The fig tree (Ficus macrophylla) is just as much of a symbol of the Kiama District as the Norfolk Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) that line the coastline. Before the cedar getters came to the Illawarra around 1810, the native fig and many other rainforest trees crowded the entire region. The Jamberoo valley, along the Minnamurra River, Gerringong and Kiama was described as covered with heavily timbered thick brush: “ you may lose yourself amidst the vines and creepers of an interminable forest”, wrote one early settler. The headlands were covered with forest, right to the cliff edges and every hilltop was crowned with giant fig trees. These figs supported huge colonies of flying foxes and were surrounded by cedar, sassafras, giant stinging trees, lillipilli, tree fern and cabbage tree palms, all linked by tangled vines.
Robert Hoddle set off in July 1830 and surveyed the Illawarra Escarpment in an attempt to find a quick way to Saddleback Mountain and down to Kiama, from the Southern Highlands. Hoddle wrote that the rainforest of the escarpment was 'the most formidable brush’. Hoddle had a team of 20 convict men, pack horses, bullock teams and drays. The path that Hoddle created went through sub-tropical jungle and was described as rough for both man and beast and only suitable for pack horses. At the time of the first Kiama town site sales in 1840, Kiama was still covered with this rainforest.
The most prominent fig tree in the early years was on Black Beach. This fig tree was the meeting place for the settlers and visitors. People waited for ships, goods were unloaded and early church services were held under the tree. Laurence O’Toole used this giant fig to set course for the beach in 1838 when he brought the very first trading vessel (The Bee) to Kiama. The first provisions were unloaded under the fig tree. This tree was so significant that the first council chambers in Kiama were built beside it. The fig was destroyed in a storm in 1964, and another was planted in commemoration. There was a newspaper article in 1868 about a huge fossil found under a large fig tree on the beach in Kiama. It was probably the Black Beach fig tree.
Arbor Day became established around NSW in the 1890’s and it is during these years that many of the Norfolk pines were planted around the Kiama coastline. There were even government grants for trees. In August 1879, 50 Norfolk pines, 50 fig trees and 50 Tasmanian blue gums were being planted around Kiama, with a grant of 200 pounds. Arbor Day celebrations and tree planting became a regular occurrence in the community. The huge Norfolk pines on the eastern side of the showground were planted following the 1898 Kiama show.
The Library Fig Tree is probably 140yrs old and was apparently planted by Mrs Majors in the 1860s. Harry Tidmarsh erected a swing on the tree which was used by all the local kids. The Tidmarsh’s lived in a house that was once on the site of the Library on Railway Parade.