Public Recreation Area

Severs Beach Midden

The Story

Location of Objects:

Midden, Severs Beach Pambula River NSW 2549

Accessibility of Objects:

Located on Severs Beach, Ben Boyd National Park and is always open to the public.

History and Provenance of Objects:

Coastal shell middens comprise mainly shells, which are the remains of shellfish meals. The majority of shells are of estuarine species (whelks, cockles/bimbulas and rock oyster) and some are from rock platforms (mussel, abalone, limpets, turban and triton shells) or open coast beaches (pipi). Stone artefacts are often found in the middens along with the bones of land animals. In shell middens along the South Coast dated older than about 1,000 years ago it is common to find a change in shellfish species from oyster and deep rock platform species in layers more than 600 years ago to mussel dominating the layers above (Sullivan 2006 in Dale Donaldson, S. 2010 pg. 121).

“When we were children we use to camp out there and my dad used to spear fish and mussels and oysters was on the go then and we have spent a lot of time out there and when I was growing up we still spent time out there. Just at Haycock and at Severs itself, around that little area. We swam, camped, barbeques and when I had children we done the same….and we took took our kids out and done the same what dad taught us when we were young and fished, ate oysters, mussels, and found a few bimbullas there too. I remember at Haycock, mum and dad camped there, we’ve got a camp there now, ….there is a midden down there too just off the banks there, we use to camp there, I think I was about three or four then, not even quite sure what age I was but that was the good old days and mum and dad and the rest of them lived off the sea. Dad use to always spear fish around at Severs there and on the beach side there and on the lake. He wouldn’t let us starve. Those old bottles, I’m still digging them up, one day I might find an old doll that belongs to me (Tina Mongta Pambula River Project 7:2008, Dale Donaldson, S. 2010 pg. 94).


It was first thought that the majority of recorded coastal sites on the South Coast are less than 3,000 to 4,000 years old, however the findings of P. Boot in his work titled Five Forests Report suggested some sites are up to 7000 years old. Sites older than this would be rare as rising seas till 6,000 years ago would have submerged them. Two south coast sites, Bass Point and Burrill Lake date to 17,000 and 20,000 years ago respectively. Prior to the rise in sea levels these sites would have been located some 14kms inland. A large number of sites have also been recorded in the coastal hinterland during surveys (Dale Donaldson, Susan 2010 pg. 121).

The dominant site types across the Bega Valley Shire are artefact scatters, middens and combined midden/campsites. Other site types include bora-ceremonial sites, scarred trees, grinding grooves, shelters containing midden, stone arrangements, shelters with art, burials, carved trees, resource vegetation areas and stone quarries (Dale Donaldson, Susan 2010 pg. 121).

The particular significance of this Object:

The midden located at Severs Beach is an example of an exceptionally historical midden and evidenced by excavations along Pambula River showed regular occupation of the area for more than 4000 years. There are examples of ‘mounded middens’ in the vicinity which are extremely rare examples according to oral histories, are the only occurrence of this particular type of midden in the world. These middens range in size from approximately 1m high to the size of a football field.

Severs Beach and the surrounding area have been traditionally used ceremonial and camping grounds and is a particularly significant place for women. This area forms part of the pathways and linkages between the mountains (Balawan, Biamanga and Gulaga).

The cultural value attributed to places identified in this study is multifaceted, complex and evolving. As such defining levels of cultural value is a difficult task. Tony English has attempted to define the social significance of wild resource use places as a way to facilitate decision-making process associated with heritage management. He notes ‘understanding the social significance of wild resource use places can help ensure that these places are correctly identified and assessed during future heritage assessments [2002: 24]. Based on English, the criteria that can be used for assessing the social significance of wild resource places are:...

1. Past activities that are remembered by participants and or feature in stories passed down through the generations,

5. Continuing interaction with the land and sea as an affirmation of cultural identity, and

6. Physical remains, such as middens, as an affirmation of long term cultural associations (Dale Donaldson, Susan 2010 pg. 129).

It is important to note that heritage themes associated with the pre contact period, with traditional uses of the landscape, continue to be valued today. Shell middens, burial places and stone artefact assemblages for instance, provide a physical link to the past and affirm traditional connections to country. Reaffirmation of traditional relationships with the land and waterways takes place when these places continue to be used today for the same purposes (Dale Donaldson, Susan 2010 pg. 129).

This area is closely associated with stories meetings between European shipwreck crews and the Aboriginal populations during the eighteenth and nineteenth century along the coast of New South Wales. It is thought that Aboriginal inhabitants present in this area were among those who were first encountered by the survivors of the Sydney Cove shipwreck on their arduous trek along the entire southern coastline of New South Wales; from Cape Howe to Coalcliff (near Wollongong). A published account of their epic walk reveals a mixture of genuine compassion from various Aboriginal groups that they encountered, to all out conflict, probably as a result of territorial and resource infringements. The Sydney Cove shipwreck of 1797, was the first recorded meeting between Europeans and Aboriginal populations in the south-east of New South Wales (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, 2019).

Further information:


Main theme:




Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures


Aboriginal People’s Cultural Heritage and Connections to Bega Valley Shire

Other themes:






Environment - cultural landscape



Social Institutions


Cultural landscapes within the Bega Valley

Wartime in the Bega Valley Shire

Religious life in Bega Valley Shire

Sociality in Bega Valley Shire

Thematic storylines:

Geographically associated places / sites:

Associated / linked places / sites / items / people:

Heritage listings (statutory and non-statutory):

Contributors to this ‘library’:

Carley McGregor

Graham Moore

This work is licensed to South Coast History Society Inc. under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You may copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format; remix, transform or build upon the material; BUT you must give appropriate credit and provide a link to this license and indicate if changes have been made; you must not use the material for commercial purposes and, if you remix, transform or build upon this material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as this original.

This Bega Shire Hidden Heritage project has been made possible by the NSW Government through its Heritage Near Me program.

Any further information about local World War I Honor Rolls, locally issued ‘farewell’ gifts, etc. or their associated histories will be GREATLY welcomed and will be added to the above library of information.

Please email your contribution to

References and bibliography:

Dale Donaldson, Susan 2010 ‘Bega Valley Shire Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study’

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, 2019 ‘Shipwrecked crews and Aboriginal contact in NSW’, last accessed 1 March 2019 from:

Photos courtesy of NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and John Yurasek


Severs Beach Pambula River NSW 2549