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Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land
Local communities of Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants and Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land. Their dialect is a variant of the Dharawal language. Before European settlement, the Aboriginal people of the region lived in small family groups with complicated social structures and close associations with specific areas. Suburb boundaries do not reflect the cultural boundaries of the local Aboriginal community. Traditional Custodians today are descendants of the original inhabitants and have ongoing spiritual and cultural ties to the Land and waterways where their ancestors lived.
Parish of Southend County of Cumberland
The name Austinmer came into official being in 1895. Originally this area was called Sidmouth. By the 1860's a small rural settlement had developed in the area and was called North Bulli. The name changed to Austermere with the opening of the North Illawarra Coal Company's mine. As Sir John Leckey's estate at Moss Vale was also known by this name, the spelling Austinmere was adopted by the local newspapers in 1887. The name linked to Henry Austin, one of the three Directors of the Board of the Illawarra Mining Company. When the railway platform was built in September 1887 the name Austinmer was placed upon it, omitting the final 'e'.
Sidmouth was the original name of Austinmer. It was called Sidmouth after the name of the house built there by Robert Marsh Westmacott 1837. Sidmouth was the name of Robert Marsh Westmacott's hometown, in Devon, on the Channel coast of England. The area became a seaside resort just as its counter part in England.
It was not until 1821 that a grant was made to Cornelius O'Brien, in the Bulli area, North of Wollongong. O'Brien's grant extended to the Austinmer area, subsequently known as North Bulli.
Robert Marsh Westmacott (Captain) made the acquaintance of Cornelius O'Brien and journeyed to his property to discuss the purchase of three properties held by him. Westmacott applied for and was granted three hundred acres where Austinmer ultimately became established. This was in 1836 and the next year he had constructed a commodious house which he named 'Sidmouth' after the town in Devon, England where he was born.
The house stood for more than ninety years, being demolished in the 1920's. By the middle of 1837, he was able to bring his wife and two sons to the finished house and settle in their home. He was allotted a certain number of convict labourers with his grant and with these, quickly cleared the land for his house and cultivation. Westmacott bought land north and south of his grant, mainly as investments. He used his North Bulli property for the raising of horses. He disposed of his Woonona property in 1841 and his Thirroul and Austinmer properties in 1846 and went to Parramatta to live.
James Hicks' grant of fifty acres adjoined two of Westmacott's blocks which he had purchased from O'Brien. When Westmacott's estate 'Sidmouth' was sold in 1843, it was acquired by Janes Hicks who moved into it with his family.
There were two boys Henry Thomas and Richard, and some girls. The Hicks farmed the land near the house and founded an orchard on the higher ground towards the cliffs. James Hicks subdivided the three hundred acres he took over from Westmacott into farms and orchard lots of forty acres bringing families to the areas with the sole object of creating farms and orchards.
The earliest of these families were the Fords who grew oranges, the Carrick's who grew grapes and apples, the Daly's who grew vegetables and fruit, the Mitchell's, the Maddens and the Hopewell's who carried on farming. By the 1860's other families in the area included the Powell family, the Geraghty family, the Kennedy family and the McPhee family.
James Kennedy with his wife and five children, a boy and four girls, came from Yallah and occupied a grant of land made to Joseph Roberts of one hundred and sixty acres, adjoining Westmacott's grant on the south.
In 1867 James, with three others, was elected as a Patron on Board to establish a school under the National Education Board, at North Bulli, and, after considerable negotiations, was successful in having it started.
On the death of the parents the farm was run by the son Patsy, and the girls, the latter making butter, as well as helping in the field sowing corn and lucerne. None of them ever married and Patsy, in his eighties in 1905, was gored by a bull and killed leaving the girls to handle their affairs. The property was eventually sold for three thousand pounds and the girls provided for in Thirroul.
Early Austinmer residents are discussed above in the Land Grants information.
Coal, salt and blackberries put Austinmer on the regional map in the 1880's before it became a holiday and health resort early last century in the wake of a large land sale. In 1889 the Illawarra and South Coast Tourist Guide, referring to Thirroul and Austinmer, said the district was known for its regular supply of blackberries to Sydney. This went on for about twenty years before the vines were eradicated. (Illawarra Mercury 18 October 1984 p.21)
In 1884 the "North Illawarra Coal Co." was formed and started mining operations at North Bulli (Austinmer) and by 1886 was producing coal. During that period, the site of the mine was selected by Mr D Moresby, a colliery manager from Yorkshire, England, and on 18 November 1884 , the Illawarra Mercury states that the tug "Despatch" was taking soundings off Hicks Point in connection with the jetty intended to be erected there. By 1 January 1887 the jetty was erected and put to use for coal shipping. In 1895 the mine was worked out and subsequently closed. The jetty was later partly wrecked by storm and the remainder destroyed by fire in 1915. (Illawarra Mercury 18 October 1984. p.21)
The Austinmer railway station was opened to traffic on 1 September 1887 bringing with it workers and their families.(King, Norman S., 1967)
The Clifton to Wollongong section of the railway was constructed while the tunnels at Helensburgh and Otford were being completed connecting with Waterfall and Clifton. Until they were finished, coaches ran connecting the two, but the problem was the drag uphill at Stanwell Park where the passengers had to alight and walk up.
