Local history

The Aboriginal people called this area Bongil Bongil, ‘a place where one stayed a long time’ because of the ready supply of food available; animals, birds, fish and shellfish.\

The main camp was near the ridge overlooking Bonville Creek, about where the Lyons Road – Banool Street junction now occurs. Perhaps 200 people camped there and food-gathering expeditions went out along Bonville and Boambee creeks, the headlands, the swampy areas and the open flats in between.

Runaway convicts from the settlement now called Brisbane, sometimes entered the area in the 1840’s and 1850’s, but it was not until 1861 that the first serious interest was taken in the place as a site for settlement. This was when a party of surveyors was sent to select a government Reserve. They chose a large area on both sides of Bongil creek (Bonville Creek). This was the origin of our present Reserve.

During the 1860’s, Walter Harvey arrived as the first settler. He used the area as a grazing run for his bullocks, which dragged the cedar that he cut in the stands of forest inland, down to the streams to be floated to Repton for shipping to Sydney. Harvey has left  us a detailed report of a tribal fight, involving some 500 aborigines, which he saw on the ridge east of the present Sawtell School site, probably in 1865 or 1866.

William Bayldon selected land in the area, through which Lyons Road now runs, in 1871. He called the property Boambi, which was the call made by Aboriginal hunters when driving wallaby. Bayldon also suggested the name change from Bongil to Bonville. That family name is now used to identify the sub-division to the north of Lyons Road.

The first settlers, like those in other places, suffered loneliness and hardship. Those on Boambi did not stay long and some knew tragedy and despair.

Some time about 1880, Boambi was bought by a Mr Lyon. He had dug on the property a deep well that was used to provide water for the few settlers from inland, who began to use the Reserve for holidays.

John England selected the land north of the Reserve, where Sawtell town centre now stands, in 1907. He intended to graze cattle, but too many stock were stolen, so he sold out in the early 1920s for 500 pounds.

The buyer of that property was Oswald Sawtell, who gave his name to the settlement he created when he sub-divided part of his land for building blocks. The first sub-division became what is now the town centre of Sawtell.

Unfortunately, there was little prosperity evident in this area at the time of sub-division. The Depression of the Thirties was looming. Most of the buildings were little more than shacks which were inexpensive to build and could be rented cheaply.

Since 1910, more and more people have taken up residence while others holiday in Sawtell especially during the Christmas-New Year period, when hundreds of visitors came to the town.

*Thanks to Pam Worland for supplying us with this fabulous history of Sawtell along with the accompanying pictures.