THIS IS THE BOOKLET THAT ACCOMPANIED THE FIRST IN FIFTY YEARS WALK ALONG THE Old AA Co Road
THE OLD AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL COMPANY
KARUAH TO TAHLEE WALK BOOKLET
Welcome to the Old AA Company Road between Karuah and Tahlee. This booklet is aimed at helping you navigate and it draws your attention to some of the fascinating aspects of the road as you walk it. This guide booklet focuses on European history, but Aboriginal History and the study of the flora and fauna of the area could equally be a focus.
We acknowledge and recognise the Worimi people on whose land we walk.
First of all some useful information to browse before you set off on your walk.
Tahlee and Karuah – in the eye of a 19th Century Storm
In 1825 when the Australian Agricultural Company was formed, Port Stephens was the centre of attention, not just for NSW and Australia, but for the business community in London and indeed, the world. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the opportunities in Australia were seen as being immense… so immense that when 10,000 shares were offered at one hundred pounds per share they were snapped up by the rich and famous. The British Government offered cheap convict labour and one million acres of land to the new company.
Tahlee on Port Stephens was the site selected by the new Chief Agent, Robert Dawson. His job included surveying the land, settling his workers into accommodation (building it first), making friends with the local aboriginal population and establishing all the infrastructure for a European community, then farming the land to make a substantial profit for the Company.
Some of the impacts of this new settlement had not been predicted. The Company needed sheep and cattle and seeds and tools and other equipment. Prices for all of these in the Colony sky-rocketed, making some established landholders (often shareholders in the Company) very rich and driving others out of business. The cost of labour suddenly escalated also and convict labour which had been readily available for free settlers suddenly became very scarce as the Company used up all it could get. The Company’s unpopularity resulted in local trades persons withholding goods and labour. Newspapers were full of vitriolic attacks on The Company and its officers.
The Company had an early history of appointing outstanding individuals to its top posts. Robert Dawson, the first head had been a highly regarded agriculturist in England and had managed extensive estates which were seen as models. Sir Edward Parry, English Rear Admiral and Arctic explorer, was for fifty years the person who had come closest to reaching the north pole. After his time at Tahlee, Parry went on to take responsibility for the development of steamships in British Navy. At Tahlee, one of his innovations had been to have built the first steam boat in the area, The Karuah. Henry Dumaresq followed Parry, but was in constant ill health due to wounds he received at the Battle of Waterloo. Philip Parker King was the son of Philip Gidley King an earlier Governor of NSW. He had established himself as a renowned hydrographer and illustrator. He captained the Adventurer in support of the Beagle on Charles Darwin’s famous voyage. He is responsible for an outstanding survey of Port Stephens. In 1845 he included on his map of Port Stephens this Karuah to Tahlee Road.
Origins of the road
As with so many similar artefacts, the date on which the Karuah to Tahlee Road was opened for business is shrouded in the mists of time, but these words written by Robert Dawson in 1827 describe the building of roads just like it. It can be argued that since the road to Karuah is the closest one to the home base, it is likely to have been the first:The discoveries made during the last journey(reaching beyond Gloucester and up into the Barringtons)induced me to form an agricultural and sheep establishment in the fine country described in the early part of the journal, about twenty miles from the harbour;(this is the country around Booral, Stroud and Allworth)before however, this could be attempted, considerable labour was bestowed in opening a line of road to it, and in constructing several strong wooden bridges over deep streams, which were otherwise impassable for carriages, and in the rainy season not fordable at any point even for horses. The bridges were formed by felling long trees and throwing them across the river, their ends resting on each bank; others sometimes laid in the ground inversely, either to raise the bank to equal height or as proper foundations for those that were thrown across. Trees were the split into thick slabs and laid across the bearers and sometimes grooved into them, firmly spiked and pegged,to prevent them being carried away during the floods. These bridges were always found to be permanently effectual when properly constructed. They were made by convicts, under the superintendence of a free overseer and without the aid of any mechanic (engineer).
Certainly, by 1845 Philip Parker King had drawn the road onto his map of Port Stephens. It seems that the road may have originally gone from Tahlee to Number one Farm (more on this later), then on to Sawyers’ Point (Karuah) when the bridge over Yalimbah Creek had been completed.
