Lake Macquarie History


First Nations History

Awabakal people were attracted to the area because of the availability of seafood. Their activities included bark canoe racing down the channel. In 1971 a midden was uncovered while clearing for housing near Swansea Heads. An archaeological excavation in 1972 revealed that this was a very old campsite, being carbon-dated as 7,800 years. The dig was conducted by Mrs. Frances Bentley and Prof. L.K. Dyall. Human remains were found along with many stone implements and also food remains, which enabled the researchers to reconstruct the diet of the inhabitants.

By 1870 the areas Awabakal population had been reduced considerably. One family: Ned, Margaret (his wife), Ellen and William Henry (their children) had a reserve set aside for them in 1871. It is now known as Black Neds Bay.

Margaret had been taught by Threlkeld as a child. She died in 1900. Some Awabakal people outlived Margaret, including Black Adam who was blind in later years and lived in a slab hut at Black Adams Flat, Swansea South, until his death in 1940. In the period 1900 to 1920 there were Awabakal people living in makeshift huts at Cams Wharf and along the old railway line between Swansea and Caves Beach.

Near the site of Reids Mistake (Swansea Heads), Biraban, a respected Awabakal elder, translated the following legend into English to local missionary Reverend Threlkeld in the 1830s. Two upright petrified ocks, standing 274 centimetres high in 1840, graced the entrance of Swansea Heads. Named Malangbula, the rocks represented two women who transformed into rocks after an altercation with an Awabakal warrior. The Awabakal people feared that sea monsters would move down Swansea Channel and into Lake Macquarie. The women became protectors of nearby burial sites and returned to human form to warn the people of approaching danger.

European History

Reids mistake

The entrance to the Hunter River had been mapped by Lieutenant John Shortland in 1797. He was looking for runaway convicts, but instead found plentiful coal outcroppings close to the river's mouth. As coal was in much demand in other parts of the British Empire, finding it was important, and small vessels were soon employed in making voyages to the Hunter for this cargo. So it was that in July 1800 Captain William Reid was ordered to sail to the Hunter River for a cargo of coal. The location had been described to him - sail north, find an island near a river entrance, go in a small distance and coal will be showing on the southern shore.

He followed the coast from Port Jackson and came to Moon Island which he supposed to be Nobby's, and the entrance to what he took to be a the Hunter River, where he loaded his cargo of coal from the southern shore, just as described.

It wasn't until he got back to Sydney that he realised his mistake. He hadn't gone far enough up the coast to reach the Hunter River, and had instead encountered another river, described then as a bar lagoon, and also another source of coal.

What he had visited was Lake Macquarie, though for many years it would be known as Reid's Mistake, a name bestowed on the southern side of the entrance (and eventually coming to refer to the whole Lake) by Governor King when he heard the story of this encounter. This name remained in general use until about 1826 when it was renamed in honour of one of Australia's greatest colonial governors, Lachlan Macquarie. Reids Mistake is still the official title given to the southern headland of the entrance to Lake Macquarie, as listed by the Geographic Names Board of NSW.

Name Origin:

At a public meeting held on 7 October 1887 the town's name was changed from Pelican Flat to Swansea. Postmaster-General approval was given 1 November 1887. Influential in the name change was Robert F. Talbot-pioneering hotel and storekeeper. Talbot perceived a resemblance between the area and a coal port in Glamorgan, Wales. The Aboriginal name for Swansea was Galgabba.

Early Land Grants:

In 1833 J.H. Boughton was granted 149 acres at Reids Mistake. In 1834 he received another 450 acres at Reids Mistake.

In 1842 the Rev. Threlkeld purchased Portion 35 of 10 acres at Reids Mistake for a coal depot.

In December 1861 F. and M.F. Josephson purchased portion 50 of 49 acres. Portion 2, M.F. Josephson, 40 acres (D.P.5688, D.P.6148).

Portion 87, Charles Parbury, M.F. and F.P. Buhdock, 41 acres (D.P.12457). Portion 78, John Taaffe Jnr., 42 acres (D.P.2351, D.P.14014).

Portion 85, Charles Parbury, M.F. and F.R. Bundock, 40 acres.

Portion 5, James Worley, 41 acres (D.P.9500).

Current town of Swansea (excluding Crown subdivision) is comprised in Portions 50, 2, 87, 78, 85 and 5.

Note-the number for Portion 4 was re-allocated as portion 78. All portions are in the parish of Wallarah.

Early Subdivisions:

In the early years of settlement no township had been laid out. All land sold to settlers was in the form of farm lots. This created a widely spread community, In September 1863 there was a sale of 20 lots at Reids Mistake at a price of 8 pounds an acre.

D.P.2351 - "subdivision of part of portion no. IV" in the "Township of Swansea" was declared on 31 May 1889. This subdivision was bounded by the streets now known as Lake Street, Main Road and both sides of Wallace Street.

The "Village of Swansea" was proclaimed on 3 February 1906. D.P.5669 was a subdivision bounded by the take entrance, and formed the streets now known as Main

Road and Lake Road. D.P.5688, shows a subdivision of part of Portion 2 which encompasses both sides of Josephson Street, from Belmont Street to Lake Road. This D.P. was declared on 7 September 1909. Thus the commercial centre of Swansea developed during the years following 1909.

Early European Settlers:

During the 1840's Henry Denny occupied the land owned by Boughton. Denny assisted cattle stealers.

In 1853 Thomas Boyd brought John Taaffe and his family to Lake Macquarie Heads. Taaffe selected a portion of land on a hill near Galgabba Point at the southern end of Pelican Flat. Two years later in 1855 Boyd and family settled nearby.

