Port Stephens' lost jewel Myall Point is again attracting attention for the role it played in stabilising the Myall River

It was called Myall Point, a piece of Port Stephens paradise where the water sparkled like sapphire, the breeze was warm and the fish were fat and plentiful.

Maps dating from 1795 show this lost jewel of the Hunter’s coastline was a scrub-laden sandpit that jutted out more than a kilometre into the port.

Today, all that remains of Myall Point, which disappeared in Easter 1927, are maps and memories.

But the landmark, which is thought to have existed for several thousand years, has come back into focus in the past decade as part of the debate about the best way to prevent siltation at the mouth of the Myall River.

Probably the last person with a living memory of Myall Point is 96-year-old Norm Cruickshank who remembers magical summer holidays at nearby Winda Woppa - a place where hundreds of weary coalfields miners and their families flocked to spend precious holidays at the at the turn of last century.

“There weren’t a lot of settled areas to have a holiday at. You had a tent and heap of kids, maybe half a dozen of you. You put your tent up at Winda Woppa,” he said.

“Old Harry had a four-oared boat tied to the shore that could carry 10 or 15 people. The miners used to say to Harry ‘any chance we can have a lend of your rowing boat so a crowd of us can go fishing and have a picnic at Myall Point?”

It may have been a magnet for holiday-makers, but Myall Point also featured at least three permanent dwellings and a lighthouse.

Among them was a timber cottage built by Swedish immigrant Francis Holbert in the late 1800s.

Ninety six-year-old Norm Cruickshank remembers holidaying at Myall Point. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Ninety six-year-old Norm Cruickshank remembers holidaying at Myall Point. Photo: Simon McCarthy

The cottage’s sandstone heath still remains under a metre of water and sand. While there is no photographic evidence, legend has it that the hearth still appears in the water like a ghostly apparition following large storms.

Francis Holbert’s great grandson and Tea Gardens resident Owen Holbert tells one such story about the day the ashes of his father’s brother were scattered on the water in 1959.

“They took his launch and went to spread his ashes where he was born and grew up on Myall Point,” he said.

“The launch had a very steady engine and they steamed backwards and forwards over where the block was meant to be but couldn’t find it. Suddenly the launch stopped and they looked over the side and there was the stone. There’s a bit of mystery there.”

Myall Point’s tiny community relocated across the river to Corrie Island following the destruction of their homes in 1927.

Ironically one of the lost dwellings, lot number DP1056904, is still registered as a valid holding with the NSW Office of Lands.

But the east coast low of Easter 1927 caused possibly even more damage.

“It was a category 5 cyclone with winds of 175 kilometres an hour,” Environmental scientist and Tea Gardens Historical Society president Garry Worth said.

“Bulahdelah up the Myall River got 500 millimetres of rain in the nine days from the 15th to the 24th of April. The point was lost late in the storm so the river would have had time to rise. The hydraulic pressure from the river would have destablised the sand.”

“There has been nothing that I know of that has been quite as dramatic as this. It really takes your breath away from a geomorphological point of view; this was really something and all of a sudden it’s gone.”    

Francis Holbert’s great grandson and Tea Gardens resident Owen Holbert, who remembers the story of the day the ashes of his father’s brother were scattered on the water in 1959. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Francis Holbert’s great grandson and Tea Gardens resident Owen Holbert, who remembers the story of the day the ashes of his father’s brother were scattered on the water in 1959. Photo: Simon McCarthy

While debate rages about the best way to manage the complex interplay of shifting sands, winds and currents that swirl around the mouth of the Myall River, all agree the waterway has not been the same since Myall Point was lost.

“I can remember being here in the 60s and 70s when there was a deep water channel still there but it was gradually starting to close over,” Gordon Grainger, who retired to Tea Gardens after being a regular holiday maker over several decades, said.

“As the river sand was moving across the mouth it meant that the oceanic water wasn’t getting into the river system and we noticed a big change in the habitats, the different types of fish and the colour of the water and the salinity levels went to a point where we had 13 oyster people go out of business.”

Along with other locals who were concerned about the area’s deteriorating water quality, Grainger helped form the Myall River Action Group a decade ago in an attempt to get the river mouth dredged.

Environmental scientist Garry Worth says it is unlikely Myall Point would reform naturally in its original position, but said a similar point was forming elsewhere along the coast. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Environmental scientist Garry Worth says it is unlikely Myall Point would reform naturally in its original position, but said a similar point was forming elsewhere along the coast. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Their community-based campaign bore fruit in 2015 when $2.7million was spent dredging the main channel resulting in an immediate improvement of water quality upstream.

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A sand transfer system to pump sand from adjacent to the channel to Jimmy’s Beach, two kilometres away is also presently under construction.

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Despite the achievements of the past decade, Mr Grainger believes there is a case to rebuild Myall Point.

“If Myall Point was rebuilt it would be a natural barrier against the sea movement. It would then stop a lot of the movement up river in the sand.  Even here [in Tea Gardens], there used to be mud flats and now they are sand flats,” he said.

“It would also be well worth it in terms of ferry and boat times - ferries would save over 20 mins each journey, imagine that just in terms of fuel.”

Jan Winn has written a four books on the history of Tea Gardens and of Myall Point. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Jan Winn has written a four books on the history of Tea Gardens and of Myall Point. Photo: Simon McCarthy

Recent aerial photographs of Port Stephens show a sand mass similar to Myall Point may be forming off the end of Corrie Island. The area was even labelled “Myall Point” in a 1977 hydrographic survey of the port.

As for the original Myall Point reforming naturally, Garry Worth is sceptical.

“There is no evidence that it is likely to at this stage, but change could occur and it might again.”

“There would have to be an enormous amount of sand to build the point and that sand comes from out in the ocean, the northward drift along the coast from Sydney. At some stage that would have be blown into the Port and built up to form the point.”

This story Remembering the lost jewel of Port Stephens first appeared on Newcastle Herald.