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The land on the south coast of New South Wales that would eventually become the dairy town Bega is the traditional land of the Dyirringany Aboriginal people. The first white explorer in Bega was farmer William Tarlinton who passed through the area in the 1820s and returned in the 1830s to farm cattle in the area's fertile valley. Along with the Imlay Brothers who were partly responsible for establishing the whaling industry in Eden in the 1830s, Tarlington paved the way for cattle and dairy farming in the Bega region.
This fertile, well irrigated valley was quickly supporting a strong farming community where select agricultural crops along with livestock cattle and dairying flourished and by 1848 two dairies were operating out of the region. With trading ports at Tathra and Merimbula, the local economy was able to grow very quickly and by the 1860s the famed Bega cheese was first produced in the region.
The Bega Creamery co-operative was established in 1899 as an initiative to unite the dairy farms in the region to one central production factory. Initially producing butter and milk which was sold around the country, by 1949 the Bega Co-operative was producing the cheese which is now one of Australia’s best known cheese brands. Since these modest beginnings, the Bega Co-operative has included many of the other local dairy regions along the south coast, incorporating New South Wales dairy farms in Tilba, Bodalla and Queanbeayan into its co-operative and more recently has had farms in Victoria supplying the factory.
With over 100 years experiences in the dairy trade, it is fitting that the Bega Co-operative has become one of the most powerful cheese and dairy companies in Australia, and is the primary brand of natural cheese in Australia. Recent acquisitions and mergers including the recent purchase of a large stake in the Victorian based Tatura Milk Industries have allowed the Bega Co-operative to continue growing, enabling it to provide the Valley and surrounding dairy districts with a strong and reliable economic foundation.
Despite many surrounding coastal towns turning to the lucrative tourism market to help boost flagging local industries, Bega maintains a solid agricultural foundation yet is one of the most urban towns on the south coast. As the commercial centre for the far south coast, Bega’s primary industries are concerned with the manufacturing and retailing of the end product of these rural industries. In line with any large rural town in Australia, along with social and health services, the town’s largest employers are from the service and retail industries.