Taree – Culture and History
In 1770 when Captain Cook first sailed up the eastern coast of Australia he identified and named ‘The Brothers’, a group of three mountains – South, Middle and North Brother Mountains. At the time the Biripai, Ngamba and Worimi Aborigines were well established in the district and it is probably from them that the word ‘tareebit’, which supposedly is the name for a local fig tree, comes. The Aborigines lived off seafood and fish from the river as well as tropical fruits which they found in the rainforest which characterised most of the area.
The first European explorer to traverse the Manning River was John Oxley who explored the Manning Valley in 1818 and named the settlement of Harrington at the mouth of the Manning River.
The Manning River was well known to the government in Sydney by the mid-1820s. By 1824 it defined the northern boundary of the vast area of land (from Newcastle to Taree) which had been granted to the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1829 Governor Darling declared the Manning River the northern limit of settlement in the colony of New South Wales.
Cedar cutters moved into the area around this time. The first official land grant (a grant of 1037 hectares) in the district was made to William Wynter who arrived and settled in 1831. The modern township of Taree stands on this land. It was Wynter who gave his family home the name Tarree and subsequently named a schooner ‘Tarree’. The schooner was used for shipping cedar to Sydney and ports to the south of Taree.
By 1854 William Wynter’s son-in-law, a Scotsman named Henry Flett, had laid out a private town and was hoping that the town would develop into a major centre. This did not happen as the government had already decided on Wingham as the major centre because it was at the limit of navigation of the Manning River. Flett’s private town was eventually incorporated into Taree when the municipality was declared in 1885.
Although it was on the route from Sydney to Brisbane the town grew slowly – this was almost certainly due to its distance from the sea and the fact that sea transport was still the main form of transportation along the northern New South Wales coast until the 1930s.
The local Presbyterian Church was completed in 1869, the Court House was completed in 1897, the railway arrived in 1913 (this proved crucial to the development of the town as it gave Taree preference over Wingham) and a bridge, replacing the ferry, across the river was completed in the 1940s. By 1981 it had become a city.The bridge across the river, known as Martin Bridge, was opened by the Minister for Public Works in 1940. At the time the Newcastle Herald reported: ‘This is the story of men who have to yawn or blow through their noses for 17 minutes before they begin their daily work; who have to wave their heads and legs and arms about and exercise all their joints for 38 minutes before they finish.’ The article went on to explain that the men who built the bridge had to work in air where the pressure was 35 pounds to the square inch and that the cylinders which formed the legs of the bridge were sunk to a depth of 70 feet.
Now the Pacific Highway no longer uses this bridge. The highway has been relocated across Dumaresq Island and now bypasses Taree and Cundletown.
Today Taree is a successful rural centre sustained by a wide range of activities including dairying, a timber industry, leather goods and engineering works. The famous Australian poet, Les Murray, was educated at Taree High School.
Written by : Stuart Gregory