By 1860 a settler named Frederick Chaney had also come to the district.

The first Chinese residents had arrived in the early 1850's and settled mainly on the Pelican Flats north of GaIgabba and towards Pirrita Island (formerly known as Coon Island). By 1860 close to 40 Chinese people lived there.

Early Industries:

In 1842 Lancelot Threlkeld established a coal loading and storage depot at the lake heads. This was to receive coal in barges from the Ebenezer colliery at Coal Point. Work at Ebenezer was suspended due to costs in 1851.

By 1835 a small salt works had been established on the southern side of the channel. The enterprise, owned by J.H. Boughton, was short lived.

The Murray Brothers' coal mine opened just south of Galgabba Point in 1863. This venture was producing 400 tons of coal per week front a five foot seam. The mine soon closed due to transport problems. It was reopened in 1879. Its entrance is still visible.

In the 1850s Chinese fishermen were operating from Pelican Flat (now Swansea) and they supplied cured fish as far afield as the gold fields and Sydney. In 1863 two fisheries were established producing up to 70 tons of cured fish per year, and employing 17. The Chinese residents also cultivated extensive gardens and supplied European settlers with vegetables.

Shipbuilding was an important industry. Captain Thomas Boyd built the ketch "Progress" in 1880, then two more ships. The Forbes brothers (Phil and Bill) built the Edith and the May at Swansea. J.L. Boyd built the 78 ton "Galgabba"; Forbes built the "Phil Forbes" of 100 tons. Bill Woodward built a 200 ton barge for the construction of the second bridge. These three boatbuilders established shipyards at Swansea.

Early Transport:

By 1868 William Forbes, one of the Heads settlers, owned two ketches which took cargoes of shingles from Dora Creek to Sydney.

In 1888 'Cora', a ferry operated by Captain Hannell, transported cargo and passengers from Newcastle to Swansea. This run was followed on alternate days. In the same year, Captain Peterson daily piloted the 'Helen Taylor' between Pelican Flat and Cockle Creek.

In 1889 three ferries owned by W.W. Johnson ('Pinafore' No. 1 and No. 2, and 'Maggie Johnson') ran daily, between Swansea and Cockle Creek.

Before the bridge was built across the channel there were two crossing points, both by rowing boat, the horses being swum behind. The charge was 6 pence per passenger.

In 1937 the government bus service to Newcastle was inaugurated. From 1942-46, the war years, the buses terminated at Broadmeadow. In 1946 a service was opened to Boyd's Shipyards but was terminated after one month. In 1946 buses to Wallsend and Mayfield on weekends and holidays were tried. In 1947 a Swansea to Cardiff Workshops bus was tried. In 1949 a bus service to the State Dockyard began.


To expedite harbour improvements a three mile line of railway was laid in the 1880's. Trains carried rock from a nearby quarry to the works; the rock was then used to form dykes.

First Post Office:

Swansea Post Office opened 1 December 1879. Postmaster Robert F. Talbot operated from his store. Mail contractor, John Gordon, conveyed mails twice weekly on horseback. It was known as Pelican Flats Post Office until 1 November 1887. Swansea East Post Office opened I March 1956.

First School:

Opened April 1875 as 'Galgabba Private School' on Thomas Boyd's property at Swansea South - 23 children were enrolled and Henry Blyth was the first teacher. Its status changed to a provisional school on 14 June, 1875; to a public school in February 1882; and to a central school from January 1944, until it reverted to a public school in January 1954. The school moved to its current site in January 1885. The school continued to be called 'Galgabba' until its name was changed to 'Swansea' in January 1889. Swansea Evening School operated only in 1905. Swansea High School opened in January 1963.


Swansea developed in response to the requirements of the lake export trade. Prior to the late 1860s settlement at Pelican Flat was scattered. No town had been laid out nor a commercial centre formed. In the early days of development accommodation was mainly in tents and huts.

By 1874 Thomas Boyd had opened the settlements first store/refreshment house. By 1876 a wineshop selling "colonial wine" had opened.

By 1879 R. Talbot operated a general store, a hotel was being erected, and a butchering house was in operation.

Water Supply:





1860 - no more than 65 people including up to 40 Chinese people, 10 Aboriginal people and 15 Europeans. (Clouton, p.157). 1879: Commencement of harbour improvement works and abandonment of mining at Catherine Hill Bay combined to produced an influx of settlers. 1911 - 62 homes and 279 persons. 1921 - 128 homes and 539 persons. 1933 - 456 homes and 1632 persons. 1947 - 922 homes and 3174 persons.


An Australian Post Office History: Swansea. Sydney, Department of Posts and Telegraphs, no date.

The Centenary of Public Education in Swansea 1875-1975. Newcastle Centenary Organising Committee, 1975.

"The Swansea Tramway" by 'Wanderer'in Australasian Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin Vol. 1 (New Series) No. 154, August 1950.

"Swansea Dig" by Prof. L.K. Dyall in The Gazette, December 1973.

Clouten, Keith. Reid's mistake : the story of Lake Macquarie from its discovery until 1890. [Speers Point, N.S.W.] : Lake Macquarie Shire Council, 1967. p.10.

NSW Government Geographical Names Board accessed 22 May 2018

Threlkeld, L. E. (Lancelot Edward) An Australian grammar : comprehending the principles and natural rules of the language, as spoken by the Aborigines in the vicinity of Hunter's River, Lake Macquarie, &c., New South Wales.Sydney : Printed by Stephens and Stokes, 1834. p.49. Accessed 22 October 2018

Streets in Swansea

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

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