MYALL Lakes is an idyllic getaway site, yet the chances are you may know very little about its early history.
One pioneer was Bryon Legge and over the years he's largely become the "unknown" member of the region's pioneering Legge family.
A key area, readily identified today because of the modern eco-tourism resort of Myall Shores, is Bombah Point with its familiar cable-driven car ferry.
Originally, however, it was a no-frills holiday camp begun by the Legge family, who first opened up the area for popular tourism almost 100 years ago.
Family patriarch Harry Legge (1879-1964) is mostly remembered for creating his Legge's Camp (or Legges Camp) at Bombah Point with his wife, their sons and friends from the early 1900s onwards.
His camp was on a narrow neck of land separating the two main bodies of water - The Broadwater and Boolambayte Lake - at the heart of the present Myall Lakes National Park.
Harry Legge bought a 40-acre (16 hectares) conditional lease at Bombah Point in July 1909. The young family then lived under canvas on a 6.7-metre open boat until a two-room bark humpy was built to take advantage of water views on three sides of the bushland point.
The next year, a humble, two-room guesthouse was built, soon expanding to six rooms for visiting game hunters. This was followed by a large, new two-storey guesthouse in 1927. The conditions were very primitive, but there was now accommodation for 70 guests.
It was an extremely ambitious undertaking for its era. All cooking, for example, was done on a fuel stove. Electricity wasn't finally connected to Legge's Camp for lighting, washing machines, refrigerators, the new novelty of television and electric heaters until probably more than 30 years later, in the mid-1960s.
And getting to the remote district where dingoes howled at night was difficult early on. Holidaying businessmen, doctors, even foreign diplomats, usually found their way there by water, via the local storeboat.
Then in the early 1930s, the Legges provided a vital ferry service across the "narrows" - the 100-metre watery gap between Bombah Point and Bumble Point - to make access easier up a track past Mungo Brush from Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest.
"I believe my late father, Bryon Legge, built the very first of the many ferries used there," his daughter Mrs Beryl Littlewood (nee Legge), of Jewells, told Weekender. Her interest in Myall Lakes family history was sparked again on reading a recent article on Myall Lakes mentioning its landmark Bombah Point car ferry, which continues to carry thousands of people each year.
She then rang the Herald to also reveal her father Bryon and uncle Harry (Legge) had built the original Legge's Camp.
"It's my understanding it was my father, not my uncle, who was the actual builder in the family. Dad built the punt, too," Mrs Littlewood said.
According to other relatives, Harry and younger brother Byron Legge later designed the big 1927 guesthouse and worked on it together, assisted by Harry's son Dick and a Bulahdelah builder when "Harry had other chores".
For Bryon Legge (1884-1955) always had a major, if now sometimes forgotten, role in the shaping of Legge's Camp from day one.
Harry and brother Bryon built a humble bark humpy which became the first real Legge family home on site.
"My father played a big role for years, but had a falling out with Uncle Harry over something and left," said Mrs Littlewood, 85. "They later reconciled. They were very interesting people. Uncle Harry, though, had a good sense of humour and my dad didn't."
Littlewood said her uncle Harry and his younger brother Bryon originally walked 170 kilometres from Tuggerah to the Myall River region to hunt, providing gamefowl for up-market Sydney restaurants. It was around 1900. Their carpenter father had earlier built a guesthouse at Tuggerah Lakes.
"Dad and Harry were both shooters and fishers. They started off timber-cutting up the north coast, cutting crooks [curved timber for boat building]. Coming back south they eventually ended up camping at Bombah Point and decided it was a lovely place for a holiday camp," she said
"They went back and started to build the first home right on Bombah Point. In the meantime, Harry had married Emily and they lived on a sailing boat anchored down near the point. This was in the early 1900s.
"In 1914-15 my mother went up there for a holiday and dad was working at the guesthouse.
"They met and eventually married in 1916. Shortly afterwards the family argument happened and my father came back to Tuggerah, settled in there and became a builder.
"Harry kept the [first] guesthouse going and had three sons and eventually all was settled between he and Bryon. Later on dad went up and built the punt that took the cars across.
"Both Harry and dad used to also write poetry. They were pretty good and both were storytellers. I've no idea what their argument was about, but I suspect it was about money."
Mrs Littlewood said when the brothers first camped at today's Bombah Point a group of Aborigines were living in Myall Lakes, mainly around Bungwahl.
"There was one native, called Old Joe, who then worked as a rouseabout at Legge's Camp. I remember he used to tell ghost stories," she said.
"He lived in a room at the back of the old kitchen. These were always built away from the house because they would catch fire. Anyway, in that old kitchen you used to sit in the old fireplace where there were seats around the fire. Here, Joe would tell ghost stories to frighten the daylights out of us kids. He was there when I was eight years old.
"Legge's Camp was to me as a child a very happy place, a place of joy. I looked forward to going up there. The only bad thing about staying there was that you had to eat porridge before you got anything else to eat. Uncle Harry ground all his own porridge. It had husks in it, and I'm a fussy eater.
"Aunt Emily [Harry's wife] was an absolutely marvellous woman. I never saw her angry or cranky, or miserable. And yet, she had a life that women these days would not tolerate.
"She cooked for guests then cleaned all the upstairs rooms with Aunt Alice, then Iris Motum and a lady called Gwen. But that was in my era, not in the early years.
"Emily must have been so tired, but she was always good tempered. She lived to be just short of 100 years old [in 1985].
"Today's kids are mollycoddled in my view. Years ago, for example, only sissies wore shoes going to school, until high school. The world is now so different, so quickly. I'm sure it didn't change quite as quickly before, compared to how it's changed in this past 100 years.
"Bryon, my father, had very little schooling but could speak on any subject you liked to bring up. He taught himself.
"You don't find that any more, do you? People are waiting for somebody to do something for them, instead of getting out and doing it for themselves."
Contact Mike Scanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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