Page Sections: Land grants | Early residents | Early industry | Early transport | Historic buildings | Environment | Timeline | Bibliography
Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land
Local communities of Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants and Traditional Custodians of Illawarra Land. Their dialect is a variant of the Dharawal language. Before European settlement, the Aboriginal people of the region lived in small family groups with complicated social structures and close associations with specific areas. Suburb boundaries do not reflect the cultural boundaries of the local Aboriginal community. Traditional Custodians today are descendants of the original inhabitants and have ongoing spiritual and cultural ties to the Land and waterways where their ancestors lived.
Primbee - History
The source of the name Primbee is uncertain. Farms in the area were owned in the 1860's by James Stewart, David James and Thomas Griffin. An 1893 map for the Parish of Wollongong shows the bay off Purry Burry Point as Primbee Bay. The area was subdivided and the land was offered for sale in 1919, not as Primbee but as "The Lake Suburb".
One resident of the area in the 1920's recalled that "I came to Primbee in 1920....My parents were one of the first to buy property, when the estate was cut up. It was called Lake Suburb Estate at the time. I don't known how it came to be called Primbee. No one here was asked or told. It just came".
This area was a farming and dairy farming district in the 1860's.
In 1863 land was purchased in the area by Richard Robinson Bothwick, James Stewart, David James and Thomas Griffin.
Further purchases were made in 1867 by Eugene Dominique Nicolle, Michael O'Donnell, Patrick Fitzgerald and the Bank of New South Wales. (Reflections of Primbee, 1987)
An 1884 Parish Map shows land in Primbee owned by Thomas Griffin, John Stewart, Eugene Nicolle, Francis Axam, M Shannon and the Bank of New South Wales. (Parish of Wollongong map 1884, 2nd ed.)
Eugene Dominique Nicolle (1824-1909)
Eugene Nicolle is remembered as a pioneering engineer. He worked with Thomas Sutcliffe Mort in the development of refrigeration in Australia during the 1860s and 1870s. He designed the first freezing plant built by the Fresh Food and Ice Company and built the first plant for extracting kerosene from shale at Lithgow.
In 1867 Eugene Nicolle purchased approximately 160 acres of land in the Primbee area as an investment. In 1878 Nicolle move from Sydney to live on his land at Primbee. He built a residence called 'Whiteheath' "on a high sandy ridge with a panoramic view to the west towards Lake Illawarra and the Illawarra escarpment." Apart from some time spent on overseas visits, Nicolle resided at Primbee for the remaining thirty years of his life. (Organ & Turnidge, 1999)
Nicolle was 54 years old when he first settled at Lake Illawarra. While living at Whiteheath he spent a great deal of time in his workshop laboratory which was stocked with lathes, drills, and a blast furnace. He experimented with various machines and worked on his inventions and scientific studies.
'Esperanza' was built on the estate at Primbee. Esperanza was built 100 yards to the south-east of Whiteheath on the crest of Primbee hill. Work on this unique home commenced in 1890 and was completed in 1892. (Reflections of Primbee, 1987; Organ & Turnidge, 1999).
Stanley Nicolle initially followed in his father's footsteps, pursuing a career in engineering. He was educated at Camden College and Mr Sotheby's, Throsby Park, Moss Vale. On leaving school he spent some time at Mort's Dock, Sydney, training for his chosen profession. He married Catherine C. Watt in 1892 and moved to Primbee in 1895 to be near his father. He remained at Primbee until about 1924 when he moved to Wollongong. He died in Wollongong in 1929.
Abundant amounts of fish and prawns were to be had in the lake around 1914 but the fishing industry failed to thrive. There was simply no market for the produce. Local fishermen claimed they could catch 15-20 cases of prawns and fish per night. The catch then had to be boxed and iced, transported by horse and cart to Wollongong, and then railed to Sydney. In 1933 the return for 30lb of fish was only 6 shillings. Local fish hawkers sold their produce door to door.
In 1925 the Berkeley Fish Co-operative opened. This proved to be of huge benefit to the local fishermen. In about 1945 a fishing co-operative opened at Primbee. A sawmill operated in the early days near where the Port Kembla Golf Course is now situated. (Reflections on Primbee, 1987)
In 1914 the only transport was horse and cart. A 'sheep fence' was constructed to contain livestock on Eugene Nicolle's property. The fence continued down into the water in Nicolle Road. Local residents had to open several gates to enter Primbee.
When the lake was closed and flooding occurred access was over the Tom Thumb bridge which linked Port Kembla and Wollongong, or via the Steelworks along an old track and over the bridge at Allens Creek.
The first road to be laid through Primbee was begun in 1932 and completed in 1934. Before 1938 there was no public transport. After the Windang bridge was opened in 1937 a daily public bus service ran from Shellharbour to Wollongong. (Reflections of Primbee, 1987)
Primbee - Historic buildings
Address: 27 Jones Avenue, Primbee
Built 1889/1890. Fine Victorian style bungalow with two interesting gables each with fine fretted barge boards. It is constructed of weatherboard with bay windows and an iron roof. It has a verandah around three sides. The verandah has delicate iron-lace railings with cast iron verandah posts
Esperanza was built by the Nicolle family. Originally there was a three roomed wing in the front but this had to be pulled down later due to white ant infestation. The name Esperanza is a Spanish word meaning "House of the Wanderers".
Esperanza was purchased by Vince O'Donnell in 1937 and it is still in his family. (Ali, 1981; Organ & Turnidge, 2000)
Primbee - Environment
Primbee is a residential suburb situated on the Windang Peninsula between Lake Illawarra and the Korrongulla Swamp. The Windang Peninsula consists almost entirely of unconsolidated Quaternary beach and dune sands. The large hill at Primbee, however, consists of Budgong Sandstone, a Member of the Permian Shoalhaven Group. Budgong Sandstone is a red-brown to grey volcanic sandstone.
The Korrongulla Swamp is a freshwater wetland. It contains stands of swamp paperbark and small pockets of rare coastal rainforest. This rainforest is an important sanctuary for birdlife in the area. Bird species sited in the area include the Little Grebe, Australian Pelican, Little Pied Cormorant, White Ibis, Black Duck, Australia Pipit and the Dusky Moorhen
Since 1970 this area has been used for sand mining and waste disposal. Sand has been removed from the site and the area has been refilled with industrial waste such as slag. Residents of Primbee have been involved in legal actions in the Land and Environment Court to protect this area from mining. (Korrongulla Swamp Development Environmental Impact Statement, 1982)