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The Lands of the Dunghutti

South West Rocks is located in the traditional lands of the Dunghutti (Thaingutti) and Monument Point was a place of gathering and ceremony for the Dunghutti, Gumbaynggir and Biripi nations with the headland representing a ‘song line’ or ‘energy line’ between Mount Yarrahapinni and the hills around Arakoon.

South West Rocks was named after a cluster of large granite boulders that lay about 170metres east of what was commonly referred to as Laggers Point. Mostly surrounded by shelving rocks and awash in patches at low water they are known locally as the boulders and in early days were a reference point for shipping.

Trial Bay was named after a brig, The Trial, which was stolen and wrecked by convicts in 1816 in the bay that now bears its name.

When Captain Thomas Whyte found the wreck in 1817 there was no trace of the convicts and it was assumed they had all died by either starvation or being killed by the Dunghutti people.

In 1820 John Oxley, with Captain Allman, made a survey of Port Macquarie and report on its suitability as a new settlement for convicts. Oxley was directed to examine inlets north of Smoky Cape. Sailing in the Prince Regent, Oxley entered the Macleay River but found only ten to twelve feet of water over the bar at high tide.

When the area was developed, Arakoon was intended as the major town in the area, but history has a way of changing the plans of men, and South West Rocks has taken on that role.

Trial Bay Gaol

“Ten years a-building – 17 years a-dying and will stand on Laggers Point for 1,000 years or more. Within these great grey granite walls lurk the ghosts of yesteryear.”

The first prisoners – or grey jackets as they were called – arrived at Trial Bay in 1886. All had been convicted in NSW for sentences of over seven years and all had been of good behaviour. Hence, their transportation to what was considered at the time to be a model prison.

Their job was to construct a breakwater that would extend 1 ½ miles north from Laggers Point and provide Trial Bay with a safe harbour. The granite boulders – some of 10ft cubes or more – were quarried nearby and transported to the site via a small horsedrawn tram line.

Despite extensive damage to the breakwater caused by heave gales, the construction continued until 1903 when unexpectedly all work was stopped. The breakwater at this stage was 994 ft – about one-fifth of the proposed length.

The NSW Government decided that as this type of prison system was no longer viable and the harbour the breakwall was designed to protect had begun to shoal that the Gaol should close.

It housed almost 300 prisoners, had taken almost 10 years to build and had cost the State Government 60,000 pounds ($120,000). By the end of 1903 this giant had become an empty shell and of no further use. However, in 1915 the massive doors would open again – this time to house German internees during the Great War 1914-18.

The cells, some still with the blue and white frieze placed by the German internees, are grim reminders of days long gone. The green parklands surrounding the gaol, the enticing blue waters of Trial Bay, the purple mountains extending northwards as far as the eye can see, and the ever-present sunshine attract many thousands of visitors every year.

Smoky Cape Light House

A small plaque in the park below the lighthouse reads “Smoky Cape was first named on 13th May, 1770 when Captain James Cook recorded in his journal – “At noon we were by observation in the latitude of 30 degrees 45’ W and about three or four leagues from the land, on which were fires that caused a great quantity of smoke, which occasioned by giving it the name of Smoky Cape”. The road to the Cape was hacked out of jungle by 35 men in 1888. The lighthouse, which is the tallest in NSW, was completed in 1891 and stands on a hummock about 400ft above sea level.

John Oxley’s Diary – 30th November 1820

“There is nothing in the local situation of this Inlet or the quality of the surrounding Country that can at present render it an object of any Interest. In Trial Bay, vessels prevented by unfavourable Winds and Tides from entering Port Macquarie will Shelter, and I think it an eligible Station from whence to take advantage of a Change in wind and weather.”

Wrecks of Trial Bay

Over the years, many ships have come to rest in Trial Bay. This beautiful bay is named after the brigantine “Trial”. The wreck of the little ship was found on the sands of the bay in 1817. A group of escaped convicts had seized the “Trial”, complete with crew and passengers, while it lay at anchor in Watsons Bay (Sydney) on 13th September, 1813.

For over two years no word of their fate was heard, but eventually news filtered bank to Sydney of a wreck on a beach well north of Port Stephens.

A search party was dispatched in 1817 led by Commander White. He discovered the wreck of the “Trial” just north of Smoky Cape but no trace of any survivors. Remains of the little ship are believed to be buried in the sand hills in the vicinity of Arakoon House.

