Lake Macquarie History

Pulbah Island

Pulbah Island, situated in the southern area of the lake, is the largest island in Lake Macquarie. It measures approximately 1.6 kilometres in length, around 70 hectares in area and is formed of resistant sandstone and conglomerate rock with large boulders and caves along the foreshore. On the northern side of the island are shallow beaches and safe anchorages, while the southern side is comprised mostly of rocky outcrops and steep cliffs.

photo: pulbah island

Name Origin:

It was known to the Aboriginal people as Boroyirong, and was home to Wau-wai, a monster fish which terrorised them. It was also referred to as Bulba, which is an Aboriginal word meaning island. This name was corrupted by white inhabitants, and Pulba was first documented by Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell on his map of NSW published in 1834. Over the years, the 'h' was added to the spelling, and Pulbah is the name which has come into popular usage. In 1919 it was renamed Edden Park in honour of the Minister for Mines but the name was never used. The Geographical Names Board of NSW has gazetted the name officially as Pulbah Island.

Aboriginal Occupation:

It has been suggested that it was used for corroborees. The Awabakal consider Pulbah Island to be sacred and there are several locations on the island where shell middens have been recorded. Due to its importance to Awabakal heritage, it has also been declared an aboriginal place.

Early Land Grants:

It has always been Crown land.

Early Settlers:

There is no record of permanent settlers but a number of people have stayed there, and many uses have been found (and proposed) for the island over the years:

  • It has been used by fishermen and hunters as a camping and rest spot, the shallows on the northern shore being an excellent place for netting fish.
  • Rabbits were introduced to the island in the 1870s to provide sport for hunting parties. These, of course, ran wild destroying native vegetation on a large scale.
  • Hunting quail and other game birds for the Sydney market was once a lucrative sideline for local fishermen.
  • From the early 1870s timbergetters set up mills on the island to process the spotted gum and blackbutt which grew prolifically, transporting equipment and finished timber by punt from Wangi Wangi and Point Wolstonecroft.
  • As the timber was cleared, native grasses flourished and the island became a place for grazing stock, which were swum over or transported by boat.
  • In 1928 it was proposed that the island be used to farm animals for the fur trade - with kangaroo and possum fur being highly sought after. Thankfully this plan never came to fruition.
  • Great quantities of shells were harvested from the island in the early days and used for the production of lime.
  • At one time it was proposed to set up a monastery in the peace and quiet of the island, though nothing ever came of it.
  • A small and unobtrusive cave on the western side of the island was home to a two-up school, which ran when the conditions on the mainland became too hot.
  • A proposal in 1952 the Australian Labour Party floated the notion of a zoo, similar to that at Taronga, be established on the island.

The most interesting and enduring use for the island has been as a recreational spot.

The Australasian Society of Patriots

photo: australasian society of patriots, 1918

In 1917 the Australasian Society of Patriots suggested to the government that Pulbah Island should be made into a reserve for native species of flora and fauna. At this time it was under the care of Lake Macquarie Shire Council, which favoured the idea and the Bulba Trust was set up in 1920 with John Moloney as Secretary. Native flora in the form of ferns, flowers and orchids was brought to the island. Kangaroos, koalas, wombats, wallabies and emus were settled on the island. They were brought over on Jack Richardson's (Fisho Jack) launch. There was not enough food for them all and food was imported. Two emus named Emily and Marie, used to swim out to meet boats and were favourites with visitors.

In 1923 there were reports of animals dying of thirst and the island being overrun by black (ship) rats. There was an inspection by the Director of Taronga Park Zoo, who identified the rats as a variety of Australian marsupials. In 1926 Mr W. Nord of Nords Wharf claimed that the animals were still dying of hunger and thirst.

In 1928 the Trust received government assistance to employ a caretaker. In 1929 the island was declared a reserve and the notice in the Government Gazette used the spelling Pulbah and stated that it was 150 acres. It was forbidden to bring dogs, cats, ferrets or foxes to the island or to light fires or use firearms. A cottage and a wharf were constructed by Jack Richardson; 12 acres were enclosed with a wire netting fence, and a motor launch was supplied. The first caretaker was Mr J. Sharp, a naturalist who set up a small museum.

