Shoalhaven Historical Society turns 50

The Shoalhaven Historical Society celebrated its 50th anniversary with a luncheon at the Coolangatta Estate Restaurant.

Around 50 people, including the society’s three surviving life members, Alan Clark, Robyn Florance and Bob Harnwell, along with representatives of the Kangaroo Valley and Berry societies, attended the function.

Alan Clark was the keynote speaker, while long-serving president Lynne Allen reported on current heritage issues facing the Shoalhaven community.

Mr Clark said the organisation had come a long way over the past 50 years.

“We must firstly pay tribute to the Rotary Club of Nowra which had the vision to get Shoalhaven Historical Society started,” he said.

“It was not long before the Rotarians were happy to hand over to an enthusiastic group of citizens, some of whom represented families that had lived here for generations.

“The society’s establishment came shortly after the release of the council-commissioned history of Shoalhaven written by W.A. Bayley, which quickly became the local history bible.”

He said two early stalwarts, who would in time become life members, were Nea Rodway and Mr Albert Petrie.

Both lived in the district for more than half a century, and were actually part of the history themselves.

“During my time as secretary I bought a home computer which firstly proved handy for meeting agendas and minutes, and later the storage of research material and history writing which could be easily revised,” Mr Clark said.

“Our society has a proud record of publishing, with many authors contributing over the years.

“Back in the 1970s and ’80s, researching was painstaking, and while personal memories and family legends were often mainstays, many writers spent days at the Mitchell Library and other far-away repositories.

“The resources to gradually become available included the earliest local newspapers on microfilm that were put in the local library, while more recently the development of the internet led to huge numbers of historic records becoming readily available.

“With the digital era, photographic processes were also simplified, enabling many images to be used in our publications.

“With so many historic photos of the district in private hands, it has become possible to borrow them for a short time, have them scanned and added to our collection.”

He said perhaps the society’s greatest achievement was the role it played in the 1970s in saving the Federation-style old police station from demolition, and to have it set aside for use as a museum.

“With influential sections of the community anxious to see the building bulldozed, it proved difficult for some society members,” he said.

“Just when the campaign appeared to have lost momentum, it was a shock to many when the announcement was made that the building would be retained.”

A 1985 initiative to form a family history society was well received, and it has seldom looked back.

“There are many instances of outstanding contributions,” he said.

“Each person who accepted a place on the committee has had his or her own particular interests or abilities that have been of benefit to the society.

“For some, their dedication bordered onto obsession, but somehow we have managed to effectively work together with very few disagreements.

“Although the organisation has the name of Shoalhaven Historical Society, we have neither the desire nor the ability to cover the whole of the city.

“Over the years we have worked closely with other societies, particularly those at Berry, Kangaroo Valley and Milton-Ulladulla. We also acknowledge the individuals and small committees that have published histories for districts such as Wandandian, Tomerong, Cambewarra and Currarong.

“Without exception, these people have been willing to share historical information.

“To effectively further our work, it is essential to have a profile in the community, and we are grateful to the media for its willingness to regularly cover heritage matters.”

Looking to the future, Mr Clark sees one of the major challenges being the ability to recruit volunteers with the passion to continue our work of researching and publishing Shoalhaven history.

“New people will be needed to develop exhibitions in the museum which is fast running out of space. But that is another subject,” he said.

“A major gap in the publishing of Shoalhaven history is the lack of a proper biography of Alexander Berry who settled on this site 195 years ago. The recent death of Keith Campbell led to discussions on whether his extensive research could be used for such a volume.”

This story Shoalhaven Historical Society marks 50th anniversary first appeared on South Coast Register.