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History & Heritage

Discover the early days of this resource-rich region

Well beyond the limits of holiday nostalgia, this area is rich in history with clues to its past just waiting to be explored.

Traditional stories speak of the Dharawal people who first came to the Illawarra, bringing with them the cabbage tree palm (still seen throughout the Kiama area). Nomadic Wadi Wadi tribes then passed through this heavily bush-clad region, following trails north to Bass Point (Shellharbour) or La Perouse (Botany Bay). One of their traditional camps was near modern-day Jamberoo (which actually means ‘track’).

The areas of Gerringong and Bombo were considered good sources of “ochre” — a deep orange clay used for aboriginal ceremonies. This would not be the last time that Kiama’s mineral riches were sought out.

When George Bass sailed alongside Kiama Blowhole in December 1797, he became the first European to witness what Indigenous Australians called “where the sea makes a noise”. This ushered in a wave of development which would see towering cedar forests all but removed and basalt quarries carved across the region to supply a growing nation.

Kiama’s swift growth peaked in the late 1800s, as seen in many of the dates on heritage buildings around town.

Aboriginal Kiama Area

Aboriginal history in the area

Check out the Kiama Library page on First Nations Kiama as well as the early contact map of the Aboriginal people of the Illawarra. Discover fascinating facts and stories.

Did you know Minnamurra means ‘sheltered camping ground’ or ‘lots of fish?’ Learn the aboriginal names and their meaning for many attractions and locations.

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Saddleback Mountain - Historic Dry Stone Walls

Historic sites

After visiting the Pilot’s Cottage Museum head to the Terrace Houses in the Kiama township to catch a glimpse of a more recent past. These houses were originally built as housing for the local quarry workers in 1886. Or take a drive and see the historic dry stone walls covering many kilometres throughout the area, though the best examples can be seen up Saddleback Mountain Road.

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Kiama Railway Station 1st Train 1893

Digital Tours

For a virtual tour, download the Kiama Library Tours app and select the My Place Digital Tour of Kiama.

The Kiama library now has three walking apps available:

Lloyd Rees: the man, the landscape and his art
This tour introduces you to locations in Gerringong and the surrounds where celebrated landscape artist Lloyd Rees created his significant South Coast works.

My Place: a digital tour of Kiama
This tour guides you through life in Kiama in earlier years through the eyes and ears of its residents – both past and present.

Remembering Charmian Clift 
Their most recent walking tour app guides you to the many places in Kiama that influenced Charmian Clift – one of Kiama’s, and indeed Australia’s, most famous writers.

heritage walk

DIY History Opportunities

• Pick up a Heritage Walks brochure from the Visitor Information Centre to spot points of interest in Kiama, Gerringong  and Jamberoo.

• Take a visit to the Pilot’s Cottage at Blowhole Point (built in 1881). It is open Friday to Monday.

• You can trace your genealogy or discover local history at the Kiama Family History Centre on Railway Parade.