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Gold Coast history and heritage

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Merrimac history

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Click to enlarge Digging of canals on the Merrimac Estate, circa 1924. Photographer unknown.

Digging of canals on the Merrimac Estate,
circa 1924. Photographer unknown.

Laver family farm and grazing cattle, 1916. Photographer unknown.

Laver family farm and grazing cattle, 1916.
Photographer unknown.

Mudgeeraba and Bonogin Creeks rise in the Nimmel Range and flow into the broad low lying Merrimac Plain, to eventually join with the Nerang River.

Today the original course of the creeks is altered by drains and canal development.

Home of the Bunyip

Originally, the overflow from both creeks emptied into a chain of lagoons named on early maps as the Great Swamp.

Flat, very wet and almost bottomless in parts, the swamp extended from the original Merrimac Estate property to today's Burleigh Waters.

Carl Lentz, a Hinterland pioneer, wrote that the Yugambeh people and the first settlers believed the swamp to be the home of the mythical creature of the Australian bush and wetlands, the Bunyip.

Merrimac Estate and the Stephens family

Oblivious or sceptical about rumours of a resident Bunyip, Thomas Blacket Stephens acquired some 6980 acres as selection blocks in 1873.

Stephens was a prominent Brisbane businessman, newspaper publisher, one time Mayor of Brisbane, and later a Member of the Queensland Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly.

The Stephens' family home at South Brisbane was called Cumbuquepa (now a well known independent school, Somerville House).

His grandson, W.M. Stephens wrote (in the 1870s), "There was of course no railway line and T.B. Stephens regularly rode down on horseback to the property from his home in South Brisbane. Later the line went through, at first only as far as Nerang."

T.B. Stephens

Eventually Stephens estate south of Nerang would total some 10,000 acres. Much of the land Stephens acquired was made up of peat swamps with surrounding ridges.

According to Robyn Burrows in 'Dairies and Daydreams; The Mudgeeraba Story', Stephens had travelled through Europe, observed land reclamation there and believed that, with drainage, his Merrimac property was potentially good dairy farming land.

His grandson, W.M Stephens wrote in 1959, "In 1877, (the year T.B. Stephens died) one dairy had been established on the higher ground south east from Nerang, called Hill View."

William Stephens

The eldest son, William, assumed management of the estate after it passed to his mother Anne Stephens. Like his father, William was elected to a number of positions in state and local government, including locally, the chairmanship of the Nerang Divisional Board.

William proceeded to drain the swamp land and develop the area as dairying land, experimenting with various grasses, the grazing of sheep and cattle, the growing and milling of sugar cane and the processing of milk.

His son, W.M. Stephens wrote, "The draining was difficult. The land was very flat, very wet and almost bottomless - a twenty foot straight box sapling could be worked down by hand out of sight almost anywhere on the swamp. Mudgeeraba Creek with its huge catchment area had no mouth but emptied its waters into the swamp. Many miles of open drains were constructed and kept raked clear of weeds. These drains ran the water off the swamp and surface gradually hardened. Number Two dairy was built on a slight rise nearer to the coast." - this dairy was called Merrimac.

Naming Merrimac

One explanation documented about the place name Merrimac records that Mrs Stephens named the dairy after an American-Indian word meaning "merrily running waters".

A descendant of William Stephens wrote, "To a man who had spent years making and maintaining drains to run water across from the swamp, the meaning of Merrimac seemed most appropriate."

Another explanation, probably related to the above, records that the place name refers to a Union Navy battleship from the American Civil War called the USS Merrimac (Queensland Place Names Board files).

Merrimac community

W. M. Stephens wrote, "In 1901, most of the property was sold to a Victorian syndicate of buyers." By World War 1 (1914-1918), new settlers and many families working on a share basis on the Merrimac property were able to purchase sections of what became known as Stephens Estate after it was subdivided for sale.

Around 1918, a milk factory was established at Merrimac to supply pasteurised milk to the Brisbane market.

Local identity, John Franklin, recalled there were twenty three or twenty five dairy farms locally. Milk was delivered by table top truck to the milk factory at Merrimac in ten gallon cans.

The factory was destroyed by fire in 1957 and the milk was then sent to the South Coast Cooperative Dairy Factory in Southport.

Families such as the Lavers, Nielsens, Veivers, Platell and Gooding, to name just a few, developed and operated dairies in the area, some up until around the late 1980s, when the land was developed as residential estates and golf resorts.

The Merrimac State School opened in 1917, with its first teacher, a Miss C. Platell, daughter of a local dairy farmer. Today, the school is a link back to the pioneering days.

Information and images provided by the City of Gold Coast Local Studies Library.

References

Items are available at the City of Gold Coast Local Studies Library

South Coast Bulletin, Wednesday 8 April 1959 - Letter to the editor from W.M. Stephens
Burrows, Robyn - Dairies and Daydreams; The Mudgeeraba Story - Boolarong Publications, Brisbane 1989
Longhurst, Robert - Nerang Shire; a history to 1949 - Albert Shire Council, Nerang 1994
Waterson, Duncan - A biographical register of the Queensland Parliament 1860-1929 - ANU Press, Canberra 1972

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