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Wangi Wangi, NSW

Lake Macquarie village famous for its connections with controversial artist William Dobell.

Known locally just as 'Wangi', Wangi Wangi is a quiet holiday and retirement town which is known to a generation of Australians as the home of the famous artist William Dobell.  It is located on a narrow peninsula which juts out from the western shore of the lake, includes the Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area, and is just a short distance from the entrance to the lake at Swansea and Swansea Heads. The primary appeal of the area is Dobell House and the Wangi Point Flora and Fauna Reserve. Beyond that, like all the towns around the lake, it is popular for fishing, swimming, boating, picnics and camping.


Wangi Wangi is located 128 km north of Sydney via the M1 - Pacific Highway. It is 4 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

The area was originally inhabited by the Awabakal Aborigines who, according to an 1826 sketch of the lake, referred to Wangi Point as Wonde Wonde. No one is sure what either "wonde wonde" or "wangi wangi" means but the word "wangi" has been translated as either "water", "night owl" or "dark green tree". The repetition of the word means "many". Thus it is either "a lot of water", "many night owls" or "place of many dark green trees".


Things to See and Do

Dobell House
In his time the Australian painter Sir William Dobell was one of the country's most famous and most controversial artists. He lived in Wangi Wangi (and made it famous) from the 1940s until his death in 1970. Dobell painted superb landscapes of Lake Macquarie and Wangi Wangi but it was as the recipient of the Archibald Prize that he gained notoriety. He won the famous portraiture prize  in 1943, 1948, and 1959. The 1943 award, given to Dobell's modernist painting of the artist Joshua Smith, became one of the most controversial prizes in Australian art history. It is recounted in considerable detail in the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Dobell: He won the 1943 Archibald prize with a portrait of Joshua Smith in January 1944. The morning after the award was announced, Smith's parents pleaded with Dobell to withdraw the portrait from exhibition; Joshua Smith refused to speak to him. Public opinion was vociferous. On 19 February 1944 the A.B.C. Weekly published the transcript of a radio talk by Dobell: 'To me, a sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but who tries to create something which is a living thing in itself, regardless of its subject . . . I have been trying to develop a style of my own derived from the Old Masters. The leaders of the so-called ''modern" movements have done the same—although they have developed in different directions'. Two unsuccessful artists, Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski, brought an action to overturn the award, claiming that 'Joshua Smith' was 'not a portrait but a caricature'. In the Supreme Court hearing of 23-26 October 1944 their main witness was J. S. MacDonald, who argued that portraiture was a specific genre bound by rules and, like a sonnet, had to subscribe to a correct form: 'it has to be a balanced likeness of an actual person'. The painting 'Joshua Smith', he went on, was not a portrait as it was 'very unbalanced, a caricature', and he added that the word came from 'caricare' which meant 'to overload'.
Dobell argued in defence that he was an artist of sound training, whose experience overseas had been supported by winning the travelling scholarship. Knowing his fellow painter reasonably well, he had a considered concept of his character and body language. Joshua did have long arms, habitually held his hands clasped, and when 'very determined to gain his point' he 'naturally sits in a chair that way'. Dobell was prepared to 'admit a slight exaggeration' in the portrait. On 8 November Justice Roper dismissed the suit against Dobell. Edwards's and Wolinski's appeal also failed. In April 1944 Dobell had been appointed a trustee of the Art Gallery for a four-year term.
Scarified by the court case, by the publicity and by abusive letters from total strangers, Dobell suffered an acute attack of dermatitis, followed by a nervous breakdown; he refused to leave the house, to think, to paint or do anything at all. In 1945 he retreated to Wangi Wangi, on the shores of Lake Macquarie, to live with his sister Alice in the holiday home that had been built by his father." For the full entry see http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dobell-sir-william-10025.
Dobell House - it combines his home and his studio - is open on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm and by appointment, tel: (02) 4975 4115. There are prints of his work on display, some inspired by the local scenery, as well as original furniture, possessions, memorabilia and photographs. Now owned by the National Trust the building is located at 47 Dobell Drive. For more information check out http://www.dobellhouse.org.au.

Wangi Point - Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area
Wangi Point, previously known as the Flora and Fauna Reserve and now one of the six areas around the lake that are all part of the State Conservation Area, is located on the end of the Wangi Wangi peninsula. It is comprised of 42.3 ha of bushland at Wangi Point, with approximately 2.9 km of lake foreshore. The area is predominantly rainforest remnants and eucalypt stands inhabited by koalas. There are good views of the lake and two walking trails along the lake foreshores and through bushland, native grassland and remnant littoral rainforest. There are four walks depicted on a plaque at the car park. Amusingly called the 'Easy Walk' leads out to a rest area at Wangi Point.  It last 30 minutes. The Botany Track goes out to the Point where there are good views of the lake and takes around 60 minutes. The Circuit Walk takes around 75 minutes and goes around the entire area and the Ridge Track which rises to the Lookout at the centre of the point takes about 45 minutes.

Myuna and Wangi Wangi Bays
On the south-western side of the Wangi Peninsula is Myuna Bay which has a strip of parkland along the lake foreshore. It has good views south-east across Rocky Point at the southern end of the bay and eastwards to Pulbah Island and across to the eastern shore of the lake. Wangi Wangi Bay, on the north-western side of the peninsula and just below Dobell House has a pleasant walking track which runs along the lakeside shore.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans around the shores of Lake Macquarie the area was occupied by people from the Awabakal Aboriginal language group.

* In 1800 Captain William Reid became the first European to explore the shores of the lake. He had been sent from Sydney to collect coal from the mouth of the Hunter River. He mistook the channel into Lake Macquarie for the river estuary. Members of the Awabakal tribe directed him to some coal in the headland. When he returned to Sydney he realised that he had reached the lake and not the mouth of the Hunter River. The lake became known as Reid's Mistake until 1826 when it was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

* Lieutenant Percy Simpson was probably the first European settler in the Lake Macquarie area. He received a 2000 acre grant in 1826, was assigned six convicts who cleared the land, grazed cattle, and built a homestead and stockyards near a ford over Dora Creek.

* An 1826 map of the area referred to the specific district as Wonde Wonde, presumably words from the Awabakal Aboriginal language group.

* Edward Gostwyck Cory of Paterson became the first European settler when he selected 560 acres here in 1829 but he did little with it. It was formally granted to Cory in 1842.

* By the end of the 1860s there were groups of fishermen in the district and a steam-driven sawmill was built at Cardiff Point, at the north-western tip of the bay.

* In 1868 Cornelius Moynahan began shipbuilding on the Lake Macquarie shore.

* By 1871 a timber industry had emerged in the area.

* In 1872 the first timber sawmill opened in the district.

* From around 1900 until 1916 there was a Chinese market garden near where the Workers Club now stands.

* The development of Wangi Wangi did not occur until 1916 when a Newcastle businessman, D.R. Israel formed the Wangi Wangi Development Company and began to subdivide the area. A 100 feet reserve was placed on the foreshore

* By the 1920s Wangi was a popular holiday resort destination for miners from Cessnock who set up tents along the shoreline in December and January when the mines were closed.

* During the 1920s the road to Wangi Wangi was so bad that most visitors caught the ferry from Toronto.

* The first post office opened in 1923.

* The artist William Dobell moved to the area in 1945 after winning the 1943 Archibald Prize.

* In 1948 Dobell won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting with his "Storm Approaching Wangi".

* The Wangi Power Station, a thermal power station, was completed in 1958.

* Myuna Colliery opened in 1981 to supply coal to Eraring Power Station.

* In 1999 Dobell House was listed on the National Estate.


Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in Wangi Wangi. The closest is at Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea, tel: 1800 802 044. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm


Useful Websites

The Lake Mac Libraries has an excellent history site on Wangi Wangi. Check out https://history.lakemac.com.au/page-local-history.aspx?pid=1085&vid=20&tmpt=narrative&narid=87.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • I’m doing this for an assessment and there is so much great content but there isn’t that much information on the location. but apart from that this website is great!

  • How does this place supply water?

  • I was given to understand that Wangi Wangi referred to the the area around a stand of trees in Lakeview where many night owls had nests. These birds gave a cry something like “boo-book” (sounding like boa or boo as in moo and book as in boooook). Others said it was more like the ‘ moh-poooke’ call. These birds are no longer there today as the trees were cut down in the 1950s for the Wangi Power Station. I’ve lived in Wangi Wangi for over 50 years and have had an interest in local history, so have talked with many locals and historians. My information came from people here before 1950s as well as my aunt and cousins who came to live in the little settlement of families of the power station builders (my uncle was killed in a car on the Toronto Road during the construction.) My Aunty said the area was rather quiet at night when the building got under way. I’ve been trying to recall the name of the Newcastle Herald Journalist that I contacted and spoke to on a few occasions who had a lot of information about the West Lake Macquarie early days and about Indigenous history – no doubt I’ll remember his name in an hour or more. Over the years I’ve not seen or heard anything to dispute anything this interesting fellow told me. I

    Rona Smith.