Killalea Reserve is famous for its surfing, but did you know it has a rich history too? From its Aboriginal cultural heritage to its colonial farming legacy, Reflections Killalea Reserve has plenty of stories to tell.
Find out who Killalea was, why its beach is called ‘The Farm’ and how it almost became an explosives plant with our historic overview.
Who was Killalea?
Killalea is named after Irishman Edward Killalea. Born in 1816, Killalea was charged with manslaughter after a brawl and sent to Australia as a convict in 1836. After time spent felling forests in the Illawarra in the 1830s and 40s, he was given a Conditional Pardon and began working his farm lease on the land now known as Killalea. He also owned land at Kiama and Foxground.
Despite his chequered past, Killalea became a well-respected member of the local community. He and his wife Maria had 12 children. In addition to his role as landowner and leaseholder, Killalea was Alderman on the Shellharbour Council, and was on the committee to form the Shellharbour Steam Navigation Company before his death in 1872.
In the 1930’s, one of Killalea’s sons Patrick was walking the beach which was once his boyhood home. Here he met 15-year-old John Fraser, whose family was farming the land then known as ‘Seaview’. John took Patrick to meet his parents, who subsequently renamed their farm ‘Killalea’, in honour of the family who had farmed the land before them.
The Frasers (and an explosive revelation)
So we now know it was the Frasers who named the land Killalea. But what do we know of the Frasers? Like Edward Killalea, Hector Fraser was a well-respected community member, highly involved in the regional and state dairy industry. The farm he established at Killalea (purchased in 1920) was one of the best in the district.
Fraser and his wife Hilda had three sons, including John (i.e. the boy from the beach), who went on to manage Killalea. Interestingly, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) purchased the property in 1956 to build an explosives plant, with John to remain on the property as manager. Fortunately, the land was never used for this purpose as those types of explosives became redundant. Imagine the Killalea of today if an explosives plant had been built on those beautiful hills!
The Buckley brothers
Before the Frasers there were the Buckleys. In the early 1900s brothers James and Daniel Buckley purchased what would become known as Killalea. James farmed the northern end of the park and lived at ‘Seaview’, while Daniel farmed the southern end, near the current campground.
As with other Killalea custodians, both brothers were high-profile community members. James was an Alderman on the Shellharbour Council and was Mayor for three years, whilst Daniel was also an Alderman from 1868-1871.
They both built houses for their families, including ‘Seaview’ which was unfortunately destroyed by fire. But look closely, near the kiosk, and you’ll see the concrete slabs of the dairy and piggery, a well and water troughs, and even evidence of the old farmhouse garden and stone walls.
Killalea Reserve was and continues to be significant for local Indigenous communities, especially those from the Dharawal and Yuin Nations. This was a land rich with bush tucker, and with a sea that provided plenty of shellfish. It was a place for making tools and for sacred women’s business.
See if you can find the scar tree at the entrance to the reserve; the bark removed from this tree was likely used to make equipment such as shields, canoes or shelter.
‘The Farm’ and ‘Mystics’: what’s in a name?
With its Farm and Mystics beaches declared part of a National Surfing Reserve in 2009, surfers come from far and wide to experience the consistently legendary waves at Killalea. But what’s with the names?
Before it became a surfing mecca in the 1960s, access to the beach now known as ‘The Farm’ was via a private farm, with the farmer simply asking for the gates to be closed after entering. He eventually charged a few shillings for entry when the gate was left open one too many times!
The Mystics is so-called because when it was first discovered by surfers, the sea mist met the land fog and created a truly mystical effect. One that is regularly admired by surfers and swimmers today.
Time to make your own story
An easy drive from Sydney, and just minutes away from Shellharbour, Reflections Killalea Reserve is a gem on the NSW South Coast, filled with natural beauty, world-class surfing and history to boot. Book your next coastal escape to Killalea and make some history of your own.