Wanatta history

William John Moorhead arrived in Australia in September 1864. His immigration was sponsored by his brother Thomas Moorhead who was a sawmill owner at Eden. William probably lived in Eden for a time, later living in the Numbugga district before purchasing a dairy farm near Wolumla probably in the late 1870s. In a letter to his half-sister in 1881 he states that “thru much endeavour we now have 85 dairy cattle at Wolumla…”

William purchased his deceased uncle’s property at Frogs Hollow near Bega. The property was called ‘Moorlands’. By 1895 he was a registered NSW grazier at the property ‘Wanatta’. Why did he call his property ‘Wanatta’?  It seems likely that he named it after the name of the ship he came out to Australia in 1864! The ship was called the ‘Wanatta‘.

William went on to become a notable local being elected the first President of Imlay Shire. Unfortunately, on 10 March 1915 he was found dead on the roadside near the foot of Jigamy Hill between Eden and Pambula. He had a fractured skull and his neck was broken. It is thought that his horse bolted for some reason and he fell hitting his head.

Source: Research by William John Moorhead’s descendent Marjorie McGovern.

'Subscriber Trunk Dialling Comes to Cobargo', The Times of Bega & District 24 June 1981
‘Subscriber Trunk Dialling Comes to Cobargo’, The Times of Bega & District 24 June 1981

1981 doesn’t seem that long ago but that was the year Cobargo switched over to an automatic STD exchange. Cobargo was the last location between Sydney and the Victorian border to change over from a manual magneto exchange to automated STD.

Cobargo’s exchange opened in 1910 and was housed in a very small room in the local Post Office serving 159 customers and was staffed by five operators; Maisie Bowtell, Maureen Jessop and Jixie Rose worked during the day and Charles Motby and Alex Tarlinton operated the exchange at night.

With the move to the new STD exchange the Cobargo Cooperative Creamery Butter Company had to give up its telephone number Cobargo 1, which the Company had held for 71 years. Imagine being able to say your telephone number was Cobargo 1!

The new exchange cost $75,000 and had a capacity of 200 lines with another 200 lines available for future use.

Does anyone remember when other towns in the area changed over to an STD exchange? Or do you have a photo of an old exchange system?

Source: “Subscriber trunk dialling comes to Cobargo”, The Times of Bega & District, 24 June 1981.

Bega Show

The Bega Agricultural and Pastoral Society held its first Show on 15 February 1872 in the Bega School of Arts building in Carp Street. Two nearby paddocks owned by John Jauncey were also used to show stock animals. Over the next few years the Show was held at Annie White’s Victoria Inn in Auckland Street and from 1876 to 1886 Shows were held at the Market Reserve (now Bega Park and swimming pool).

On 29 September 1886 the Government Gazette published a dedication of the present Bega Showground, resuming eight acres, three roods of the Market Reserve. The current pavilion was officially opened for the 1905 Bega Show on 1st and 2nd March with both days (Wednesday and Thursday) declared as public holidays. The pavilion cost £1,700 and was designed by architect Robert Wallace Thatcher from Manchester. Local builder William Manning carried out the construction.

Bega Showground Pavilion, 1900s. Bega Valley Shire Library collection 008-00086

Bega Showground Pavilion, 1900s. Bega Valley Shire Library collection 008-00086

Source: History of the Bega Show by Margaret Evans, 1998.

Cobargo Show

Summer means Show time! Agricultural Shows.

With the Cobargo Show on this weekend, I’ve pulled out a photograph from our collection on the occasion of the opening of the Cobargo Showground pavilion.This photograph was taken by local man and keen photographer Alf Gowing sometime in the 1980s. Maybe a Cobargo resident will remember when in the 1980s? It was an auspicious occasion with Sir Ninian Stephen, Governor-General of Australia attending. I tunderstand that’s him on the right with the grey suit.

Cobargo has a long tradition of agricultural shows starting in April 1889. The site chosen for the Showground is believed to have been the area where William Duggan Tarlinton first camped when he was exploring the region.

You can read more about the history of the Cobargo Show in the booklet “Back to Cobargo Show” put together by the Cobargo AP & H Society in 1982, available at Bega library.

Sir Ninian Stephen, Governor-General of Australia, at opening of Cobargo Showground pavilion, 1980s

Sir Ninian Stephen, Governor-General of Australia, at opening of Cobargo Showground pavilion, 1980s

British Newspaper Archive logo

British Newspaper Archive logo

The British Newspaper Archive is a new online resource available at any of the Shire’s libraries at Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula and Eden.