In 1864 the “Gazelle”, “Julia” and :Wooloomooloo” were also wrecked during a severe gale. All hands of the “Wooloomooloo” were lost and a monument on Port Briner is a grim reminder of that fateful night. (Point Briner – named after George Briner, who held the seat in the Legislative Assembly).

In January 1972 the Sydney Showboat, “Sydney Queen” and vehicular ferries “Koondooloo and “Lurgurena” were wrecked in Trial Bay while being towed to the Philippines. Despite desperate efforts to save the ships, strong winds and tides won the battle. The remains of the “Sydney Queen” and “Lurgurena” may be seen at low tide at the northern end of trial Bay while the “Koondooloo” lies as a rusting hulk well up on the beach.

Extract from The Macleay Argus – 1888 /1889

“The township of Arakoon. A few houses, half buried in the scrub, a Police Station {Trial Bay Lodges stand on this site} school, and accommodation house, constitutes this, the most primitive of townships. The metalled road at this point ceases, giving place to a heavy sand track that continues to within a couple of hundred yards of the gaol entrance.”

Originally, Arakoon was the name given to the prominent hill now known as Big Smoky, which lies adjacent to Smoky Cape. The town of Arakoon was proclaimed in the Government Gazette in 1867 and was recorded as a postal town in 1892. In 1967 The Geographical Names Board of NSW altered the name of the western half of Arakoon to its local name of South West Rocks and assigned that the eastern part to remain Arakoon, as originally proclaimed.

South West Rocks – This pretty resort has and is still being patronised by those, who at this period of the year go in to camp for a week or so. At the present there are fully 300 people at the Rocks which with some 50 or 60 tents, gives this usually quiet place a busy appearance. Land is being eagerly taken up at the Rocks and is fetching as much as two pounds per foot.

Trial Bay Jetty

In the mid 1800’s the Arakoon end of Trial Bay was a deep-water port (hard to believe in the late 1900’s). The fragmented remains of the long jetty that once extended into the bay can be seen just north of the gaol.

This jetty was the loading and unloading wharf for the river residents and bustled with whalers, sealers and settlers. It was also later used for the disembarkation of the German Internees incarcerated at Trial Bay.

Russell Street

Russell Street (Named after Paddy Russell, a “giant” Californian immigrant) – locally known as Arakoon Road – was once the main route to Kempsey and was the site of several gold mining attempts, none of which was successful.

Seabreeze (Federal) Hotel

Many flamboyant characters have been associated with the Seabreeze, but none more so than Captain Eaton, who was stationed at the gaol during the 1914-18 War. This dashing and daring soldier would force his horse through the swinging doors of the old hotel, ride down the bar and order his troops back to barracks.

The Federal (as it was named then) was a single-storey building housing a bar, parlour and four residential rooms. Built by Laurence Rafferty in 1907, it continued in the family for three generations. With renovations and a new publican, also came a new name – “The Seabreeze”. In 1986 the now thriving hotel was again extensively modernised. A motel, speciality shops and a bistro were added with the hotel now being a popular “watering hole” on the Macleay.

Arakoon House

Originally built as a one-storey residence around 1887 – Arakoon House then had a second storey added in 1889.

Majestic in every respect, this grand old home has stood the passing of time extremely well. An historic description of the building in the Macleay Argus dated 1889 describes the upper storey as “having six bedrooms, two sitting rooms, bathrooms and a passageway running east to west 50ft by 6 ft. The woodwork is redwood and pine. On the ground floor are dining rooms, parlous and private rooms opening out on the verandah and a passage of the same dimensions as the one above.”

This home has served many masters. Built for Jesse Plummer and later owned by the Sullivans, Magnus Thompson, the Hilliers and the Moores. Mr and Mrs Earl McNeil then spent 12 years restoring their home to its former glory. Arakoon House has now been converted into four holiday flats.

Little Bay

Within the confines of the State Recreation Park one will find the delightful sandy cover of Little Bay. While caution must be taken when swimming and surfing, the fishing is excellent and the sun soaking a must.

Close by – in years gone by – a reservoir was built across a gully, and water was piped to the gaol to be stored in massive tanks. So successful was this system that the township of Arakoon relied on this small dam for its water supply for many years. This is now known locally as “the duck pond”.

