds. Using this money Magnus Cromarty bought a portion of land at Bobs Farm. In 1859 he married Christina MacIntosh, an immigrant from the Isle of Skye. They reared 12 children. On his land Magnus Cromarty grew wheat and arrowroot and kept sheep, pigs and poultry. He brought the first wheeled vehicle to the Port Stephens area – a spring cart that was somehow pulled through miles of virgin and trackless country.
The Australian Agricultural Company formed and incorporated by Act of Parliament in November, 1824. In the Royal Charter that was issued a grant of 1 million acres was to be allotted to the Company, and it was stipulated no land was to be sold within a period of 5 years computed from date of grant. The land was inalienable until a sum of lO,OOO pounds had been laid out, the formation of roads, erection of buildings, cultivation, clearing, fencing and draining and other improvements of such lands. The land was valued at 1 shilling and 6d. per acre.
The Company’s first agent, Rubent Dawson, had had experience in the control of private estates in England but little or no practical acquaintance with rough and ready methods of operation peculiar to pioneering. Dawson was appointed in December 1824 and was instructed to select and purchase a nucleus flock of fine woollen sheep. During his absence, directors endeavoured to secure the services of capable men as sub-managers and overseers for the various industrial undertakings of the Company. The subordinate officers engaged:
(a) His nephew, Mr. J.G. Dawson-general and confidential superintendent.
(b) Mr. Chas. Hall, a wool sorter.
(c) Mr. Henry Thames Ebsworth, accountant.
(d) Mr. John Armstrong, land surveyor.
The individuals and stock on board the two ships the York and Brothers which were chartered by the Company, were: 25 men, 14 women and 40 children, 720 sheep, 12 cattle and 7 horses. Dawson left England on June 26th, 1825 and arrived in Sydney on November 15th, 1825.
On January 1st, 1826, Dawson proceeded to Port Stephens which was recommended by Oxley as an eligible spot for the Company’s grant 1 million acres. Dawson was accompanied by Mr. Harrington, Secretary of the Committee, Mr. Armstrong, the Company’s surveyor and Mr. Danger, Government Assistant Surveyor who was appointed by His Excellency to facilitate selection of the grant. After a cursory examination of locality, Harrington, Dangar and Armstrong proceeded to examine the more distant country while Dawson returned to the harbour to select a site for settlement of the Company’s establishment. He selected a site on the northern margin of the inner waters of the port which he named Tahlee.
After a lapse of about two years it was evident that the Company’s agents were satisfied with Port Stephens location and proceeded to “Finalise” matters respecting the grant. On January 9th, 1828, a document required by Lord Bathurst, signed by the Surveyor General (Mr. Oxley), the Commissioners of Crown Lands, Mr. Dawson on part of the Company in the presence of James Macarthur. The unsuitability of the grant for the healthy maintenance of sheep, the great expense incurred in establishing the various industries, led to the appointment of local committee of inquiry, on the findings of which Dawson was suspended from active management and ultimately dismissed from the service of the Company. The abnormal annual decrease of the sheep was ascribed by the local committee to mismanagement on the part of the agent, while the agent in turn attributed the decline largely to the natural consequences of age and defects in the animals purchased.
The directors, advised of the unsuitability of the greater portion of the Port Stephens location for the depasturing of the merino sheep and of the unsatisfactory results of dual control tried to rectify the mistake made in locating the grant and to vary their system of management by placing the entire control in the hands of one person only. This person, Sir Edward Parry, appointed Commissioner to the Company, reached Sydney on December 23rd, 1829. Parry reached Port Stephens on the morning of January 9th, 1830 after a rough passage in the Company’s Schooner Lambton.
Since Dawson’ suspension, superintendence and company affairs were entrusted to H.T. Ebsworth.
During the period of 2 years and 2 months whilst Dawson was in charge he had established 23 stations (throughout the grant) and provided for and employed nearly 600 individuals, built 11 permanent houses mostly of brick, a smithy with 3 forges, range of workshops, one 40 foot and another 50 feet, a military barracks of brick to accommodate 26 men, a permanent stores of two stories, 50 feet long, shearing shed for 40 shearers, butchers ships and slaughter house, delivery office and surgery, numerous temporary buildings on the various stations of the grant, about 15 miles of post and rail enclosures, cleared between two and three hundred acres of land and built and equipped a small schooner the Lambton.
Surveys and inspections of the region were carried out by officers of the Company and special care exercised in examination of the country selected by Dawson and colonial committee for the purpose of the grant. It was evident on completion that the greater part of the Port Stephens location was unsuitable for the depasturing of sheep and as the production of fine wool was the principal object of the Company – only about half (464,640 acres) of area was considered worthy of retention as part of the grant. A despatch from Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies, to General Darling dated April 21st, 1830, in which His Excellency was instructed that Sir Edward Parry was to be permitted to select from 900,000 to 500,000 acres of land in the interior, in lieu of an equivalent area at the Port Stephens Grant, the selection to be made in one or two locations so far as is consistent with the rights of others.
