Kiama: a brief history
Picturesque Kiama is known for the rolling green hills and dairy farms. Before settlement the area was covered in dense vegetation with the famed cedar as well as cabbage tree palms, sassafras, creepers and vines. The Kiama town site was reserved in 1826 and the town plan was approved by the Governor in 1839. The town plan was designed without knowledge of the area, considerations for pioneer tracks or the terrain. We are all familiar with the steep streets of Kiama. Imagine trying to get up one of these streets when merely muddy, overgrown tracks with horse and cart.
At the time of the first land sales, in 1840, the town site was still covered with the sub-tropical rainforest that once covered this entire region.
Kiama of early the 1860's would not have had the same village appeal that we see today. The roads were rough, muddy and lined with flimsily constructed timber buildings. The town water supply was from the stream that followed Terralong St, through Hindmarsh Park to the ocean. Horse and cart transported water to homes and businesses from the town well created from this stream.
Getting to Kiama was a time consuming affair. Visitors could arrive via a regular steamer to the Harbour, a track from the north via a punt over the Minnamurra River (1858), a mud-track between Jamberoo and Kiama, and an equally poor road south to Gerringong. The hilly terrain and road conditions would have meant any travel around the district a well as further afield would have been very difficult. The only buildings of note were the Methodist Church in Manning St (1950), Anglican Christ Church (1856) and the Court House (1861). There were plenty of businesses however, often set up in the front room of the family home. Kiama of 1860 boasted churches, schools, a Post Office (est 1841), court house, tailors, drapers and haberdashery, boot maker, blacksmith, wheelwright, breweries, two commercial banks and the first newspaper, the Kiama Examiner (1858). Catalogues from Sydney would have been used for any other requirements. Of course there were also plenty of Inns and hotels, and the majority of court cases heard were the result of drunkenness. One case heard in 1863, was Mr Humphreys caught running around Jamberoo in complete nudity whilst drunk. One week’s imprisonment was the sentence.
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.