In Stuart Magee's delightful book of local history, The Rivers and the Sea, he suggests "You should drive the River Road some day. You might get the odd superficial scratch on your duco. It's probably a bit better suited to 4-wheel drive, though plenty of two-wheelers use it. Keep away if it's wet, mind the cowboys with big bull-bars, but otherwise it is a most interesting drive. You are following a track that has barely changed in 100 years. Give yourself plenty of time and stop to make a cup of tea while you contemplate the broad, gleaming river with the spotted gums and burrawangs reflecting from its banks. It's over 50 feet deep in parts along there.
In the 20 kilometres going up from Nelligen to Drurys Creek we saw not one person and no more than 10 houses. There are, however, a few dirt ramps and log jetties where timber was loaded in days gone by.
Coming back down the river we noted Cockwhy Creek flowing in on the east bank. There is a house at the junction. Some kilometres up the creek the NSW Topographic Map shows a couple of sheds and a pigsty at the end of Joes Nose Road. Who was Joe? What was it with his hooter? Believe me, I'd tell you if I knew.
The 1901 Census of NSW shows that Cockwhy Creek at the time had five households and seventeen inhabitants. Civilization at Cockwhy Creek has waxed and waned.
A bit further down, still 10 kilometres shy of Nelligen, Currowan Creek comes in from the west. They say the water in the creek, which flows down from the Clyde Mountain range, is wonderfully good. If you were set on making great whiskey, they say at Nelligen, Currowan Creek would be your spot. Damn! There, I've opened my mouth again. Next thing you know we'll have Johnny Walker trampin' about the place in his big black boots.
From the river today you will see no sign of human interference at Currowan, though Robin Shaw says I should have caught a glimpse of her roof if I had looked hard enough. Similarly, if you drive the river road you will find nothing but native bush at Currowan Creek.
Bailleries NSW Gazetteer of 1866 records that 'Currowan is a township reserve on the Clyde River, about 6 miles north of Nelligen, and is inhabited by a few settlers who cultivate the rich scrub lands of the neighbourhood.' In its entry under "Nelligen" Bailleries records that 'up the Clyde River, 6 miles distant, is a steam saw mill (Soulby's), a screw bark pressing machine (Street's) and a coach manfactury (Guy's). There is a steamer twice a week to Sydney and a two-horse coach twice a week to Braidwood.' It seems, though one can't be sure, that all of this was taking place at Currowan.
The 1901 Census lists 8 abodes and 65 souls at Currowan. What happened to all this enterprise and where did all the people go? I don't know but, more to the point, I don't know what happened to the very grand plans and hopes that were held for the Town of Currowan when its sub-division was approved and i was proclaimed a town on 20 March 1855. The plan of the townshows 14 named streets and close to 140 blocks of land ranging in size from 1 rood to 38 acres. A rood, or a quarter of an acre, is the conventional size for a suburban building block.
Lot 1 of Section 14, a holding of 3 acres (a touch over a hectare) is shown on the 1967 map as belonging to George Shaw. George was one of eleven children sired by Neil Shaw. George, in turn, had four, one of whom he called Bobbi but christened Robin. She lives on that block today in what was the manager's residence for the Austral Starch Factory.
Nobody knows, well I don't, nor does Robin Shaw or anyone else I've spoken to or read, who it was that envisaged it would be a successful commercial venture to produce starch from the burrawang nut and to do it at this particular spot. Looking at the isolation today, it would seem to have required lateral thinking bordering on dementia.
Nevermind. The notion took root and in 1920 Neil Shaw, who lived on the banks of the Clyde River in Scotland, was recruited by the Austral company and dispatched to establish and manage the factory on the banks of Clyde River, NSW. It was set up on lot 1, section 14.
Historians differ on how long the venture persisted. Gibbney believes it was not beyond 1922: Reynolds suggests it held up until some time in the 1930s. Similarly, there is a range of views on the reasons for its demise. Some of the tales are dark and pick up factors such as mismanagement, drunkenness and sabotage. Robin Shaw's theory is simple. She points out that the regeneration of the burrawang is a chancy and slow process, and suggests they merely ran out of an adequate supply.
Quite part from the fate of the starch factory one wonders why the Town itself never came to be. Most likely it failed because Nelligen succeeded in meeting the commercial communication needs of the day, and there was call for just one such maritime link between Sydney Cove and the southern tablelands of the State."