Recollections of Tathra Wharf from 1936 onwards

KEVIN Cole, 83, is a member of the Pig and Whistle Committee, which is about to reopen the museum at the Tathra Wharf this Sunday.

More volunteers are needed to operate the museum on an ongoing basis, so hopefully his story may inspire others to get involved.

Mr Cole first journeyed to Tathra while on holiday in 1936.

After marrying his wife Rose, the couple moved to the Bega Valley in 1950. And the rest is history, as they say.

Here are Mr Cole’s recollections of the Tathra Wharf:

My first visit to Tathra Steamer Wharf occurred in 1936 when I was on school holiday at my grandfather’s store owned by Samuel Cole at Cathcart.

Coles general store always received its goods for sale by rail to Bombala, but a supply of tea, flour and sugar had been wrongly dispatched by steamer to the port of Merimbula.

However, due to a large southerly swell the goods were directed to Tathra Wharf, which was more protected from wild southerly weather.

So my grandfather and I travelled in an old Ford T utility down Tantawangalo Mountain to Tathra.

Once at Tathra after about three hours’ drive, we had to join a queue of horse-drawn wagons and a small number of motor trucks, which stretched right back from the wharf to the post office.

During this waiting period I had plenty of time to watch the unloading of the cargo from the SS Cobargo by a large crane.

Attached to the end of the crane was a net holding a collection of cardboard boxes and cloth-type sacks, which swung around dangerously at a great height during the unloading.

On one occasion a cardboard box fell from the crane with goods scattering all over the wharf’s deck.

I noticed at the time that some of the smaller items were picked up by the wharf workers and concealed in their sweaters.

This, I was told, was normal practice for damaged goods.

My next visit to Tathra Wharf occurred in 1940 when my uncle Bob Cole drove a new Albion truck down from Sydney to Bega for Mr Rawson, who owned a carrying business in the town.

His main business was to transport goods to and from Bega to Tathra Wharf.

Mr Jack Salway, who lived in Upper St Bega, was a relation of mine and the main driver for Mr Rawson.

So when the new Albion truck was ready for service to cart cheese and agricultural products to Tathra, I was invited to travel, along with my relation.

I remember the Albion moved very slowly and almost stopped climbing the long windy hill just before reaching Tathra.

It must have taken two hours to travel the 11-mile journey.

Once in Tathra, we joined a queue from the wharf to the post office, but there were fewer horse-drawn wagons than there were in 1936.

It was significant to notice that vehicles and wagons were not able to turn around after they unloaded their cargo at the wharf.

All motor vehicles and wagons used the 300-yard length ring road to exit the wharf.

This, now in 2012, washed out ring road should be repaired in the interest of promoting tourism in Tathra.

Such action would also end the present discrimination against many elderly and disabled people who care currently unable to access the wharf via tourist coaches where there is no room to turn large vehicles around.

During the period 1940-45, while living in Bega, I made many visits to Tathra Wharf with my best mate from school, Kingsley Koellner.

We often rode our push bikes to Tathra with stops at Stafford’s brick works for refreshments and where Lot Stafford and his wonderful wife looked after us.

At the wharf we fished from the lower platform about one-and-a-half metres from the water level below.

We seldom fished from the upper deck as there was less chance of knotting up your fishing line from the lower platform.

Our main catch was black fish or luderick and yellowtail.

We never fished when the steamers were in port.

My next experience of note was in 1951 when all the furniture for my wife Rose and I was transported by the SS Cobargo from Sydney to be unloaded at the Tathra Wharf.

Our first marital home was in Bega St, Tathra and all our furniture was purchased from a Marcus Clark catalogue.

All the furniture arrived safely with no scratches on our precious possessions, which took five years to pay off.

We still, after 62 years, have a few of these items in our home.

I was also an active member of Ray and Daisy Berlin’s Tathra Wharf Action Movement, which, during the 1970s and ‘80s, saved the Tathra Wharf from demolition.

Ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s visit to the wharf in 1974 was the turning point in the wharf’s salvation.

The Tathra Wharf is very historic as it is the only open sea old steamer wharf remaining in Australia.

The “Bergalia” was the last steam ship to visit the wharf in 1954. 

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