Shellharbour history – Key dates – 160th Anniversary

Indigenous History

Shellharbour’s indigenous history dates back many thousands of years, most notably at Bass Point, traced to 17,000 BP. Most archaeological evidence at Bass Point dates back to 6000 years Before Present (BP – scale for use with radiocarbon dating).

The Aboriginal name for Shellharbour has been recorded as both Yerrowah (meeting place), and Wonwin, (place where there were big fish).

The European name Shellharbour refers to the large quantities of shells found in Aboriginal middens along the foreshore in the early to mid-19th Century. Due to the mining of shells in the mid-19th Century for the production of lime these vast middens no longer remain.

Sites in Shellharbour with particular Aboriginal cultural significance include locations where there were camps and settlements, hunting, fishing and gathering grounds, burial grounds and story places.

European settlement

The modern development of the Shellharbour LGA is attributable to four main circumstances:

1. Initial settlement with land grants in the 1800-1850 period.

2. Development of road and rail transportation during the 1800’s making Shellharbour accessible to its north, south and west where the physical landscape on its boundaries previously made access largely impossible.

3. The rise of agricultural industries of beef and dairy cattle and associated services/industries leading to the formation of new settlements.

4. Growth of the area in the post WWII manufacturing era that shaped the area from a group of individual settlements into a large urban population.

Today, Shellharbour City contains a number of urban townships/suburbs and rural localities. Urban townships/suburbs include Shellharbour Village, Barrack Heights, Flinders, Blackbutt, Shell Cove, Barrack Point, Warilla, Lake Illawarra, Mt Warrigal, Oak Flats, Albion Park Rail and Albion Park.

The newest urban suburb is Shellharbour City Centre, located in the geographic heart of our urban area, which comprises the major retail, commercial and bulky goods services in the city. It is the business and commercial heart of Shellharbour City. Rural localities include Dunmore, Croom, Yellow Rock, Tullimbar, Calderwood, Tongarra and North Macquarie.

Key chronological dates:

1. Indigenous history dates back thousands of years, most notably at Bass Point, traced to 17,000 BP (BP – scale for use with radiocarbon dating).

2. Bass and Flinders explore south coast in the Tom Thumb and land at Lake Illawarra in 1796.

3. 1817-1831 period saw free-settlers arrive. Land use was mainly cattle grazing and much land clearing was undertaken.

4. The widespread felling of cedar trees meant a port was required, so the port of Shellharbour was developed. Sea transport was the only means of transportation of timber and other goods to other areas due to the lack of rail and road systems at that time.

5. A township was laid out in 1851 around the port of Shellharbour. It was to be called “Peterborough” but the name was abandoned after it was discovered the name existed elsewhere.

6. Shellharbour (Municipal) Council was constituted on 4 June 1859 and the chambers, built in 1865, were located in Addison Street, Shellharbour.

7. Stella Maris Church, the first in Shellharbour, built in 1861.

8. First bridge over Minnamurra River (Dunmore) built in 1872.

9. Rail line through the area in 1887.

10. Council relocates to Albion Park in 1897, which coincides with the decline of Shellharbour (Village) and the growth of Albion Park as a lucrative beef and dairy cattle district.

11. Opening of Macquarie Pass in 1898 over the route of an Aboriginal trail, 35 years after Ben Rixon first cleared the Aboriginal track.

12. First bridge over Lake Illawarra in 1938.

13. Start of the manufacturing industry boom in the 1950’s with Port Kembla steelworks only a short distance away. Eastern part of the LGA quickly develops around Warilla and the area absorbs new migrant population. Warilla township granted official recognition 1951.

14. Council relocates to Warilla in 1969.

15. Council relocates to Shellharbour City Centre in 1991.

16. Shellharbour gazetted as a City in 1996 as its population passes 50,000.

17. Shellharbour Civic Centre opens January 2018.

18. Population in 2018 estimated at more than 72,000.

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