12 January 2023

Why was Bega built on a floodplain? A new book on the history of the town tells all

| Albert McKnight
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town parade

A parade passes along Carp Street in Bega. Photo: Supplied.

One of the most surprising parts of Bega’s history is why the initial location for the town was chosen in the first place, the president of the South Coast History Society says.

Peter Lacey said a surveyor had been sent to find out where to build the town and while one would expect someone in the profession to recognise a floodplain, a floodplain was still what was chosen.

He thought the surveyor responsible might have envisioned a gently flowing river moving through the centre of the town.

“I think he probably imagined it would be like the Seine going through Paris!” Mr Lacey said.

But instead, there were two major floods in the first 12 months of the town and it was moved from what is now North Bega to where it sits south of the river today.

This story and many more make up the surprising and fascinating history of Bega, which has been documented in a soon-to-be-released book – the first history of the town for the past 80 years.

Fascinating Bega: The Anatomy of a Town, 1851–2023 will be released in early February and looks at both why and how the town developed.

“I’m delighted with how it’s turned out, but it’s only the start!” Mr Lacey said.

“There’s so much more we could do.”

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Another part of Bega’s history that intrigued Mr Lacey was the influence of the Temperance Movement, which promoted abstinence from alcohol, in the late-19th and early 20th centuries.

The movement was responsible for the closure of four of the nine hotels in Bega in the 1900s and built the 800-seat Temperance Hall in Carp Street that is now occupied by Carpet Court.

Also, it forced the Family Hotel, now the Bega Pioneers’ Museum, to add a section to the front of the building so passers-by would not have to see patrons drinking on the front veranda.

horses cross river

Horses and carriages in a crossing of the Bega River in 1900. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Lacey also found that Carp Street “is now a very sad reflection of its former self”.

“In the 1920s, for example, Bega was named the second most beautiful country town in NSW by the Country Women’s Association, and Carp Street was its impressive main street,” he said.

“Unfortunately, subsequent council decisions have, to put it bluntly, stripped much of the street of its previous charm and character – something that is immediately evident from the historic photographs included in the book.”

Fascinating Bega took five years to produce and was jointly compiled by Bega Valley Historical Society and South Coast History Society.

Many of the 60 photographs in the 86-page book have been selected from the historical society’s archives.

Mr Lacey said people should buy the history book to understand the town.

flooded river

The Bega River crossing during a flood in 1898. Photo: Supplied.

“There is obviously a reason why the town is there and why it emerged the way it has,” he said.

“There are a lot of things in Bega that really deserve an explanation.”

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The book will be available from Bega Pioneers’ Museum, Bega Newsagency, The Publican’s Wife, Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, Quaama General Store and Well Thumbed Books in Cobargo.

“In the long term, we may do the same thing with other areas as well, but that will be a long way away if we do,” Mr Lacey said.

To coincide with the release, the history societies are running 1½-hour coach tours of Bega on 22 and 25 February for $7.50. Bookings are essential and can be made by calling 0448 160 852.

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