A Little History

The history of the Great Lakes begins with the Worimi and Biripi people. They were hunters and gatherers who made good use of the abundant food sources found within the rivers, lakes and coastline of the area. [1] The remains of a rock fish trap and various midden sites, such as those in the Myall Lakes National Park, can still be seen today. Captain Cook, while sailing along the east coast in May 1770, noted the presence of “natives” and named a high point of land Cape Hawke, after Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, First Lord of the Admiralty.[2]

In 1790, five escaped convicts from the Second Fleet became the first Europeans to arrive in the area. They were “adopted” by local aborigines near Hawks Nest and lived amongst them until they were recaptured in 1795. By the early 1800’s timber-getters began to arrive in search of cedar, pine and tallow wood. In 1827 the surveyor Robert Dawson explored the area for the Australian Agricultural Company which later subdivided land intended for pastoral activity and private settlement.

In 1856 George Godwin and his family set out from Gosford and became the first  to settle in what is now modern day Forster, named after William Forster, secretary of lands. A school was opened in 1870 and George Underwood, a graduate of Cambridge University, became Forster’s first school teacher. With a regular supply of timber passing through on its way down to Sydney by sail and later by steam, John Breckenridge established a sawmill in the early 1870’s, followed soon after by shipbuilding activity.

With the spread of settlement traditional aboriginal food sources became harder to acquire and as so often happened in other parts of Australia during this period, conflicts arose. While some aboriginal families remained near the outskirts of settlement others retreated to more remote areas in an attempt to maintain their subsistence way of life.[3]

In 1875 a Scottish shipwright named John Wright set up camp on a marshy stretch of land just north of Forster, across the narrow entrance to Wallis Lake, known today as Tuncurry. A mill was soon established and by the early 1880′s ship building was well underway. Timbergetting, milling, shipbuilding and fishing became the primary industries in the area.

In 1890 a regular rowboat service between Forster and Tuncurry began, followed in 1920 by a vehicular ferry and a dedicated passenger ferry in 1946. 1959 saw the completion of a bridge that finally linked the two towns by road. Since then the area has flourished and become a major tourist destination. Descendants of the original Worimi and Biripi people still remain and are now an integral part of the growing community that is the Great Lakes.