Memories of Awaba
Notes from an interview with Mr Wally Wellard at his home at Awaba
Descendant of an early settler family of Lake Macquarie, his grandfather was William Jesse Wellard, who came from England, his grandmother was Katherine Field, daughter of William Field. NOTE: These families are among the original settlers of the district, more than 120 years ago. All the families have an association with the timber industry.
He could not recall any Aboriginal history, except mention made when he was young of notches (Aboriginal toe-holds cut into bark to climb [trees] to get honey and possum). These were often revealed when milling or cutting timber. Sometimes the internal scars were from six to nine inches deep under the bark. They were mostly found in this fashion in stringy bark and red gums. Notches were often revealed when splitting timber for lids. The trees were so old that the original surface cuts had long since been overgrown.
The family has led a long active involvement of four generations with the timber industry. In the early days most of the timber cut was for the pits and railway. Timber was split, not sawn, by the use of ordinary axes and broad axes. The splitting was done with steel hammers and wedges. Timbers needed for the mines included props, slabs, stringers and lids. Baulks came later.
There were plenty of native bees about when he was young. There were still a few about now, but not like the swarms of old. They were stingless, but everybody loved native bee honey. When a person got within close distance they would fly and crawl all over him. The native bee would rush cuts in the turpentine bark to get the red gum, which was used as an outside seal [for] their nests. There [were] also Italian bees in the bush, probably the only migrants from Italy to enter bush life in numbers. As a youth he would collect honey from bees' nests in an old cave that had Aboriginal markings. It was sited on the western side of the old trig station, and was supposed to be haunted by a "bogey" man to frighten children.
He could remember as many as 27 horse drays working around Awaba. His father took pit props and other timber to the old Awaba rail siding, now gone. Many years ago, Awaba had its own mill. The old Mill creek had been filled in. There was also a natural spring in the vicinity.
Where we were sitting at his home was [was] once the route of the old original road through Awaba.
Until the early 1920's timber was plentiful and relatively easy to get. From that period it became increasingly scarce and hard to obtain. The species were: white and red mahogany, spotted, red and blue gum, wooly bark, blackbutt and some ironbark, but no cedar.
For a long time, timber cutting was the main source of income for the area. Then came the railway fettlers and some poultry farmers.
He said most old timber tracks have disappeared due to severe surface disturbance flowing from transmission power line clearance and fire trails.
Petrified wood was often found in the region. [It was] very common in the bush. Big lumps have been found in the Wakfield area. Mr Wellard said that most of the saw pits had been located in and around the Watagan Mountains. One large example was near Barnier's mill in the mountain.
He had heard of a cairn of stone near the trig station. It was probably of Aboriginal origin, but nobody had any local knowledge, except that they were very ancient.
Mr Wellard has a very interesting souvenir left by his grandfather. A map for a Government sale of land at Awaba, dated Saturday April 28, 1894, to start at 2.30 pm. Streets are named in the block set out for sale. After all these years, only one street name has been changed: Adelaide to Wilton Street. A total of 58 town blocks were on offer, prices ranging from £4 to £21/5. Sixteen suburban blocks up to 40 acres in size were offered at a price range from £12/15/ to £58. One lot of 16 acres was offered at £51. Listed on the map is a large area as a temporary common. This was known as McCormick's Common in early days. It was an area of Crown land south of Awaba in the direction of Toronto to the old brick bridge on the southern side of the rail line.
Mr Wellard said Awaba railway station ran east to west, and was said to be the only one of its kind in Australia. An old Aboriginal name-place was the foot of the hill at Freeman's Waterhole. The natives called it War-long. Mr Wellard said the inn at Palmer's Crossing was owned by Castlemain Brewery. His grandfather told him it was a "bloodhouse". Rough old times could be recalled about its heyday. The old Wallsend road went through near that point. Girders of the old bridge were still standing, though rusting.
He said the Andrews Family were pioneers of Mulbring (known at the Mull). The Andrews were related to the Fields and Wellards.
Kevin, son of Roley Osland, was now the only timber man operating in this area. This year, for the first time for 75 years or more, a Wellard and a Field were not working in the timber industry. Wally said he retired from the timber industry four years ago due to a back injury.
The Wellard timber family was:
- Grandfather: William James Wellard.
- His three sons: Jim, Arthur and Herbert (Wally's father)
- Jim's son: William Jesse (also called Davlo or Moon)
- Arthur's sons: Laurie and Dennis
- Herbert’s sons: Wally, Eric and Kevin
- Wally's two sons: Trevor and Robert.
When Trevor retired in April 1985 he ended the Wellard name in the timber industry.
Mr Wellard said he had found a rare midden of sea shells in the bush where Aborigines had had a camp site in tribal days.
Bush fires in warm months were a constant problem. The men had to fight them voluntarily.
Awaba once had a slaughter house and butcher's shop. Old stakes of the former are still to be seen.
Years ago, the area had plenty of bandicoots, black and other wallabies. Foxes raided fowl pens and beagle hounds were used by shooting parties. Since shooting had ended, there had been a gradual return of bird and animal life to the area. Lyre birds were reported to be back in the gullies.
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