Continuing my trawling through Trove and family history

I have made ongoing and sometimes quite major revisions to What a treasury of family history! over the past few days.

There is a story in today’s Illawarra Mercury that sent me back to my grandfather Thomas’s memoir in the Kiama Independent of 30 January 1943.

A school and residence built in the 1800s at Marshall Mount, which earns top marks for social history, has been listed for sale.

The heritage buildings, where the grandfather of Hypothetical host Geoffrey Robertson taught and lived in the 1930s, has been a private residence for more than 20 years.

Neighbour and retired dairy farmer Douglas McDonald remembered fondly his first day walking to school in 1955 to be greeted by teacher Norm Dunne.

“All the kids were in one room with one teacher and there were five in my class,” he said.

“It was a great school because you didn’t have to wear a uniform or shoes.

“Lunch was in the backyard next to the bubbler shed where we’d sit down and eat our sandwiches, cake and fruit packed by our mothers because there was no canteen.”

It was also touched by a little bit of celebrity.

“Geoffrey Robinson’s mum – she was a Beattie – went to the school and her father taught there a few years before I arrived,” Mr McDonald said.

Illawarra historian Dr Joseph Davis said the Osborne family, the first settlers in the village, provided land for the school in 1859 for children of those working the nearby properties.

The first school was ruined by fire and the existing buildings were put up in 1897 by noted NSW Department of Education architect William Edmund Kemp.

“Kemp preferred a less ornate style than his predecessors but he was a stickler for elegant simplicity and craftsmanship,” says Dr Davis.

“The high ceilings, cedar joinery and sturdily handsome fireplaces are just some of this property’s many genuine pleasures topped off by the charm of a true-blue country Australian farmhouse kitchen.”

The school closed in 1972 and has been put to many uses, such as an art gallery.

This is the school residence:


I think I recognise the style:

For many of my public school jobs I got testimonials of appreciation from the architects, and in one particular case, the architect told the late Mr. Bell, a teacher, of Marshall Mount that he would pass my work in Sydney. – T D Whitfield 1943

Among his many works was one that I in fact loved as a child. Many a time I ran along it, or under it, when visiting Shellharbour. It was a highlight, but gone now: the jetty.

Boat Store and Jetty Shellharbour 1900

Boat Store and Jetty, Shellharbour 1900

When I had left the [Bass Point] quarry work,the Shellharbour Council called tenders for a new jetty at Shellharbour, and  I put in a price and got it. I built the jetty in about three months with an average of four men. I carried all the piles and girders on an overhead, wire-rope system, with blocks and tackle to pick them up and lower them into their positions. This greatly expedited the work, despite the fact that I had a good deal of difficulties to contend, with, and the winter weather made the job much harder. However, I got it finished, and like all the rest of my work in the district, it is still there.

Well, not any more, I’m afraid, and quite a few of the buildings and other works Tom lists are no longer there in the 21st century. But much is.

On Shellharbour itself see Our History, especially the PDF Thematic History by Andrea Humphreys and Anna London (12.3 MB), Shellharbour Images and Shellharbour’s Local History Blog. From Our History:

The key chronological dates in our history include:

  1. Indigenous occupation of area, most notably Bass Point, traced to 17,000 BP. Most archaeological evidence at Bass Point dates back to 6000 years BP.
  2. Bass and Flinders explore the south coast in the Tom Thumb and land at Lake Illawarra in 1796.
  3. 1817-1831 period saw free-settlers arriving in the area. Land use was mainly sheep and cattle grazing and much land clearing was undertaken. The corresponding 22 land grants spread over what now makes up the Shellharbour Local Government Area (LGA).
  4. As a result of the widespread felling of cedar trees, a port was required and 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 and was to be called “Peterborough” – even though the area was referred to as Shellharbour, which in the Aboriginal culture meant “place where there were big shellfish”. The name was abandoned after it was discovered that, with the opening of the first post office, the name existed elsewhere.
  6. First bridge over Macquarie Rivulet (Albion Park Rail) in 1858.
  7. Shellharbour (Municipal) Council was constituted on 4 June 1859 and the chambers, built in 1865, were located in Addison Street, Shellharbour.
  8. Stella Maris Church, the first in Shellharbour, built in 1861
  9. First bridge over Minnamurra River (Dunmore) built in 1872.
  10. Rail line through the area in 1887.
  11. 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.
  12. Opening of Macquarie Pass in 1898 over the route of an Aboriginal trail, 35 years after Ben Rixon first cleared the Aboriginal track.
  13. First bridge over Lake Illawarra in 1938.
  14. Commencement of the manufacturing industry boom in the 1950’s with Port Kembla steelworks only a short distance away. Eastern part of the LGA starts to develop quickly around Warilla and area absorbs new migrant population. Warilla township granted official recognition 1951.
  15. Council relocates to Warilla in 1969.
  16. Council relocates to Shellharbour City Centre in 1991.
  17. Shellharbour gazetted as a City in 1996 as its population passes 50,000.

Let us honour the original inhabitants and custodians of the area — according to one oral tradition of part of my own family history, perhaps also part of my history.


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.  Shellharbour City falls within the tribal area Wodi Wodi (or Wadi Wadi); a subdivision of a larger tribal grouping called the Dharawal (Thuruwal) which extends from the southern side of Botany Bay to the Jervis Bay area.

The Wodi Wodi are known to have camped in several locations throughout the city including Tullimbar (Tongarra), Macquarie Rivulet, Peterborough (Shellharbour Village), Long Point (Bass Point), Lake Illawarra and Minnamurra. 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…

Perhaps the most photographed Aborigine in New South Wales was Mickey Johnston. Mickey was born in Port Stephens about 1834 and arrived in the area as a young boy. He joined the local tribe in his adult years. Mickey’s wife Rosie is believed to have been a Wodi Wodi tribal member. She was with Mickey by the 1860s and supported him in his dealings with the growing European community in Shellharbour. Like Mickey, Rosie was a communicator and somehow managed to bridge the gap between the two communities.

The local Wodi Wodi  clan was known to have camped at Bass Point during the summer months when Clorinda and Samuel Atchison farmed there in the late 1800s. Clorinda often spoke to her family of times when Rosie Johnston would bring members of the tribe to her; to dress their sores and wounds. Rosie was also very fond of Clorinda’s baked custards.

The local community recognised Mickey and Rosie’s standing as noted by Mickey’s coronation in 1896 at the Wollongong Show where he was crowned King Mickey; however no recognition was given to him or the Wodi Wodi tribe in terms of land, hunting ground or water supply. They were pushed out on to land that no European settlers had claimed.

It was reported that Mickey Johnston on the occasion of his crowning at the Wollongong Show was asked whether or not he had been invited to attend the coronation of King Edward VII in London. Mickey replied that he had not, however he was not expecting an invitation as he had not invited the King to his own coronation.

Members of the public built a small furnished cabin at Minnamurra for Rosie in her old age. Mickey died in 1906 from pneumonia at his Minnamurra camp aged 72 and Rosie died in 1923.

— The photo is linked to source.

I have also been trawling the Picton Post, as that is the district where T D Whitfield originally came from and eventually returned to a number of times in his later years.


Now that is T D’s second wife, buried in Kiama Cemetery, not Shellharbour:


Incidentally the listing to which that is linked gives Tom his full name: Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield. She apparently was Annie Matilda Andersen. They married in 1940.

Meanwhile when T D  died the Kiama Independent rather screwed up:


He had two sons surviving, Kenneth Ross and Jeffery Noel (my father), and one daughter, Ella Grace! Oh well.