Archaeological investigations being undertaken on former Civic Place building in Wollongong

A newly found 1797 ‘cartwheel penny’ is believed to be among the oldest discovered pieces of Wollongong’s colonial history.

In March, the developer of the new $22 million IMB bank building pressed ahead with plans for the site, demolishing the old Civic Place building on Burelli Street.

The site is being developed by Piruse Constructions for a new IMB bank and “A Grade” office building. 

In December, it emerged an archaeological dig may be required as part of the development. This was because the site, developed to its recent state in the 1960s, may have “locally significant archaeological remains associated with the early 19th Century to mid-20th Century residential development”, consultant firm Biosis said.

It recommended archaeological monitoring during demolition, with the possibility of “deeper archaeological excavation” depending on what relics were found. 

Wollongong company Biosis hosted an open day last Friday to showcase findings from their archaeological investigations thus far. 

Biosis’ principal archaeologist Alexander Beben said the works had uncovered foundations from inner-city Wollongong’s beginnings. 

He said they had previously identified the potential for the site to have been home to an 1840s cottage built by Christopher Echlin, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars who later relocated from England to Australia. 

He said the evidence found dates the occupation of the site to Mr Echlin. 

In the 1880s, the building was redeveloped into a stone cottage. “We’ve been quite excited to find that we’ve definitely got the 1880s cottage remains there, and we’re also finding evidence of the 1840s occupation of the site,” Mr Beben said.

“The most exciting item we’ve found so far is an archaelogical deposit, located beneath the 1880s cottage… It’s a profile that reveals artefacts dating back to that 1840s and 1880s period.

“That includes a 1797 ‘cartwheel penny’, and also a couple of other coins that date back to the 1850s and 1860s.

“The ‘cartwheel penny’ dates back to George III. It was the first coin introduced as an anti-counterfeit measure. 

“That’s one of the earliest finds I’ve had in Wollongong across the three jobs we’ve done there.”

Mr Beben said there are windows on the Burelli Street side of the site, enabling passers-by to see the work they are undertaking.