The indigenous Awabakal people referred to the Swansea area as Galgabba. The local population of Aborigines was once very large due to an abundance of food in the form of marine and fresh water fish, birds, animals and reptiles. One well known family, Black Ned, his wife Margaret and their children Ellen and William, had a reserve set aside for them in 1871, known as Black Ned’s Bay. Margaret’s Bay, near Parbury Park is named after Margaret (aka “Queen” Margaret), who was the last full blood Awabakal. She died in 1900.
Some part Awabakals outlived Margaret, including Black Adam who was blind in later years and lived in a slab hut at Black Adams Flat, Swansea South, until his death in 1940. The Swansea Heads area was once called “Mullag-Bula” by the Awabakal people meaning “place of black stone,” referring to the coal which was plentiful in this area. In 1800 the headlands became known as Reid’s Mistake when Captain William Reid landed there to collect coal, mistaking the location for Nobby’s and the mouth of the Hunter River. The entrance to the channel still bears this name. The early pioneer settlers referred to the area as Pelican Flats, assumingly because of the predominant bird life and nature of the sand flats, (prior to dredging). The population in 1860 was no more than 65 people, including up to 40 Chinese, 10 Aborigines and 15 Europeans. Some of the early pioneers were: J. L. Broughton, H. Denny, M. F. Josephson, C. Parbury, J. Worley, John Taaffe, Thomas Boyd, Robret F. Talbot, Rev. Threlkeld, F. P. Bundcock.
The first Chinese fisherman arrived in the early 1850’s settling towards Coon Island. They supplied cured fish to Sydney and the goldfields, as well as establishing and cultivating extensive gardens which supplied the settlers with vegetables. In 1863 two Chinese fisheries were established producing up to 70 tons of cured fish per year and employing seventeen people. Other early industries were a coal loading and storage depot, established in 1842 at the Lake Heads, by Rev. Threlkeld. It was established to receive coal in barges from the Ebenezer colliery at Coal Point. By 1835 a small salt works was in operation on the southern side of the channel, however the enterprise, owned by J. H. Boughton, was short lived. The Murray Brother’s coal mine opened just south of Galgabba Point in 1863. This venture was producing 400 tons of coal per week from a five foot seam. The mine soon closed due to transport problems. Hat making by Chinese, Europeans and Aborigines was carried on. The hats were made of fibre obtained from the cabbage tree palm which were once abundant in this area. Shipbuilding was an important local industry. Captain Thomas Boyd, the Forbes Brothers, James Lewis Boyd & son, William James Woodward and Thomas Humphreys & Sons all established boat building yards around the Swansea area and produced many fine vessels.
Swansea continued to developed in response to the requirements of the lake export trade. Prior to the late 1860’s, settlement at Pelican Flat was scattered. No town as such had been laid out nor a commercial centre formed. In the very early days of development accommodation was mainly in tents and huts. However by 1874 Thomas Boyd had opened the settlements first store and refreshment house. By 1876 a wineshop selling “Colonial Wine” had opened and by 1879 Robert Talbot was operating a general store and a hotel was being erected, plus a butchering house was in operation. In 1887 the name of Pelican Flats was officially changed to Swansea. Instrumental in the name change was Robert F. Talbot, who perceived a resemblance between the area and a coal port in Glarmorganshire, Wales. 2
The first school opened in April 1875 as the “Galgabba Private School” on Mr. Thomas Boyd’s property at Swansea South. Twenty three children were enrolled and Henry Blyth was the first teacher. Its status changed to a provisional school on 14 June 1875; to a public school in February 1882; and to a central school from January 1944, until it reverted to a public school in January 1954. The school moved to its current site in January 1885. The school continued to be called “Galgabba” until its name was changed to “Swansea” in January 1889. Swansea High School opened in January 1963.
Early transport was by ship and ferry around the lake. By 1868 William Forbes, owned two ketches which took cargoes of shingles from Dora Creek to Sydney. In 1888 the ferry “Cora” operated by Captain Hannell, transported cargo and passengers from Newcastle to Swansea. In the same year, Captain Peterson piloted the “Helen Taylor” between Pelican Flat and Cockle Creek. In 1889 ferries owned by W.W. Johnson, the “Pinafore” and “Maggie Johnson,” ran between Swansea and Cockle Creek. However, before the bridge was built across the channel, access to Blacksmiths was by rowboat, with the horses swimming behind. The charge was 6 pence per passenger.
In 1881 Swansea acquired it’s first bridge, which was built by A. & R. Amos. It was originally designed to carry a locomotive for the purpose of transporting stone across the channel for the construction of a retaining wall on the northern side. Some components of Swansea’s first bridge originated from another bridge which had been built in 1871 at Black Wattle Bay, Sydney Harbour. When this Black Wattle bridge ceased being useful, it’s lifting span and other usable parts were relocated to Swansea. The timbers for Swansea’s first bridge were cut on the western side of Lake Macquarie and hauled around to the northern side entrance of the channel via Adamstown by bullock teams. When the retaining wall was finally completed the rail tracks were removed and the bridge was opened to public traffic in 1895, under the care and control of the Public Works Department.
By 1908, the old bridge needed replacing and Peter Callan & Sons of Newcastle were contracted to construct a timber beam bridge with a steel girder bascule opening span, at a cost of £6,180. This second bridge comprised fifteen spars, including the lifting span with a total length between abutments of 409 feet 6 inches. Components from the Black Wattle Bay bridge were also reused in the second bridge. It was strongly built: the woodwork in the lifting span towers were a credit to the craftsmen of the day and, when painted white, it was an elegant reminder of the days gone by. The next two bridges were built sturdy and compatible to the needs of the traffic of those years but there was always something special about the majestic appearance of the second bridge. It was dismantled in 1956 and is featured on the front cover of this brochure.
The third bridge opened on the 14th December 1955 by the Hon. E. Wetherall M.L.A, (Minister for Transport). This new bridge was designed to keep the level of the deck as low as possible to reduce the cost of the approaches. And for appearance sake, it was designed so that the counter weights of the bascular span would be below deck level. The bridge was the first to be built by the Department of Main Roads, which incorporated underneath counterweights and a double leaf bascule with an open grid deck. The cost of the construction was £280,000, and it now provided two lanes for the northbound traffic. The opening of yet another bridge, built alongside the third bridge has doubled the movement of traffic along the busy Pacific Highway. This fourth bridge was constructed by Transfield Pty. Ltd and provides two lanes for southbound traffic. The fourth bridge was officially opened by the Hon. Peter Morris M. P and the Hon. Robert Webster M. P on the 21st May 1989.