Potato Point, New South Wales

Around the rocks at Potato Point

We’ve had a wonderful week at the beach house, enjoying the company of family and friends. Daughter Libby and son-in-law Daniel came for New Year’s Eve, along with Daniel’s mum and stepdad, Kaye and Elmar.

Then Derrick and Anne arrived from the UK. A few years back, we travelled with Derrick for two months in South America.

So we thought it was important to show the visitors some great scenery and a good time. Libby and Daniel suggested Potato Point and I had to admit it had been years since I was there.

It was the perfect choice. We started at Jemison’s Beach, known for its rough seas and wild winds. Waves were hammering the beach, expanding an already large sand cliff.  It was a reminder that Mother Nature is boss. We walked north along the beach to the actual Potato Point.

Mother Nature attacks the sand dunes

Mother Nature attacks the sand dunes

The village of Potato Point (population about 135) is surrounded by the Eurobodalla National Park. Its name comes from the Brice family. They grew vegetables and potatoes there, and rowed them out to ships standing off the point for transport to the Sydney market.

But the more important and long-lasting history of the area is its connection to the Aborigines. The Yuin are considered to be the traditional owners of the region.

I was moved by a remarkable story written by Noel Perry. It recounts, from an Aboriginal point of view, the 1797 landing by explorer and whaler George Bass. I found it online and can’t see that it is copyrighted, so here it is.

Looking down on Jemison Beach

Looking down on Jemison Beach

Aboriginal view of the George Bass landing
‘Travelling south during an expedition which resulted in the discovery of Port Phillip Bay, George Bass stayed overnight at Tuross.

‘On the evening of Saturday, December 16, 1797, his whale boat stood off a point of land which he named Marka Point, the place now known as Potato Point. The next day he landed and walked to what we call Tuross Lake. For someone on his way to test the existence or otherwise of a sea lane between the Pacific and Indian oceans, this break in his journey was but an interlude. He recorded that the area was waterless and empty of human inhabitants.

‘However, to the people whose territory it was, the arrival of a whale boat under sail was a most dramatic event. Fifty years later, when Cooral, an Aboriginal friend, told it to him, a resident of Moruya wrote their version down.

Potato Point in New South WalesPotato Point in New South Wales

Approaching Potato Point

‘When George Bass and his crew dropped anchor, Cooral, then a young boy, was asleep with his tribe on the cliff above the beach. At dawn, when everybody woke up, they were dismayed to see an enormous white thing just out to sea, its wings spread as if for flight. After a hasty discussion they decided that a monster bird of some unearthly kind had come to pick them up like a hawk does its prey.

‘They fled in terror. They did not stop until they sank exhausted in a gully of the stony creek near what we call Coila. Even there they did not feel safe, for who knew if the great white bird was not hovering above them ready to strike, and they had nothing with which to defend themselves. In their panic they had left all their possessions, all their weapons and their food, behind them on the cliff top. The elders were the first to think beyond fright. They decided that a look-out should be posted to watch the lake and the bravest of the tribe should go back to see what had happened at their camp site.

Potato Point, New South Wales, Australia

‘While everyone else crouched in silence, tired and hungry, a courageous little group returned to the sea. Concealing themselves, they paused near the springs and scanned the horizon.There was nothing unusual to see. The monster was no longer there. After much debate they agreed they should walk along the beach to see if the great winged thing had molested their camp site. Creeping cautiously along the high tide mark they bunched together when their leader suddenly stopped.

‘On the sand were unmistakable signs of a canoe of some strange make having been pulled out of the water. Stranger still, there were prints of human feet and beside them others so weird as to be unbelievable. Footprints of two-legged creatures, without toes, prints such as they had never seen before. Despite their fear they tracked the prints of the toeless creatures. But when the prints led towards the place where the tribe was hiding their dread intensified. The one thought that now possessed their minds was that some further horror had come among them. With all speed they hastened back to warn the others.

Potato Point looking north

Potato Point looking north

Birds congregate on Potato Point

Birds congregate on Potato Point

‘This further news caused more consternation and panic. Not only was the tribe at the mercy of a great bird which might swoop down on them at any moment, but now mysterious toeless beings were coming towards them on land. They spent the day crouched under the trees. At night they huddled together for warmth. They had no fire, no food, no possum rugs to cover themselves and no weapons with which to defend” themselves. It is no wonder that an old man could remember with such detail all that happened during that terrible time. He could not recall how long they stayed there, but at last hunger and cold won over terror. The brave ones once more went back to the camp.

Dead blue bottle

An offending blue bottle. Hope this one didn’t sting anyone

‘At last they reached the campsite. Nothing seemed to have been touched. Food and dilly bags still hung from the trees, weapons and rugs lay about undisturbed. They hastened to tell the others. Slightly reassured but still fearful, the tribe went back. They ate, collected their possessions, and then moved to another place. The big white bird was never seen again and there were no more sightings of toeless footprints. Life gradually returned to normal. By the time Cooral and his peers attained manhood they had heard of similar happenings far to their north and of the coming of the spirits of men, turned white.

‘George Bass had recorded the area as uninhabited. To him it was just one more uneventful day. Yet the memory of that momentous episode, the terror, the courage, so impressed the mind of a young boy that 60 years later he could still remember it in vivid detail.’

P.S. Here’s a pic of a blue bottle (sometimes known as a Portuguese Man ‘o War). The east coast of Australia has been overwhelmed by them this year. There have been 13,000 reported stings in the last two weeks.

Potato Point, New South Wales

Lovely view of Potato Point. Derrick is in the orange t-shirt. Photo by Daniel Veryard

 

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