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Originally inhabited by the Dharawal Aboriginal people, Nowra would derive its name from the Aboriginal word Noora which can mean either Black Cockatoo or camping place which was noted by explorer Charles Throsby when he first passed through the area in 1821. Enterprising emancipated convict Mary Reiby would be one of the first people granted land in the area in 1824, however settlement in the area wouldn't take off until the mid 1800s.
This well appointed land alongside the Shoalhaven River was favoured by timber getters who took advantage of the areas cedar forests with the coastal location proving advantageous for the east coast trade routes. The late 1800s was a boom time for the area with the extension of the railway line through nearby Shellharbour in 1887. This helped to improve transportation routes for the towns burgeoning beef and dairy industries. It would be the opening of the Port Kembla steel works in the 1950s which had a significant impact on the area's economy. The picturesque riverside town becoming a residential base for the workers and providing impetus for the establishment of associated manufacturing pursuits.
Nowra's grand historic house Meroogal, which has been owned by successive generations of the same family since it was built in 1885, is one of the last remaining examples of colonial era architecture in the town and a testament to the wealthy landowners who were initially attracted to Nowra. Although agriculture and farming remain in the surrounding areas, the town’s primary industry has drifted towards services industries with tourism accounting for significant amount of the local economy. The comfortable and decidedly pretty area has become a favourite with retirees leading to the town having a much older population than other areas in Shoalhaven city.