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• Earliest Settlers
• Thomas Holt
• Dunes Violated
• The Sandhills
• Alpha House

Occupation

Violation of the Dunes

The Kurnell sand dunes were a unique and fragile phenomenon. In hollows between the dunes, small lakes and swamps formed, providing a wide range of foraging, sheltering, roosting, and breeding resources for native animals and birds and for the campsites and burial grounds of Aborigines.

When Captain Cook walked across the Kurnell headland, through its forest and scrub, to look down on what is today called Cronulla Beach, the sandhills were completely covered in healthy scrub, large trees and native grasses.
Remains of Holt's post and rail fence can still be found on Towra Point.
According to the handwritten 1868 Sutherland Estate Report, the Estate was still mostly virgin land covered with scrub and timber and the only grasses were the native varieties. But Holt then began an intensive project to clear and cultivate. He imported and planted grass seed that he had bought in Germany. The Estate was divided into eleven paddocks using split-rail fences (the remains of some are still to be found on Towra Point), each with a water supply of some sort; these were then divided by brushwood fences to make over 60 smaller paddocks.
An 1868 map of Kurnell region showing Connell's Drain in Woolooware Bay.    Nola Latta

Adversity assailed Holt's pastoral efforts. With his grasses growing on the cleared land, he had brought in sheep. Dingoes at first killed thousands of them. One shooting party reported killing 300 dingoes. Just as he brought these wild dogs under control, he found that his sheep were infected with footrot. John Cooper Walker, Holt's Sutherland Estate manager, recorded that in 1868 he had "1300 of the infected sheep destroyed and buried at Towra Point, with a covering of seaweed to assist their decomposition and to procure fertilisation of the soil ".

Holt tried cattle next but they fared little better. The hungry cattle completed the damage the sheep had begun. In 1870 the green hills on Kurnell Peninsula showed big areas of exposed sand where the grass had been eaten outand the bared dunes have been spreading ever since! By the turn of the century the now moving sandhills covered an extensive area. In an effort to check the damage, Holt imported buffalo grass from America to supplement the native grasses and the other foreign grasses he had planted.

Looking across Kurnell's vegetated dunes about 1851. Sutherland Library

In a bid to recoup his losses, Holt tried his hand in the timber industry. Turpentine, ironbark, blackbutt and mahogany were felled and floated out through Connell's canal (known as The Drain) in Woolooware Bay to his ships. Eventually Holt sold the rights to all standing timber on his property. Yet in 1873 Holt had the gall to urge the NSW Government to take immediate steps to preserve the State's timber

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