The only way to cross the Shoalhaven River prior to the construction of the Nowra bridge in 1881, was by the four ferries which operated in the area or if you had your own boat.
Operating from the northern side of the Shoalhaven River to the southern side, the ferries and punts played an important role in transporting people across the river and also considerably aided traffic.
The ferries ran from Back Forest to Numbaa, the Bomaderry to Ferry Lane (Greenhills) Nowra and Sackley’s at Bolong to Terara, although in flood time no one could cross for days.
William Stewart operated Stewart’s Ferry, for a few years from 1878 about 300 yards south of Sackley’s Ferry.
A fascination with the Broughton Creek punt, which operated from the 1850s to 1936 when a bridge was constructed at Bolong, has led local historian and author Robyn Florance OAM to her latest book, Crossing the River - Punts - Ferries - Bridges on the Shoalhaven.
“I don’t know why but I was always interested in the punt over Broughton Creek,” Mrs Florance said.
“I just wanted to find out more information about it, who operated it etc.
“This project has been on my computer for about 10 years. In 2009 I was contacted by a man in Sydney who was related to the area’s earliest known ferryman Richard Hampton, who drowned in an unfortunate accident on the Shoalhaven River in 1852. That again sparked my interest.”
The Broughton Creek crossing at Back Forest served residents of Coolangatta, Back Forest, Bolong and Bomaderry until the creek was bridged in 1836.
A private punt also operated at Bundanon to provide access across the river to Bamarang and then by road to Nowra until the 1970s.
Today the Comerong Island Ferry provides access across the canal to the island from the mainland, while the Burraga (Pig Island) punt provides access to and from the island at Terara.
“Much has been written about those who explored the Shoalhaven River in the days of sailboats and steamboats, the early regattas and building of the bridges. But very little has been written about the punts and ferries and the men who transported the people across the river to their destinations in the early years of settlement,” Mrs Florance said.
“The cable punts and the small river ferries were extensions of transport networks and a vital link in the development of the Shoalhaven district.”
Crossing the River tells the stories of these ferries and punts and later the construction of various bridges in the area like the Nowra Bridge, the Bunberra Bridge which crosses Bomaderry Creek and the Back Forest bridge over Broughton Creek.
There is also a section dedicated to the men who operated the various punts and ferries in the area. Men like Richard Hampton, William Bell, James Wilson, George Davis, John Weller, John Campbell, David Cruickshanks and William Kennedy to name just a few.
Scattered throughout the book are numerous, superb local historic photographs.
The book also covers many of the stories told around the punts and ferries, including ghostly appearances, how a newly purchased Whippet car was mistakenly driven off the Back Forest Punt in 1927, how the Bomaderry ferry led to the establishment of a school and, of course, floods and how the ferries coped, including one instance in 1969 when the Comerong Island ferry broke from its guide cable during a flood event and flipped, sending a Nowra Dairy Company milk tanker into the canal.
Crossing the River - Punts - Ferries - Bridges on the Shoalhaven will be officially launched at the Nowra Museum in Plunkett Street, Nowra on Saturday, May 6.
The day will also be used to celebrate the 200th birthday of renowned local artist Samuel Elyard with an exhibition, Outlines of the Past, which will highlight some of Elyard’s wonderful works which documented the early history of the Shoalhaven.
The official dedication of the Halloran Gallery will also be held.
The museum will be opened from 10am to 4pm on May 6, with the book launch and dedication gallery from 2pm.