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Archive for March, 2008

One of the biggest changes in the way local history is presented is the shift away from architectural history to social history, to telling stories about people rather than buildings.
While Kiama is rich in its history of lovely old buildings such as the Court House, the Post Office and even the Kiama Independent’s own building in Manning Street, it is even richer in stories of its people, much of which is buried in the dusty archive of files at the Pilot’s Cottage Museum on Blowhole Point.
The Oral History Project started by the Family History Centre, and the recent Living Library initiative by Kiama Library are a recognition of that.
Volunteers at the Pilot’s Cottage are regularly confronted by bored kids dragged to a museum by their parents, but who then leave with their eyes bugging out at some of the amazing stories they have heard.
Big Fish? In December 1938 a world record black marlin was caught in a net off the Kiama coast. It was fourteen foot, nine inches long, and weighed 1226 lbs. Before this, the biggest marlin the famous fisherman Zane Grey had ever seen was 900 lbs. A few days later Gus Bagnard, Zane Grey’s secretary, caught a world record tiger shark which was 1382 lbs and 13 feet, nine inches long and seven feet, nine inches in girth. Both Big Fish were put into a tank to preserve them and then exhibited at the Royal Easter Show and the Brisbane Show and studied by international scientists. This is recorded in the history of the Kiama Game Fishing Club. The big Tiger Shark was called Big Ben, after another big Tiger Shark 50 years before which used to hang around Blowhole Point and annoy the divers working on the harbour dam wall, because all the dead farm animals used to get thrown off Blowhole Point. Big Ben used to follow the local steam ships to Sydney for a feed. I think a giant tiger shark as a pet, could be very persuasive that it wanted to be fed.
Ghost Stories? The Headless Ghost of Dunmore House is reasonably well-known in Kiama. The Chair of the Illawarra Business Chamber, Les Dion, of Dion Buses, sent a copy of the Dion family history to the Pilot’s Cottage, in which it is recorded one of his uncles witnessed the Headless Ghost while working as a bus driver on the last Kiama run of the night in the 1950s. According to this account he chased the Ghost with his bus, until it threw a rope up into the trees and disappeared. Other ghost stories mentioned in the dusty old files include the Swamp Bull of Terragong Swamp, near the Honey farm at Kiama Downs. It is recorded in the Honey family history that they went down to a hole in the swamp where they thought the swamp bull lived and blew it up with explosives. Another ghost story mentioned is the sight of the boat coming down Minnamurra river in the early morning mist on Boxing Day, the same time every year as a famous tragedy on the river.
Lost Treasure? At the Pilot’s Cottage are photos of the rarest and most valuable coins in Australia, and they come from Kiama. These are known as the Allen Pennies, and there are only two, the John Allen Penny and the William Allen Penny, both minted in 1855. In those days over two hundred shops, including the local Allen’s stories, minted their own tokens which were used as small change throughout NSW, until declared illegal in 1860. This makes them very rare, and the Kiama Allen pennies are the rarest. The last one found sold for $14,000 in 1977 and a third one is estimated to be worth $100,000 if found, making it the most valuable coin in Australia and a star of internet treasure hunt sites such as www. treasurehunt.com.au.
Secret Societies? Most Kiama residents know of the Freemasons’ Temple in Hindmarsh Park, but do they know of the role of the Orange Lodges and the OddFellows, who were a mutual friendly society, and the Temperance movements, which were against the drinking of alcohol. The current Kiama Leagues Club is built on the site of the Kiama Oddfellows Hall, and the original cellars, which were used for meetings of the lodges, still exist. The Freemason Hall was bought from the Sons and Daughters of Temperance, who used to put down a roller-skating rink in the hall in the 19th Century. Certainly it is much more dignified there these days. The Orange Lodges were fervently pro-Empire and anti-Catholic and Kiama was the home of the start of Freemasonry and the Orange movement in NSW, with Dr Tarrant of Kiama as the first Grand Master of the NSW Freemasons, and Robert Barr, who worked as a printer at the Kiama Independent, starting the first Orange Lodge in NSW.
Tall Tales? There are many in Kiama and many practical jokes mentioned in the archives of the Kiama Independent. One with modern resonance is the story of how some local youths painted the Police Sergeant’s Cow white in the middle of the night. Is this how the tradition of re-painting Daisy the Cow at the Old Fire Station Gallery started? Claims of gold in Kiama have occurred as well, with one joke laying out a gold claim over sections of Blowhole Point and another placing a gold nugget in the Pike’s Hill cutting on the road to Jamberoo. Jock Marks, a volunteer at the Pilot’s Cottage, tells a tale of the shopkeeper who attached a couple of electric batteries to a tin fence to discourage patrons of a nearby Kiama hotel from using as an outside urinal.
Hopefully the Living Library Project and the Oral History Projects will preserve these and many other great Kiama stories. There may be many more kept in the memories of senior Kiama residents. Why don’t you ask them?

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