HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

11 July 2016

Tathra Wharf.


The historic coastal steamer wharf was constructed in 1862 from funding provided by local farmers and the Illawarra Steamship Company. 

Steamers from the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Co – the ‘Pig and Whistle Line’ use to call at the wharf to unload and load all manner of cargo and passengers.  By 1893 the wharf had become one of the most important ports of call for the company.     By 1958 the wharf was no longer commercially viable as road transport became the preferred mode of transporting goods and people, and the wharf started to fall into disrepair.

The wharf’s location protects it from the storms coming from the south,  but it is exposed to anything coming from the North.   The recent large north swell in June 2016 generated by an East Coast Low that shook the whole eastern sea board and reported to be the biggest storm since the Signa storm in 1994,   saw huge swell slamming into the wharf causing it to shake on it’s foundations causing sever damage.

I first visited the wharf in the late 1970s and the old wharf was falling apart, nothing had be done to it in years, it had been battered from many storms and was left to deteriorate.
At the time inside the wharf was all but empty,  open holes and no windows made it a breezy place,   there was a high wire fence erected around the wharf to keep people out for fear of falling through the rotting structure.   The NSW Public Works Department wanted the wharf demolished.
The fence proved useless as that also fell into disrepair and people simply climbed through the holes in the fence to swim and fish.


From one of my slides - Unglazed window openings 1978.

The wharf was completly empty at the time this dark image was taken. .


With the threat of demolition local people rallied together forming the Tathra Wharf Action Group.  They raised money and peoples awareness of the importance of saving the old wharf and preserving a small but important part of our short but important heritage.

It was eventually restored by the National Trust Department of Planning,  and local residents.

The Tathra wharf is the last surviving coastal steamer wharf in NSW,  and is an important link to our rural and maritime history.

I found this little poem from the Southern Star paper 1905.  At the time there was a proposal for the wharf to be leased to the I.S.C.S.N. ( Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company ) There was much debate about the issue and it’s advantages and disadvantages.  The meeting became quite fiery and the article titled “The Indignation Meeting”  ended with this poem penned by Mick O’Grady.

It was decided at the time for the wharf to remain a public wharf.

The issue was again raised in 1919 – and again it was defeated.

Sydney Mail 1902.

When Bega's men some object good
     would show
The project labors wearisome and slow,
The School of Arts echoes the sad display
Of empty seats in beggarly array;
Be if the Ambulance, Brigade or Band
No voices cheer it -  comes no helping hand,
In lonesome apathy the meeting palls
Postponed for ever and the curtain falls

Not so, when Sydney side would take
The common right to land at Tathra Bay,
In righteous wrath the citizens attend
And all their views in one fixed impulse
Impassioned speech the angry hearts
Oh! how they buck when they have
       ought to lose.
Hats off! that precious wharf we still
      can keep,
And weary Bega turns again to sleep.
                           —Mick O 'Grady,

Timetable advertisement in the same issue.
There are many stories associated with the Tathra wharf but the one below is rather interesting and unusual.

The wharf has a small maritime museum that is only open on Sunday afternoons,  if you have a chance,  take the time and visit the wharf and with a bit of imagination you may even hear the whistle of a small steamer approaching.. 



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