The Bega Pioneers' Museum has countless reports and stories on local issues. This is a history of Bermagui and district researched by Bertha Davidson in 1982.
DURING the 1840s depression some cattle farmers found it was much more profitable to boil down their animals for tallow, the financial return being anything up to six shillings per head. W D Tarlinton followed this practice beginning in 1852, and building a house and boiling-down works in 1855. Surprisingly enough, Cuttagee, which is now completely silted at the mouth, in those days afforded free access to large sailing vessels (up to 90ft) which took on cattle driven down wild from the neighbouring hills, as well as tallow.
The first hut in Bermagui North was built in 1857 for a Captain John Grant. Another early settler was Thomas Moorehead, who came to Eden and started up a sawmill. The timber was shipped to Sydney by the sailing ship Advance. In 1880 the Public Works Department built a wharf and yard shed on the river bank from which the Jane Moorehead schooner, and another the Alice May traded to Sydney. (Fragments of the old wharf may still be seen near the old tennis courts on the north side.)
When the Montreal gold diggings started Messrs Pollack and Reid built a ketch called the Murunna (the Aboriginal name for the river). Subsequently three other vessels were built on the river, the Nella, for Allan Taylor (later Lord Mayor of Sydney), the Aurora and the Harold, for Captain Christiansen, all being built by Gilbert Newalt. The first bridge was built in 1888 (before this the river had to be crossed by ferry), and the jetty soon afterwards. Once the steamships began putting in to the deep sea wharf on the south side, the activities of sailing ships gradually diminished. It is reported that timber from Bermagui was used in the building of the Sydney GPO, as was the blue granite from Montague Island for its Pitt Street pillars.
Beach House was built by Mr Windsor of Moruya, and the Horseshoe Bay Hotel by Mr W Whiffen. A policeman was stationed at a house by the bridge, and a store and other buildings were erected. Mr Peter Armstrong had a hotel at Bermagui North, until the Hotel Licence Reduction Board came into existence in 1908, and this was closed. A big industry in wattle bark was established by Brearley Bros of Geelong, and in sleepers with the firm of Allan Taylor.
In the early period, there were a great many small independent farms, but most of these lapsed into disuse from the 1870s onwards, and were taken over by the encroaching bush.