History of the Bega Valley

A group of Aboriginal tribes called the Yuin were the original inhabitants of the South Coast of New South Wales. On the Far South Coast the Dyiringanj tribe lived in the area from Narooma to the Bega River and the Thaua Tribe lived in the area from the Bega River to Twofold Bay.

The Yuin are considered as the traditional owners of Wallaga Lake land. The former Wallaga Lake National Park is incorporated into Gulaga National Park.
Merriman Island in Wallaga Lake is a sacred place for the Yuin people. On 25 November 1977, it was the first place in New South Wales to be declared an Aboriginal Heritage site. The island was named after King Merriman, leader of the Yuin, who died in 1904.
Mumbulla Mountain, located in the middle of Bega Valley Shire, was named in November 1973, after Jack Mumbulla, who was a senior man of the Yuin people.[5]Mumbulla

Mount Dromedary, recently renamed Gulaga Mountain, in the Gulaga National Park, is described by Aboriginal people as the place of ancestral origin for Yuin people. Gulaga itself symbolises the mother and provides a basis for Aboriginal spiritual identity, for Aboriginal women and men.[6]
On 6 May 2006 the freehold titles to Gulaga and Biamanga National Parks were handed back to the Yuin people by the New South Wales Government. Freehold title of Gulaga National Park will be held in trust for the aboriginal owners by Merrimans and Wagonga Local Aboriginal Lands Councils, while that of Biamanga will be held in trust by Merrimans and Bega Local Aboriginal Lands Councils.[7]

The Yuin people of the far south traditionally moved between the coast and the mountains according to the seasons, feasting on the bogong moths in summer, seafood during winter and trading with the tribes of the Maneroo. This life was interrupted by white settlement in the early 1830s.


Bega is apparently named after the aboriginal word for “big camping ground” or from the corruption of another Aboriginal word “Bika” meaning beautiful.

The first European to come near the area was George Bass, who explored the coastline in 1797 as part of his broader explorations of the Australian coast. William Tarlinton was the first European to explore the area on foot, arriving in 1829. He returned in the early 1830s and settled there, starting a cattle farm. Others who arrived in the area around the same time were the Imlay brothers, who also began farming. Their name has since been preserved in the form of Mount Imlay National Park. Live cattle were transported to Sydney for a time, to be supplemented by tallow and hides in the early 1840s.
Beef and dairy farming were carried on in the area through the 1840s, and many towns were surveyed in the 1850s. Dairy farming expanded quickly throughout the 1860s, overtaking cattle farming as the predominant industry. In 1858, Tathra was used as a port for the transport of products to Sydney, and the Illawarra Steam Company was established. In 1860, Tathra Wharf was constructed, which allowed for the further growth and expansion of the dairy industry.
The region received a further boost in the late 1870s when gold was discovered in the Bermagui area. The Bermagui gold rush followed quickly in 1880. Two years later, in 1882, the Municipality of Bega was created. The Bega Dairy Cooperative Limited was set up in the late 1890s.
Bega is now well known for its cheese. Bega Cheese is manufactured by The Bega Co-operative Society Limited, which is one of the larger Australian cheese companies. Their products are exported around the world and distributed across Australia and are available in most supermarkets and general stores.
In recent times, the dairy industry struggled in the Bega Valley for many years with a combination of facts being poor soils, drought and deregulation. Many dairy farms stopped production and converted to beef and sheep production.
In the 1980’s, the Bega Valley became a popular place for alternative minded people from the capital cities seeking a “Tree-Change” lifestyle. Attracted by the beautiful natural environment and affordable land and housing, the newcomers were able to inject new life into the communities in the Bega Valley. Now, the Bega Valley is home to many festivals such as:

Four Winds Festival fourwinds.com.au
Candelo Village Festival
Merimbula Jazz Festival
Eden Festival edenwhalefestival.com.au


The Tathra area, was first settled by Europeans in the 1820s and 1830s, although it was outside the limits of legal settlement. A small jetty was built at Tathra in the early 19th century. In 1861-62, a larger wharf was built from funds donated by farmers and the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company. Regular shipping commenced in 1862. The wharf, built with turpentine timber supports set into solid rock, was restored by the National Trust,Department of Planning, and local residents. It is the only remaining coastal steamer wharf in NSW.[4]


A family of brothers, Peter, George and Alexander Imlay, arrived from Scotland and settled in the Twofold Bay district between 1832 and 1835, establishing a whaling station and cattle runs. They started grazing cattle around Pambula and by 1834 had established vast pastoral runs as far north as Broulee and west to the mountain escarpment, shipping cattle, sheep and salted beef from Twofold Bay to Tasmania.

When livestock prices crashed in the 1840s, the Imlays’ encountered financial difficulties and much of their land was taken over by the Walker brothers who in turn sold around 400.000 acres in 1852 to the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association, formed by the Manning family, Thomas Mort, John Croft and Edwin and Frederick Tooth.

In 1855 the company set up a wharf on the lake at Merimbula. Droghers with shallow keels were used to transport wool from the port to steamers that were anchored in deeper water outside the bar. At this stage Merimbula consisted of a few small holdings belonging to the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association and a flour mill. However wheat did not grow well so close to the ocean and the mill was soon abandoned.

Matthew Munn arrived in Melbourne from Scotland in 1857 and gained employment in the Brown and Polson factory making cornflour. Hearing of the abandoned mill in Merimbula, Munn, realising that white maize was well suited to the area, decided to buy the mill and set up his own‘Maizena’. He imported special grinding stones from Scotland and became very successful at milling fine cornflour. Eventually Munn bought all the small holdings and leased them back to the farmers who provided him with a steady supply of maize.

When the volume of goods became too great for the jetties around the lake to handle, the Government built a deep water wharf just outside the lake in 1902. The Illawarra & South Coast Steam Navigation Company used the wharf to transport people and goods up and down the coast until 1952 when the service came to an end.

Merimbula, with its beautiful beaches and surrounding forests, became a popular tourist destination in the 1960s and remains so today. Oyster farming, begun in earnest after World War I, is also a thriving industry.

Towns and villages

Over time the names of some of the local towns and villages have changed. The town of Candelo and the village Wyndham have always been known by these names but the villages of Bemboka, Towamba and Wolumla have, in the past, been known by other names. An earlier name for Bemboka was Colombo and next to Colombo was the private village of Lyttleton. An earlier name for Towamba was Sturt and in Wolumla's early days it was known as The Three Mile Water Hole

The development of the present day towns and villages of Bemboka, Candelo, Towamba, Wolumla and Wyndham began soon after European settlement of the district. The early out-stations were set up in places that had a good supply of water and were easy to get to. As more people came to the district some of these out-stations grew into larger settlements and eventually into towns and villages. The land in the towns and villages was surveyed into allotments most of these were able to be bought to build a house or business. Businesses such as stores, hotels and blacksmiths were established to serve the needs of the people. Some of the land was reserved for public use for schools, police stations, cemeteries and recreation.