Thursday, 12 July 2012


The Aboriginal name for Shellhabour has been recorded as both Yerrowah (meeting place), and Wonwin, (place where there were big fish). The Eurpoean name Shellharbour refers to the large quanitites of shells found in Aboriginal middens along the foreshore in the early to mid 19th century. Due to the mining of shells in the mid 19th century for the production of lime these vast middens no longer remain. 

Shellharbour City falls within the tribal area Wodi Wodi (or Wadi Wadi); a subdivision of a larger tribal grouping called the Dharawal (Thuruwal) which extends from the southern side of Botany Bay to the Jervis Bay area.

The Wodi Wodi are known to have camped in several locations throughout the city including Tullimbar (Tongarra), Macquarie Rivulet, Peterborough (Shellharbour Village), Long Point (Bass Point), Lake Illawarra and Minnamurra. Sites in Shellharbour with particular Aboriginal cultural significance include locations where there were camps and settlements, hunting, fishing and gathering grounds, burial grounds and story places.

It has been proposed the Wodi Wodi remained on the coastal plains during the warmer months; taking advantange of abundant marine resources. In the cool winter months they moved to  higher ground and rock shelters closer to the escarpment. Lake Illawarra was used as a good food source throughout the year.

According to reminisences by EH Weston dating from the 1860s, Tullimbar was a powerful elder of the Aboriginal people who lived in the Macquarie Valley. Tullimbar visited Mr Weston's farm every Saturday for flour, sugar and tobacco. He lived to a great age but in later years lost his sight. Members of his clan would tie him to a stake driven into the gound to ensure his safety at night. One night when he was cold, he came loose from the stake and accidently rolled into the fire. Sadly he was so badly burnt he died the following day.

Perhaps the most photographed Aborigine in New South Wales was Mickey Johnston. Mickey was born in Port Stephens about 1834 and arrived in the area as a young boy. He joined the local tribe in his adult years. Mickey's wife Rosie is believed to have been a Wodi Wodi tribal member. She was with Mickey by the 1860s and supported him in his dealings with the growing Eurpoean community in Shellharbour. Like Mickey, Rosie was a communicator and somehow managed to bridge the gap between the two communities.

The local Wodi Wodi  clan was known to have camped at Bass Point during the summer months when Clorinda and Samuel Atchison farmed there in the late 1800s. Clorinda often spoke to her family of times when Rosie Johnston would bring members of the tribe to her; to dress their sores and wounds. Rosie was also very fond of Clorinda's baked custards.

The local community recognised Mickey and Rosie's standing as noted by Mickey's coronation in 1896 at the Wollongong Show where he was crowned King Mickey; however no recognition was given to him or the Wodi Wodi tribe in terms of land, hunting ground or water supply. They were pushed out on to land that no European settlers had claimed.

It was reported that Mickey Johnston on the occasion of his crowning at the Wollongong Show was asked whether or not he had been invited to attend the coronation of King Edward VII in London. Mickey replied that he had not, however he was not expecting an invitation as he had not invited the King to his own coronation.

Members of the public built a small furnished cabin at Minnamurra for Rosie in her old age. Mickey died in 1906 from pneumonia at his Minnamurra camp aged 72 and Rosie died in 1923.

Shellharbour City Council Area Aboriginal Heritage Study June 2000.

Organ, Michael 1993. Illawarra and South Coast Aborigines 1770-1900, Aboriginal Education Unit, The University of Wollongong.

Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

Mickey Johnston
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

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