The record of historical events linking Moruya to early colonisation and growth of NSW from 1788 to 1939 (start of WW2) is unique, and ‘across the board’ may prove greater than any other town in Australia. There are the many stories of trauma and hardship, such as those endured by farmers entrenched along the banks of Moruya River, who, by the use of poles, pushed crudely built rafts & rotted whale boats loaded with produce thru the mangrove choked mouth of Moruya river and the shark infested waves of Broulee Bay on to waiting sailing ships in the harbour bound for Port Jackson, and even England.
There were the land-based pirates from Eden, who rowed out and robbed becalmed sailing ships, cutting their running gear, leaving them without the steerage to enable shelter behind Broulee Island when the gales blew to be then wrecked on rocks at Mossy Point.
Such was the fate of the Red Rover in 1841, when some of its convict prisoners & crew perished- despite the bravery of local aboriginals who had challenged chest deep waves in dead of night in an attempt to rescue those on board. Some, including the captain, now lie buried in unmarked graves in nearby sand hills at Broulee. Moruya was the most further point of Convict Administration in the Colony of NSW – with Courthouse & flogging post at Broulee. Early farms & stations were developed with use of convict labour.
This record of our rich local history includes the discovery of gold at Araluen & Nerrigundah, resulting in Moruya being recorded as the first port to ship gold in Australia, and the Donkey Hill mine being the only gold mine paying a dividend to shareholders in Australia in1939. Silver was discovered at Dwyer’s Creek 1839. A major discovery in 1848, was kept quiet “For the piece of the Colony” however when the Moruya Silver Mine opened in 1862 it was regarded (because of its gold content) as the first payable silver deposit in in the Southern Hemisphere. Moruya silver was much sort after by English flute makers. All the while - huge amounts of timber & farming produce were being shipped to Port Jackson. Timber for the roof of Sydney’s GPO was milled at Tuross, and delivered to Port Jackson by the mill’s own ship, “Maid Of The Mill”.
There is no substantial record, as such, pertaining to outgoing deliveries of granite (Tonalite) before Joseph Louttit opened his quarry in 1858, and then if any it may only have found its way as a source of ballast for sailing ships returning to Port Jackson after unloading supplies bound for Queanbeyan by ‘horse & dray’.
Many from Moruya, and sadly, many incoming visitors to the area will know, or learn only of the Moruya or ‘Harbour Bridge Quarry’ and its link with a ‘beautification’ effect on the concrete pylons. More should know of the Martin Place Cenotaph Stone cut from a 2,000 ton monster blasted from the quarry face reduced to a ’lesser’ 140 tons then to the magnificent 20 ton masterpiece we see today – all cut, polished & inscribed “on the Northern banks of Moruya river.”
However, this was all accomplished in the ‘modern’ era for a time that had improvements in metals and machinery and in the age of iron-hulled & steam-driven ships brought about by the advent of WW1. To learn of Joseph Louttit and his quarry we must journey back now, virtually “through the fog & mists of time” and into an Era of the Australian Gold Rush; a ‘trigger’ for many of our historical happenings, and this, in days of sailing ships and “power from the winds” Checking stories & following the clues; My mate, the late Jim Pike, was born in Moruya, but had only heard tales of “this huge lump of rock" being rolled for several miles & loaded onto a ship for Sydney. There was also ‘this quarry’ on the South bank of Moruya river containing a ‘long -grained ‘ granite that had been used in Sydney’s buildings.
Jim & I (both historians) decided to check it out, and starting from the river bank we struggled over fallen trees and thru thick undergrowth until we came across an old tramway embankment and a few rusted sections of a light trolley or ‘carriage rail’. The embankment rose to 5metres of height in places, broken here & there at gullies and these, strewn with heaps of rotted logs. Which quite obviously had been used to form water passage culverts. After some 300 metres of this, we discovered the breath taking scene of a 15 metre high wall of the granite quarry! The angle of the sun was just right, and despite the ‘neglect’ of some 130 years (then) and the stain of weathering – shone out in all its glory.
We now know that granite or Tonalite (from Tonale Pass Italy -+ite.) was formed some 400 million years ago and exposed after evolution of ‘time & tides’ had eroded some 3 km of sedimentation for us to see it now.
More was to come when Jim Pike & I climbed around the quarry face and found a broken rock drill protruding from the granite’s outcrop, the cause of which, must have inflicted a deal of injury to the machine’s operator! I found a clue to this on checking a story concerning “A Little old lady disappearing into bush adjacent to the quarry followed by a string of school-aged children”!
It turns out “this little old lady” was the late Nelle Gregg and daughter of Moruya Quarry Master, the late John Gilmore. Nelle was a devoted Historian and Stalwart of the Moruya and District Historical Society. It appears Nelle loved telling her story of the Broken Rock Drill repeatedly to the continued stream of children on excursion. I met up with Nelle just prior to the 75th anniversary of the opening of Sydney Harbor Bridge, and she had just been interviewed by a journalist from Scotland regarding the involvement of Sottish stonemasons who had worked at Moruya quarry. I am a proud owner of copy of that story given to the journalist by Nelle & published in the famous “Scots magazine”. “Yes” - said Nelle. “I know about the broken drill ! When the thing snapped, a Louttit boy was flung ‘round and ‘round and the machine broke every bone in his body. The aboriginal boys came over from their camp , laid him on a piece of iron and poured shark oil on him.” Then she added “but he was never the same again!” Each time I broached the subject with Nelle the story never varied. The old drill piece was 50mm in diameter, and had no central air vent hole to expel drilling dust. I know from experience it’s necessary to apply plenty of water when drilling, and when the dust turns to paste it must be cleaned out with a ‘spoon’. Failure to do so, will cause the drill to jam & snap. It’s obvious that is what happened and the story carries a lot of merit. However, when you read the full story you will find it discounted by dramatically different circumstances!
From this point, I knew I would need help from a veritable ‘ bloodhound’ in research and that came in the form of Shirley Jurmann (nee) Louttit. Not only was Shirley a descendant of Joseph but was an historian, writer & publisher in her own right; and best of all, held a deal of the family’s memoirs.
With the up & coming celebrations of the 250th year of Captain Cook’s Journey Of Discovery in 2020 and the Bi-Centenary of the discovery of Lake George it’s vital we recover, retain, remember & enjoy these ‘veritable soul’ records of our history.
Both Shirley Jurmann & myself hope you enjoy reading about Joseph, his quarry, and the many other associations it has had with our history. Norm Moore.
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