In November 1887, people gathered to watch Charles Jackson known as the ‘Australian Blondin’ walked across a tightrope, which was strung across the Blowhole. He had 3 attempts but the wind was too strong. Felix Tanner also crossed the blowhole and was reported doing so in 1891. He said it was his greatest feat.
Kiama has had quite a history as a place of entertainment from the earliest days of settlement. The town site was reserved in 1826, and only 23 years later in 1849 Kiama held its first agricultural show, showcasing the dairy produce, fruit, vegetables, grains, pork and poultry. Kiama also held regular town picnics in the 1860’s that included singing, dancing, hurling and throwing the sledge. Another important form of entertainment was horse racing. A race course was built at Woodstock, Jamberoo in 1867 and at Monkey Flat, Minnamurra in 1877, but races were held along Seven Mile Beach as early as 1860.
Sport is a great social occasion for many residents in the Kiama Municipality. Cricket has been a popular sport in Kiama from the mid 1850’s and rugby union has been played since the 1890’s. Kiama even boasted a skating rink in 1879, which was well attended by local youths. The public baths were an early addition to Kiama, with the men’s and ladies baths built by 1888 and a swimming club started in 1893. Two Lawn tennis courts were created in 1892 in the excavations left from the harbour works on Blowhole Point, and a golf course was laid out on Chapman Point in 1903.
With Kiama’s gorgeous beaches, both visitors and residents enjoyed swimming and surfing all year. Up to 1907 however, the Town Police Act meant fines could be issued to those caught swimming in view of a public place. John Holbrook was fined 10 shillings for bathing at Surf Beach in 1895. Despite demands for public surfing facilities, these weren’t made available until the Surf Bathers Club was started at Kendall’s Beach in 1908 and the Kiama Surf Club in 1912. By 1915 it was agreed that ‘the baths and surfing were the greatest pleasure of a holiday in Kiama’.
Local residents also had to deal with panicked horses, runaway buggies, cattle driving and horse racing along the Kiama Streets. The earliest days of Kiama were probably pretty wild, but by the 1860’s there were Church and school gatherings, picnics, sporting events, traveling entertainers and other social gatherings which all served to create community spirit. By the 1862 Kiama Census there was quite a local community with 5486 people living in the Municipality, with almost half of those under 15 years.
In the early years, the various churches provided the meeting places, social activities and sense of community for the number of small settlements scattered around the region. As the towns of Kiama, Jamberoo and Gerringong grew, new opportunities developed to meet the social needs of both the residents and the increasing number of visitors to the area. Rural communities would have welcomed travelling performers and picture shows, but many of the performances would have been by local talent.
School of Art halls were generally established early in the development of a township for the education of its members and the cultivation of literature, science and art for adults that may not have received much education as children. Jamberoo was the first town in the district to establish a School of Arts society in 1846 which became the Jamberoo Literary and Debating Society three years later. Gerringong was the first town in the district to build a School of Arts. The building on Blackwood St opened in 1883 and was the social hub of the Gerringong community, with dances, musicales and suppers. This building still stands today. The Jamberoo community built the School of Arts in 1896 and the citizens were very proud of their lovely building.
Kiama residents had to wait until the new century for their own School of Arts building, built next to the Post Office on Manning Street, it opened in 1901, and had a library operated by a citizens committee.