Durras Lake Ramble

Saturday 27 February 2021

Photos courtesy of Carol, Donna and Mary

BBBW Walk Leader:  Rodney /   “Guided History Walking Tour of Durras” by Paul May

Question…….”What do we have in abundance on the south coast”?

Well, most residents, and certainly the thousands of visitors, would probably answer, “beautiful beaches and forests”  and they would be partly right.   However, look a little deeper and you will see that many places, like Bawley Point, Termeil, Depot Beach, Pebbly Beach, South Durras, Broulee and Nelligen have interesting histories to reveal. Histories that tell a story about the early white settlements, and of the industries that grew and thrived along this coast.

Of course, much of this history has been recorded in books for us to read, but nothing beats a guided walking tour, especially when the guide is a fountain of knowledge having lived and played in the area all his life.

So how lucky were 24 members of the Batemans Bay Bushwalking Club to be treated to a morning guided tour of South Durras by local Paul May.  Armed with his personal knowledge and some historic photos, we were quickly drawn into the early history of Durras, where the first recorded Land Grant was gazetted in 1840.

It was the abundance of good timber in the surrounding forests that brought the early settlers to this area.   The first recorded  “hand powered pit saw mill”  was established on the south coast in 1852.    By 1870 a steam driven timber mill was operating in Batemans Bay and soon after a steam driven mill was built at Wasp Head South Durras.

As bushwalkers many of us have come across evidence in the forest around Durras of the early timber industry,  perhaps an old overgrown logging track or the sawn off remains of once huge trees.  Alas, within the village of Durras itself there is little physical evidence remaining of the once thriving timber industry.   However if, like Paul May our guide, you know where to look and how to interpret the remaining artifacts you can quickly start to visualise the once busy timber village.

At one point our walk took us down to the wetland, a “hidden” gem in the middle of the village.   Here, slowly rusting away, were a few remains from the old blacksmith forge, as well as a couple of heavy iron trolley wheels that once hauled timbers along wooden rails to the mill.  As expected this wetland was a valuable source of  freshwater for the villagers, and was vitally important for quenching the thirst of the horse and bullock teams used in timber hauling, and the “thirst” of the many steam boilers!

There are of course many other partly hidden remnants of the timber industry if you know where to look eg a rusting boiler near Mill Beach, along with old metal mooring pins in the nearby rocks and, at the lake boat ramp and on the shore of Punt Arm, there are the remains of timbers from the old unloading and loading ramps.

Quite a few of the early small timber cottages from the 40s and 50s still exist within the village, many tucked away behind heavy foliage.   Once again Paul’s local knowledge provided interesting anecdotal stories about the lives of the earlier occupants.  It even appears that one home, now sitting comfortably in Durras, was saved from submersion during the construction of Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra.

As we walked from the main village area to the lakeside boat ramp we crossed a wooden footbridge over Durras Creek.  This was once the site of a single lane road bridge which provided the only access to the lake itself, as the main road into Durras at the time was Benandarah Road.

Just about everyone on the walk had visited Durras Village at some time over the recent years, and most of us had been on many club bushwalks exploring the surrounding forest.  However, we are deeply grateful to Paul for his very informative walking tour that brought the early history of Durras alive.  Today we were reminded that Durras once had a thriving timber industry, where its milled timbers were shipped off to places like Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle as the demand for mine props and railway sleepers grew.   There is no doubt that the early timber workers of Durras, and other timber mills along the south coast, made a solid contribution to the development of New South Wales.

Mary M