It’s really worth checking out as newspaper articles can supplement your family or local history research wonderfully. News articles give you a real feel of an historical event and what really happened – events in Australia did get reported in British newspapers. For example, in a 1936 issue of the Portsmouth Evening News there is the story of how firemen raced through the night from Sydney to Twofold Bay to put out a blaze on the Orient liner, Ormonde, which had pulled into Twofold Bay once the fire was discovered at sea.

You can search the digitised copies of hundreds of local and regional newspapers from across the United Kingdom and Ireland dating from 1710-1959. New pages are added every day.

The big plus for family history researchers is that you can search for birth, marriage and death notices in these historical newspapers as well as obituaries, notices of engagements, anniversaries, land sales and other family related announcements.

Newspapers provide a glimpse of major national and local events through the eyes of ordinary people in the community. Reports of significant events such as World War One give a sense of the impact of the event on your ancestor and the community they lived in. Newspapers are useful as a source of photographs as well.

Anyone can access The British Newspaper Archive while they are in one of the Shire libraries at Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula or Eden. There is a one-off registration process and library staff can help with that and with searching.

By registering you get access to a personal folder called My Research where you can save articles of interest or for follow-up.

Dairy industry productivity poster from World War Two

Dairy industry productivity poster from World War Two

This poster was issued by the Commonwealth Food Control during World War Two. The poster was designed to encourage dairy farmers to produce more milk to support Australia’s war effort. The comic book style illustrations and wording were common features of this series of posters, perhaps introducing humour and stimulating goodwill in a time of uncertainty. The poster highlights productivity gains for the farmers through government subsidies, machinery pools, more workers and industry marketing – now it was up to the farmers to deliver for their country!

Australia’s food supply was well organised at the outbreak of World War Two. The Government had started planning for food control in 1938 to protect the economy and primary industries and to make sure food supplies could be transported overseas quickly. Arrangements were made for Britain to take food surpluses. As the war progressed the shortage of shipping space for exports became an issue, the rural workforce declined, machinery deteriorated and production fell.

In 1940 the Government faced the very real possibility of a Japanese invasion and the Emergency Supplies Plan was initiated to safeguard civilian food supplies if Australia was invaded or if internal transport was disrupted. Grocery stores around the country were given reserve supplies and Government stores were set up.

In May 1943 the Commonwealth Food Control was established to cope with potential food shortages. The main factors affecting supplies were a large increase in Australia’s military force; the arrival of American forces based in Australia and demands for butter and meat from Britain especially as American food supplies were diverted to Russia.

The Government worked with industries through the Commonwealth Food Control to overcome obstacles to maximising food production.  A section within Food Control was responsible for solving rural workforce shortages, acquiring machinery and expanding factories.

Dairy farmers from around the Bega Valley no doubt responded positively to the call to increase production of milk, cheese and butter in support of the war effort.


Australian Bureau of Statistics, Commonwealth Food Control feature article, Year Book Australia, No. 35, 1942-43, p. 921 at http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/ausstats/free.nsf/LookupAttach/1301.0Publication01.01.42210/$File/13010_1942-43_ControlOfFood.pdf

'World War One: the War Years' local history calendar 2015

World War One: the War Years local history calendar 2015

The 2015 local history calendar was launched today by Mayor Michael
Britten at Bega library. The theme of the calendar is ‘World War One: the War Years’.

The 2015 calendar is very special and no doubt will resonate with many people as we head into the centenary of the Gallipoli landings and the ANZAC experience. Over the next three to four years Australia will commemorate various World War One milestones, marking 100 years since Australia’s involvement in World War One. Nearly 200 men from our region lost their lives in World War One and this 2015 calendar contributes towards creating a record of our region’s past during those tumultuous World War One years.

Towns and villages throughout Australia focused on raising money to support the war effort through subscriptions to government war loans.

One of the photographs in the calendar shows the Bega Honour Flag awarded in recognition of the town’s contribution to the Seventh War Loan in 1918. Bega doubled its quota of 10,000 pounds and was awarded the coveted distinction of adding three bars and a star to their flag which can be seen in the photograph. H.M Blomfield was Mayor of Bega during the war years and instrumental in raising funds. In recognition of his patriotic drive his name was inscribed onto the flag.

Finding suitable photographs for this year’s calendar was challenging and would not have been possible without the support of the Bega Valley Historical Society and the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

The calendar is available for purchase at Eden, Merimbula, Bega and Bermagui libraries at a cost of $8.80.

