Pupils of Fingal Public School in the 1930s.
Pupils of Fingal Public School in the 1930s.

Fingal remains a quaint village

THESE days Fingal is best known as a small fishing village and holiday resort situated one kilometre south of the New South Wales border.

Fingal derives its name from either Fingal in Country Ant- rim, Northern Ireland or Fingal's Cave on the Scottish

Island of Staffa because of the similar natural formation of an outcrop of column-jointed basalt rock.

Fingal Head consists of a narrow stretch of land lying between the Tweed River estuary and the Pacific Ocean with its northern tip forming the south head of the river mouth. It was inhabited when John Oxley saw the area on his voyage north in search of a suitable site for a new penal settlement.

The people of the Minjungbal tribe of the Bunjalung nation inhabited the region between South East Queensland and the NSW North Coast. They made trips to the area we now call Fingal for the mullet run, and in time settled there because of the plentiful supply of food and water. Although they did not know it, under British law their homes were now on Crown Land.

In the late 1820s a military post was set up for a time at Point Danger in order to intercept escapees from the new Moreton Bay penal settlement. The next white men the local people encountered were the cedar getters who came to the Tweed in the early 1840s and established a permanent settlement on the south bank of the Terranora Inlet.

Early white settlers were attracted to the area that they first called The Caves because of the presence of natural caves in the basalt rock. Some settlers lived there permanently while others from all parts of the Tweed built wooden cottages that they used for holidays.

In 1891 the NSW Secretary for Public Works approved the construction of retaining walls along the banks of the Tweed River that, when completed, would “train the river and maintain good permanent navigation after the channels are opened by dredging”. Quarrying commenced at The Caves.

For a time the area was known by both the names The Caves and Fingal.

In contrast the residents of Fingal Aboriginal Reserve attended their Assembly of God mission church founded by Evangelist Leslie Ogilvie, who had held his first service in April 1920. Pastor Ogilvie was joined in his mission work on the reserve by sisters Nina Eipper and Marion Rennie, and a small cottage was built to accommodate them. Pastor Ogilvie secured a lease of the Fingal lighthouse keeper's quarters and remained in charge of the mission until his sudden death in March 1927.

One historic entry in the mission register is the death of Biddy Richmond, dated August 18, 1933, with the cause of death recorded as pneumonia and pleurisy. Biddy, the last female full-blood Aborigine on the Tweed, was laid to rest on Sat- urday, August 19 in Fingal's Aboriginal cemetery following a service conducted at the mission church.

In 1935 Fingal Aboriginal Reserve consisted of approximately 30 houses, mostly built of unpainted weatherboard and galvanised iron. Missionary Mr C H Higgs held the church services and conducted Sunday school for 85 children.

Mr George Fenning was in charge of the public school that provided education for the children of the reserve's 50 families. About 150 people made up the adult population.

Surviving mission birth, baptism, marriage and death records list the names of family members through to the mid 1950s when the mission closed.

In March 1969, an Aboriginal conference held at Casino was told that attempts by Aboriginal residents at Fingal to purchase their homes built on Crown Land had been refused. The conference was told that people of Aboriginal and South Sea Islander descent had occupied Crown Land at Fingal under special leases for more than 70 years.

One Fingal resident stated that the area's aboriginal people had progressed from bark humpies to neat, well-cared-for fibro homes that they had built themselves. Some community members owned blocks of beachfront land, some leased land while others lived on the Aboriginal reserve.

In April 1969 a delegation of three made up of Mrs Pasepa Close (nee Rotumah), Mrs Nolene Lever (nee Fay) and Mr Alf “Buck” Beckue left the Tweed by train to take their land rights fight to Sydney and Canberra.

The delegation succeeded. The NSW Minister for Lands agreed that long-term Aboriginal and Islander residents at Fingal could convert their ten- ures over a period of time to freehold land. A start had been made to regain Fingal.

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