Tracks were used to drove cattle over land and a track down the cliffs was discovered at Wombarra. There were also tracks leading down to the delightful glen and beach of North Bulli.
In 1884 Robert Marsh Westmacott discovered and surveyed a new road up the pass and with government and local citizens support, had it built, it being eventually known as Bulli Pass. It was not until 1886 that a wheel vehicle was taken up.
In 1887 the Austinmer Railway Station was opened. It is located South of the Rail Line in Austinmer. A second platform with timber railway platform building and corrugated metal roof was added with 1915 track duplication. The Railway Station had an important historical and social link with the township of Austinmer's development and the development of the tourism and the coal industry. (City of Wollongong Heritage study Vol 3/5)
Address: 1 Headlands Avenue, Austinmer
This house is a 1920's Californian bungalow. It was built of brick with a corrugated iron roof - symmetrical façade with leadlight bay windows. It is an excellent example of local interpretation of the Inter-War Californian bungalow style with a high level of integrity. (City of Wollongong Heritage Study Vol 3/5)
Address: 92 - 94 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Austinmer
The first move towards the establishment of a public school at Austinmer - then known by the name North Bulli - was made in 1866. In 1891 the old slab school was demolished. The new building was to be of brick, it had been found that the white ants were destructive to wooden buildings and the Department was adverse to erecting structures of wood. The school at this time was one large room divided by an arch eventually having a partition installed separating the two rooms. In 1927, a third room was added to the original 1891 rooms. In 1958- a modern classroom block was added. In 1963 a classroom, library and brick veneer office were added. It is a fine example of a late Victorian school building and the residence is still in use. (King, Norman S., 1967)
Address: Headlands Avenue, Austinmer
This prominent building on the headland, is in the late Federation Bungalow style. A former salt mine once operated from this site. The original building was a guest house which was constructed by Joe Goss for Syms and Company in 1926. It consisted of thirty double bedrooms, spacious landscaped grounds, twelve garages and staff rooms. In 1954, a new accommodation section and bars were added and the guest house became a Hotel.
The older part of the Hotel is set prominently on Brickyard Point, with palms and pine trees forming a landscaped setting. The building had detailed brickwork and lead lighting. (City of Wollongong Heritage Study, 1991)
Various developments have been planned for the site since the late 1980's. Resident and community opposition have ensured the site to date has remained unchanged although concern has been expressed over the state of the building and an application to demolish was submitted to Wollongong City Council in 2000. (Local Cuttings File)
Address: 15 Wigram Road, Austinmer
This split level house is rendered brick with curved features of construction highlighted by dark painted edging. It is an uncommon and fine example of the Inter - War Functionalist style in a domestic style. The building is set in a prominent position above Glastonbury Gardens and displays many intact features of this building type.
Austinmer lies between a magnificent coastline and spectacular backdrop of the Escarpment. It is framed by rocky headlands to the North and South, and surrounded by fragrant Norfolk Pines. The pines are located at Austinmer beach. They are a group of Araucaria heterophylla approximately 40 years old and they provide a landmark and reinforce the identity of beaches.
The vegetation consists of mixed eucalyptus forest association, sup-tropical rain forest, Canary Island Palm trees, smaller trees, open shrubbery understorey, predominantly of the family Proteaceae, Epacridaceae and Papolionaceae.(City of Wollongong Heritage Study: Vol 3-5)
The coastal plain is joined to the Escarpment by rising foothills. Developments on the plain and foothills are visible from the Escarpment. The two regions, Illawarra Escarpment and Illawarra Plain are inseperable. The oceanographic aspects of the region provide an integral part of the visual and natural attractions of the region.
Some of the fauna to be found are the Sooty Oyster Catcher - an endangered species, reptiles, parrots, possums, frogs, snails, numerous arthropods and other invertebrates.
The Glastonbury Gardens located along Lawrence Hargrave Drive is a public park containing mature Phoenix canariensis, Sabal palms, strelitzia nicholai and Araucaria heterophylla. This was previously the site of a colliery dam which is still visible. The park is a focal point for community events.