Before it was known by the dual names of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest, the area around the two Port Stephens towns had the name Coweambah. The name Coweambah was later applied to what is probably Tea Garden’s most famous ship. I’ll explore the story of MV Coweambah at another time and I’ll nominate it as the name of one of Tea Garden’s wharves.
But, back to the place. Where did the name come from?
Well, it’s an Aboriginal name and best guess is that it was a name used by members of The Australian Agricultural Company. The AA Company was intended to be a money making concern a bit like The East India Company. The British government assisted in forming the company in the early 1820s. The government ‘gave’ the Company a million acres north of Port Stephens for the cost of 1 million pounds. There was no shortage of wealthy investors in the concern.
The first CEO of the Company was Robert Dawson, a well known horticulturist from Essex and a mate of the Australian sheep farmer John Macarthur. Early on in his tenure Dawson became interested in the uniqueness of the indigenous people. He decided that surveys of the AACo’s holdings should record the Aboriginal names of places. The early maps and documents compiled by the AACo now form a unique record in themselves, providing historians with an almost unparalleled insight into rural life in the 1820s.
This is how it came about that in 1826, surveyor John Armstrong came to call part of Jimmys Beach as it is known today with Aboriginal name of Kawalinbah. The bit that he named was up near Yacaba Headland and was where AACo parties landed if they were going north up Bennetts Beach.
Here’s my theory: Aboriginal people didn’t write down names, they just said them. So, when Europeans recorded the names, they wrote them down as best they could phonetically, as they sounded, roughly. I reckon Kawalinbah and Coweambah are the same name. If you say them quickly, you’ll see what I mean.
I think that because Kawalinbah was where AACo workers landed regularly on that bit of Jimmys Beach, it became the name the general area was given.
Then how did Tea Gardens get its name? That’s another story.
Here is an extract from John Armstrong’s 1826 map of Port Stephens (with permission ANU Library) You can see Kawalinbah