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Moruya: Town Of Pioneers-Picks-Shovels & Convicts.


Part 1. Moruya: Town Of Pioneers-Picks-Shovels & Convicts.

The Unique Story of Arthur Halley Preddey.

Foreword: For those of you who have read anything remotely connected to Australia’s pioneering history, its Era of Convict Transportation, the disastrous story of the Second Fleet, and others of as great a hardship - 'then you surely must have wondered’- Just what happened to all, some, -or even one of the ‘survivors’- for they may still have had to contend with punishment by treadmill or lash before freedom, and given a real chance to show they, and their descendants, could become worthy members of a community, society, or beyond! There can be no finer example than the story of convict George Preddey, and his ‘descendants’.

One George Preddey landed in Australia in 1827 as a convict serving a seven year sentence for break and enter, not thinking for one moment his arrival in Sydney heralded the beginning of one of the largest and most respected locksmith businesses in Australia.

Today, in 1993, the grandchildren of George are still breaking into locks and safes- but legally. George Preddey after serving his sentence, married in 1836 and fathered 13 children including son William. In 1840 he purchased land in Bexley in an area now known as Preddeys Road and later was encouraged to enter Parliament . Extract Cronulla Sutherland Shire News 1993

Part 1 of the this history begins with one of their grandchildren; Arthur born to William and Margaret Preddey William and his brother George owned sawmills & timber supply yards, one in Glebe and one in Erskine Street Darling Harbour, Sydney. Each needed logs for their mills and a variety of other timbers, and William was relegated to go north in search of supplies. He was not successful and instead ventured South and settled in Narooma, where he and son, Arthur (one of nine children born to William and Margaret), built Preddey’s Steam Saw Mill on the North Bank of Wagonga Inlet near the bridge in the 1890's

Two more mills were built at Wagonga Heads, in the late 1890’s.One was by Withers, the other by George Fuller for Fred Cox, who sold this mill to W.S. Preddey JP. Preddey’s mill produced planking, timber for wheelrights and all kinds of building timbers.


About the year 1900 ‘things went bad all over the country’ and William Preddey paid off his men & sold the mill to George Mitchell. “I understand Arthur was kept on as manager. However Arthur had bigger things in mind and built his own mill further up the Wagonga River at Brice’s Bay, I believe Mitchell & his sons operated their mill till 1960,” said John Preddey (grandson of Arthur Halley Preddey) .


When Arthur had finished setting up his new mill he married Nora Tucker. Nora had her own teaching business in a room above Palings Music Store in George St, Sydney. She refused to live in Narooma unless Arthur could get her six music pupils as a start.

Arthur quickly obliged and they married and while at Wagonga they had three children. One, a daughter, died at nine years of age.

In 1919, a bushfire burnt out the mill and Arthur set up another at Potato Point. A plaque and remnants of the mill’s boiler remain to mark his first mill site. But bushfires were the nemesis of all sawmillers and Arthur was to lose another mill ‘at the Point,’ and so about 1920, he finally found a more permanent home in Moruya - and where he was to become something of a force to be reckoned with.

Arthur Preddey built his final timber mill and a wharf (timber) at South Head, near where the present concrete wharf is located today. Timber from this mill was exported to Sydney and beyond. This was a busy area, with Louttit’s quarry wharf, (from 1858) and Bulls’ sawmill & wharf. (1870)

Louttit’s Creek became a dump for sandstone ballast. (used as a ‘counter balance’ by ships returning with insufficient weight of return cargo from various ports)


Arthur built his first Moruya home on the headland above the mill and named it “Tuffwood”. (presumably after the ’toughness’ of Moruya hardwood) The house was sold to Moruya Quarry Master, John Gilmore, about the time the Moruya quarry started operation in 1924, and supplied granite for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylons.

Amongst Preddey’s ‘achievements’ was to have built a weather board house in a week. That may well have been his first home in town, believed to be in Evans Street.

There’s no doubt he was man of action and the list of “talents & achievements’ provided by grandson Peter may seem a little apocryphal to absorb

Amongst all else, he was a sawmiller, builder of many houses, bridges, and built the Moruya cheese factory. He was known in the trade as “Skew Nail” Preddey; A coffin maker, undertaker, funeral director, Coroner, owned a garage and hire car business."


Some of his ‘Civic duties’ included: President of Moruya Chamber of Commerce and Secretary of the Mechanics Institute. The advent of WW 2 saw him as Deputy Chief A.R.P. Warden. However, it was his ability and ‘ingenuity’ centred around his engineering talents that afforded him most respect and admiration.

