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.

World War One photographs

Celebrating the end of WWI, Bega, 1919

Celebrating the end of WWI, Bega, 1919

What was life like in  the Bega Valley during World War One? Do you have any old photographs showing life on the home front such as local end-of-war celebrations, soldiers home on leave or women helping with the war effort?

We would love donations of old photographs from people for the 2015 local history calendar. The theme of the calendar will be ‘The World War One Years’. In the next few years, Australia will commemorate various World War One milestones, marking 100 years since Australia’s involvement in the war.

The aim of next year’s calendar is to acknowledge peoples’ varied experiences of World War One. So many went overseas to fight but there was a home front as well where a lot of the war effort was focused for those family members left behind. Families waited anxiously at home, people held fundraising events to support the war and towns organised homecomings for returning soldiers. Life continued while the war was on and we particularly want to capture the day-to-day life on the home front for the 2015 calendar.

Memento showing grave of local man T. Corporal Bernard Joseph Heffernan.

Memento showing grave of local man T. Corporal Bernard Joseph Heffernan.

We already have some suitable photographs like one of people gathered on the corner of Carp and Gipps Street, Bega in 1919 to celebrate the end of the war, but we need lots more to make a full calendar.

We aim to put out a calendar that represents the whole shire and we would love for everybody with photographs of the Great War to share this important part of the shire’s history.

Photographs can be loaned or donated, and for people lending images we just digitise and return the original to you. If you have a photograph that fits the theme then please contact Linda Albertson on 6499 2127.

1st Bega Troop 1936
This wonderful photograph of the First Bega Scout Group is a recent addition to our photographic collection. It has a studio mark embossed on the corner from ‘Dimond Studio 150 Rundle St. Adelaide’. What was the Bega Scout Troop doing in Adelaide and when were they there?

The SA Memory site provides some clues. A Scout Jamboree was held near Adelaide in 1936 to commemorate 100 years of European settlement in South Australia. Known as the ‘Centenary Corroboree’, a six day camp of 4,000 scouts was held in the Belair National Park from 28 December 1936. Scouts came from all over Australia, including Bega, as well as from South Africa, Sri Lanka, the Solomons, Rabaul and Nauru. What a trip for our local boys back in 1936!

Does anyone recognise the Scout leader? Or any of the boys in the photograph? If you can shed any more light on the people in this photograph, please make a comment.

Sources: The Corroboree Advertiser at http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?c=5383#

Cemetery Bungle

Corner Eden and Upper Streets, old cemetery site Bega.

Corner Eden and Upper Streets, old cemetery site Bega.

In 1905 the good people of Bega found themselves “in between” cemeteries. The ‘old’ cemetery, located where the present day public high school is, was de-commissioned on 7 June 1905. However, the transition to the ‘new’ cemetery wasn’t a smooth one according to a report in the ‘Southern Star’ on 14 June 1905.

The Bega Municipal Council gave three months’ notice making burial in the old cemetery illegal after 7 June 1905. It seems that the work in preparing the new cemetery didn’t progress very quickly. So when a death occurred on 11 June, “nobody knew what to do about a grave.” The undertaker instructed a man to dig the grave in the old cemetery since the new cemetery was not fully prepared. The digging was soon stopped by the Inspector of Nuisances with a threat of prosecution. An appeal was made to the Mayor who was unable to authorise a breach of by-laws so the only thing left to do was to start digging a grave at the new cemetery.

The problem was that the new cemetery hadn’t been properly marked out into religious denominations so no one knew which area was Roman Catholic, Anglican, Prebyterian, Methodist and so on. In addition, the land was used as a cattle run at night time. Eventually, permission was obtained from Mr Blomfield, secretary to the cemetery trustees, to bury the deceased in the new cemetery. However, as the land hadn’t been pegged out the grave had to be dug in a remote corner.

The writer of the article (anonymous) is clearly indignant at the lack of foresight from authorities in organising the transition between one cemetery closing and the other cemetery coming into use. As to the identity of our poor deceased person, they are only referred to as a “stranger”.

Bermagui Tuna Festival programme 1962

Bermagui Tuna Festival programme 1962

Well-known American author Zane Grey’s visit to Bermagui generated much excitement throughout the area in the early months of 1936.  His visit was reported in the Bega District News of 6 January 1936 as well as subsequent issues and in national newspapers.

According to the local newspaper report Mr Grey set up a “big camp” overlooking the bay at Bermagui. His “fishing gear would amaze the average Australian fisherman. The size and variety of his equipment are astounding. He has more than 100 rods…”   In addition, he brought with him two special cooks, two sound specialists and “three moving camera outfits…”   His arrival would have made quite an impact on the small village of Bermagui at that time.

The swordfish season did not begin until February but in the meantime Mr Grey hoped to fish for sharks from the two boats at his disposal – ‘Tin Hare’ and his New Zealand built boat, ‘Avalon’.

The NSW government invited Grey to Bermagui and he certainly put Bermagui “on the map” for big game and tuna fishing, especially when he caught Australia’s first yellowfin tuna. It was also at Bermagui that Australia’s first big marlin (120kg black) was caught.

In the 1960s Bermagui celebrated the tuna season with the Bermagui Tuna Festival. Here’s a photograph if the programme of events from the 1962 festival held in October that year. The festival started on the Friday evening with a ‘Festival Ball’ and ‘Festival Follies’. Prizes for ‘Festival Princess’ and ‘Greenseas Queen’ were awarded. The Festival continued on through the weekend with the best decorated boat, blessing of the fleet, gymkhana, procession, official opening and stock car display on the Saturday, including a £5 prize for the best decorated building in Bermagui. More festivities were scheduled for the Saturday night – a barbeque, mardi-gras and variety concert. Then on the Sunday an aquatic carnival was advertised to take place at Wallaga Lake.

A big festival for a small town of just over 500 people (Ryan, K. B. Towns and Settlements of the South Coast, PhD Thesis (ANU), 1965) which still attracts many visitors and tourists for a spot of fishing. Thank you Zane Grey!

Do you remember the Tuna Festival? Was it held every year? Are there any photographs of a Festival Princess or Greenseas Queen?

Bega District News 6 January 1936
Hook line & sinker Bermagui by Steve Cooper, Sunday Herald Sun 13 February 2011
Bermagui Tuna Festival programme 26-28 October 1962.

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