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Port Stephens Economy

Port Stephens Economy

From about 1816 onward, Port Stephens was a centre of activity, through the operations of cedar getters. By 1823 the industry was well established in the district and vessels were visiting the port to load cedar for direct shipment to England.

Agriculture began in the 1820’s with the establishment of the Australian Agricultural Company on the northern side of the harbour at Carrington, and with Captain William Cromarty on the southern side in the areas now known as Soldiers Point and Salamander Bay. The Australian Agricultural Company took up a million acre grant that stretched from the northern shores of the Port to the Manning River and inland, and used the waterway to ship employees, convicts, sheep, cattle and goods north from Sydney to its ‘Tahlee’ headquarters. The historic building erected there is now a Bible Study Centre.

The fishing industry began in the early 1800’s with the arrival of groups of Chinese fishermen at Nelson Bay. These groups were not permanent for every so often they would return to China. However, as soon as one lot returned another came to take its place.

In the late 1880’s the fishing activities of the Chinese were gradually discontinued, though the fishing industry in Port Stephens was continued by the Europeans. Unlike the Chinese the market for the European fishermen was for fresh fish. This posed several problems, and prevented the industry from prospering in this area. Port Stephens was too remote from any of the big markets and transport to the markets, when it was available, was rather expensive. An asset to the fishing industry in more recent years was the erection and opening in 1956 of the Fishermen’s Co-operative sheds in Nelson Bay. These sheds were equipped with refrigeration – a thing unheard of in the early days.

The Royal Navy when handing over to the newly created Australian Navy in 1911 gave advice that 3,000 acres of land around Soldiers Point, Salamander & Corlette should be reserved for a Naval Base. The Navy failed to establish a base at Salamander Bay and the land once held for this purpose was transferred to Port Stephens Council via the State Government in the 1970s. Residential and Resort projects with their related shops and services were then allowed to develop on this valuable piece of real estate. Development and sales placed the Council in a strong financial position and this development continues today.

The world’s first black marlin caught with rod and reel was off Port Stephens in February 1913. The skeleton of this fish is now in the Australian Museum, Sydney. A game fishing Club was formed at Bundabah in 1929, and by 1935 a separate Clubhouse was erected at Shoal Bay, and the two clubs merged in 1939. This building became the Headquarters for “HMAS Assault” during 1943-44, and later the Shoal Bay Country Club. The largest inter club fishing contest in Australia is now held each March by the Newcastle and Port Stephens Game Fish Club from the Nelson Bay facilities.

Along with the fishing industry grew the oyster industry. Though the industry existed for many years it did not really develop until the early 1920’s when the true oyster cultivation potential of the Port was realised. Oyster cultivation on timber racks constructed from mangrove sticks was developed, particularly in the north-western corner in and near the Karuah River. This area also built a reputation for the quality of its product. Today Port Stephens has a thriving oyster industry with over 120 leases producing both Pacific and Sydney Rock Oysters. Oyster spat is collected on bundles of sticks where they feed for a time on microscopic plankton brought to them on the tide. Six months on, and 1cm larger, the sticks are then moved onto a lease for further growth, thus ensuring that all oysters on these sticks are the same age. It takes 3 years to grow an oyster to marketable size.

Raymond Terrace was a busy river port from the 1830s, which saw many travelers heading further north start their overland treks from the town. Sawmilling, boat building and dairying became important industries. The centre had the range of trades and services then needed for such a village community. Most buildings from the late 19th century onwards were of local timbers.

The Municipality of Raymond Terrace was established in 1884, and the Shire of Port Stephens in 1906. The Councils of Raymond Terrace and Port Stephens were amalgamated in 1937, with administration remaining in the more readily accessible Raymond Terrace.

Many families made destitute during the Great Depression (1929-1933) set up simple dwellings in remote waterside locations and around the shores of Port Stephens was one such place. Here they survived by fishing and growing vegetables.

In 1939 the American Masonite Company opened the first hardboard factory in Australia at Raymond Terrace and still operates as the ‘Weathertex’ factory today. It was the first large industrial company in Port Stephens Shire and employed up to 500 people at its peak with many employees coming from outlying areas.

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