Early Dapto

Dapto main street looking northA Brief History of Dapto

Dapto is 95 rail kilometres south of Sydney in New South Wales on the western shore of Lake Illawarra, it is now part of the council area of the City of Wollongong.

The origin of the name 'Dapto'

The first known use of the word Dapto was by Surveyor Knapp in 1829 when he refers to Dapto Creek. It was suggested in 1893 that it was derived from a local aboriginal expression meaning 'plenty of water' referring to the large number of fresh water creeks in the area.

However there are various other ideas that it referred to a man cutting off his toe with an axe or from an aboriginal elder dabbing his toe in a churn of butter and hence being christened 'dab-toe'.

Take your pick.

First White Settlement

The first white men, ceder cutters, sailors and escaped convicts, settled in the Dapto area between 1810 and 1814. They lived in small huts constructed from the leaves of cabbage tree palms.

In 1817 Richard Brooks was given a land grant but didn’t actually live in the area. Henry Osborne was granted 2560 acres in 1829 which he called Marshall Mount after his wife Sarah’s maiden name.

George Brown was granted an initial 300 acres in 1833 covering the area now known as Brownsville. He built a windmill and an inn, the milling business must have been successful because later he built a steam driven mill. In 1841 he started a three times weekly coach service to Wollongong, the trip cost four shillings and took about an hour.

The first Dapto Agricultural show was held in Brownsville in 1857, the area originally being a wheat growing area but by the time of the show farmers were already moving from grain to dairying due to problems with the disease rust.

The Railway Arrives

Dapto Station built 1887Dapto Railway Station was opened in 1887 on the completion of the railway from Wollongong to North Kiama (now Bombo) and connected Dapto to Sydney. The station moved the centre of the town south to its present site as the railway attracted businesses to grow around it. The original wooden station building is still in use to this day.

The Lake Illawarra Harbour Scheme

The Illawarra Harbour and Land Corporation constructed a 5.5 mile railway from Fleming’s Mine in the escarpment down to the lake in anticipation of the Lake Illawarra harbour scheme which proposed dredging a 23 foot deep channel across the lake from the sea to Elizabeth Point (just north of Tallawarra Point). The railway was completed in December 1893 just as the scheme was dropped and it is suggested that apart from the official train on its opening day no train ever travelled its full length.

Smelter Railway cutting looking west from Fields StRemnants of the old railway line can still be seen. Where the line joined the main line to carry coal to the Smelter (see next) is still detectable off Marshall St - under the grass there is still some track and on the other side of the street is the remains of the timber yard the siding served after 1936. The original line continued down what is now Fowlers Rd.  Also visible is a cutting from Webb Park across Fields St and on to Kanahooka Rd where a section of the line served the smelter. There also appears to be another cutting on the eastern side of Bong Bong Rd about 800 metres south west of the junction with Shone Rd.

The Dapto Smelter

Dapto Smelter looking northIn 1895 The Smelting Co. of Australia Ltd opened a smelter at Brownsville treating copper, lead, silver, zinc and gold from Western Australia and Broken Hill. The harbour scheme railway supplied the smelter with coke from the coke works at the junction of the Mt Kembla line and Princes Highway as the local mine’s coal was not thought suitable. For 10 years Dapto prospered, at its peak the smelter employed 400 - 500 men (200 living in tents along Kanakooka Rd), until competition forced the smelter to close in 1905. (Even now the deeds to my house forbid me from using my land for the purposes of a smelter or complaining about the emissions from one - see note at bottom of page.) Dapto’s prosperity slumped as people (and houses) moved to be near the new harbour at Port Kembla.

The smelter site is now under a new housing estate and the last remains of the old buildings were bulldozed for this development. One has to wonder how toxic is the soil in this area.

In the mid 1970s the population of Dapto was about 16000, today it is one of the most rapidly expanding suburbs in the Illawarra as the pastures of West Dapto succumb to the blight of brick veneer. The eventual population will be up to 50000


The Old Dapto Smelting Works - Rev Brother P. O’Malley

Nineteenth Century Dapto - W.G. McDonald

NB: the Certificate of Title (1925) to my land in the central area of Dapto says in part "and being part of 500 acres (portion 19 of Parish) delineated in the Public Map of the said Parish in the Department of Lands originally granted to George Brown by Crown Grant dated the first day of May One thousand eight hundred and thirty three".

This was not the same George Brown of Brownsville though it may have been a cousin, the original estate was known as Daisy Bank. [In one one of those odd coincidences the place I spent my early childhood in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire was also called 'Daisy Bank'] Before the grant was issued it had been sold to Richard Brooks, it eventually passed to Henry Osborne who sold it to his brother Alick.

The title also has the following conditions:

  1. That no portion of the lands hereby transferred shall be used for any purpose of refining reduction or smelting works for the reduction of any metallic ores or any other like purposes.

  2. That no objection shall at any time hereafter be made or proceedings of any nature instituted by any person having interest in any land hereby transferred in respect of the presence or effect of any smoke or other exhalation whatsoever resulting from the treatment of minerals or metals by any process on any land within a radius of seven miles from the land hereby transferred.

So nearly one hundred years later the old Dapto Smelter is still remembered!

Copyright © Bruce Lloyd 2005

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