By the time the Company had moved on and put Tahlee and the adjacent Carrington properties up for sale in the mid 1850s, the fact that a good road connected Tahlee to the punt at Sawyers’ Point had become a big selling point. Here’s an extract from an ad. In the Sydney papers:
The distance from Sydney is but trifling, the steamers of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company ply daily to the Hunter and drop their passengers for Port Stephens at Raymond Terrace, from whence there is a good level road to Sawyer’s Point, on the river Karuah, a distance of l8 miles. The Company keeps a punt at this spot, and having crossed the river, a good road leads to Carrington, three miles off. Parties can leave Sydney at 10 pm., and be at Carrington by noon the following day.
Some time after 1845, route followed by the road was changed just on the Tahlee side of Yalimbah Creek. Rock was quarried and the road built up beside the creek above the high tide mark.
Recent history of the road is more elusive. We know the bridge over Yalimbah Creek was burned down about 50 years ago, having stood for around 140 years. Local lads in the 1940s and 50s were employed to deliver newspapers and mail from Karuah to Tahlee and back. Trevor Barclay and Darrell Johnson will both tell you that they were paid the magnificent sum of 5 shillings per week for five return trips each week after school! The walk you are venturing on today follows their track …. They rode their bikes back and forth rain hail or shine and in winter, in the dark ….. with a bundle of valuable news, mail and parcels and all at the age of about twelve. Trevor accumulated money enough to buy his first Malvern Star bike!
Along the way there are reported to have been saw mills, slaughter yards and gardens, now no longer evident.
(Now Begin Your Walk …. We suggest you begin at Longworth Park Karuah and walk up to the Karuah Bridge)
STOP 1 …….. THE 1957 KARUAH BRIDGE
(Pause on the bridge and take a look upstream to the new Karuah Bridge)
Karuah is unique in having had three historically significant bridges within a five kilometre radius.
The first, over Yalimbah Creek was a fairly rudimentary structure as described above, but it was typical of those built all along the coast – unique in that it lasted so long.
The second bridge … this 1957 Karuah Bridge replaced the long-lived punt over the Karuah River and allowed for the development of the new Pacific Highway. It was state of the art at the time having been constructed of bolt-together prefabricated, rust-proofed sections. Like the Yalimbah Creek Bridge, it was to become a forerunner of similar bridges throughout the east coast of NSW.
The third and most recent bridge was opened in 2004 and is also an innovatory structure in terms of its construction methods and its environmental aspects. It can be seen clearly to the north of the 1957 Bridge.
Whilst the first Karuah Bridge across Yalimbah Creek spanned about 20 metres and the second across the Karuah River spans 203metres, the 2004 Bridge spans in excess of 800 metres. (More information is available on RTA Karuah Bypass Website)
(Walk on along Tarean Road (The Old Pacific Highway) approximately ….. metres and turn off into a private road at 5428 Tarean Road)
STOP 2 (At the entrance to the private roadway)
The 1845 route
The map on the cover of this booklet shows the 1845 route for the road. It began back at the site of the old punt, just to the north of the 1957 Bridge and roughly followed Tarean Road and turned off as it does now onto private property. We ask that those who walk along this Old AA Company Road bear in mind that the road follows a chain wide (20metre) path through private properties, National Parks property and the property of the Tahlee Bible College. Please stay on the paths and respect the rights of the owners. A walk along The Old AA Company Road is a privilege as well as a pleasure.
(Follow the road, keeping to the right of the house area)
STOP 3 (At the edge of the descent onto the salt marsh)
The Karuah Nature Reserve
The Karuah Nature Reserve was formed following the by-passing of the town by the current Pacific Highway. The Old AACo Road passes through the Reserve. The Reserve includes the salt marsh on both sides of Yalimbah Creek and the hill on the Tahlee side of the creek as well as a considerable distance along the walking trail. National Parks policies are in force along the sides of the trail through the Reserve.
As we pass the residence on our left we move down onto the salt marsh of Yalimbah Creek. The road ahead stretches in a straight line to the creek and is easily visible on the Google satellite picture of the area.
This road was built more than one hundred and eighty years ago and has been re-inforced on a number of occasions. The timbers laid crossways on the road are an example as is the stone work under foot. The road here is subject to tidal flooding and the current state of the tide will determine whether you get your feet wet or not. Along the sides of the road are gutters which usually have salt water fish in them.
STOP 4 (At the rustic jetty)
Yalimbah Creek is a unique waterway on the east coast of NSW. There is no river running into the creek and it drains a fairly small area, therefore it isn’t subject to very much flooding.
For a number of years, PHD student from The University of Wollongong, Gareth Davies has been conducting a study of tidal flow patterns in the creek as a means of testing the accuracy of computer models which predict the rate that water flows off salt marshes. A similar study has been conducted on the East Alligator River in the Northern Territory.
The fact that the creek doesn’t flood very severely perhaps explains why the original Yalimbah Creek Bridge lasted so long.
STOP 5 (For now we’ll have to resort to boat transport)
As mentioned, the bridge seems to have burnt down in the late 1950s. Local legend says that fishermen got tired of being blocked on the creek by the bridge at high tide.
Nevertheless, crossing by boat now gives the opportunity for us to appreciate the original task of felling massive trees over the creek and completing the bridge with fairly primitive tools to form such a long lasting structure.
STOP 6 (On the other side!)
On the Tahlee Side
Across the creek and we’re still on National Parks land. This is possibly the most exciting part of the walk from an archaeological perspective. The remains of part of the bridge are still visible as are some of the gate posts.
As we move forward we rise slightly and begin to see evidence of the work to raise the road above the high tide mark. To the left are a series of small quarries where rock was removed to form the raised road.
You will also see power poles, broken insulators and telephone posts along the side of the road at this point, signifying the continuous use of the route during the twentieth century.
STOP 7 (When the going becomes a bit heavy)
The Overgrown Section
There is a stream that crosses the road here and this has promoted heavy plant growth. The stream flowing in from the left forms quite large pools up in the hills providing semi-permanent water for animals.
A little further along and to the left is where the very old road used to join our road according to the 1845 map. It isn’t visible now and awaits archaeological study.
From this point on the track is drivable in a 4X4 vehicle.
STOP 8 (At the first set of fence posts)
The Number one Farm Mystery ….
One of the big mysteries for this area is “What happened to Number One Farm?”
Much of the early literature about The AA Company refers to the first farm established on Port Stephens. A little unimaginatively, it was named Number One Farm. The best bet is that once we pass through these gate posts, we are approaching Number One Farm.
Here is a list of evidence:
- The water to our right is known as Number One Cove.
- One of the maps from the book In the Service of the Company Vol.1, a collection of the letters of Sir Edward Parry shows No.1 Farm roughly to the north west of Tahlee, around here.
Sir Edward’s letters give us an clue from the following incident
The incident involved the hunt for a robber which led to Sawyer’s Point (Karuah). Daniel Ivey’s house at Tahlee was robbed of one hundred pounds while he was attending Divine Service at Tahlee House with Sir Edward:
“An officer was also despatched with a party of blacks, with fire-sticks to endeavour to find tracks toward No. 1 Farm and Sawyer’s Point, and they discovered one naked footprint. The constables were on the alert all night….. Mr Chas. Hall with a party of blacks set out to follow up the tracks seen last night, which they succeeded in tracing to Sawyer’s Point, giving reason to suppose that a canoe had been employed to carry the offender and the money over the river.”
Significantly the one party was despatched towards No. 1 Farm AND Sawyer’s Point.
This leads to the conclusion that the beginnings of The Old AA Company Road was as the road to Number One Farm and thence to Sawyer’s Point.
To date, no archaeological evidence is available, but there is a very good chance that there are remains of the farm in this area.
Number One Farm was not a success in the Company’s terms. They wanted a big turnover and big profits which just weren’t going to be made from such poor soil. However, this was the site of The AA Company’s first agricultural experiment and as such it ranks with Elizabeth Farm as an identified site of national agricultural significance.
Locals claim that to the right, between the road and the water, there used to be gardens, including banana trees, so the spot was known as The Banana Garden.
Aboriginal History and the Old AACo Walk
As the extract above indicates aboriginal people were interacting with AACo staff in the 1830s. This was their land and they knew every inch of it. The first Chief Agent Robert Dawson had been remarkably aware of the relationship between the local aboriginal population and the land. His fascinating work The Present State of Australia recognises their special qualities and he spends much of the 500 pages relating his observations about the time he spent with them. Unfortunately, many of his colleagues lacked his sensitivity and discernment. As with much of the European history of this road, there is much more to be discovered about the Aboriginal history of this place.
Just Enjoy the Walk …..
The next kilometre or so makes up one of the most scenic walks anywhere. The wide grassy road is taking us to Tahlee. Walk and enjoy ……………
Right or Left?
The only decision to be made comes at a fork in the road about 500metres from Tahlee. The original road was that to the left, but the walking track now follows a long established path to the right. We’ll follow the track to the right.
Finally … The Gates
Here we are at historic Tahlee.
The site at Tahlee is now a Bible College run by Tahlee Ministries Inc. The Reverend Ian Johnston welcomes visitors, but by appointment only. Tours of Tahlee are inspirational. The Tahlee website contains an outstanding collection of photographs of the site.