He salvaged the boiler from the steamer “Bernanderah” in 1924. When the cheese factory in Hawdon St. was rebuilt, he shifted the boiler from the old to new in a half day with a sequence of crab winches, and hardly a hiccup in production. The nearest other quote from Wollongong engineering firms was four days.

He was the owner builder of the Amuzu ‘Cinema’ (now Silly Willys store) and when his competitors complained to the Council the ceiling was too low, and against public health regulations they had him closed down.


But Preddey was not one to suffer loss of income. After erecting a substantial pole at the side of the building, he continued to earn revenue by running a series of slide shows. The images were projected from a machine mounted on the pole and onto the wall of the building. He followed this up by holding a dance afterwards.

With the help of an apprentice, he jacked up the roof using a system of ropes & pulleys, (fixing the height problem) closed in the gaps, and regained his licence before his competitors completed their new building!


The hall became the centre of Moruya’s social activities and featured the running of many regular dancing and roller skating activities for the locals.

One of his more ‘super feats’ was to re-float the Supply Ship “Kianga” from the Moruya Break Water, after two Sydney tugboats failed. His methods were as always, based on ‘simplicity.’ It was just a matter of 6 house jacks, a few long timbers, six locals with cars roped to the jacks - a wait for high tide, and when the jacks had done their work -the locals pulled them away with their cars, and the ship slid on the timbers into the river.


What most locals considered a ‘minor event’ for Preddey was to shift a farmhouse over a half mile without disturbing the furniture or crockery.

Arthur Preddey wasn’t adverse to a bit of ‘emergency surgery’ either, as Bob Colefax (of Moruya Quarry and M&DHS fame) writes in 1924

He recalled an occasion where a Preddey workman fell across a saw and suffered a serious wound to his abdomen. Using a packing needle and twine, Preddey stitched up the gap and the man lived. However, it was his work ethic and ‘famicity’ as a Mortician, Undertaker and Funeral Director where his talents seemed best to draw public attention

Norm Moore: From the man himselph: In his early undertaking days, Arthur Preddey arrived at Nerrigundah with one of his standard size coffins to bury an overly long corpse, and solved the problem with a spot of amputation, using his carpenter’s saw. I didn’t get the full story from much esteemed Doctor Bannon before he passed on however, it seems detectives from Sydney’s C.I.D. needed the use of a ‘suspects’ hand in a murder investigation. It appears the corpse was still ‘residing’ locally and it was cheaper to pack just the hand. The trouble was the wrong hand was dispatched.

Arthur had his enemies, and among the Moruya hospital matrons - the best documented enmity is between him and Matron Bohan, who ‘ruled’ from April1936 to January 1938. As well as being undertaker Arthur Preddey was also the Hospital’s Secretary.

Arthur Halley Preddey is first mentioned in the Moruya Hospital records of 1905 as having sent a donation of eight shillings from Narooma, the proceeds of a farewell social given to Captain Canty & crew. He was then a sawmiller at Potato Point.

The Battle of the Bedsheets:

These exerpts taken from the Moruya hospital Day Book in the decade from 1931 (with some comments by Peter Preddey):

For the most part, the entries are laconic & statistical - Matron Bohan, however, used the Day Book almost as a “private diary”. She did not find life easy. By August 1936, she had sacked the cook and taken over the kitchen till a replacement was found. By July of the following year two nurses “who had caused trouble” had gone, leaving only the Matron and the night sister to carry the nursing load for the next three days.

The nurses “gave incorrect impressions to the Secretary” with whom Matron Bohan was, by this time, in ‘continuous combat’!

The first recorded clash was 30 September 1936 where Matron Bohan records; -“Secretary constantly interfering in Hospital duties.” In November; “Secretary tormenting with petty complaints…..Matron becoming tired of petty vindictiveness and reference toward duty and methods”.

In January 1937 there was the battle of the mortuary sheets; “Mr Preddey visited hospital to take charge of funeral arrangements of a body in the mortuary. Wrapped body in hospital sheet and took it away. That same month another body left the mortuary, and the yard boy was instructed not to let Mr Preddey take the sheet. If every corpse from the mortuary was taken in a sheet, there soon would be none left.