We Want Our Hospital Now

Public protest August 1948, Bega

Public protest about renewing funding for Bega District Hospital August 1948, Bega

The new South East Regional Hospital is going up at a cracking pace. It may surprise some to know that locals were demonstrating for a new hospital back in the 1950s as this photograph shows. Frank Zingle is on the far left with Charles Ayres (then Mayor of Bega) at the microphone.

Bega’s first hospital, situated just out of town on the south side, was built in 1889. By the 1940s it was no longer adequate for the area. Apparently, patients were moved to verandahs as makeshift wards to take the overflow.

In 1944 approval was given for the building of a new nurses’ home. Locals strenuously objected to building the home on the site of the then current hospital with the result that the nurses’ home was the first building constructed on the site of the current Bega District Hospital in 1946. A year later in 1947 plans for a new hospital in town were drawn up and tenders called.

The estimated cost was £90,000 but the lowest tender received was £120,000. The NSW Treasurer and Premier, Mr McGirr, refused additional funding. The people of Bega were mobilised!

A protest was held on 29 August 1948, shops were closed and a parade formed with the banner ‘Build our Hospital Now’ in bright red letters. The 16 district branches of the Country Women’s Association and the Red Cross supported the action with their placards visible in the photograph.

A public meeting revealed that the hospital was under increasing demand after the closure of the Cobargo, Candelo and Bemboka Private Hospitals. Complaints included newborn babies being placed in beer boxes because there were not enough cots.

Eventually the government approved a full brick hospital at a cost of £273,000.

Work commenced on the new hospital in the early 1950s. However, in August 1952 the Department of Public Works told the contractor that funds for the next year were limited to £30,000. Headlines read “Shock for Hospital” and the contractor estimated that normal progress of work at the site would require £60,000. In fact, funds were reduced by a further £5,000 and work halted in October 1952. No further work was done for about 12 months until in October 1953 the Department of Public Works instructed the contractor to proceed with work on an unrestricted basis.

So why the funding crisis? It has been suggested that the delay was political with the NSW Labor Government trying to embarrass a Federal Liberal National Party Government by restricting capital works.


Bega District Hospital: one hundred years of service by Charles Day, 1989.

‘Shock for Hospital’ Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 8 August 1952, p 2.

Photo: Bega Valley Shire Library collection 008-00208

New books about Irish female migration to Australia during 1800s

New books about Irish female migration to Australia during 1800s

If you have Irish ancestors you may be interested in these new books in the library. They’ll give you a sense of what it was like to leave Ireland behind and look to the new colonies of Australia for a better life.

In the two years from 1834-1836, 750 young Irish women arrived in the colony of New South Wales to make new lives for themselves. ‘Colonial Duchesses’ by Elizabeth Rushen tells the story of the women who took the courageous decision to leave their homeland behind and set sail for Sydney. The Duchess of Northumberland  made two voyages from Cork to Sydney. One in 1834 and the second in 1836. The James Pattison sailed in 1835. This book details the backgrounds and experiences of these women.

Another book published this year is ‘The Kerry Girls’ by Kay Moloney Caball which is about the controversial Earl Grey Scheme to ship thousands of Irish teenage girls to Australia during the years 1848-1850. Many of the girls had been orphaned by the Irish Famine although some of them still had one parent alive. Many were living in workhouses in abject poverty. This book focuses on the 117 girls who came to Australia from county Kerry. Whilst detailing the broader historic background of the Scheme and life in Ireland at that time, Caball does include personalised information about many of the girls.

Both books are available to borrow from any of the Bega Valley Shire libraries in Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula and Eden.


Merimbula Wharf was certainly a popular fishing spot in the early 1950s as this photo shows. However, in 1979 the Department of Public Works decided that the wharf was beyond repair and despite community protests to save the wharf, the jetty and loading platform were burnt down. The Merimbula community were determined to replace the wharf and in an extraordinary effort, raised $110,000 which was eventually matched as promised by the NSW State Government. Building on the new wharf began in 1983 and was officially opened in the October that year by Michael Cleary, Minister for Leisure, Recreation and Tourism. The ceremonial ribbon was cut by locals Alan Young (original Save the Wharf Committee President) and Dolly McCulloch (Save the Wharf Committee Secretary).

Later, in 1987 and 1988 the cargo sheds were converted into a restaurant and aquarium. Unfortunately, fire destroyed the building in 1998 but opened again in a new complex.

If anyone has any photos to share of the old, or new, wharf please contact Bega Valley Shire Library.

Source: People of the Lake: stories of Merimbula by Helen Swinbourne and Olwen Morris, Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society, 2012.

%d bloggers like this: