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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.

The Mudgeeraba and Bonogin Creeks rise in the Nimmel Range and flow into the broad low lying Merrimac Plain before eventually joining the Nerang River.

Originally, the overflow from both creeks emptied into a chain of lagoons named on early maps as the Great Swamp. Flat, very wet and seemingly bottomless in parts, the swamp extended over large tracts of land in the west until it reached the modern suburb of 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.

Oblivious or sceptical about rumours of a resident Bunyip, Thomas Blacket Stephens acquired approximately 6980 acres as selection blocks in 1873. Eventually Stephen's estate south of Nerang grew to a size of 10,000 acres. Much of the land he acquired was made up ridges surrounding peat swamps. Stephens started to drain the swamps and established the first dairy, Hill View, on higher ground.

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 family home, Cumbuquepa at South Brisbane, eventually became Somerville House.

After Stephen's death in 1877, the property passed to his wife Anne Stephens (nee Connah) and their eldest son, William, assumed management. Like his father, William was elected to a number of positions in state and local government, including the chairmanship of the Nerang Divisional Board.

William continued to drain the swamp by building a series of open drains and further developed the area as a dairy. At his farm, known as Merrimac, he operated a dairy, experimented with growing various types of grasses, grazed sheep and cattle, and processed sugar cane.

It is unclear of the origins of the name Merrimac, but one story is that Mrs Stephens named the dairy after a Native American word meaning Merrily running waters. Alternative explanations are that the dairy was named the Merrimack River in New England or after a battleship in the American Civil War that took its name from the river.

Most of the property was sold in 1901 to a company in Victoria and, by World War One (1914 to1918), the property had been subdivided into smaller parcels of land of what became known as Stephens Estate. New settlers and the families already working on the Merrimac property were able to purchase land. In 1917, the Merrimac State School opened, with its first teacher, Miss C. Platell, the daughter of a local dairy farmer.

During the same period, a milk factory was established to supply pasteurised milk to the Brisbane market and to support the approximately twenty five dairies located in the area. The Merrimac factory was destroyed by fire in 1957 and the milk from the local dairies was then transported to the South Coast Cooperative Dairy Factory in Southport.

The Laver, Nielsen, Veivers, Platell and Gooding families, among others, 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.

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

Sources of information and further reading

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

The Queenslander, Saturday 12 May 1906 - "The Dairy."

The Brisbane Courier, Saturday 6 August 1924 - Merrimac Lands

South Coast Bulletin, Wednesday 21 April 1948 - Merrimac-Reedy Creek Drainage

The Queenslander, Thursday 23 July 1936 - From Swamp to Dairy Farm

Truth, Sunday 5 October 1902 - Making Concentrated Milk

Also see the National Library of Australia.

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