Mr Preddey visited the hospital the morning following the removal of the body and was very insulting—told me the sheets were hospital property and none of your b---- business: Not to be so b------ smart. On one occasion, I was told by the Secretary to let the staff do as they liked and to be less and restrictive and allow cooks to start at 8am – too ridiculous to even reply to such senseless interference.”

The next battle, lasting three months, was over Matron’s holiday pay, with Secretary Preddey refusing to accept she was entitled to any. Finally on 21st January, Matron gave notice: “Matron tired of Secretary’s grumbles and imaginary complaints.” On the day she left, she records she had received all entitlements including the disputed holiday pay- but a footnote records Secretary Preddey stopped the cheque.

The President, Charles Moffitt, finally cashed the cheque himselph. “Matron completed duty and left the hospital.”

A flight of Matrons: (It seems Preddey ‘saw the backs’ of eleven Matrons all up, during his term as Secretary of Moruya Hospital N.M.)

Matron Hayes preceded Bohan. Secretary Preddey wrote to her to remind her of the fact: “She is a servant of the Board and must take and obey instructions given her by the President and the House Committee.” Her reaction was to resign. When she cooled down, she wrote an apology and retracted her resignation – but did not return to duty.

Matron Murray succeeded Bohan. September 1938 she was written to and reminded she was responsible for ridding the hospital of rats. In March the following year, she was asked to resign after she had written expressing her dissatisfaction with the job. Matron Mitchell followed and lasted six months.

Matron Gannon, who had been Matron of Cobar Hospital for ten years, was chosen from five applicants. Within weeks, she had written her resignation in tones so offensive to the Board they decided to terminate her employment forthwith.

Matron Rita Dovey lasted from 9th April to 20th May 1940. Matron Nolan followed, resigned in December, but was persuaded to stay on until Matron O’Connell arrived. Matron O’Connell, having been congratulated by the Hospital Commission on her running of the hospital, resigned two months later!


Norm Moore: It would seem rumours of submarine activities off our coast and increasing worries of an invasion by Japanese forces may have caused a ‘stilling of the waters’ in the ‘bed sheet war’ at the hospital, in any event, Preddey was the A.R.P. Warden (and I have it) – he was constantly seen with a set of binoculars at his ‘look-out’ at the Air Raid Pub.


It seems too -there was a lot less ‘professional activity’ in the Moruya cemetery relevant to the 1939-45 years of war. Some time back, in trying to trace the grave for a friend I found only depressions in the soil, an odd rotted marker and lack of information in Council records.

Let me remind you all here – “These were years with naught but pick and shovel to use and many of the so called ‘feats of Physical Endurance’ were registered in terms relevant to the use of these implements-be it the depth of a grave at just 6 feet, or a mine shaft of a mere 1,000 feet!

I’m told an ‘el-cheapo’ (pauper’s funeral) arranged by Preddey, could mean as little as a sweep out of gravel from his builder’s vehicle (if he’d been concreting) and the bottom covered with a strip of linoleum or carpet to protect the coffin and preserve whatever varnish there’d been time to apply.

Think I’m joking? I remember well the ‘Post Preddey Days’ and a hundred miles of dirt road between here and Canberra. The scene: “Outside the Adelaide pub on a blazing hot day”. A dust-covered ute pulls up, and in the back - an equally dust-covered coffin. The local undertaker hops out -gives a snort or two in the gutter to rid his nostrils of dust and breasts the bar in the pub. “How’s business?” asks the Publican, as he pulls a beer. ”Dead,” was the reply! (Names suppressed N.M.)

There were many in Moruya who believed the 1939-45 war prevented Preddey from reaching his full potential in a number of areas; –i.e., Who knows what ‘surprises’ he may have had in store for the Japanese had they actually landed ?


Whatever the future may have held for Arthur Halley Preddey ---his family, and many in the town, always looked upon him as-- “The man before his time”. Arthur Preddey was born in Sydney 1878 and died at Heathcoate (Blue Mts.) 1951. At the time of his demise, he was survived by his wife Nora, his two children Jack, & Maree, and grandchildren Margaret, John, Annamaree, Peter, Helen, Brian, Barry and Maree.

Next: Part 2. It really all started with Patriarch George pinching a knife & fork. Was he really a ‘downright thief, or just tired of eating with his fingers? Whatever – when you know the full story –in the end, I’m sure you’ll agree –“It was Australia’s good fortune he was ever hungry”! (Norm Moore).

#History #MoruyaHistory #Moruya #Weekly #Books #normmoore #Reading

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