The Jervis Bay Region
The Jervis Bay region is on the south coast of New South Wales, approximately 200 kilometres south of Sydney and 25 kilometres southeast on the regional town of Nowra. The Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community village is nestled in the southern part of the Bherwerre Peninsula which forms the southern boundary of Jervis Bay. Jervis Bay is a very distinctive coastal embayment, unique on the south coast. The waters of the bay are protected from the swells coming in from the Tasman Sea by the prominent headlands of Beecroft Peninsula (Bundarwa) to the north and Bherwerre Peninsula (Berri-werri) to the south. Bowen Island, home to populations of little penguins and shearwaters (mutton birds) is situated in the narrow opening between the two headlands. The small size of the catchment and the presence of only one major creek – Currambene Creek – flowing into the bay means the waters are clean and clear. The protected nature of the marine environment and the clarity of the water support a rich diversity of marine life that is found nowhere else on Australia’s eastern seaboard.
Geology and Geomorphology
The geology of the Jervis Bay region, including Bherwerre Peninsula can be described as undulating sandstone mass overlain by varying depths of windblown and water deposited sands.
The base rock is made of geological units belonging mainly to the Permian Shoalhaven group of sedimentary rocks which form the southern edge of the extensive Sydney Basin system. These ancient sandstones (c. 280-225 million years) are overlain by Tertiary aged alluvial sediments in low lying areas (Cho et al 1995).
Water and wind deposited sediments of Quaternary age capped the older landscape with fine alluvial and formed sandy beaches. On Bherwerre Peninsula, the end of the Quaternary era is represented by small inlets comprising mudflats with mangroves and salt marshes, across which tidal channels meander.
The perched sand dune lakes and swamps of Lakes Windermere and McKenzie, Blacks Waterhole and Ryan’s Swamp were formed during the Quaternary era (Cho et al 1995). Formation of the bay in its present appearance occurred around 6000 years ago when the sea level finished rising. Before this time, during the ice age (20 – 15,000 years ago), the sea level was about 120 metres lower than today and the land extended 25 kilometres further eastward.
The headlands would have been low mountain ranges and Bowen Island a hill. ‘Jervis Bay’ was an open vegetated valley, with a creek flowing outwards between what are now Bowen Island and Beecroft Peninsula (Booderee National Park Board of Management and Director of National Parks 2002).
Rising sea levels carried sand landward, forming two major sand barriers, cutting off St Georges Basin and Beecroft Peninsula and depositing sand in the extensive dune sheets along Bherwerre Peninsula. The geology of the region is very relevant to Aboriginal occupation as weathering of the sandstone cliffs has created the rock shelters where people lived and left their artwork on the walls.
The eroded marine rock platforms are the habitat for many shellfish species and under the sea ‘bombies’ and other submarine features support a diverse range of fish and crustacean species.
Knowledge of these species – their ecology and lifecycles – and how to hunt and gather them is a significant component of the traditional and local knowledge of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community.
Adjacent Land and Sea
Outside of the Jervis Bay Territory the waters immediately to the south of the Wreck Bay Community lands are managed as part of the NSW Jervis Bay Marine Park. Several parcels of NSW land adjacent to the Territory are included in NSW Jervis Bay National Park, managed by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. All the waters of Jervis Bay are subject to the Control of Naval waters Act 1918 which allows for use of the bay for naval exercises. There are protocols in place for the communication and consultation arrangements between Booderee management and Creswell command and other related matters. Importantly the Commanding Officer for HMAS Creswell is a member of the Park Board of Management.
Prior to white settlement, the Jervis Bay region was covered by many different vegetation types, such as: coastal heaths; rainforest; tall open forests of eucalypts, banksias and casuarinas; wetlands of salt marsh and mangroves; and the grasses and sedges comprising sand dune vegetation. These terrestrial environments together with the riches from the oceans and lagoons would have provided plentiful resources for Aboriginal people in traditional times. Unlike many other places on the south coast, most of the original vegetation is still intact today, due mainly to the existence of national parks and the Department of Defence estate in New South Wales and the Jervis Bay Territory, which have placed limitations on the clearing of vegetation for development. The intactness of the original ecosystems has helped to protect the spiritual values of the landscape, as well as a range of plant and animal species that appear nowhere else in the world. The relatively unspoiled nature of the landscape is one of the reasons why both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people treasure the Jervis Bay region.