In the early days of Port Stephens the only method of transport was by water as no roads existed. Apart from a few privately owned vessels such as the Australian Agricultural Company’s boat Lambton, most of the early ships in the port were whalers, timber and cargo traders and fishing boats. Some of the bigger boats which ran from Newcastle and Sydney to pick up timber, brought up stones as ballast. These stones were often unloaded and placed on the banks of the Myall River. One of the last boats to unload ballast at Hawks Nest in the 1880’s was The Prince Alfred.
Many of the early boats were ‘2 posters’ , i.e. they had two masts. Such boats were the Caledonia, the Joker, the Oscar Robinson, the Free Trade (owned by John Witt of Tea Gardens), the Agnes Rose, the Huntley Castle and the Jane. Then came the Mosquito Fleet which traded between Newcastle and Port Stephens. These comprised, the s.s. Dauntless (owned by P. Callen), Williams owned by Alf Green, Idant (Alf Green and a part owner), Wyalong (Newcastle Co.), Seagull 11 (Viggers) and the Magdelene (owned by Croll Bros and Farelley).
The Magdalene was the biggest timber trader to Sydney. The others only ran to Newcastle.
As well, in the 1880’s Captain John Dalton, who owned the S.S. Kingsley ran a weekly trip to Sydney, weather permitting. The Kingsley carried general cargo and passengers. The S.S. Gosford with Henry Waddington as Captain and part owner, and J. Clayton as Engineer and part owner, ran from Port Stephens to Newcastle and then from Sydney to Cape Hawke, and carried passengers and fish.
Apart from catching a steamer direct to Newcastle, an alternate method was to travel by boat to Tellegherry (now Lemon Tree Passage) where the boat was met by Mr. John Rooke who, with his spring cart and 3 horses drove the traveller to Raymond Terrace. At Raymond Terrace the traveller then caught the Matilda (owned by Hart and partner) to complete the journey to Newcastle. In the early l900’s the 75 foot yacht the Defender , owned by Sammy Dark (owner of the Cold Stores at Honeysuckle Point, Newcastle) sailed every day except Saturday to Port Stephens, where she berthed at both Nelson Bay and the Duckhole (Pindimar). The Defender transported stores, freight and general merchandise to the area and returned with fish, lobster and dairy products from Karuah.
In 1904 Hugh Thurlow and Henry Boyce began a launch service from Salt Ash to Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens, return, to connect at Salt Ash with a horse and buggy service owned by Mr. Bryant. Passengers and cargo were then carried on to Stockton. The three launches used were the s.s. Reliance, s.s. Kinqfisher and an oil launch the Replica. Next came a car service, run daily, by Mr. A. Blanch and Mr. M. Blanch through a bush track to Stockton. In 1926 the Rev. Wilbour Brook, the Church of England Rector, was the first man to drive a T Model Ford through a sand track from Williamtown to Nelson Bay. The daily car service run by the Blanch Bros. was sold to a Mr. Frank Motum who owned the run for many years. Later he sold the run to Fogg and Co. who operated in conjunction with the Korsman Bros. of Tea Gardens who ran a passenger service by launch to Nelson Bay. In 1957 the Port Stephens Bus Co. bought the run from Fogg and Co.
Before and after World War 1, the Hunter River Steamship Co. ran picnic excursions from Newcastle to Nelson Bay carrying from 300 to 400 passengers. These steamers were paddle wheel steamers and were named S.S. Newcastle and S.S. Namoi. The first private hire car in Nelson Bay was owned by Mr. Sarwell Hill. In 1931 Mr. Hill later moved to Sydney and Mr. Arch Robinson recommenced the hire car service and later changed it to a taxi service.
Some years late Mr. Nev. Blanch was also granted a taxi service
Nelson Bay is located on the southern side of Port Stephens. How the Bay received its name is not exactly known; however an early application of the name, Nelson Bay (and not Nelson’s Bay) is shown on a chart of Port Stephens with soundings, made by Captain Phillip Parker King in the year 1845. In the 1850’s and 1860’s Nelson Bay was used as an anchorage for which were wind and weather bound. It was also used by the ships that came to obtain wood and water. Earliest inhabitants of the Bay in the 1800’s were the Aborigines and a group of Chinese fisherman. The first white family to arrive was that of Mr. Glover, the first lighthouse keeper. The Inner Light as the lighthouse is now called was completed in April, 1862. Mr. Thomas Laman, with his large family of 7 sons and 2 daughters was another early settler in the Bay. Mr. Laman was the Customs Officer and with his family lived in a Customs cottage on Fly Point. Upon his death in 1887, his son Henry Laman, carried on his father’s work as customs officer and as Fisheries Inspector.
