Situated on the northern bank of the Georges River 23 kilometres south of the Sydney central business district, the residential suburb of Lugarno is known for its large areas of bushland. The whole area between Arncliffe and Lugarno was originally heavily timbered, hence the reason for the road through it being called Forest Road. Illawarra Road was built by convicts in 1841 and it ran through Gannon's Forest, down to the Georges River. It is believed it followed the line of a well used Aboriginal pathway.
Located to the south-west of Sydney, this 335 ha reserve on the both sides of the Georges River contains some of the best natural riverine habitat. The park has numerous sections - Picnic Point, Alfords Point, Lugarno, Padstow and Illawong, which each have their own entry points. The Lugarno section, at the south east corner of the Lugarno peninsula fronting on Soilybottom Point, is virgin bushland with limited access. Spacious riverside picnic areas on the northern shores of the Georges River are popular, as are walking tracks. Walk around peaceful Yeramba Lagoon, which is home to more than 100 species of birds, and the Ridge Track, which offers spectacular river views. Boat launching ramp at end of The River Road. Entry fee applies to Picnic point section.
The Lugarno ferry, which linked Forest Road with the old Illawarra Road on the southern bank of the Georges River, came into service in 1843, as part of Sir Thomas Mitchell's new road to the Illawarra. It was the first ferry service across the river, and began as a punt operated by Charles Rowan who paid 40 pounds to the Government for the right to collect tolls for the service. Mitchell's Illawarra Road was not popular, however, at it traversed steep ground through Lugarno and the Menai district and was very isolated.
By 1864, a ferry service had been established downstream at Tom Ugly's Point. Surveyor Parkinson proceeded to lay the line of a new road to link the ferry at Sylvania with Major Mitchell's road at Engadine, which proved to be both shorter and an easier tgrade than the original route. A year later, a road was built along it, and through traffic using the Lugarno ferry route fell into decline. In spite of this, the opening of farms in the Menai district kept the service alive, and in 1928 the old hand-winched punt was replaced by a steam driven boat capable of carrying six motor cars. This was replaced by a larger 16-car ferry in 1961. When the Alfords Point Bridge opened in 1973, ferry traffic fell below a financially viable level, and the service was closed after 131 years of continuous service, the longest and oldest of any ferry in NSW history. The remains of the on-shore equipment used by the ferry are still visible at the former landing points on both sides of the river.
Few of today's motorists who use Princes Highway to reach the Illawarra region via Tom Ugly's Bridge, Sutherland, Heathcote and Waterfall know that this road follows what is in fact the third of three routes that were at one time or another known as the Illawarra Road. The original and now forgotten Illawarra Road from Liverpool to Darkes Forest and the Illawarra appears to have been built in the early 1800s as the major thoroughfare south to the Illawarra from Liverpool. An 1810 map indicates a road led from Greenhills (Windsor) to Liverpool, progressing from the Airds boundary line to Five Islands - the earlier name for the Illawarra District. It is therefore likely that this route was used to travel to the then Five Islands and that they may have been following an original Aboriginal migration route. If so, this road would be one of the earliest Australian roads surviving in a relatively original setting. Known as the Old Coach Road, it was the longest of the three Illawarra Roads but had far less hills than the others.
The second road to the Illawarra, built by Major Thomas Mitchell, which passing through Lugarno, connected to the first Illawarra road at Lucas Heights. During the 1830s and 40s, the government under Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell's guidance embarked on a major campaign of exploration and development across the state of NSW. The building of a new, shorter route between Sydney and the Illawarra was part of this development programme. Laid out between 1843 and 1845, it started at Cooks River (Tempe) and passed through the estate of ex-convict, builder and timber getter, Michael Gannon (now Hurstville), following an Aboriginal pathway to the Georges River. This section of road was called Gannon's Forest Road and is known to day by the shortened version of its name, Forest Road. Mitchell's plan included a bridge across the Georges River at the tip of the Lugarno near Edith Bay. Beyond the crossing, the road wound its way up the hillside of Illawong (Old Ferry Road) where it continued south (Old Illawarra Road) through Menai, Woronora Ford, Heathcote and on to the Illawarra.
Sir Thomas Mitchell's Old Illawarra Road joined the Old Coach Road at present day Lucas Heights. Mitchell's road was built but the bridge wasn't. Just as the supporting stonework was being completed in 1845, Mitchell obtained leave of absence to explore the Gulf of Carpentaria. The bridge was never completed, but a punt service provided the crossing of the Georges River instead. The original road from the top of the escarpment down to the punt was abandoned within a year of its path having being cut through the rock because it was too steep for carts to negotiate. The axe marks of the convicts who built the road are still visible in the cliff face where the original road reached the river near the Lugarno boardwalk at the end of Forest Road. Old Forest Road and Lugarno Parade follow the line of the original road; Forest Road follows the line of the replacement road.
For various reasons Mitchell's Illawarra Road was never used to any great extent. After the establishment of the Tom Ugly's Point ferry in 1864 it fell altogether into disuse as a route of approach to the South Coast. It joins the present main road about a kilometre on the Sydney side of Heathcote railway station, and for many years a finger board at the intersection bore the inscription "Old Illawarra Road, Woronora River, 2 Miles."
Lugarno from Illawong
Lugarno is named after Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland. Originally the spelling of the two places was the same. Swiss Lugano is beside Lake Lugano, and a short distance from the town the Italian border passes through the lake. It is believed to have been named by James Murphy, the principal assistant to Thomas Holt who worked at various times as the secretary, manager, or director of the Holt-Sutherland Estate Company. He held a large amount of land at Como, where he ran the Murphy's Pleasure Grounds from the 1880's to World War I. It is not known if Murphy travelled overseas, or if he was inspired by accounts of the travels of Thomas Holt, but he is believed to be responsible for many Swiss and Italian names in the district, including those of Lugano and Como. The earliest recorded use of the name Lugano is in the Government Gazette of the 10th June, 1887, announcing the re-establishment of the ferry at 'a point on the George's River known as the Old George's River crossing, now known as Lugano'. The name Lugano appears to have originally been applied to that stretch of the river, and to the land on both sides of the river where the ferry crossed.
During the early years of the colony, the Lugarno peninsula was largely unoccupied and covered in dense bush. The names Lime Kiln Bay and Lime Kiln Road are evidence of the early colonial activity of grinding of oyster shells to make builder's lime that took place around the Lugarno-Oatley shoreline. Surveyor general Sir Thomas Mitchell and his son Roderick Mitchell, surveyed a new road from Lugarno to Bulli in 1840. The Old Illawarra Road was built by convicts in 1941 along the surveyed route and remained the main road to the Illawarra until a punt service across the Georges River at Blakehurst in the 1870s opened up a shorter, less arduous route.
Much of the Lugarno peninsula remained as undeveloped crown land until the 1960s when the present streets of Lugarno were surveyed and created, and the suburb we know today began to take shape.