Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

South East Corner - regional history

Aboriginal occupation

The Aboriginal people of the South East Corner Bioregion referred to themselves as 'Katungal' which distinguished them from those who occupied the inland and mountain areas (HO and DUAP 1996). The river basins of the Towamba and Bega Rivers were occupied by the Taua and Djiringanj groups respectively, while the Walbanga people considered their territory to be the valleys north of the Tuross and Moruya Rivers (HO and DUAP 1996).

In essence, these four main waterways were home to the three Aboriginal groups of the bioregion and because all three groups were confined to the coast by the mountains in the west they led a largely coastal lifestyle (HO and DUAP 1996). Since the coast offered plentiful food supplies and the groups occupied fairly small homelands, the Aboriginal communities of the South East Corner Bioregion were relatively less mobile compared to those groups of the inland areas of the south (HO and DUAP 1996).

In the early 1800s, as explorers and, subsequently, early settlers began to encroach on the homelands of the Aboriginal people, violence and altercations occurred. The peaceful coastal life of the Katungal people became more and more disrupted.

European occupation

The 1820s saw the advent of the agricultural era with the arrival of cattlemen and their stock, and the 1830s and 40s marked the start of increasingly permanent European settlement in the bioregion (HO and DUAP 1996). During this time European settlers used the best land for agriculture and the best fishing locations for themselves, preventing the local Aboriginal people from using these resources in their traditional ways (HO and DUAP 1996). Hence in the 1840s many Aboriginal people sought work with the new settlers, men undertaking sheep washing or agricultural labour while women worked as domestic servants.

In these early years of European settlement, the pastoral industry developed slowly due to infrequent communications with the colony in Sydney, but soon after a significant whaling industry developed in Twofold Bay, near the present site of Eden (HO and DUAP 1996). Whaling, which occurred from the 1830s to the1920s, involved and depended on the local Aboriginal community, many of whom played an essential role in the industry as a significant component of the labour force.

Despite this integration into the workforce and although they built good working relationships with the Europeans while managing some 'continuity of traditional culture and social structure' (HO and DUAP 1996), the Aboriginal people were unable to wholly preserve their traditional way of life.

Mining also played a part in the history of the South East Corner Bioregion, with many prospectors finding gold, silver and, fleetingly, arsenic in the wooded hills of the area between Batemans Bay and Eden (HO and DUAP 1996). Gold was first recorded in 1852 and has been mined in the area since then, although there are currently no active gold mines in the area (NSW Department Mineral Resources). The mining industry became the basis for numerous towns, which prospered with populations of hundreds until the end of the frenetic periods of mining, then gradually faded as the prospectors departed.

The forests of the bioregion were logged to resource the construction of houses, wharves and the railway system, although the most controversial large-scale logging of the bioregion has occurred in more recent years (HO and DUAP 1996).

While beef cattle and sheep farming was the original intent of many landholders in the region, dairy farming soon surpassed these ventures as the principal agricultural industry of the area. By the twentieth century, the Bega Valley was the dominant milk and cheese producer of southern NSW and Canberra, although the region has always produced more butter than cheese (HO and DUAP 1996). The dairying industry in the area was not achieved without vast clearing of the natural woodland that covered the region previously.

Other important industries include pig farming, maize and sorghum production and fishing.


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Page last updated: 18 April 2016