Blue Shirt

“Blue Shirt” and his brother Warragul were believed to be the offspring of one of the survivors of the brigantine “Trial”. These half-caste aboriginals terrorised the Macleay and Hastings districts for over a decade. Warragul was shot on the hills near Kempsey, while the notorious “Blue Shirt” was captured and handcuffed to the stirrups of a troopers’ horse. On the journey back to Kempsey, the horse took fright and bolted, killing “Blue Shirt” instantly, closing a violent chapter of Macleay history.

Arakoon Cemeteries

The first cemetery in Arakoon is now overgrown and past recognition. Situated about half way along Arakoon road, between Gap Beach Road and Bullocks Quarry Road, the cemetery is the resting place of early settlers and some of the prisoners from the gaol. A single headstone, erected in 1889 to the memory of Michael During, who died at the age of 23 years, remains. As the access is overgrown, the cemetery is difficult to find. When this cemetery was closed, a new ground was dedicated on Lighthouse Road. The “new” cemetery now has older and newer sections.

The Macleay River

Prior to 1835 this magnificent ribbon of blue was known as Wrights River, Trial River and New River.

Its discovery was first recorded in 1817 when Commander White and his ship the “Lady Nelson” was sent north to investigate the disappearance of the brig “Trial”. No trace was found of the escaped convicts or survivors of the crew and passengers, however, he did find the entrance to the Macleay River and fixed its latitude. In 1825 four recaptured convicts spoke reports of a river “as large as the Hastings” about 30 miles north of Port Macquarie.

On June 9th, 1891, the ketch “Lansdowne” became the first ship to use what is now known as the New Entrance. During a severe gale on the night of 8th/9th June, 1891, the seven vessels that were at anchor in Trial Bay put to sea – all but the “Lansdowne” were swept ashore. Captain “Big Hat” Field set his sturdy little ship for an opening and sailed into, what he thought, was the entrance to the Macleay River. Anchoring for the night, he found himself next day to be an arms length from Shark Island and thus sailed his little ketch into history by becoming the first to sail into New Entrance.

The New Entrance project to cut a channel 2000 feet long and 25 feet wide began in 1896 and was completed 18 months later, which enabled the northern coastal steamers safe entrance to the Macleay and its river villages as far up as Kempsey.

German Monument

Among the 500 German internees housed at the gaol during the 1914-18 Great War, were many talented and educated men – naval officers, merchants, physicians, priests, university lecturers and the German Consuls from Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia – there were also skilled tradesmen, including three stone masons.

These ‘men of stone’ quarried and cut from solid granite a magnificent monument I the form of an Iron Cross, which stands on the cliffs over looking the Pacific Ocean. This they dedicated to their comrades who died from natural causes and by drowning while interned in the gaol. After the war, returning Australian servicemen extensively damaged the structure and for years it lay lost and forgotten under intruding native flora.

The restoration of the memorial in the late 1950’s was instigated by the West German Consul General and the joint efforts of the Kempsey Shire Council, the Rotary club and contractor members of Rotary restored the monument to remain forever in memory of the German internees.

Lonely Graves on a windy hill

On the windswept headland spur above the gaol and overlooking the blue Pacific lies the young son of Prison Governor Adamson. The lad, wrapped in a Union Jack, was buried in 1902.

Also in unmarked graves lie prisoners who died of natural causes and a workman who was killed when, on a windy day, the massive doors he was fitting to the entrance of the gaol, blew over and crushed him to death.

The German Internees

The German Internees described the gaol that housed them for three years as “A sea resort for imported criminals” and “The ancestral castle of the Australians”. Twelve years after Trial Bay Gaol closed for convicted criminals it was again opened to accommodate Germans who happened to be living in Australia at the time and migrants of German origin, no matter whether they were born in Australia or naturalised British subjects.

A total of 6890 such people (including 84 women and 67 children) were rounded up within Australia, and transported to Trial Bay. Two of these were German scientists, another a physicist, another an anthropologist, but perhaps the most prominent internee was a naturalised Australian, Dr. Max Herz, who was the first orthopaedic surgeon in Australia.

The internees built for themselves a gym and tennis court. But their most precious privilege was the beach. Many built themselves small huts close to the sand which gave them a little privacy and they supplemented their rations with fish from t the sea and vegetables grown in their garden plots.

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