In 1930 Pulbah was visited by the Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game (who dismissed Jack Lang). The same year the government botanist E. Cheech inspected the island and made a preliminary study of its plant life. At this time visitors were brought by ferry usually from Toronto to see the animals.

Concrete tanks were constructed to increase the water supply. Their remains can still be seen on the north side of the island.

By 1932 the island was again without a caretaker and vandals had caused damage and shot animals. The Bulba Trust appointed an unemployed English patternmaker named Thompson Noble as the new caretaker. He was a lover of nature and of animals and especially of birds and lived happily on the island during the Depression writing poems and prose pieces about his island home.

These were good years for Pulbah and the Trust planned better sanitation, baths, a picnic ground with a pavilion and a windmill to pump water. Noble is believed to have left the island in 1938 and was followed by E. Ralston who stayed for one year.

Post War decline

By 1940 the R.S.P.C.A. was raising money for food for the animals by donations. Due to the wartime manpower shortage, no caretaker could be procured, so the animals had to be removed from Pulbah, some to Wangi and some, it is believed, to the Wattagans.

After the war the island reverted to nature, the cottage fell down and so did the wharf. The foundations of the wharf may be seen at low tide on the north side of the island. The rats, marsupial or otherwise, remain and so do the goannas. Not all the koalas were evacuated. Three were found shot dead on the beach in 1960. There was a definite sighting of one in a tree by a group from the Newcastle Flora and Fauna Society during an excursion to Pulbah in 1969, and a reported sighting in 1976.

National Parks and Wildlife Service

By 1972, Pulbah Island was under control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who made improvements to the island including new picnic facilities and walking tracks. An attempt was made to stock the island with Parma wallabies in 1972 when 36 were released and a research team from Macquarie University attempted to monitor the experiment but they failed to become established.

Pulbah in Folklore

From Newcastle Morning Herald article by Louise Boon, 21st February, 1953

The island has had almost as many names as there are stories about it.

photo: boating on pulbah island

It is said that once a very large steer and a man in a very small boat went together to Pulbah Island. It finished up with the man, high in the branches of a gum tree yelling for help, while the steer, waving the broken shell of the rowboat like a victory flag, prancing noisily on the ground beneath him. All because the man had fumbled taking the rope from around the steer's horns as its hooves touched bottom at the journey's end! Fortunately, sound carries well over water, and after a while a fishing boat came by to investigate the fuss.


The natives of the Awabakal tribe, called the island Boroyirong, and there is legend that the early white settlers called it Bury-your-own. This name was apparently not a corruption of the native name, but derived from the following stories:

  • One tells the story of a white woman and her invalid husband who lived on the island when only the natives peopled the eastern shores of the Lake. She tended a garden, in which was grown their supply of meagre food, and gooseberries, and cared for her husband in complete isolation. The husband died, so the story goes, and the woman buried him there as her last act of devotion.
  • The second yarn concerns the erring wife of a fisherman who ran off with another man. They took refuge on the island, believing themselves safe from pursuit, but the husband followed and a fight ensued in which the woman was fatally shot. Some say it was the husband, some say the lover, who rowed away from the island, grimly telling the other to "bury your own".

On one occasion a Fisheries Inspector on his rounds became alarmed at the sight of a body lying close to the water's edge on Pulbah. It was on a slope and from the inert body to the trunk of a tree above stretched a sinister-looking rope stretched taut. It would be difficult to say whose surprise was the greater when the Inspector landed and investigated the body. It sat up and demanded to know what was going on. The body was a fisherman having a sleep in the sunshine. He had tied himself to the tree so that he would not roll down the incline to the water.

Resources held in the library:

United Residents Group for the Environment of Lake Macquarie. Lake Macquarie foreshore park: a proposal for a foreshore park as part of an integrated park system. Warner's Bay, N.S.W. : URGE, 1990.

Johnston, Jeff. Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area, Pulbah Island Nature Reserve and Moon Island Nature Reserve : plan of management / NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Hurstville, N.S.W. : NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2005

Hartley, Dulcie, Lake Macquarie memories. Toronto, N.S.W. : Dulcie Hartley, 1998.