The Freneys were the first white settlers in Willawong – and the surrounding district – and they set up the first local sawmill and sand extraction enterprises along Oxley Creek.
In 1841, the family left Ireland, and sailed on the barque “Hope” as assisted immigrants. James Freney had 5 sons – Thomas 10, Michael 8, Martin 6, Matthew 3 and Patrick 1. Catherine was his second wife, the first having died giving birth to Patrick. They arrived in Sydney 29 Jan 1842, where baby Patrick died. The family soon moved up to Armidale, where Edward was born in 1844.
Within a few years, the family moved north to Brisbane Town, recently opened to settlement, apparently driving stock with them. They were staying in Ipswich when they bought land on Oxley Creek, on what was then the main Ipswich/ Brisbane track (near the bullocky’s camp in Bowhill Road, a day’s journey from Brisbane).
The sons bought other properties nearby – and all built along Beatty/ Bowhill Road. They tried different crops – fruit and vegetables, plus cotton, sugar and tobacco.
They also tried businesses other than farming. In 1863, Martin Freney built a hotel on Ipswich Road, by Bullockhead Creek. The Wolston Hotel (later renamed the Halfway Hotel) was not a success. Matthew (with Edward) opened a butcher shop at Oxley Eldest son Thomas Freney became a local surveyor and JP: his name appears on several title deeds in the area.
Youngest son Edward felled timber and set up a sawmill on his property on Oxley Creek on Bowhill Road. Edward also extracted sand and gravel from Oxley Creek – used in city buildings eg Her Majesty’s Theatre (which opened in 1888) and Finneys department store. In 1893, the flood destroyed the sawmill. Freneys in rowboats were rescuing people from the verandas of the Rocklea Hotel. In 2009, Edward’s grand-daughter still lived in Willawong, on the land where Edward had built his first slab hut. Freney Park in Beatty Road stands as a tribute to this pioneering family.