By 1886 Nelson Bay had a white population of about 30. The first land surveyed at Nelson Bay was in March, 1874, for C. Kepert and William Cromarty. Both portions of land were of 40 acres each. Later, portions surveyed were for W. Glover in 1880 and John Dalton in March 1881. In the 1880’s there were several bark shacks or humpies built along Victoria Parade – in these lived Mr. Mogork and family, Mr. Holbert and Mr. Jonathan Davies. Bay View Estate, Fly Point, was owned by a Maitland Solicitor, Mr. Brooks who built a large cottage which was used as a guest house, and 3 small cottages. One of the cottages was licensed for a term of 6 months to Mr. Henry Thompson. Mr. Thompson later built a small hotel which he named The Sea Breeze. He also built a shop where Mr. C. Dart conducted a cafe for many years, but is now under a new proprietor.
Mr. Thompson abandoned the shop through lack of funds. The fishermen were so poor they could not meet their accounts. This building was then used as the local dance hall. Mr. Thompson’s hotel was eventually sold to a Mr. Lund and the dance hall later became a shop owned by Mr. Arch Blanch. During Mr. Blanch’s ownership the shop was burnt down.
Whilst the lighthouse is the oldest building in existence in Nelson Bay, two other old buildings are the Postmasters residence (originally the Post Office) and Westward Ho – which was built and owned by a Captain John Dalton, owner of the s,s, Kingsley which ran a weekly trip to Sydney. It is interesting to note that where the local park is now situated there were 4 small cottages and an ice works. Mr, Charlie Johnson was the first baker, he built a small oven attached to one of the cottages and baked bread for the locals.
Some years later Mr. Adolph Engel of Tea Gardens delivered bread to Nelson Bay by rowing boat, later a sailing boat, twice weekly, then a motor launch 3 times weekly. Later his son came to Nelson Bay and built a baker’s oven and also opened a shop. The Engel family also sold meat which they killed on their property at Tea Tree Ridge on the Myall River and transported it to their customers in their boat. The population in Nelson Bay has increased from about 30 in 1886 to 88 in 1891, 300 in 1931 and to 2,500 in 1969.
Nelson Bay During the Wars
Apart from the fact that nearly every available man enlisted, there was no military activity in Nelson Bay during World War 1. In the Apex Memorial Park nowadays there are Memorial Steps in memory of those who did enlist in the First World War.
During World War 2 however, Nelson Bay was a hive of activity. H.M.A.S. Assault had their first depot in the premises of Mrs. Kelly’s home in Victoria Parade. Commander Cook was in charge. Later Fly Point was acquired and sheds were built. The wharf was also enlarged for their barges. Gan Gan was made a military camp and a garrison was formed at Tomaree. Ammunition dumps were placed in Achilles Street and where the Summer Breeze and Menins Cabins are now situated. The Church of England League of Patriotic Services, CELOPS, was opened in Government Road as a recreation centre for the boys.
The local Red Cross Branch visited the 3 hospitals at Gan Gan, H.M.A.S. Assault and Tomaree each week, and the Womens Auxiliary organised the sending of parcels, farewells and welcomes to all of the boys. First-aid classes were held and an Aid Post was equipped in Church Street with everything necessary for casualties. During the war, all locals were issued with a permit to live in Nelson Bay. These permits were examined every trip in or out of Nelson Bay. During the war period too, main roads were made to Tomaree and Newcastle. Previously the roads were of sand and some parts clay. In the period of the war when Singapore fell, all launches and boats were evacuated to the top harbour, rivers and lakes. Some boats were confiscated for the use of the Navy
The first post Office in Nelson Bay was opened in 1883, in charge of the telegraph station master, Mr. E. Dalgleish, the post office premises were purchased by the department. The building was formerly owned by the Fish Company and was bought from Mr. R.H.D. White, M.P. It was a six roomed weatherboard with a detached kitchen and W.C. with corrugated roofs. In 1960, when the new post office building at the corner of Magnus Street and Stockton Streets were opened the old post office was used for the postmaster’s residence.
The first telephone communication was by phone to the Lighthouse and cable to the Outer Light. The Post Office phone connection came though the lighthouse. When the post office was closed there was no communication at all, only urgent messages could be relayed through the Lighthouse. The Hotel in Nelson Bay (now the Sea Breeze) was the first phone to be connected after the post office and lighthouses.
