Skip to main content

Why does Canberra have a beach at Jervis Bay?

Jervis Bay, December 2016.
Carved out of New South Wales, Jervis Bay Territory was created in 1915.

ABC News: James Fettes

ADVERTISEMENT

When you think of Canberra, it's unlikely the ocean springs to mind.

After all, the capital's lack of coastline is one reason so many Canberrans flee the city each summer, seeking refuge on the coast.

But did you know that in one sense, Canberra has its very own slice of coastline at Jervis Bay?

Curious Canberran Jeremy Calero wanted to know more about this small enclave, 200 kilometres from the ACT. He asked: Why does Canberra have a beach at Jervis Bay?

And if you've ever wondered whether it's best pronounced JER-vis or JAR-vis Bay, we'll get to that too.

A shimmering enclave

Despite being two-and-a-half hours' drive from Canberra and surrounded by the New South Wales south coast, Jervis Bay isn't part of its neighbouring state.

A hand coloured map of Jervis Bay Territory, circa 1926.
A hand coloured map of Jervis Bay Territory, circa 1926.

Supplied: National Library of Australia

It isn't actually part of the ACT either, but most our of laws apply there, its residents vote with us in federal elections and the ACT Government organises its rubbish collection.

So how did 28 square miles of NSW coastline come to be federal territory?

Lieutenant Commander David Jones, who works at HMAS Creswell in the Jervis Bay Territory, said it began with politicians in the early days of federation.

And so in 1915, six years after the creation of the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales handed the small peninsula to the Commonwealth.

A new nation, a new navy

Lieutenant Commander David Jones at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay.
Lieutenant Commander David Jones works at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay.

ABC News: James Fettes

Along with a national port, the young nation of Australia was looking for a place to train its new navy.

"The logical place from a politician's view was to have the college at Jervis Bay, [alongside] the national port," Lt Commander Jones said.

"The Navy didn't agree with that ... It was completely isolated, so every single support service had to be built from scratch."

Even so, the politicians got their way. The Royal Australian Naval College opened its doors to cadets in 1915.

The bay was also the site of the worst peacetime disaster in Australian maritime history - the collision between the destroyer HMAS Voyager and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in 1964.

"Two royal commissions ... eventually cleared the captain of Melbourne and condemned the captain of Voyager and his negligence," Lt Commander Jones said.

HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay, December 2016.
HMAS Creswell still operates today.

ABC News: James Fettes

But the site wasn't always occupied by the Navy. In 1930, driven by funding cuts during the Great Depression, the college vacated to make way for a holiday resort.

Thousands of holidaymakers stayed at the site over the next three decades - until, in 1958, the Navy decided it wanted it back.

"The residents didn't like it at all, they had become very attached to the place, and so they almost had to physically evict the last person out of here," Lt Commander Jones said.

A sprawling national park

The vast majority of the Jervis Bay Territory - about three-quarters - is made up of the Booderee National Park and Botanic Gardens.

Three people walk toward a beach.
Booderee National Park manager Maxine Walker.

Supplied: Nick Burrows

The land was handed back to the local Wreck Bay Aboriginal community in 1987, making it one of three parks in Australia to be returned to traditional owners.

The park's manager, Maxine Walker, said the connection means ancient techniques can be used to conserve and protect the area.

"It's about incorporating both the cultural knowledge, say with fire, as well as the scientific," Ms Walker said.

Is it JER-vis or JAR-vis?

Damian Erwich outside the supermarket he owns in Jervis Bay.
Damian Erwich owns a supermarket in Jervis Bay.

ABC News: James Fettes

The moment I started researching this story, I hit something of a snag: Is it pronounced JER-vis or JAR-vis Bay?

For locals, like supermarket owner Damian Erwich, there's no question.

Turn to the Navy, and the answer is equally clear.

"The official pronunciation that the Navy puts forward is JAR-vis. It was named after a fellow who was nicknamed Old Jarvy," he said.

In an attempt to settle the question, I spoke to Australian National University linguist Pauline Bryant.

"There are two correct answers... I don't know that there is such a thing as an objective pronunciation of a place," she said.

Whatever it's called, it sure is beautiful.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.