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.
Parish of Calderwood County of Camden
One of the first references to the name Dapto was in instructions issued to Surveyor Knapp on 10 April 1829. Knapp was instructed "to survey ten 100 acre lots for veterans on Dapto Creek". In 1833 George Brown received a grant of 300 acres south of Mullet Creek. George Brown transferred the Ship Inn from Wollongong to Mullet Creek Farm in 1834 and thereby established the nucleus of Dapto.
With the coming of the railway in 1887, however, the centre of the township was moved south and the original Dapto, where the inn was located, later became known as Brownsville. A new town began to grow up around the station attracting businesses and services from Brownsville and other nearby settlements. The name Dapto is said to be an aboriginal word either from "Dabpeto" meaning "water plenty", or from "tap-toe" which described the way a lame aboriginal chief walked. The aborigines called the area "Mookoonburro" meaning "grub".
- Richard Brooks (Exmouth 1300 acres)
- George Brown (Mullet Creek Farm - 300 acres)
- George Brown (Daisy Bank - 500 acres)
- Episcopalian School (23 acres)
Richard Brooks and "Exmouth"
Richard Brooks was one of the first five land grantees in the Illawarra. Governor Macquarie gave a grant of 1300 acres to him on January 17, 1817. The property was named "Exmouth". Local aboriginal people also knew the property as "Koonawarra".
George Brown - See Brownsville - History
After an unsuccessful attempt at wheat growing in the 1850s, Dapto embraced the dairy industry. Henry Osborne had a good herd of cattle in the 1840s and was one of the aristocracy of early dairying in the Illawarra.
Judge McFarland, in "Illawarra and Monaro" described dairy farming as practised in the 1870s at Dapto and Avondale as being better than the standard practised in the rest of the Illawarra. The farms were described as cultivated and properly cared for and managed, the fences good, the pasturage excellent and the homesteads trim and orderly.
In 1887 the railway opened and a butter factory was established. The Country Milk Company sent down two separators for the factory. A milk depot adjoining Dapto station was built three years later and the cream was separated and sent to Sydney. By the beginning of 1892 there were up to two milk trains daily.
The opening of the Illawarra Railway began to transform Dapto. The town centre shifted south to where the new station was located between the two old township centres. The new town attracted services and businesses from both the old centres.
By the time the railway was opened the Smelting Company of Australia Ltd. was formed. With backing from overseas capital, it established a large smelting works in Dapto. The annual report of the Engineering Association of New South Wales in 1897 makes reference to the Dapto Smelting Works. "It refers to three large floors each capable of holding 4000 tons of ore. Two copper blast furnaces were being erected….Telephonic communication had been installed as was also electric light – the works being the first in Australia to enjoy the latter amenity." (O'Malley, 1950)
The works were in full operation by 1899 and were prosperous for the next few years. They treated lead, silver, zinc, copper and gold from Broken Hill, Zeehan, Mount Morgan and Western Australia. At one stage the smelting works employed 500 men.
In 1905 the works closed due to a lack of ore from Western Australia. The company was reconstructed and began to shift its works to Port Kembla the next year. (McDonald, 1976; Cousins. 1994; O'Malley, 1950)
Dapto township was transformed by the arrival of the railway. On the 9th November 1887 the section of rail from Wollongong to North Kiama was opened and with it Dapto station.
The station was located away from the crossing of Mullet Creek as the ground was considered too low, swampy and subject to flooding. It was set up on firmer ground to the south between the two old township centres.
A new town grew up around the station. A right of way, which was used for cattle, was transformed into Bong Bong Street and it was extended west to link up with the older Bong Bong Road from Brownsville to the pass.
The first Wollongong to Dapto road was described in 1894. "It then ran through Wyllie’s flats till it crossed Mullet Creek by a ford…From Mullet Creek to Macquarie River the old track and the present Main South Coast Road are practically the same, the duck holes that were there then being there still. The West Dapto Road branched off the old Dapto Road where Kembla Grange station now stands, and ran through the veterans’ grants." (McDonald, 1976.)
262-268 Princes Highway, Dapto
This house and its surrounds have a high level of architectural integrity that is rare in the Dapto area. It is weatherboard with wide verandahs on two sides and has a corrugated metal roof. It has architectural, aesthetic and historic significance.
Dapto is located on the western shore of Lake Illawarra a valuable natural resource and habitat for local wildlife.
Lake Illawarra is a shallow coastal lagoon approximately 31 square kilometres in area. The lake has approximately 39 kilometres of shoreline, very little of it remaining natural. It is predominantly an urban lake with 68% of the shoreline covered in urban or industrial development. The wetland areas of the lake provide habitats that are used extensively by waterbirds.
The following are some of the species found on the lake:
- Musk Ducks
- Hoary-headed Grebes
- Black Swans
- Black Ducks
- Grey Teal Ducks
Mullet Creek contributes to areas of sand and mud flats which gives rise to large concentrations of waders during summer. These mud flats are important feeding areas for these species.
Very little natural forest remains around the lake, where it does it is generally degraded from its natural condition. Most of this vegetation is composed of the swamp she-oak Casuarina glauca. (Mills, Kevin. 1983.)
To the west of Dapto lies the Illawarra escarpment. It ranges in elevation from 220 metres at Garie in the north to over 600 metres at Barren Grounds in the south. The cliffline of the escarpment is formed of Hawkesbury Sandstone up to 130 metres thick. Although rainforest was widespread on the escarpment, there were only a few areas where contiguous rainforest "brush" occurred. During a visit in 1836, Backhouse commented on a walk:
"….to the top of a conical, basaltic hill (probably Marshall Mount) and had a view of Illawarra Lake, the sea, the mountains in the western back-ground, topped by sandstone crags, emerging from the boundless forest, and at the intervening plain, some parts of which are naturally clear." (Mills,K. Jakeman, J. 1995)
The natural vegetation of the Dapto area was drier grassy woodlands and was described in 1857 as being cleared cultivated and lightly timbered.