From about 1816 onward, Port Stephens was a centre of activity, through the operations of cedar getters. By 1823 the industry was well established in the district and vessels were visiting the port to load cedar for direct shipment to England. A small sailing vessel the Emmanual was built at Salt Ash in 1823 and used to transport cedar to Sydney. Agriculture began in the 1820’s with the establishment of the Australian Agricultural Company on the northern side of the harbour at Carrington, and with Captain William Cromarty on the southern side in the areas now known as Soldiers Point and Salamander Bay.
The fishing industry began in the early 1800’s with the arrival of groups of Chinese fishermen in the area known as Nelson Bay. These groups were not permanent for every so often they would return to China. However, as soon as one lot returned another came to take its place. The Chinese had from 6 to 8 boats and used both nets and lines to catch their fish. Schnapper were usually caught with the lines whilst garfish and salmon were taken by net, lobsters were also taken. Europeans were sometimes employed by the Chinese and at times Chinese gave up to 6 shillings a dozen for lobsters caught by Europeans. Fish taken by the Chinese was preserved by either salting or drying. Lobsters were cured. After preservation the lobsters and fish were dispatched either direct to the diggings or to Chinese merchants in Sydney or Melbourne. Some fish was also sent back to China. At one stage the Chinese received about 70 pound a ton for their salted and dried fish. Very little if any of it was sold to the Europeans.
In the late 1880’s the fishing activities of the Chinese were gradually discontinued, though the fishing industry in Port Stephens was continued by the Europeans. Unlike the Chinese the market for the European fishermen was for fresh fish. This posed several problems, and prevented the industry from prospering in this area. Port Stephens was too remote from any of the big markets and transport to the markets when it was available was rather expensive. An asset to the fishing industry in more recent years was the erection and opening in 1956 of the Fishermen’s Cooperation sheds in Nelson Bay. These sheds were equipped with refrigeration – a thing unheard of in the early days. Along with the fishing industry grew the oyster industry. In 1876 the lessee of Port Stephens was Mr. Peter James who paid 150 pound a year rent. Though the industry existed for many years it did not really develop until the early 1920’s when the true oyster cultivation potential of the Port was realised.
The Marine Park extends from Cape Hawke Surf Life Saving Club near Forster south to Birubi Beach Life Saving Club at the northern end of Stockton Beach and includes offshore waters to three nautical mile limit of State waters. It includes Port Stephens, Karuah River, Myall River, Myall and Smiths Lakes and their creeks and tributaries to the tidal limit. The park covers an area of approximately 98,000 hectares. NSW Government established the park in December 2005.
The park’s diverse marine life includes many species of dolphins, turtles, fish, seabirds and seaweeds along with threatened species. Humpback whales travel along the marine park coastline during their annual migration north. Many significant Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites are located within or adjacent to the marine park. Visitors and residents can enjoy eco-tourism activities including fishing, boating, dolphin and whale watching as well as swimming, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and other water sports.
The Marine Park is accessible at all times.
For more information: www.mpa.nsw.gov.au/psglmp.html
Port Stephens General Info
Port Stephens is part of the traditional country of the Worimi Aboriginal people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years, and have a special connection with the landscape, plants and animals. Worimi people are spiritually connected to dolphins, or guparr, as they are called in the Gathang language. Traditionally elders would speak with dolphins about food resources and looking after each other. Some elders still speak with dolphins today.
When you visit Nelson Bay you will be treated to a privileged view inside the world of the bottlenose dolphin. Around 90-120 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins live permanently in the waters of Port Stephens within the Port Stephens – Great Lakes Marine Park, making it one of the most popular places in the world for dolphin watching. The rocky coastal headlands and long white beaches of Port Stephens provide an ideal vantage point for watching dolphins from the shore.
The area is a great base for fishing trips and cruises around Port Stephens. Five minutes away is the Nelson Bay Marina where you can board for whale and dolphin watching cruises. Be sure to explore Tomaree National Park, a 20 km strip of rocky coastline between Anna Bay and Shoal Bay. One designated cycleway exists in the park at Birubi Point which is part of a longer cycleway constructed by Port Stephens Council. The Stockton Sand Dunes near Anna Bay, Williamtown and Salt Ash are great for quad biking, horse riding or camel back tours, or take the family for.
As well as swimming, snorkelling and surfing, try parasailing, or jet-skiing in or go scuba diving and explore the sea caves, sponge gardens and shipwrecks at Fly Point Marine Park. You can also try kayaking, sailing and jet skiing, or cast a line for some on-shore or deep sea fishing. Closer to shore, crystal clear rock pools teaming with life will enthral young explorers.
Port Stephens is great for short and long stays with good harbour size and proximity to places like Sydney.