Situated just 13 km northeast of Bundaberg, Bargara is the largest coastal town around the region of the mouth of the Burnett River. Its road, which includes Miller Street, The Esplanade and Woongarra Scenic Drive, runs along the coast is a long strip of motels, flats, apartments and holiday homes all built between the beach and the hinterland. But while modern Bargara may appear to be just an idyllic holiday town, it does have some fascinating tales to tell! Here is a rundown of some of the history of Bargara.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area around Bargara was occupied by the Gureng Gureng Aborigines and a sub-group that was known as the Taribelang people. Around 1802, explorer Matthew Flinders sailed along the coast and named a remnant volcanic formation, Sloping Hummock, which is known today as simply The Hummock.
An interesting fact about Bargara is that it was originally known as Sandhills, which was an acknowledgement of the unstable coastal sand formations that were developed in the late 1880’s. Its current name was adopted in the early 1900’s.
Due to the fertile lands in the area, semi-retired grazier Augustus Barton took an interest in sugarcane farming around this time and built his Mon Repos homestead and the area around his crops using scoria stones (dark coloured volcanic rock stones). The finest surviving examples of these stone walls are listed on the Queensland heritage register, are located behind the Mon Repos beach, and were constructed by South Sea Islanders. These labourers also built The Basin, a sheltered swimming area that is located at the very southern end of the Esplanade.
The land was developed for settlement around this time as well but the sand dunes were prone to drifting. Among the few buildings in the area at the time was the receiving point for the intercontinental telegraphic cable from New Caledonia linking Australia with America, which was built in 1893.
The history of Bargara continued with the Mon Repos sugar plantation becoming the Qunaba refinery in 1900 after it was purchased by the Queensland National Bank (hence the name).
In 1912, Bundaberg’s Bert Hinkler successfully launched his glider from a sand dune at Mon Repos, however he only lifted 10 metres above the ground! Today below the dune, the beach remains famous as a sea turtle hatchery.
Land development of the area increased, a hotel was built and lobbying began for a local railway. However, at first the railway only ran a few kilometres from Bundaberg into the cane farms. A railway connecting the area did not actually eventuate until 1913.
Bargara was now a quiet seaside village and around the same time it adopted its official name. Although the word Bargara sounds like an indigenous word, it’s actually the combination of two nearby localities, Barolin and Woongarra, thus ‘bar’ and ‘garra’. In time, the pronunciation was shortened to ‘B’garra’.
By 1920, marram or ‘beach’ grass was being planted in order to stabilise the sand dunes for building development. The Bundaberg Surf Life-Saving Club was built in 1921 and within a few more years a guesthouse and a World War II coast watch station were also constructed.
The Bargara Railway began to give Bundaberg residents ready access to the seaside town and Woongarra Shire eventually converted a pasture reserve a kilometre north of Bargara into a picnic ground. This later became Nielson Park. In 1922, the first of many ‘railway picnics’ to the park began, drawing 100 or more railway carriages of visitors from as far away as Maryborough, Mount Perry and Gladstone.
One of the other interesting facts about Bargara at this time is that the population was only 61 people!
The Bargara and Nielson Park Progress Association promoted the area as a beach resort in the 1950’s and new golf links were laid out. They also lobbied for a reticulated supply to replace the well water. Growth continued to increase and the population of Bargara topped 500 in 1954.
A causeway to the south over Money’s Creek provided space for expansion and several estate subdivisions were built in Bargara in the 1970’s. In particular, a foothill that was part of Sloping Hummock was the site of a panoramic subdivision and the Don Pancho Beach Resort was opened. This development epitomised the era’s trend towards leisure development and a number of new estates were subsequently built along the coast.
In terms of Bargara history, Woongarra Shire Council was an important partner in this development phase, planning a sewerage scheme in 1968 and completing it in 1971. A proposed boat harbour in Bargara however did not proceed, instead being built at Burnett Heads.
Bargara’s population also doubled during this decade to about 1700.
Bargara’s southern growth expanded into the adjoining town of Innes Park and the vacationing population also grew which saw the development of a bayside caravan park, camping parks, motels and apartments.
Burnett Shire was also formed in 1994, a result of an amalgamation between the Gooburrum and Woongarra Shires.
During the 1990s growth rates remained stable, with the population at around 5000.
The Coral Coast Visitor Information Centre was opened in 2004 and in terms of the history of Bargara, 2013 was certain memorable. On Australia Day, a series of tornadoes and water spouts crossed the Wide Bay Coast and felled power lines, damaged cars, uprooted trees and damaged businesses and homes. The Bargara Bowls Club even lost its roof!
This family-friendly town has grown significantly over the last decade, becoming a popular retirement spot as well as a burgeoning tourist destination. Visitors are drawn to its tropical weather, palm-tree-lined foreshore and the delights of the Southern Great Barrier Reef that’s literally at its doorstep.
You can also swim in Bargara all year round here, with several beaches stretching from Kellys Beach to the south to Neilson’s Park to the north. The Basin is a protected swimming spot suitable for all ages and The Turtle Park offers shaded grass areas and a big playground for children. The Esplanade is also the perfect spot for a morning or afternoon stroll with six kilometres of paved pathway perfect for bikes, scooters and walkers.
Keen to dig a little deeper into the history of Bargara? Then book a family holiday and we can get your accommodation sorted! Contact us on (07) 4130 1100!