The first inhabitants
The Yuin people were the first inhabitants of the area and Narooma is rich in Aboriginal culture and history. They are the traditional landowners of nearby Wallaga Lake and Gulaga Mountain. Gulaga – named Mount Dromedary by the passing Captain Cook because of its camel-shaped hump – was handed back to Yuin ownership and management by the NSW government in 2006.
The first white settler on the Wagonga Inlet was Francis Hunt in 1839 and the town was named after his property Noorooma – an Aboriginal word for ‘clear, blue water’. The word is spelt differently thanks to an early post office stamp bungle.
Layers of Narooma history
The Narooma area has a rich and colourful history, beginning with the Dreamtime and Aboriginal occupation stretching back at least 20,000 years.
It was only occasionally visited by Europeans before settlement began in the early nineteenth century.
Gold and timber brought attracted people to the area as well as more trade, and coastal steamers soon plied Wagonga Inlet, sometimes several at a time.
Through the efforts of Sydney businessman Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, his country estate at Bodalla became the birthplace of Australia’s commercial cheese industry and in the 1860s and 1870s was ‘one of the few showplaces of the industrial progress and enterprise of the Colony’.
Narooma’s wonderful natural attractions led to it becoming popular as a tourist destination from the early twentieth century.
In the 1930s its guest houses and hotels were stylish and highly regarded.
A popular outing was to visit the lightstation and its residents on Montague Island. The lighthouse was built in 1881.
The key piece of the Narooma Lighthouse Museum is the original light and optical apparatus from the Montague Island Light station.
This Light station was the last manned in NSW and is still the only remaining occupied light station on the NSW coast. The light and optical apparatus were constructed by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, suppliers of most lighthouse equipment for colonial governments at the time. More on the Narooma Lighthouse Museum
Dairy farming, gold mining and sawmilling were all established industries by the 1880s and ship building, oyster farming and commercial fishing all drove the economy through the early 1900s.
Australia’s first commercial fish cannery was established at Narooma. The heritage villages of Tilba Tilba and Central also became great dairying centres from the late nineteenth century.
Narooma’s bridge – one of only two bascule span bridges in NSW – was built in 1931 to replace the old barge crossing which linked it the town with Moruya and Batemans Bay to the north.
And around that time, passengers arriving on the south coast steamship service established the town’s reputation as a centre for boating, aquatic sports and big-game fishing. More on fishing