We lost an important link to our past on Wednesday night when the Nowra Sailing Club was gutted by fire. For many, the sad news evoked happy memories of sailing on the river, of times of flood when the building would go under. The building was an official flood gauge whenever the river rose.
Locals would often rate the severity of floods by the levels they reached on the sailing club wall.
But the building that has stood beside the old bridge for so many years was much more than that, much more than a familiar landmark.
It played a key role in the commerce of our region and the movement of its people long before roads were established and goods and produce came and went by sea.
It’s hard to imagine now but the wharf on which the building stood was for a few decades Nowra’s port, with small steamships and even square riggers tied alongside.
The building itself was the store for the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company, whose vessels plied the route between Nowra and Sydney.
When trucks, trains and automobiles replaced the steam packet as the favoured form of transport, the store became the home for the local fishing co-op.
The heritage value of the wharf and its buildings was set out in a report to Shoalhaven City Council in 2000. In that report are fascinating photos of the wharf being used, one of which features on our front page. They surprised us at the Register – even those born and bred here. We could not help but feel saddened to see this reminder of our maritime history lost in the flames.
We were not alone. Our Facebook page was inundated with comments echoing our sense of loss. The entire community, it seems, feels the same way.
Over the years, we have lost too much of our built heritage – to progress, poor planning and disaster. There were the old hotels in the centre of town, knocked down to accommodate squat, unlovely banks and retail stores. In the old quarter of Nowra, lovely weatherboard homes sit under the shadow of redevelopment, following rezoning that allows for units.
Even the old bridge has an uncertain future as planning progresses for the new river crossing.
While our town can’t be static, we should keep enough of our built heritage so we don’t lose all links to the past.