RECENT calls by a tourism operator to restore the historic Catherine Hill Bay jetty have brought the Lake Macquarie icon back into sharp focus.
The owner of the adventure boat, Coast XP, believes a restored ‘Catho’ jetty has the potential to become one of the Hunter’s newest tourist drawcards.
The now closed 240 metre long ocean jetty is visited regularly on coastal tours as it invites comparison with the once similarly threatened, but now heritage-listed Coffs Harbour jetty.
Any adaptive reuse of the famous Catho jetty would, of course, be up to Lake Macquarie City Council, but the immediate area certainly has plenty of interesting historic material to lure future visitors.
The popular surf spot is one of the oldest settlements in Lake Macquarie and, in World War II, was home to the secret RAAF No. 208 radar station.
The old mining township behind the massive sea landmark is named after a shipwreck, the schooner Catherine Hill, which was wrecked in the bay in June 1867.
There’s more than a few other shipwrecks close by as well, and, on a knoll overlooking the bay, there were once (and maybe still are) some big anchors. One was supposed to come from a German warship after World War I. They were obtained to help colliers tied up to the wharf should extra mooring be needed during gales.
Then there was a giant white pointer, which used to visibly nuzzle the wharf piles in the 1990s, reminding mine workers not to fall off the open wharf.
And there was that time back in the 1870s when a one-time whaler, known to all-and-sundry as Billy Mischevious, beached a man-eating shark by using a bullock team.
According to Lake Macquarie historian Louise Boon in the Herald years ago, the immense shark used to endlessly patrol the beach behind a frill of gentle surf.
Naturally, everyone was frightened away from venturing into the briny until Billy came along. He secured the services of Mr Freeman’s bullock team, which was visiting the area at the time.
Attaching a line to the team on the beach, Billy baited a hook on the other end with a side of beef and bravely waded into the surf. Here, as the shark streaked towards him, Billy hurled the hidden hook, like a lance, towards the approaching menace.
With perfect timing, the bait dropped neatly into the monster’s mouth. The shark’s jaws snapped shut, the line grew taut and the bullock team then did the hard work of dragging the struggling creature ashore.
No surprise that the shark’s days were soon well and truly over. What did surprise me, however, was the tidbit that Catho once had two other names.
It was originally called Cowper, but who’s heard of New Wallsend? That was the popular name after the New Wallsend Coal Company tapped the first coal seam in the area in 1873.
Newcastle newspapers even started to refer to the area as New Wallsend. Visitors, and even mail, was directed there. A regularly visiting coal steamer was sometimes known as New Wallsend because of its final destination.
Gradually, however, the name Catherine Hill Bay prevailed.
But, while on the subject of names, the once thriving Welsh sounding village of Rhondda, near Barnsley, over the years became virtually a ghost town. First settled, it seems, around the 1870s, it had the odd original name of Rooty Flat.
Wasn’t there also a place out Holmesville way once known as Happy Valley? And, according to Lake Macquarie library, Marks Point (called that way from probably 1896) was originally called Kahibah Point.
It was so named after an 1876 land grant in the area, which was listed on NSW maps as being in Kahibah Parish.
But the name change to Marks Point (after a local family) came because there already was a suburb called Kahibah, closer to Newcastle.
And ever wondered why the lakeside suburb of Rathmines was so named? It was named after the Hely family’s distant former home town near Dublin, Ireland. Rathmines, of course, was also home to Australia’s largest amphibious airplane base during World War II, especially the famous Black Cats (camouflaged Catalina flying boats).
Lesser known might be the fact that five roads there were once named after pioneer Catalina pilots who lost their lives in WWII. Roads have been re-named since the early 1950s when the RAAF base was closed, but they were identified then as Chapman Avenue, Guerney Drive, Hemsworth Crescent, Higgins Drive and Stilling Road.
And there was once a patriotic Ladysmith settlement at West Wallsend that was named after a spot in South Africa during the Boer War of 1900.
While on the subject, old-time Belmont north residents say John Fisher Road out to the old John Darling Colliery site is not named after an early Aussie prime minister.
Instead, it’s supposed to be named after a local identity, the mine’s first surface foreman who was said to have had his nose blown off in the same Boer War.
Soil tribute to ANZACS
FOR most of us, it was probably the best-kept secret in NSW. Since March 2017, soil samples were being quietly collected from more than 1700 communities in NSW with the help of surveyors.
Now the samples – each with a plaque – have found another home in a new public artwork at the expanded Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney. The project honours those who enlisted throughout NSW to fight in World War I (1914-1918) by collecting soil drawn from war memorial sites, school grounds or other locally significant spots, such as reserves where the Diggers had enlisted.
Soil from 43 Newcastle, Hunter region and surrounding sites were collected and are included in the display around the walls of the new Hall of Service at the major Sydney memorial.
Soil samples were listed as being taken from Newcastle, Tighes Hill, Hamilton, Hexham, Merewether, Wallsend, Plattsburg, Sandgate, Maitland, Martinsville, Morisset, New Lambton, Pokolbin, Scone, Stroud, Copeland, Craven, Gloucester, Cardiff, Stockton, Boolaroo, Toronto, Lake Macquarie, Kitchener, Laguna, Narara, Mosquito Island, Bulahdelah, Bungwahl, Coolongolook, Dyers Crossing, Failford, Firefly, Kimbriki, Krambach, Kundibakh, Mitchells Island, Nabiac, Topi Topi, Wang Wauk, Wootton, Ardglen and Ravensworth.
Australian artist Fiona Hall had boldly proposed the project to remember every town, suburb or locality in NSW where those who enlisted for WWI service gave as their place of address. In 2016 she was officially selected to create the artwork overseen by the NSW Office for Veterans Affairs. The work is a key feature of the NSW Government’s ANZAC Memorial Centenary Project.
Surveyors from around NSW volunteered to be involved in the project to ensure the soil collection sites were precise. Participating surveyors in the Newcastle-Hunter were: Rick Williams of Tattersall Lander; Brian McGregor, Chris Warton, Dane Bryan, Dave Turner - ADW Johnson Pty Ltd; Frank Compton - Calco Surveyors; Andrew Sykiotis - Thiaki Pty Ltd Surveyors; John Minehan - J.R.Minehan Land & Engineering; Paul Hutcheon - Intrax; Rick Muldoon - David R.Walpole Pty Ltd; Robert Langdon - Mid-Coast Council; Malcolm Harvey - Daracon and Marc Terry, Mark Scanlon of Parker Scanlon (no relation).