Timeless Wollongong: The Cordeaux - all down to water

Last residents: In 2007 Bruce Rees closed the gate on his family’s Cordeaux River orchard after 120 years of operation.  Picture: KEN ROBERTSON

Last residents: In 2007 Bruce Rees closed the gate on his family’s Cordeaux River orchard after 120 years of operation. Picture: KEN ROBERTSON

Paradise Lost part two 

From the earliest settlement of Cordeaux River Valley, landholders began to clear the dense forests, build their homes, plant orchards and add livestock to their properties.

Most of the early cottages were vertical slab timber dwellings with bark roofs secured by lengths of saplings. Some of the early fireplaces were made from stones and were built on the exterior of the buildings.

The farmers became well established, self-sufficient and by 1900 witnessed the births of grandchildren.

Some of the younger Cordeauxans gained employment on either their own farms or worked within the community.

When Mt Kembla colliery was in full operation timber was harvested from the valley to provide pit props and wedges for the mine.

In the 1830s there was a need for a permanent water supply for Sydney. 

From 1880 to 1884, a weir was constructed at Pheasant’s Nest and the water was supplied by a series of underground tunnels, aqueducts and open channels. 

By 1900 there was a need for further storage of water for Sydney and land resumptions took place in the Sherbrooke area for the construction of the Cataract Dam.

Illawarra, with large dairy farms and many coalmines, was becoming desperate for a permanent water supply as the residents had been subjected to either a lack of water or poor water quality. In 1901, work commenced to construct a water storage facility on the Cordeaux River. 

It was reported that the capacity would be 168million gallons of water. 

At this stage, pumps were not required as the water was fed by gravitation to Wollongong. 

In August 1911, Frank Bevan was appointed valuator for the Government for the intended resumption of lands for the construction of the second dam. 

This dam was completed in 1914 and required a pump to be positioned at Mt Nebo.

There were complaints by 1916 that tap water smelt foul and was discoloured. 

Headlines in a Sydney paper in August 1916 stated “POLLUTION!! Pigs, cows and poultry in Cordeaux Catchment Area are a menace to people’s health”. 

An assessment was carried out on Isaac Brown’s 340acre property. 

Being a resident for more than 40 years, it was reported that there was a house, garden and fruit trees. 

His livestock comprised 40 dairy cattle, 25 pigs and about 200 head of poultry. All livestock was kept on the slopes to the river and its tributaries. The area between the house and river had become, with the help of rain, saturated over many years with the effluent from the animals. 

The Movement of the Citizen’s Progress Committee of the South Coast raised the matter with the Minister for Works and the Premier. The Minster, after he had been made aware of the complaint that animals’ waste was polluting the water supply, decided to install a filtration plant, which was constructed near No2 Dam. Livestock was slowly being phased out.

The New South Wales Parliament passed the Bill in September 1916 for the construction of the third Cordeaux River Dam at an estimated cost of £490,000 exclusive of land resumptions.

Many of the farmers began to leave the Cordeaux Valley. 

Land resumptions took place until the 1940s, leaving only three properties still occupied. 

The last of the Cordeauxans were on a property that once belonged to James and Pearl McNamara. After the resumption in the 1940s, the McNamara family, including their children, were permitted to remain in residence. 

There were also two freehold properties those of Ellis McNamara and Edward Rees. 

After Ellis McNamara’s death, his niece managed the orchard, although she did not occupy Ellis’ land. 

With the passing of Edward Rees, his son continued to expand and operate the orchard for many more years. 

Sydney Water eventually purchased both freehold properties and it is  only a few years ago since the last of the residents left the valley.

The valley that once supplied fruit for the Australian table is now left to return to bush and just about all traces of habitation over the past 160 years have all but disappeared.

Information courtesy of Carol Herben OAM.  Call 0409 832 854 or email  sycado6@bigpond.net.au

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