Aborigines Of Jervis Bay

Early European Interactions

Yager is the best known of the early Jervis Bay Aborigines, having met Alexander Berry soon after the first white settlement in 1822. Berry at one time described Yager as “My religious friend”.

In his “Recollections of the Aborigines” compiled in 1838, Berry wrote, “One day a large party of well armed arrived from Jervis Bay and sat down in the neighbourhood of our encampment, but did not come near us according to the native custom until they received an invitation. I went to them, asked for their chief – an old gentleman of the name of Yager – and we became immediately good friends.”

The best description of the Aborigines of this era is provided by the Frenchman, Jules Sebastian Cesar Dumont d’Urville who visited Jervis Bay for a few days in November 1826 with a party of sailors, soldiers, naturalists and artists aboard the corvette, Astrolabe. He observed that the natives were of the same type as those from Port Jackson but better looking and stronger, possibly because of the abundance of food. He noted that several of them had a “tattoo of scars on their backs, the cartilage of the nosed pierced and their hair parted into strands decorated with Kangaroo teeth or paws”. The French visitors entertained the Aborigines by bringing in a huge catch of fish from a single cast of a net. In his journal d’Urville also described two huts which were located near the party’s observatory, as follows: “In form they were like an oblong beehive about six or seven feet high, built in wide strips of eucalyptus bark, set upright and brought together at the top, covered with grass and marine plants. Clean and spacious inside, each of them could easily house a family of eight to ten individuals and evidence a degree of intelligence on the part of these savages superior to any I had so far encountered.”

When they visited the coast, the Aboriginal men and youths looked for rocks overhanging the water’s edge and from this platform they would spear any fish lured to the area by morsels of shellfish scattered by the hunter. Their long, light fishing spears were constructed from several flower stalks from the grass tree, spliced together with bands of sinew and water proofed with an insoluble resin obtained from the same plant. The several hardwood prongs on these fishing spears were armed with needle sharp bone splinters firmly bound and water proofed in the same way.

While the men were hunting the women and children hunted small game, collected fruits, berries and nuts and dug for various root vegetables with a strong stick. Captain Cook sighted the Bay in April 1770 while sailing north along the coast, In his diary he wrote of a point of land which I had discovered on St George’s Day and which therefore I called Cape George (Cape St George). While in the vicinity Cook noted ‘smoke in several places near the beach’ Arriving at the Bay he recorded that it ‘promised shelter from the north east winds, but the wind was with us, it was not in my power to look into it without beating up, which would have cost me more time that I was willing to spare’. He named the northern point of the bay ‘Long Nose’, the whole resembled a face in profile.

The bay became ’Jervis Bay’ in August 1791 when Lieutenant Richard Bowen, named it Port Jervis after naval officer and later, admiral of the British fleet, Sir John Jervis under whom Bowen had served. Whalers from Twofold Bay began to frequent Jervis Bay in the 1790’s using it for anchorage.

In 1801 naturalist and explorer George Caley arrived aboard Lieutenant James Grant’s ship ‘Lady Nelson’ and between them they made favourable reports of the flora, fauna and safety of the harbour. Governor Macquarie landed on Bowen Island in 1811 and subsequently recommended a settlement at the Bay. In 1818 he sent explorers Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume to seek a route from the southern tablelands to Jervis Bay. Throsby completed the journey. In 1819 the surveyor-general John Oxley sailed to the Bay. He reported that there was not ‘the smallest inducement for the foundation of a settlement on its shores, being for the most part Barren and generally deficient in Water’.


Jervis Bay Development

The first land grants were issued in 1827. It was the cedar in the area that provided the initial industry though dairying soon developed. When wool prices soared at the outset of the 1840’s Governor Gipps sent 70 convicts to cut a track that has become known as the Wool Road from Braidwood to the Bay so that wool could be shipped to Sydney. As a result there was great optimism about the future of the district and the settlement of Huskisson was established on the western shore of the Bay in 1840. A hotel, wharf and wool store were soon erected at South Huskisson and wool shipments were made to Sydney and London.

Coastal steamers and whaling ships were regular visitors. The combination of projecting headlands, steep cliffs, rocky shoreline, currents and strong easterly winds proved a hazard to sailing vessels. Cape St George Lighthouse was constructed in 1860 however it was erected in the wrong spot, several kilometres north of cape St George. As a result it was imperceptible to ships coming from the south and ironically proved a navigational hazard by day. Consequently Point Perpendicular Lighthouse was built sat the southern tip of the northern peninsula in 1899 and the earlier structure was used as target practice by the navy. The ruin of the base, part of the tower and the outbuildings still remain as a tourist feature.

There have been a number of shipwrecks around Jervis Bay over the years. The first to be recorded was the 30 tonne sloop ‘Nancy’ in 1805 at a cost of one life. In 1876 40 men died when the steamer Dandenong went down. In 1927 the wreck of the SS Merimbula marked the end of passenger services by sea along the south coast. Most dramatically of all, in 1964 the HMAS Melbourne collided with the HMAS Voyager during a naval exercise and 82 men were killed. After Federation occurred in 1901 plans were set in motion to create a city (ultimately Canberra) within an independent Territory (the ACT) wherein the new Federal Government could sit. The subsequent Seat of Government Act (1908) declared that access to the sea was imperative. Thus 7400 hectares of land at the southern end of Jervis Bay were officially handed over from the NSW to the Commonwealth Government to be developed as a port and naval base. Work began in 1913 and in 1915 the Royal Australian Naval College opened at Captain Point under Federal administration as HMAS Creswell.

The Royal Australian Naval College no longer exists as it was absorbed into the Australian Defence Force Academy but some officer training still occurs at Jervis Bay. A majority of the original buildings still remain.