Tom Thumb Lagoon

I thought it had all gone except for a few remnants around Wollongong Golf Course, as in this photo I took last year:

But apparently not.

Originally, Tom Thumb Lagoon wetland, just south of Wollongong CBD, was one of the largest estuarine wetlands along the NSW coastline, extending some 500Ha. Saltmarsh, mangroves and reed beds fringed the wetland channels, along with dense stands of swamp oak and swamp paperbark communities.

Unfortunately, like so many of our coastal wetlands, these natural values were not always recognised and the site was seen to be an ideal location for a deep water port to support the rapid expansion of the steel industry during the 1930’s. Subsequently, over the next 40 years much of the wetland was resumed by the creation of a harbour and relocation of dredging materials. From 1960 until 1991 the site was used as a builders tip. As a result, today just 7.7Ha of saltmarsh, tidal mudflats and ponds remain. 

This 7.7Ha plays a vital role in providing habitat for a diverse range of plant and animal life; including the endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog. The wetland also contains stands of Coastal Saltmarsh and Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest.

In response to the issues facing Thom Thumb Lagoon, The Friends of Tom Thumb Lagoon and Wetland was formed in 1993; initiating works such as weed removal, revegetation, walkway construction, landscaping, minor earthworks, flora and fauna monitoring…

But once upon a time it looked like this:


The name, by the way, comes from the explorers Bass and Flinders.

There is a story in today’s Illawarra Mercury that has prompted all this: HERITAGE: Horse ride to church man’s last.

In 1877, the Illawarra was shocked by the drowning of Michael Foley, of the Five Islands Estate, who had previously served as an alderman on the Central Illawarra Council.

On Sunday, May 20, Mrs Foley left home to visit her father, of Fairy Meadow, while her husband intended to “come across” to St Francis Xavier Catholic Church and return for her once the service had concluded.

He left home at 9am with the view of crossing the mouth of Tom Thumb Lagoon, which had once been connected to the sea by a narrow channel and spread as far west as Coniston, prior to its reclamation…

It was supposed that Mr Foley’s horse had been engulfed in the quicksands abounding at the mouth of Tom Thumb Lagoon and in the course of such struggle, Mr Foley was thrown into the water where, being unable to swim, he perished…

The accompanying photo shows how close the lagoon was to what is now Wollongong CBD.


I well remember the late 19th century road bridge across Tom Thumb Lagoon as a landmark when we drove via Aunt Ella and Uncle George’s place in Corrimal Street down to Shellharbour via Port Kembla. It rattled gloriously and looked just like this in the early 1950s.


This 1952 map shows the Lagoon between Port Kembla and Wollongong: