Place Names of South Australia - S
South-East(Also see Fleurieu Peninsula.)
For an essay on Aborigines in the Lower South East see under South Australia - Aboriginal Australians.
Discovery and Settlement
Hydatids are a terror of the South East. For these whisky is said to be an excellent antidote and is freely prescribed by the hospitable citizenry both for their visitors and themselves. There is more whisky consumed per head there... than in any other part of the colony
(Advertiser, 29 June 1885, p. 6.)
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled "A History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century".)
Prior to the examination and charting of the coastline of the south-eastern coast of modern-day South Australia by Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, and the historical meeting of those seafarers in Encounter Bay in April 1802, Lieutenant James Grant in HMS Nelson, en route to the convict colony in New South Wales in December 1800, recorded in the ship's log:
On the evening of 2 December 1800 one of those long flies, known by the name of horse stingers, came on board and lighted on the mainsail where it continued for some time. This was a stronger proof of land being near us than any we had yet seen, as this insect could not exist for any length of time at sea. Thoough no land was seen I redoubled my watchfullness. In the evening it came on to blow with much sea during the night which obliged us to keep a very snug sail, in order to be enabled to haul, if necessary, close to the wind without losing time. It continued to blow, with heavy squalls of rain, until 4 in the morning of the 3rd when we had daylight after which I made all the sail I could.
At 8 a.m. saw the land from north to the east-north-east, the part that was right ahead appearing like unconnected islands, being four in number, which on our nearer approach turned out to be two capes and two high mountains a considerable way inshore. One of them was very like the Table Hill at the Cape of Good Hope; the other stands further in the country. Both are covered with large trees as is also the land, which is low and flat as far as the eye can reach. I named the first of these mountains Mount Schank and the other Gambier's Mountain. The firat cape I called Cape Northumberland, after His Grace, the Duke of Northumberland, and another smaller but very conspicuous just off the land which we plainy saw when abreast of cape Northumberland, I named Cape Banks.
In far-off England, Thomas Henty, banker and sheep farmer decided that some of his family should emigrate so three of his sons, James, John and Stephen, went out to Western Australia in 1829 taking with them 40 servants, together with horses, cattle and sheep. The settlement was a disappointment to them so they decided to seek greener pastures and, accordingly, removed to Van Diemen's Land in 1831 and it was in that year that Thomas Henty decided to join his sons. Accompanied by his wife and three more sons, Charles, Edward and Frank, he sailed for Australia. An examination of the holding at Swan River convinced him that in seeking a change of locality his boys had done the wise thing, but, of course, this involved a considerable loss of capital.
In 1833, Edward Henty sailed from Van Diemen's land to examine the South Australian coast where he ventured as far as Port Lincoln and, on his return, called in at Portland Bay where a whaling station was located. The place challenged his attention, but did not appeal to him as an ideal spot to settle. Returning home, a short time later he returned to Portland in a schooner captained by John Hart and, in due time, his father, Thomas Henty, inspected the place and the outcome was that, in 1836, the family decided to seek their fortune there. Buildings were erected and other improvements made, according to historical research by Rev John Blacket in the 1920s, to the extent of some £8,000. It was here that Thomas Henty died in 1839.
At this time a vast forest wilderness lay between the settled parts of Victoria and South Australia and where the country was of tertiary limestone and, in most parts, covered with sand; thus it was for all practical purposes, a desert. A rough wiry grass, some coarse timber, with an abundance of wild flowers met the eye; but any prospective farmer would have turned despairingly from it. However, where the sand disappeared and the rock showed itself, a greener, richer reward was found for there was soil of the most fertile description. Trees of varied kinds grew in luxuriance and an oasis of beauty arose.
In 1839, another son, Stephen Henty, went on an exploring trip with two companions in the direction of Mount Gambier, seeking suitable land for pastoral purposes and, finding a little rise in the vicinity of the Valley Lake, he built a hut. In the fullness of time, at the behest of local citizenry, a suitable block of Mount Schank basalt rock was inscribed with the words: "S.G. Henty, 1839, Henty's Hut, 1841" and unveiled at this site. At an address given on the occasion Mr Crouch intimated that Henty had another hut near the modern-day Cave Garden Reserve in the center of the city, and went on to say that the men who assisted him in establishing the run, by driving livestock overland, were Jim Sneyd, Joe Frost, a native of Sydney named McCoy and Paddy Hann, an old soldier, as cook.
At a later time, writing to the Governor of New South Wales Stephen Henty said:
To those who have not seen Mount Gambier it may seem strange when I say I ascended it on the north-east side and was scarcely aware of my exact position until I reached the brink of an enormous lake which I can never forget - quite beyond my powers of description. At this time I was not certain whether this beautiful country belonged to the South Australian colony or I should have applied for a special survey in that locality for at this time I believe no European had ever seen the country but my own party.
The first pioneer to really open up the South East was Charles Bonney who, in 1839, in company with nine Europeans and two Aborigines brought 300 cattle, several horses and two bullock drays overland and in the process discovered and named Lake Hawdon, Mount Muirhead and Mount Benson. Water being scarce and the weather intensely hot, the trip was exhausting and on one occasion the party had to kill a calf and drink its blood to assuage their thirsts. Fortunately, the cattle smelt the waters of Lake Albert and made for it.
In 1854 the residents of the South East made a presentation of £700 to him as an acknowledgement of the successful manner in which he had parcelled out the waste lands of the district in his capacity of Commissioner of Public Works in the first representative South Australian government in 1857. Among those who signed the address to him were Messrs Edward and Robert Leake, John McIntyre, Hastings Cunningham, William Vansittart and George Glen.
On 2 August 1842 the Southern Australian stated that :
It is with unfeigned pleasure we have to announce the discovery of a splendid tract of country within the boundaries of the province, 90 miles in length by 30 miles across, stretching along the western bank of the Glenelg and extending along the western bank of the Glenelg and extending westwards as far as Rivoli Bay, the whole admrably adapted for purposes of grazing or agriculture... About 10 miles from Mount Schank there is a good harbour which the discoverer says must eventually be the shipping place of Australia Felix. The whole of this splendid tract of country is said to resemble a nobleman's park on a large scale and is well watered.
From the description given to it it cannot contain less than two million acres of available land or, in other words, nearly as much as has been discovered in the province. Already parties from Victoria are thinking of establishing themselves in this new territory and a further exploration of it, we presume, will be immediately ordered.
The first sale of freehold land took place in 1847 when four sections from 1100 to 1103, inclusive were granted to Mr Evelyn P.S. Sturt at £80.1s. per section and he remained in occupation until 1853 when he left to take up the position of Chief Inspector of Police in Melbourne. In the interim period he laid out the town of Gambierton and sold his freehold land, including the infant township, to Hastings Cunningham, while portion of his leased land went to William Mitchell - some of which was to become part of the Moorak Station at a later time under the stewardship of Dr W.J. Browne.
In April 1844, and predating Mr Sturt's appearance in the district, two brothers, Edward John and Robert Rowland Leake took possession of Glencoe Station where, in the course of a few years, the former died and his brother became the sole proprietor. In 1857 he was elected to the House of Assembly as a member for the seat of Victoria.
In the same decade, and into the 1850s, pastoral runs were taken up in what was then called the "new country" near the border and settled by squatters who had come either from Victoria to spy out the land, or trekked overland from settled areas contiguous to Adelaide. They were more than pleased with what they saw and many of them and their descendants remained there at the turn of the 20th century, having accumulated great wealth. Among these pioneers were The Arthur brothers at Mount Schank in 1844, Mr Heighway Jones at Lake Cadnite in February 1846 (later to be known as Kybybolite Station), Mr Donald Black at Kongorong in 1846, Mr Alexander Stewart at Mosquito Plains in April 1846, Mr Edward Townsend, who took up the Cadnite Creek Station in March 1847, and Mr Adam Smith at Hynam in July 1847.
In 1851 a concerned resident of Mount Gambier castigated the government:
The enormous distance which intervenes betwen the prosperous and populous district from which I write and Adealide, its capital, would seem to imbue our paternal government with an apathy to our social state and a culpable indifference to our requirements. Permit me therefore to assay the somnolence of those 'sleeping Fat Boys? of the State. It would be well, indeed, if the Briareus-like power of the Press were to extend its salutary and beneficial influence, if even but a little beyond the boundaries of Adelaide, the Burra Burra, or the hundreds and investigate into the social welfare of the remote and dimly recognised inhabitants of this Ultima Thule of the South Australian colony.
But, alas! While that palladium of British subjects is content to preserve our more fortunate fellow-subjects of Adelaide and the neighbouring districts from the neglect of our rulers, to award the meed of praise to the deserving, or castigate delinquency, we of the far interior, who most need its attentive consideration and effective advocacy, are left to shift for ourselves. But that, indeed, we are reminded from time to time of our paternity by being kindly permitted to contribute somewhat largely to colonial revenue, we should certainly forget our colonial origin and the source whence we derive our social beimg...
However, it was not wholly to these causes that the delay in furnishing the several populous business centres with connecting lines of railways could be attributed, for in the 1860s both Robe and Port MacDonnell refused persistently to support the government proposal to give them railways inland, but by the early 1880s they were clamorous for what was once offered and declined by them.
With the advent of 1866 the settlers in the South East were to complain that they derived little benefit from the large fund expended by the colony in bringing out emigrants from England because, after landing at Port Adelaide, they had no reasonable means of reaching the district. Therefore, they asked that a proportion of these new settlers be sent to Port MacDonnell and a depot established for their reception at Mount Gambier. Another grave concern was the want of regular administration of justice by the circuit courts and the absence of a public hospital.
Further, in 1868, it was said that it had not received a fair share of public expenditure because, up to the close of that year, the Government pocketed from the sale of Crown Lands in the Counties of Grey and Robe, the sum of £703,796, while the total expenditure on roads, bridges and jetties amounted to about £100,000.
At the same time a petition from merchants, traders and others in Adelaide was presented to parliament; it pointed out that, under existing arrangements with the post office authorities, the mail contractor was required to provide a seat for one passenger in the journey to Mount Gambier and, as a consequence, commercial travellers from Adelaide were obliged, because of this regulation, to return home via Melbourne.
Therefore, in consequence of the superior travelling facilities in Victoria the trade was virtually closed to South Australia. Accordingly, they requested more frequent mail communication and extended facilities for transit to and from Adelaide by means of more comfortable passenger conveyances, thus being the means of diverting trade, which was then all but exclusively Victorian, to this province.
The petition said, also, it was considered most unfair that Crown lands in the vicinity should be sold in Adelaide as it entailed great expense on farmers and other would-be purchasers and, further, it facilitated the operation of speculative land-jobbers to the detriment and loss of the agriculturist.
To the citizens of the South East Adelaide was their metropolis, but in name only for they felt no pride in claiming connection with it and took no interest in its progress. On the contrary, they regarded the capital city with a positively unfriendly eye and viewed it much as an ancient Israelite in Egypt might have viewed some of the splendid architectural monuments erected at his/her expense.
It was no satisfaction for them to know that its public buildings were a credit to the colonial capital and institutions supported on a most generous scale. Indeed, each new grant of money for such improvements was a source of jealously - a fresh insult to them in their destitution - a fresh occasion for alienating their goodwill - fresh fuel to keep alive the agitation for severance from the colony. Smarting under the feeling of neglect they forgot to do justice and bring charges against their rulers of self-favouritism.
By the mid-1870s the yeomanry of the South East were a long-suffering class. At the time it was common throughout the colonies of the British Empire that communities, generally speaking, situated a long distance from the seat of government, were invariably misgoverned or ignored. Indeed, within South Australia, the local representatives in Parliament were snubbed alike by Government and Opposition - that which they sought not and did not require was granted and that sought and required was denied.
One member (John Riddoch) resigned, "feeling the futility of his presence in the House to secure for his electorate that which was necessary for the welfare of his constituents." He, of course, was to be deeply involved in the insidious practice of land ?dummying? and this is discussed in another chapter.
In a stinging editorial following his resignation the Observer castigated him:
Mr Riddoch's aim was either to get the direction of the railway changed or to burke it entirely and, had he succeeded, the settlers in the north, for all he cared, would have to whistle for their means of reaching a nearer port than Rivoli Bay or Port MacDonnell... The Border Watch... has not served Mr Riddoch's cause by calling attention to the fact that he was evidently prepared to throw his Naracoorte constituents overboard entirely.... We may briefly allude to Mr Riddoch's farewell manifesto to the electors of the District of Victoria recently published under his own signature in which he reiterates the unwarrantable statements attributed to him.
Thus he repeats it is hopeless to expect to have any measures connected with the district in a fair and impartial manner by the Assembly as at present constituted... As we have said before Mr Riddoch went into the house with the settled purpose in his mind of defeating the Railway Bill and, failing in that object, his work was done. It would not have answered for him to have openly avowed the fact, and so he has raised this dust about injustice to the district to cover his retreat. We hope to see his place supplied by an equally able but less unscrupulous man, who will show by his acts that he cares for the interests of South Australia at large, as well as those of that limited portion of it which lies at Yallum Park.
I am accused of opposing the Railway Bill from interested motives but the [Observer] is quite oblivious to this fact that ever since the subject of this railway was mooted the scheme has been reprobated by every member for the district of Victoria and has been looked upon with disfavour by the great majority of the inhabitants.. I deemed a railway from Lacepede Bay to Naracoorte as involving a useless expenditure of money...
These demands were reasonable and the inhabitants had good cause to be dissatisfied at the manner in which their claims were neglected. It was shown, conclusively, in respect of the Border Duty question that the existing happy-go-lucky method of transferring goods landwise from one colony to another was eminently unsatisfactory. A few importers of Victorian merchandise, less cautious, or may be less favoured than their neighbours, were made examples of, while the proceedings of others were winked at quietly. This system was grossly unfair to the public and unjustly put the Customs officers open to grave suspicion.
The vexatious Border question, discussed in another chapter, was of concern for the South Australian squatter because regulations in Victoria in respect of the health of stock were not as rigid as those within their colony and, accordingly, the mere possibility of sheep from this side mingling with those on the other, tended to depreciate the value of the his stock.
For the three years preceding 1874 about 300 families had shifted their quarters to Victoria where the land laws were more attractive and the prospects for success in agricultural pursuits as least as great as the place they left. Some said that the panacea for this, and all the other woes, was to be found in throwing open to settlement the swamp lands of the district which, they avowed, should be reclaimed. Further, many people thought that they were heavily handicapped by the construction of that monstrous absurdity - the Lacepede and Naracoorte railway line - this was cast in their teeth continually when government aid was sought for public works.
The spirit of separation, which had manifested itself in a tangible form for some years, was not extinguished totally by 1875 and the residents were all but in unison when they declared that, if the ruling powers desired to see the South East remain an integral portion of South Australia, a more liberal policy was needed to guide their actions in the future than had been the case in the past.
By mid-1887 the Naracoorte to Mount Gambier railway was ready to be opened and its completion was most important, because it not only united previously disjointed local systems into one compact and harmonious whole, but it was to link, permanently, the rich districts of Mount Gambier and Penola to Adelaide. Until then it was much easier for residents in those two towns to travel to Melbourne than Adelaide and, of course, the post was proportionately much quicker with Melbourne. By year's end there was no doubt that the sympathies of the people were largely with Melbourne. This was not their fault, but due in part to their geographical position and to the neglect of the legislature of that part of the colony.
By the turn of the 20th century, and with the pending federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, the citizens of the South-East were considering the desirability of seceding and becoming part of Victoria and many grievances were aired in support of their desire. Firstly, they stated that if they had a broad gauge railway all the way to Adelaide they could increase the productivity of their holdings, for the loss of time occasioned by the break of gauge at Wolseley, and the double handling, were fatal to much of the perishable products forwarded to the city markets.
If this was to be denied, they considered that a railway line to Victoria connecting them with Portland would enable them "to transfer our business and our sympathies to Victoria." Indeed, in the late 1890s, a cry for a railway extension from Casterton to Mount Gambier was taken up on the Victorian side, while at the same time Portland was working hard in the same direction and Melbourne merchants were sending their travellers to the district where prices were cut for the purpose of obtaining orders.
The district was referred to as "The Garden of the South", but it was more than that for it also produced livestock of the finest quality - cattle, horses, sheep and pigs and more time was being devoted to the dairying industry, to say nothing of rabbits. With an assured rainfall of over 20 inches, splendid soil and a good climate, there was no limit to which the stockowner or farmer should fear going, provided they had a guaranteed outlet. Gradually, land holdings became smaller as some of the large pastoral stations were subdivided and intense culture adopted where, previously, only a few sheep were running. County Grey was the largest producer of cheese and potatoes in the colony and second in respect of the growing of oats and in one season about 15,000 lambs were purchased for export.
The call went out - "Shall we hold what we already have, or let it pass into the hands of others?" In other words, should the trade of the South East be retained by South Australia, which had for more than 60 years been responsible for its public works, or should it be absorbed quietly by Victoria and become a perquisite of Melbourne merchants?
Federation was to expose, both as a State and traders, the fullest competition on the part of neighbouring rivals. The barriers were to be broken down and, in a commercial sense, the race was to be swift and the battle strong. Fortunately, there was no fear that a united Australia would lose its colonies in the way France lost Alsace and Lorraine but, as far as the trade of the South East was concerned, it was all but certain that unless improved facilities were provided for the encouragement of the flow of traffic westward, the ultimate result would be much the same as if the most fertile province of South Australia had been overrun and appropriated by Victoria. Indeed, merchants the world over found it necessary to employ some of the methods of aggression described by Wordsworth over Rob Roy's grave:
Because the good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan -
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.
At Mount Gambier there was "The Mount Gambier Branch of the Portland to Mount Gambier Railway League", while at Portland every effort was employed to see it becoming a reality. Indeed, the construction of a new jetty at this time proved that it was a strong competitor to the trade of the South East and, at about the same time, a memorial containing 700 signatures from Mount Gambier residents was presented to the government in Adelaide seeking the same thing. This project was not to be completed until 1917.
While the authorities pricked up their ears, the vigorous controversy promoted somnolence and was found to be more congenial than definite action. And what was the sequel? - While the subdivision of large estates had augmented the population, by 1906 trade with Adelaide decreased to the extent of one third and Victorian steamers made regular calls at local ports and this business was highly profitable.
Thus, the feud between settlers and those in authority in Adelaide continued unabated for many years:
The outcry against the encroaches of Victorian tradesmen on the South Australian preserves has died out and during the past 12 months thay have made slow but steady strides into the business affections of local dealers. The alarmists imagined that they will ultimately oust the South Australian merchants from their present custom, that the South East will drift across the border and some other catastrophes but the conservative inhabiatnts of the South East have no desire that such things will happen.
Their main lack is an outlet for their produce and they have set their hearts on Portland which, it is popularly supposed, will eventually become the port of shipment for the South East. Some of the old dealers have loyally stood by their original suppliers, but the majority have met the approaches of the Victorian houses while a small minority deal solely with Melbourn firms.
Ports of the Lower South East
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled A History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century.)
Although stinted by nature and snubbed by art, Port MacDonnell ranks next in commercial importance to Port Adelaide. and is therefore a much busier place than Robe. As the anchorage is bad, vessels are compelled to lie at the moorings over a mile from the shore, but a new era was inaugurated when a visitor reported that the Gambier Lass, a ketch built on Lefevre's Peininsula, had discharged and taken in cargo alongside the jetty.
(Register, 20 March 1873, p. 2 (supp.))
By 1860, it had been a matter of regret and annoyance that a large part of the revenue, justly belonging to the colony, was paid into the Victorian treasury from the simple fact of the border country having no seaport on the South Australian side so easily accessible as that of Portland. Suggestions were made for the establishment of an inland Custom House, but they were not acted upon because it was feared that the system would have proved both vexatious and expensive.
It was also suggested that some arrangement should be made with the Victorian government for the collection of duties on our behalf in the same way as they were received upon goods taken up the River Murray by steamers, but nothing was done upon that subject and the South Australian revenue continued to suffer to the extent of some thousands of pounds annually for the want of available means of collecting its own duties in the south eastern part of the colony.
About 1855 Captain Bloomfield Douglas, then Harbour Master of South Australia, was impressed with the belief that a safe harbour might be found in the vicinity of Cape Northumberland and he attempted a survey, in company with Captain Freeling and Mr Dashwood. It happened, however, that a gale came up from the south west and he was obliged to abandon the project.
When Mr Germein was stationed at the MacDonnell lighthouse, Captain Douglas instructed him to examine the coast at the point indicated and his report induced the Trinity Board to request Captain Douglas to visit the place in the Yatala and, in due course, he presented a report, together with a chart of the new harbour. The importance of this port, only 17 miles from Mount Gambier, was considered to be a tremendous advantage to the settlers because at the time they had to obtain their stores from Portland, a distance of 65 miles, the nearest South Australian ports being Rivoli Bay (60 miles) and Guichen Bay ( 85 miles). They also had to pay Victorian duties, which were 18 pence per pound weight and higher on tobacco and one shilling per gallon higher upon spirits than those levied in South Australia. Thus, MacDonnell Bay came into use as a shipping place, if not a port, and the residents soon obtained the construction of a good metalled road to their nearest seaboard.
With the exception of a few miles of macadam north of Mount Gambier, and near Guichen Bay, no other works of development had been undertaken and so difficult was the communication with Guichen Bay that, until the completion of the road to MacDonnell Bay, Portland in Victoria did considerable trade with Mount Gambier.
At a Select Committee on the South East Mr James Cooke, a resident of Kingston, extolled the advantages of Lacepede Bay with its wide entrance of 18 miles:
When the lighthouse is up ships will be able to enter to enter with perfect ease on the darkest night without a pilot. The works required were very small indeed compared with the immense interests which such works would promote.
Another aspect in the development of the colony in its early days was the expenditure incurred on works that could scarcely be expected to be reproductive for many years and the jetties fringing the long coastline of over 2,000 miles amply testified to money both well and ill spent. With a desire to settle people on the land to government wished to give all facilities possible for settlers to get their produce to market and jetties were built often long before there was a population to be served.
The expense of collection of jetty dues was out of all proportion to the amounts received and, consequently, the government decided in 1889 that the local authorities should have control of all jetties within their boundaries. In this manner about 24 jetties were handed over and, apparently, without any conditions attached. In the 20th century the control was vested in the Harbors Board.
By the close of the 1870s, many promises had been made by various parliaments that means of communication would be granted, whereby produce could be transported to the nearest, best and natural seaport. For example, in October 1873 the Editor of the Border Watch made the following observation while taking a tilt at the vacillation of the government:
- All the nautical authorities agree in recommending Rivoli Bay North as the most suitable harbour, yet the government, while concurring, will not take the consistent course of opening it and making it accessible. They find they can go upon the tempting penny wise and pound foolish polcy and it would appear they now propose to spend a few thousand pounds in making a temporary port at the south end.
It eventually owned two vessels, Penola and Coorong and they made weekly trips between Adelaide and Melbourne, calling at the south-eastern ports, but running more frequently in the potato season, during which up to 20,000 tons were shipped, together with flour, wattle bark and kangaroo skins. Until about June 1880 the manager, Mr A.S. Wood, resided at Beachport after which he removed to Port Adelaide
By 1880 Port MacDonnell and Rivoli Bay were rivals, but it almost amounted to a grim joke to see the eternal feud between the two. Indeed, their respective newspaper correspondents to the Mount Gambier newspapers reminded the readers of the Dickensian Eatanswill editors or the Kilkenny cats than anything else witnessed in the South Australian press. However, with the establishment of the railway to Beachport the importance of the other was reduced considerably and this was exacerbated by the want of protection from the ever present south west winds and heavy seas.
Some of the loyal townspeople made light of this, but it was such a serious drawback it threatened to do much harm to the port as the opening of the railway. Steamers were frequently unable to land cargo or take potatoes on board, unless they called twice at the bay, and some of it had to be taken three times from Mount Gambier before it could be loaded. For example, SS Penola lost 11 days and 8 hours between 20 April and 30 August 1880 through being unable to do her work.
As long as Kingston was the seaward head of one line, and Beachport the other, there was a considerable traffic and those towns flourished, but when the Mount Gambier to Wolseley railway line was opened the heads became terminals and, robbed of their traffic and the South East shipping, killed. At Port MacDonnell, Beachport and Kingston there were warehouses, offices, sidings and loop lines sufficient to transact half the business that was then being done at Port Adelaide.
The past government policy of spending about £100,000 on four or five separate ports was a huge blunder and proved detrimental to the profitable working of the district's railways. Had that sum been spent on developing one site there would have been no danger in the South East seceding to Victoria.
By the turn of the 20th century there existed a general feeling of discontent at the way in which the development of the South East was neglected. In the interior, and particularly around Mount Gambier, its chief cause was the mismanagement of the railways. Near the coast the absence of a port to accommodate vessels of the deepest draught caused great concern because a good deal of the trade gravitated towards Victoria.
Alternative schemes proposed by Mr Lindon W. Bates, ?a harbour expert?, called for either an expenditure of £1,990,000 at Kingston, £600,000 at Robe or £992,000 at Beachport. The cost of the work was out of the question and in looking around for other means of overcoming the difficulty it was thought that a suggestion made previously by Captain Weir could be considered, namely, the erection of a jetty in Rivoli Bay under the shelter of the reefs.
Industries of the Lower South East
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled A Social History of the Lower South East.)
I wish to remind you that Mount Gambier has become a flourishing town through nothing more nor less than the farmers settling here. Without them Mount Gambier would be a poor, miserable place, with mail once a fortnight, land in the township worth perhaps five pounds an acre, whereas at present it is a flourishing town supporting flour mills and tradesmen of nearly every kind. Give the farmer a chance to get upon what some call worthless land, let them have it in blocks from one to ten miles, they will find parts to cultivate and the population of the district would double itself in twelve months.[ Signed - W. Paltridge]
(Border Watch, 8 October 1864)
A cockatoo farmer is one who scratches over the surface of his land for a few years, cultivates wheat only, ploughing with a double plough about four inches deep for a year or two, scarifying two inches deep the succeeding one, reaping with the stripper, burning his stubbles until the soil is filled with wild oats, then perhaps taking a couple of crops of dirty hay, when he moves on to "fresh fields and pastures new", repeating the operation ad infinitum.
(Register, 6 January 1876, p. 6.)
Thus, happy homesteads were deserted and farmers trekked northward on to larger holdings which they proceeded to despoil upon the same wasteful plan. The flour mills, stores, villages, etc., that were established in consequence of the first highly successful farming, languished, and finally the mills, stores, wheelwrights, smiths and machinery shops closed. In the northern areas the collapse was more sudden because hay growing could not follow so successfully upon the failure of wheat. Indeed, because the wheatgrowers commenced with the multiple ploughs, the stripper, the firestick and finished with the mullenizer, the stump-jumper, and even in some cases when new land was taken up, the bushes were rolled flat, burnt, seed sown on the sandy soil and harrowed in without the use of a plough or any other implement.
The Press, as the voice of the people, spoke out and many suggestions were made. Customs returns were examined and it was found that the colony was importing many hundreds of thousands of pound worth of merchandise that could be grown, produced and manufactured by its own people - these included olive oil, wine, dried and preserved fruits, bacon, cheese, butter, potatoes. Gradually, the farmers began to find that there was money in the suggestions made in the Press.
According to Mr Albert Molineux the first wheat grown in South Australia was on a quarter acre block on Montefiore Hill while, later, Captain Robertson grew a successful crop near the Half Way Hotel on the Port Road. However, the identity of the first wheat grower in the colony has been subjected to much debate, for in 1887 the Register reproduced a letter from Mr Allan McLean who claimed to be the first man to "turn the sod". Dissenting comments followed and a correspondent opined that, "The first land turned up was in North Adelaide, in what was then known as Hack's Garden, also a small piece of land on South Terrace and that by the pioneer ploughman, John Watson."
At first, harvesting was done with a reap hook and sickle and, until the general adoption of the Ridley stripper, the sheaves were stooked in the usual way and threshed out with the aid of fluted rollers made of a log of wood tapered from the thick end to a small point at the other extremity. Another method - and perhaps the most universal - was to tramp the grain out with bullocks after the manner in vogue in Biblical days. The wheat was then put on to a tarpaulin and with shovels it was thrown across the wind against the sheet.
The reaping machine - or "stripper" as it was called at Mount Gambier was not used universally as it was in the northern farms. More than half the fields were cut down with a mowing machine or sickle and this was due to a variety of causes. In some cases the crops were too heavy for the stripper, the weight of the wheat in the machine entailing too great a draught for the horses in light soil. In others, the fern was too thick, the comb being choked continually by it, thus rendering it impossible to save the grain. Accordingly, very little stripping was done, the mower and binder taking the place of the reaping machine in the field and the steam thresher acted as a substitute for the winnower. By this means the straw and chaff were saved so there was little waste.
When wheat growing was first attempted in South Australia success was achieved at once, although only European varieties were available, but when the districts with warmer conditions and lower rainfall were cropped it was found that the then known varieties were not altogether suitable. It was soon seen that the liability of attacks of red rust and take-all, and the comparative dryness of the Spring season, demanded different types of wheat if success was to be obtained.
From Cereal Growing to Diversification in the Lower South East
The main agricultural settlement in the South East took place in the 1860s within the Mount Gambier district because, close to the base of the Mount, the soil was deepest. For instance, at OB Flat and Yahl there were several paddocks, notably those of Davis Bros. McLean and Johann Lange, that were estimated to yield from 50 to 60 bushels to the acre. Further out the soil became shallower until, outside of a five mile radius, there appeared the old formation of sandy loam, resting upon a limy subsoil.
It was here that many of the deserted homesteads of those who migrated to the Wimmera from the late 1860s were to be found. These men were, generally, tenants paying in some cases a rental of 18 shillings per acre for the land to large proprietors who obtained it chiefly a £1 per acre in earlier times:
With poor land and a heavy rent those farmers, though hard working and industrious, found it utterly impossible to make any headway and in the liberal provision of the Victorian land law experienced a change from a species of white slavery to comparative independence.
Those who could do so gathered up the wrecks of their fortune and left for Victoria, principally to Horsham, actually driven out of the colony by the short-sighted policy of the government in keeping those lands capable of cultivation locked up against them.
The new settlers, having laboured night and day to secure their wheat from the kangaroos have met with the misfortune of having it all swept away by fire... These farmers have nothing to live on now, to say nothing of paying rent, buying flour and seed wheat and living for the next 12 months...
An 1866 census indicated that the population of the County of Grey had doubled within the previous five years and a reference to agricultural returns showed that, while in 1861 the extent of land under wheat was but about 4,000 acres, by 1866 it had been raised to 13,571 acres. The great landowners in the district were W.J.T. Clark, E.J. Leake, J. Ellis and W.J. Browne, each owning upwards of 50,000 acres each.
However, as recalled previously, the choice land was all in the vicinity of Mount Gambier where the wheat was prepared for market in the fields and drays took it to Captain French's store at MacDonnell Bay under arrangements with the Farmers? Club at five pence per bushel. In all practical respects it was closer to Melbourne than to Adelaide and when people talked about going to town they meant Melbourne. Indeed, the means of access to Adelaide were disgraceful for there were no means of overland conveyance except by the mail cart.
In 1866 the government attempted to supply labour to the district, but many of the men sent were wholly unfit for farm work and it was agreed, generally, that the labour had been supplied on the principle of relieving the incubus of useless hands in Adelaide, than of meeting the requirements of the Mount Gambier district. The immediate result was an amount of pauperism hitherto unheard of in the district, and a desertion of about 25 families, chiefly freeholders, who sought "better facilities for settling on and obtaining land" while others objected to the high rents imposed by the land owners coupled with an inability to get sufficient land for the employment of their families.
Then came the potato discovery when it was found, by experimenting, that the only bar to successful potato culture in the district, the frost, could be avoided by planting in November, and that heavy yields of wheat could be obtained by following the potatoes. By 1874 some 1,500 acres were under cultivation with the potato and doubled within twelve months when returns of up to 20 tons per acre were obtained.
Further, hop gardens became more extensive, the acreage under sown grasses in the Count of Grey exceeded 22, 000 acres (out of 24,000 in the whole colony) and the farmer turned his mind and labour towards other primary industries such as dairy farming, tobacco, fruit and chicory growing, while the Government contemplated forestry on a grand scale.
By the 1870s farmers chose, generally, to take up new land under the Government's credit system provided the price was not run up by absurd competition among themselves. There were rich, moist land in the South East but, notwithstanding their fertility, it was not held in high favour due, no doubt, to the high rents demanded by the squatters who were the principal land owners and the distance from a port of shipment or railway station for both the freeholder and lessee alike.
From a social point of view the greatest evil of the colony's liberalised land laws was a tendency to change of homestead which was fostered and encouraged amongst the farmers, young and old. Not only were the young men intent upon going out and getting farms of their own which, of course, was perhaps reasonable and necessary, but many of the older settlers were induced to break up their old homes and seek ?fresh fields and pastures new? in distant parts of the country. It was the wives who suffered most severely by this migration and, of necessity, many years were to pass before they attained the advantage of schools for their children.
By 1870 the district surrounding Naracoorte could not be called a farming district because only a few colonists tilled the land for it was a fact that the land not taken up was inferior. Indeed, if the few farmers who had selected good land could have taken take up inferior sections, the situation might have been stabilised but, unfortunately, they were all hemmed in by ?dummies?.
Within the last three months large numbers of bona fide settlers have visited Narracoorte [sic] hoping to be able to make selections in that locality; but as all the more valuable sites were selected at an early date the great majority have gone back disappointed or have gone on to Victoria to make a choice in that country. In a case of this sort, decisive steps should be taken and large tracts of country should be thrown open for selection in the South East... and at the same time constructing a railway which will develop the resources of that portion of the colony and convey the produce to market.
The present state of things has the direct tendency to demoralize the whole community and is steadily undermining our social and political fabric. Misery has overtaken us and there is more in preparation for us... Our case is so bad that nothing but an extreme remedy will suffice to cure it... When all the truth is told it is discovered that the extreme and reckless system of credit hitherto in operation here has resulted in giving fictitious price to everything, land and money not excepted...
There was formerly a good deal of farming tried there. But the farms did not pay and the agriculturist has now given way to the sheep, the farms having been sold and formed into small runs, varying in size from 500 to 3,000 acres. There are , however, some Education lands for which about one shilling an acre rental per annum is being paid. Somebody, no doubt, reaps the benefit of this; but, judging by the quality of the land we passed through, I should not think it is the lessee...
By the close of 1872 the days of exclusive wheat growing were numbered at Mount Gambier because the bulk of the land was sick of wheat, but it could still grow more grass and feed and feed more stock to the acre than in the old days "when it was no uncommon occurrence to lose both sheep and shepherd in the kangaroo grass." Accordingly, the farmer looked towards his sheep, cattle, grass seeds, potatoes and peas to ?make up his bank account.?
The continuing poor yields of wheat and other cereals in the mid-1880s naturally started a cry among the farming community. In many cases little had been done in fostering dairy products such as butter and cheese, until a tariff passed in 1888 doubled the duties on all these items. Even then it was difficult to get any district to take up the production and all attempts in a direction north of Adelaide met with a luke warm reception. Indeed, the Mount Gambier district was the only part of the colony to institute a factory system.
By 1890 the question of cultivation of the land was becoming a dead letter and the aim of most settlers was to increase their holdings to about 1,000 acres and run up to a 1,000 sheep and a few head of good cows, the milk from which could be sold readily to the cheese factories. The land required manure for agricultural purposes and breaking the surface without applying it injured the prospects of the country. However, one drawback was "coast disease" and it was necessary to remove flocks inland to more healthy country. The star thistle was also a nuisance and sheep travelling through it got their wool into a poor state:
The life of a farmer was not without its troubles for dry weather, hot winds, blight, red rust, slugs and caterpillars destroyed both green and straw crops. Mangold wurzels thrived and oats and barley gave large returns, at times.
Nearly all the old settlers have, on the damper country, long ago abandoned the attempt to live by wheat growing. At one time this land was believed capable of sustaining a large population. and the system of agriculture obtaining in the old country was introduced. So thought not a few who considered themselves competent judges of soil. Most of the farmers developed into small squatters or graziers.
The majority of the farmers are in great distress and pretty well all of them have been ruined; the position altogether is desperate... Whilst the voice of the bailiff is heard so frequently in the houses of the over-mortgaged and distressed selectors, who can wonder if the harassed selectors show a disposition to move to other localities having brighter prospects? Some have returned to South Australia... Others have gone to Western Australia in the hope of replenishing their depleted pouches from the gold-laden pockets of the colonial Cinderella. But the larger number appear to be moving to New South Wales...
Shipwrecks and Disasters
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled A Social History of the Lower South East.)
- The whole coast abounds in reefs and the break of the Southern Ocean upon these during a gale is a sight which impresses itself upon the memory. Such places as the Admella Reef, Carpenters Rocks and kindred localities are reminiscent of wrecks and the loss of human life and the sight of them suggests a feeling of thankfulness in the existence of such a grand institution as the light service Many of the lighthouses are necessarily removed from intercourse with the outside world...
( Register, 10 December 1902, p. 4.)
As long as men go down to the sea in ships there will be wrecks and the South Australian coast has been the scene of a goodly share of Australia's marine tragedies, and down through time almost every year has added to the list. From 1837 to 1924 more than 200 vessels were wrecked, stranded, lost or foundered in our waters and many of their skeletons lie half submerged along various parts of the coast, while many have been scattered by the four winds and the pounding waves. In the early days, as discussed in another chapter, the South East ports were important shipping centres and along the wind swept coast many a trim schooner, barque or brigantine crashed to its doom. The beetling crags of Cape Northumberland and the treacherous waters of Guichen Bay lured a large number of vessels to destruction. Indeed, the reputation of the whole south eastern coat was bad, but those two points were the graveyards of the South Australian deep.
In June 1845 Captain Underwood started for Rivoli Bay with a cargo of flour in the Victoria and the weather was congenial until he reached Cape Jaffa where it blew with such intense fury that he hove to about 30 miles off the coast and headed northward. But the schooner was of light draft and made considerable drift and, at the end of the second day, the gale had not abated and from the masthead at sunset he saw the breakers of the Cape Jaffa shoals bearing SE about eight miles. He determined to keep away to the NE and round the shoals at a distance.
For an hour the ship forged on under close-reefed topsail when, all at once, he saw a sea rise on the quarter, gaining altitude as it rushed along. He shouted orders to put the helm hard up, but it was too late. The sea burst with a roar like thunder and rolled right over the schooner, capsizing her in an instant and burying all the men beneath its mass.
Captain Underwood found himself plunged into the water while he was still clinging to the mast, but he quickly let go and came to the surface.. He swam under the lee of the wreck but neither heard or saw any of the crew, but he saw a dinghy floating, nearly full of water:
- I got into the boat, but found the stern was lashed to something below water... Then I saw another mountainous sea coming on. For a moment I waited for it to crash down, but it spent its fury before it reached me and the jerking motion of the wreck snapped the lashing and sent me in the boat spinning away from the wreck for about 20 yards. [Later] I heard a voice on the waves at a short distance. It was one of my seamen struggling for his life.
After reflection it was decided to head south to Rivoli Bay, keeping to the seaboard in the hope of finding limpets and shellfish on the beach. Among the sandhills they came upon a bed of large toadstools which they thought were mushrooms and Underwood described what happened:
- I ate two of them and my comrade one. Our appetite seemed satiated and we travelled on. But about an hour afterwards we began to feel strange symptoms - dimness of sight, cold sweat, swelling of the hands and strange hallucinations. We thought we saw buildings and coaches and heard sheep bleating, dogs barking, etc... When we came to a water hole I drank a heavy draught and almost immediately afterwards felt I was dying... I threw myself at the side of a bush and began to vomit and so threw back the poison I had eaten... We trudged on but our senses continued in a disordered state all day.
The Jane Lovett, a Yankee schooner bought by Mrs Laura McCarthy for £750, was wrecked in MacDonnell Bay in 1852 while sailing to Adelaide from Melbourne with a cargo of spirits. It was a dark night and Captain Parker thought he had passed Cape Northumberland (these were the days before the light was installed) but the ship struck a reef in the bay and became fixed. In the morning, the mate and four of the crew took a ship's boat and said they would try to get to Melbourne or Adelaide, but nothing was heard of them, so it was presumed they had perished.
The remainder of the crew elected to walk to the newly formed township of Gambierton but the captain would not leave his ship or cargo and so he was left alone grieving. Tragedy was added to tragedy for, at last when help came, they found the captain had been murdered,. They buried him in the sand dunes but when a small cemetery was opened on top of the cape his bones were removed there, where he lies today within sound of his beloved sea. Two hutkeepers, named Crawford and Stephens, believed to be convicts from either New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land, employed by John McIntyre who held the Mount Schank station, were arrested.
The Margaret Brock left Melbourne on 20 May 1852 and in the early hours of the 23rd she struck a reef about 12 miles from the shore and south of Guichen Bay. The Captain ordered the boats to be manned immediately and sent as many passengers as possible to the shore in the long boat. Finding that the quarter boat was too small to hold the remaining passengers, seven of them volunteered to remain aboard until it returned from the shore.
A passenger, P.B. Coglin, continues the story:
We succeeded in conveying a bag of biscuit to the shore and a few pounds of cheese, but were without tea, sugar or any other provisions. Our party consisted of 44 persons, including five women and three children. The provisions on being shared out amongst us gave us two biscuits and about two ounces of cheese per person. A consultation was held respecting the mail and it was decided to burn it in the presence of all parties. This was done, there being no means of conveying it overland.
As soon as we had determined upon what course to take we started in a body on our hazardous journey, steering ENE which unfortunately brought us upon a succession of swamps and reedy marshes which the poor females and children... found great difficulty in wading through...
The next morning we were fortunate enough after passing Maria Creek to hear the crack of a stockwhip which proceeded from a blackfellow who said he was in the employ of Mr Gifford... Soon after this Mr Gifford himself came up and, learning that we were short of provisions, very kindly sent the blackfellow 40 miles to Mr Tilley's station for a supply of flour and mutton...
We were also fortunate enough to fall in with a Mr and Mrs Denton travelling overland on horseback from Guichen Bay to Adelaide and who kindly distributed among the females a portion of the wine and eatables which they had packed up for their own use on the road. As I am a good walker, it was arranged that I should accompany them on the road for the purpose of securing assistance... After walking 46 miles on the first day we succeeded in reaching Salt Creek at 10.30 at night.
The next morning I induced Mr Robinson, who keeps a public house, to cross the creek with his horse and cart with provisions which he did, though there was a considerable stream of water running at the time. The following day he returned with the females in the cart and the rest of the party arrived safely in the evening...
I determined to proceed to the Murray for a horse. Having, therefore, made arrangements for that purpose with Mr Mason, the Protector of Aborigines, that gentleman went down the river in his boat and obtained the services of a policeman and a fresh horse and despatched them to the Captain's assistance. Having done what I could for my fellow-sufferers I left Wellington on horseback and arrived in Adelaide on the evening of November 30th.
The Sultana, 350 tons, was wrecked on 27 April 1857 and the first mate had charge, the captain of the vessel, having died on the voyage from Hong Kong. While maneuvering the ship into the bay she struck a reef off Cape Lannes and anchors were let down immediately and, finding that she was making water, the mate decided that the only way to save her was to beach her where his passengers (400 Chinese) scrambled ashore without casualty.
On 25 June 1857 the Dutch barque Koenig Willem II arrived at Guichen Bay with Chinese immigrants and her departure was delayed by bad weather and, on the 30th, during a gale, the 60 fathom chain cut her windlass and, accordingly, the master made sail with the intention of beaching her. As soon as the wreck was perceived at Robe Messrs Ormerod instantly ordered all men in their employ to render assistance, but before the majority of them reached the scene the melancholy result had occurred.
Soon after the barque struck, a boat was got out from the wreck into which the chief mate and crew entered with the exception of the captain who was left on the wreck, owing to the boat's painter breaking. The boat had proceeded but a short distance when, from the want of oars, she broached too, filled, and her living freight was left to struggle for their lives in the breakers and out of the 25 that left the vessel, only nine were dragged ashore and all of them in a state of partial insensibility.
Attention was now turned to the captain who was pacing the few feet of the stern left to him. The wrecked vessel had been swept so close to the shore that every sign made by him was distinctly observed and his voice could be heard above the din of the storm, calling for assistance, while on shore about 100 men were utterly unable to render any help.
The sun went down in a fiery sky, night was drawing on and the majority of the assembled people, with heavy hearts, went home. During the evening various schemes were devised for rescue attempts and Mr John Ormerod guaranteed £50 to a boat's crew at the bay if they succeeded in bringing off the captain. An Encounter Bay Aborigine volunteered, for a consideration, to swim to the wreck with a rope, while a small boat was despatched by Mr Evans, by land, to be launched as soon as practicable.
However, during the evening it was reported that the captain was safe ashore. Fortuitously, there was a wind shift and he was able to float a cask ashore with a rope attached following which rescuers were able to haul him through the surf. Records vary as to whether 15 or 16 were drowned, but several large coffins were made from the wrecked vessel and the victims buried in the nearby sandhills.
A collection of manuscripts relative to the wreck of the Admella off Cape Northumberland in 1859 was presented to the Public Library Board by Mr. R.T. Silvester, of Portland, for preservation purposes. The wreck forms one of the most sensational episodes in South Australian history and the story of the heroic rescue of the survivors after a week of terrible suffering will never lose its interest.
The Admella, a small steamer of 360 tons, had been plying regularly between Port Adelaide and Melbourne for about a year when, on 5 August 1859, she left Port Adelaide for what was to be her last trip with 113 souls on board. At four o'clock next morning, when the vessel was approaching Cape Northumberland, the captain believed himself to be about thirteen miles from land. In reality, however, the ship was close to a dangerous reef, an error of reckoning having risen either from a derangement of the compass or, more probably, from a current which carried the vessel shorewards.
Suddenly she grated on a reef and, heeling over, lay broadside on to the heavy seas. An effort was made to lower the boats, but two of them were smashed and the third broke adrift. In less than fifteen minutes the Admella broke into three parts and several passengers were washed overboard. At dawn the mainland could be seen about a mile and a half away, but no habitations of any kind wee visible and those on the wreck turned their eyes to seawards for assistance.
At 8 am the Havilah, a sister ship, steamed by but her passengers, though visible from the Admella, failed to observe the signals of distress improvised by those on the wreck. Two men attempted to gain the shore on pieces of timber, but they were carried out to sea by a current. On the second day the sea was calmer and two seamen, John Leach and Robert Knapman, succeeded in reaching the shore with the assistance of a raft. For a time they lay exhausted on the beach and, after quenching their thirst at a marsh, they hurried to Cape Northumberland.
The lighthouse keeper rode to Mount Gambier and a telegraph message was sent to Adelaide, following which a rescue party was dispatched in the Corio from Port Adelaide; she arrived at the scene of the tragedy on Thursday. By that time the poor creatures, who had clung to the wreck for five days and nights,. were in a pitiable plight. They were tormented by hunger and thirst and suffered terribly from the cold, for their spray-drenched limbs grew numb under a biting wind. One by one those on the forecastle, chiefly women and children, had been swept off by the boisterous waves.
A boat's crew dispatched from the Corio found it impossible to approach the wreck owing to heavy seas, but on Friday morning the Lady Bird arrived on the scene bringing the Portland lifeboat and a whaleboat belonging to the Portland Whaling Company following which a rescue attempt proved unsuccessful. Next morning the sea was calmer and an effort was made to effect a rescue in the Admella's lifeboat which had been cast ashore a few days before. Twenty four passengers were saved.
The Livingstone went aground in Guichen Bay in 1862 and two newspaper reports read as follows:
- The fact that the government lifeboat recently saved the lives of the crew of the Livingstone, whilst the government rocket apparatus at the same place and during the same storm saved the crew of the Alma, are circumstances showing the value of those means of preserving life...
About 1,000 bales of wool were saved from the wreck the remainder totalling about 1,400 remaining under water. Its sale was made on 7 January when considerable competition was to be seen among purchasers from Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Portland and Melbourne.
In April 1870 a settler named Varcoe at Carpenter Rocks reported to the police and Harbour master that a brig had been wrecked there. She was the Flying Cloud and went aground during a thick fog. Captain Urquhart, his wife and child, and a crew of six Lascars all got safely to land in the boats, while the hull, lying in two halves, were sold subsequently to Mr John Livingstone for five pounds, while a few spare sails and other items of salvage were sold by auction to other purchasers. Her cargo of sugar was a complete loss while two or three bags of the ship's ration sugar were saved by means of the boats which went out to the wreck five times until she broke up.
The Geltwood, beyond doubt, was wrecked on the night of 14 June 1876 when such a storm as rarely or never has occurred in South Australia, swept through the country, uprooting thousands of trees. All the way from the Coorong to miles beyond the border are these effects of the hurricane visible. At Robe roofs were torn off houses, sheets of iron, planks, buckets and even tables were carried through the air. It was in this awful tempest that the ill-fated Geltwood, a vessel on her first voyage, found herself upon the shore and, after signaling in vain for aid, was driven upon the rocks in the wildest and most exposed portion of our coast...
The four bodies recovered from the Geltwood wreck and which had been buried on the beach were disinterred, properly coffined and brought to Millicent on 21 June 1877. On reaching there a large number of residents followed them to the cemetery where the Rev Tresise conducted the funeral ceremonies.
In June 1877, outward bound from Port Adelaide to Sydney with a cargo of flour, the Edith Haviland was wrecked about 10 miles west of Carpenter Rocks and about four miles from where the Geltwood was wrecked a few months earlier. Information was brought into MacDonnell Bay shortly after noon on 20 June that a servant of Captain Gardiner had found a sailor on the beach by the name of Willam Adams who had been wrecked. The unfortunate man was working his way along the coast by means of direction posts that had recently been placed there. He stated that the master, two mates and six men were still on board but that the captain's wife and three children had been drowned.. He himself swam ashore. Happily, the Claude Hamilton was in MacDonnell Bay at the time and after discharging cargo she started by direction of Captain Melville, the Harbour Master, at 2.30 on Wednesday afternoon for the scene of the disaster. Later, in a report emanating from the Marine Board, the master was found guilty of grave neglect
The wreck of the steamer, Euro, nine miles form Beachport in August 1881, was responsible for the death of one female passenger. The vessel sank in seven fathoms of water less than a mile from the shore and, 20 minutes after striking, was a total loss.
The Aelous bound from Cape Town for Sydney went ashore on the Agnes Reef off Cape Banks on the morning of 2 September 1894. The crew were ordered to take to boats and they succeeded in landing near Mr Carrison's camp - Mr W. Carrison had guided the party by signals to a safe landing place. The site of the wreck was close to where the Admella was wrecked and where many vessels had come to grief ?the last being the Glen Rosa?.
The Lurline, a coastal trading vessel, was wrecked near Beachport in November 1898. The captain was at the wheel when those on board felt her graze a rock and in another moment heard a loud thump when the rudder chains gave way. On looking over the side Captain Behn was astounded to see dry land and his cry went out, ?Hold on boys; dry land here.? The seas had evidently caught her just at the right moment and thrown her high up..
The crew, all told were four in number changed clothes and came ashore when two of them made their way over the sandhills to Beachport where some residents were aroused and proceeded to the scene of the wreck... It was miraculous how the ship had escaped for she came through about a mile of surf and breakers and took the shore in a sandy spot. Fifty yards north or south the coast was solid rock and stood out into the water.
The Governor's visit to the district is described in the Register,
27 February 1856, page 2g.
A vice-regal visit is reported in the Register,
24 May 1879, page 6b and
28 May 1879, page 6g.
A comprehensive and informative editorial on the district is in the Register,
27 December 1866, page 2f; also see
18 June 1867, page 3d.
Farms are described in the Register,
8 December 1869, page 2e (supp.).
A comprehensive series of articles conclude on 22 May 1869, page 2h in the Advertiser.
The reminiscences of H.M. Addison, a surveyor of the 1860s, are in The News,
3 September 1936, page 14g.
"The South-East Fifty Years Ago" is in the Observer,
10 and 24 March 1928, pages 55a and 69a.
Notes on a visit to the South-East are in the Register,
1 and 4 April 1871, pages 6c;
some comments made by the reporter are taken to task by Mr Archibald Cooke - see
19 April 1871, page 5d and
1 January 1876, page 6b.
"A Tour in the South-East District" is in the Advertiser,
13 and 15 April 1872, pages 2d and 2e.
A sea trip to the South-East and a description of towns and districts is reported in the Register,
20 March 1873, page 2a (supp.) and
2 April 1873, page 2a.
The Lower South-East is described in the Register,
3 and 11 February 1875, pages 6c and 7a,
12 March 1875, page 5f.
"A Trip to the South-East" is in the Advertiser,
11, 12 and 14 October 1875, pages 5f, 5d and 5b.
"A Holiday Trip to the South-East" is in the Chronicle,
8 February 1879, page 5c.
The Register of 4 May 1880, page 6c has an article headed "Jottings From a Holiday Note Book" -
it discusses coastal towns and physical features.
The area is also discussed in some detail in a series of articles in the Register in 1880 - see
19 and 26 July, pages 5d and 5f,
2, 9, 13, 17, 24 and 31 August, pages 5f, 5e, 5f, 5d, 5g and 5e,
14 and 28 September, pages 5g and 5f,
12, 23 and 27 October, pages 5f, 5g and 5f,
6, 17 and 24 November, pages 6b, 6a and 6b,
6, 20 and 29 December 1880, pages 6d, 5f and 5b.
Also see Register,
13 January 1881, page 5e. Also see
10, 30 and 31 January 1883, pages 5g, 1a (supp.) and 1a (supp.),
5, 10 and 15 February 1883, pages 5g, 1e (supp.) and 5g,
19, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28 and 30 January 1885, pages 6e, 5e, 6a, 5h, 5g, 6c and 6a.
"South-Eastern Jottings" is in the Advertiser,
29 June 1885, page 6a.
Land and places abutting the railway line from Adelaide are described in the Register,
15 and 16 February 1886, pages 6a and 6b.
"By Rail, Road, River and Rocks in the South-East" is in the Express,
9 June 1886, page 6d.
"A Trip Through the South-East" is in the Chronicle,
26 May 1888, page 22f.
"The Dairying District of SA" is in the Register,
11 December 1888, page 7c.
The conveyance of dairy produce to Adelaide is discussed on
24 January 1893, page 4g and
6 February 1893, page 5a.
Also see South Australia.
Dairy Farming in the 19th Century
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Gepffrey H. Manning titled "A Social History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century".)
The Americans said "Corn and hogs go together" but it was possible to go one further and say "Maize, pigs and cows go together" because the refuse from farm dairy or factory mixed with corn, made a wonderful aid to the formation of meat on a pig.
(Register, 20 May 1891, p. 7.)
He established the pioneer factory near Umpherston's Caves in the 1880s but it was not as successful as some that came later. It was the first in the field of manufacture on the American factory principle and to show the farmers that a good living could be made for the greatest part of the year. There were two other small factories in the district the one at Compton being managed by Mr Spurge. Pig breeding was combined with these operations producing about 130 lbs of cheese daily.
The dairy factory at OB Flat was started in a small way by Mr Parriss in a primitive building and, as the owner modestly remarked, was "decidedly flat and required improving in many ways," and it was concluded that a man who could toil away almost single-handed, and with such primitive buildings and appliances turn out a weekly average in the 1888 season of 1,300 lbs of good factory cheese, deserved to succeed. He had a splendid herd of cows and purchased additional supplies of milk from local farmers at four pence a gallon.
At Lucieton, the Tantanoola factory was operated by the afore mentioned Mr Walpole and he purchased 400 gallons of milk daily from surrounding farmers. The first consignment of cheese was received and opened on Thursday, 16 December 1886 at the rooms of Messrs Sandford & Co., Currie Street, in the presence of the city merchants and leading grocers.
In January 1887 a meeting of farmers was held in the Murrimbum school house, five miles from Millicent by those interested in the formation of a cheese factory company, when a number of questions were asked of Mr Walpole. The factory was established in the same year under the management of Mr J. Legg and it became the largest and most complete establishment erected on the factory system in the colony, processing about 800 gallons of milk daily. Five miles beyond Millicent towards Mount Muirhead the Millicent Dairy Company's factory was managed by a Mr Noble.
The Boobec Bacon Factory was alone in the district and did business principally with the Adelaide market on an extensive scale. In the early days when pigs were scarce their buyers crossed the border for a supply, but this changed following the arrival of cheese factories when waste products were utilised in pig farming.
Early in 1886 complaints were received in regard to the facilities provided for the transport of dairy produce from the South-East and reports were requested from the station masters at Millicent, Tantanoola, Mount Gambier and Penola. It was alleged that butter from Penola became tainted because it was put in the same refrigerator as fish, but the Central Agricultural Bureau dismissed the suggestion because only one application had been made for Penola produce to be refrigerated.
"A Midsummer Run Through the South-East - The Potato Supply" is in the Advertiser,
25 January 1889, page 5d,
"Industrial Occupations" on
29 January 1889, page 5e,
"Resources of the District" on
5 February 1889, page 5e,
"Operations of the Land Board" on
12 February 1889, page 6a.
During 1872 Messrs Fidler & Webb imported from England a few pounds of a new variety of potato named 'sutton's red skin Flourball? and it was said that it had proved to be free from disease, kept well and had splendid cooking qualities and in the 1874 season it proved to be an excellent cropper in the Mount Gambier district when it was estimated that 12,000 tons were raised in the district out of which 9,000 tons were exported bringing to the community about £30,000. It was found by experiment that the only bar to successful potato culture, the frost, could be avoided by planting in November. Indeed, one acre of potatoes was reckoned as six acres of wheat under the cultivation clauses of the Lands Act and many of the farmers took advantage of this and put potatoes in instead of cereals.
By 1885 nearly all vacant allotments facing the principal streets grew potatoes and the owners got out of the tubers a great deal more than the rates they had to pay but, by 1889, the industry was considered to be a speculative enterprise because for one owner of the soil, who put in his own crop, there were at least 20 growers who did not own a foot of land on which the "farinaceous beautues were brought to fruition".
For example, Dr Browne at Moorak rented certain paddocks for the potato season at about £3 per acre. Some gentlemen speculators secured this land and got it cropped at about £1 an acre - then took the risks of the season and stood by and awaited results. They might have expected a good price but, as in many seasons past, the plants were cut down by frost compelling them to quit their meagre crop to the local distillery at a little more than what they paid for putting the seed in the ground.
About 830 acres of the Moorak estate were leased by some 20 growers whose holdings were from 20 acres upwards, the following being the principal ones: G. Janeway, A.B. Sinclair, W. Berkerfield, W. Bailey, V. Stuckey, D. McArthur, S. Earl, Pegler, W.H. Renfrey, T. Williams, J. McNamee, R. Wallace, Edwards, J. Sinclair, W. Peel and O'Neill. The holdings at Yahl amounted to about 800 acres and were worked by Messrs Ruwoldt, W. Hay, C. Blune, T.H. Williams, John Lange, D. Buchanan, Joseph Lange, Norman, senior, Messrs Hill, W. Umpherstone, Lehmann, C. MacArthur, A. Smith, Kannenberg, J. Umpherstone, W. Mitchell and Nitschke.
OB Flat growers occupied 400 acres and they were G. Norman, Davis brothers, A.C. Spehr, G. Coutts, J. Smith, Laube, W. Spehr, O. Spehr, A. McLean, P. Hay, J. Parvis and J. Schinkel. At Compton there were 250 acres held by J. Frew, T.H. Williams, J. Hay, J. Powell, Honan, Sasinowsky, J. MacFarlane and Collins, while at Square Mile there were Vorwerk brothers, Unger, and Patzel brothers
Another class of grower was the working speculator who secured a piece of land and with the aid of, perhaps, his sons, got in his crop and either sent it to market himself or sold it in the ground to local buyers. The buyers again were two classes - the trading dealer who supplied the Adelaide market regularly, or the speculative dealer who gave a certain sum per acre for the whole crop, took the risk of the yield and stipulated for delivery in bags at the railway station in the quantities required. He sent either truckloads to the Adelaide merchant or to the agent who auctioned them weekly.
In 1885 there was a glut in the market and loads taken down to Port MacDonnell for shipment were actually cast into the sea because the Adelaide agents required a cheque to be forwarded in advance to cover any costs of sales that would not cover the expense of sending them to the metropolitan market. The principal potato fields were at Moorak, OB Flat, Yahl, Compton and Square Mile. At Millicent there were only about 300 acres, grown principally on the ridges thrown up from the drains
In the 1880s the land in the potato districts of Yahl and OB Flat was worth about £40 per acre, while some nearer the town changed hands for a higher price but it was evident that the grower was plagued with seasonal difficulties:
I am glad to see the Treasurer has promised a deputation to see if the distillation laws may not be relaxed in some way in favour of distillation from potatoes for there was a shameful waste of this vegetable in the district. Driving through Yahl and OB Flat hundreds of tons were lying under hedgerows rotting, ostensibly because the land had been "sticky" where the general crop was gathered and these gleanings - a ton or more to the acre sometimes - were not worth the gathering and the cost of sending to market.
"The Industries of the South-East" is in the Register,
12 August 1889, page 7c.
A cycling holiday in the South-East is described in the Register,
19 February 1890, page 6g.
"Our South-East Country" is in the Register,
7 and 20 May 1891, pages 6f and 7a.
"The South-East - Its Industrial Resources" is in the Chronicle,
31 December 1892, page 5g.
"A Visit to the South-East" is in the Register,
4, 10 and 11 January 1893, pages 5h, 6c and 6d,
"The South-East Revisited" on
28 September 1908, page 4h,
"A Venetian South-East" on
9 August 1909, page 3g,
"The South-East - Some Impressions" on
15 and 25 March 1911, pages 8d and 8a.
The obituary of Mrs Elizabeth Plunkett appears on
18 September 1925, page 9e.
"Birds of the South-East" is in the Register,
6 March 1906, page 7f.
"Verdant South-East" is in the Advertiser,
21 October 1911, page 23f,
4 and 11 November 1911, pages 17d and 23f.
"Memories of the South-East in the Late 1860s" is in the Register,
19 and 28 September 1925, pages 10f and 10f,
3, 16, 21 and 31 October 1925, pages 7d, 7a, 7e and 15g,
4, 12, 21 and 27 November 1925, pages 15e, 11e, 12g and 10h,
2, 10, 15 and 24 December 1925, pages 15d, 13g, 18d and 10f.
"Easter Holiday Tour" is in the Register on
27 April 1926, page 11a,
"Early Days in the South-East", the reminiscences of Mrs Kate Cumming, on
28 April 1926, page 12b,
1 May 1926, page 7g.
Articles on the district are in the Advertiser,
2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 September 1927, pages 14b, 10a, 16e, 14a, 14h, and 14c.
"The Early Pioneers - Recollections of a Government Surveyor" is in the Register,
3, 20, 24 and 28 March 1928, pages 7g, 3a, 5a and 9a.
"South-East is Caravan Country" is in the Advertiser,
26 January 1934, page 14e.
"A Journey to the South-East With Sheep in 1859", by Clement Giles, is in the Observer,
14 June 1924, page 47a.
"The South-East Mail Robbery" is in the Observer,
13 February 1858, page 4b,
"Bushranging in the South-East" is in the Chronicle,
2 April 1859, page 2e.
"Squatting in the South-East" is in the Register,
10 October 1864, page 3e.
For an essay on SE squatters see under South Australia - Miscellany - Squatters and Pastoralists.
Kangaroo hunting is described in the Register,
21 November 1864, page 3b.
"The Grievances of the South East" is in the Register,
13 September 1865, page 2g,
"The Claims of the South East" on
5 May 1866, page 2e.
"The Route to the South-East" is in the Chronicle,
13 July 1867, page 3a.
A description of a sheep dip on Mr Riddoch's property, Yallum, is in the Register,
20 October 1868, page 2h; also see
27 October 1868, page 3d.
Flax Growing in the South East
In 1864 an experiment in flax growing was conducted by a Mr Gardiner, "at Dr Wehl's' when he sowed one pound of flax seed when the yield was about 101 pounds of seed, while the straw was of good quality. A few years later Dr Wehl commented that he had cultivated flax in the past but discontinued it because of the lack of a colonial market:
Some of it I scutched and sent to Melbourne where, coarse as it was, it was declared to be worth 50 a ton for rope making. Some rope and twine was made of it and that, together with the flax, was exhibited at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Melbourne in 1868 where it competed with some articles from Victoria and Tasmania and was awarded the great medal, but the two following years it was seriously affected by frost...
At the same time at Mount Gambier the local agricultural society wrote to the secretary of the Chamber of Manufactures for a supply of seed which was distributed by the firm of Fidler & Webb. However, by 1874 the Adelaide distributor was informed that a 775lb. consignment of seed was " very dirty" and the farmers were loth to pay for it and, further, a conclusion had been rerached that there was no economic future in the growing of flax because of persistent attacks by grubs.
(Border Watch, 5 February 1864, 20 June 1868 15 & 19 June 1872, 21 February 1874.)
An editorial "Adelaide and the South-East" is in the Register,
22 June 1869, page 2d; also see
1 July 1869, page 3c and
10 September 1869, page 2d.
"How to Secure the Trade of the South-East" is in the Register on 6 October 1869, page 3a.
"Drainage Works in the South-East" is in the Register,
23 June 1869, page 2e,
9 May 1871, page 6f,
29 June 1871, page 5a,
23 September 1871, page 5a,
22 and 25 February 1873, pages 2c and 2g,
11 March 1873, page 2g,
Farmers Weekly Messenger,
5 February 1875, page 10a,
20 January 1877, page 6a,
21 August 1877, page 4c and
"Draining the South-East" on
1 December 1902, page 6d.
Photographs are in the Chronicle,
20 January 1917, page 30.
Draining the Wet Lands
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled A Social History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century.)
We travelled by way of Mr Dixon's station and reached Killanoola (Mr Seymour's) about noon. Mr Seymour gave me a hearty welcome, such as the squatters are accustomed to give to persons travelling in the bush who know how to behave themselves.... [His] house is pleasantly situated on rising ground from which you look over a vast expanse of flat country, much of it unfortunately being swampy... The land was rather poor, only suitable for pastoral purposes. Around the house there were some portions of soil of superior quality which had been diligently cultivated. But the whole of the Mosquito country is comparatively poor. The choice land is undoubtedly around Mount Gambier and Penola...
(Observer, 2 June 1866, page 5.)
A chain of sandhills extended along the coast with only one break between Port MacDonnell and Robe and that was at Rivoli Bay. The land was higher and bolder to the north than on the south and, from the existence of an island and reefs, was considered to be a more likely place to afford shelter to vessels. Accordingly, parliament fixed it as a site for a port. Adjoining them was a chain of lakes forming the lowest series of flats into which the district was divided. These lakes were generally salt on the seaward side from the percolation of the ocean through the sandhills, and fresh to landward, owing to extensive fresh water springs discharging into them continually.
About 1865, before the drainage of the flats commenced, it was contemplated to drain these lakes in a manner similar to those drained in England and Holland. The scheme would have been perfectly feasible in several places, but it was found that the bottom consisited, generally, of pipe clay or soft limestone which, when drained, would have had little value for agricultural purposes.
It was during the famous zigzagging Ministerial tour of 1864 that the Hon. W. Milne conceived the bold project of forming an outlet for the immense accumulations of water by which the marshy country was maintained. The Surveyor-General reported that the idea was not only practicable but easy of accomplishment, Nature having provided peculiar facilities for the drainage of the country.
The plan to drain the whole of the South East is credited to different minds. The late Mr W.A. Crouch had a general store at Rivoli Bay South - named Grey Town - then a thriving port with jetties, hotel and great shipping stores; he is often called the "father of the scheme". In the early 1860s Mr G.W. Goyder, Surveyor General, took it up warmly and Mr W. Milne, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, was the political sponsor and saw it through parliament. In the course of preliminary discussions it was suggested that the drains should be made to serve the purpose of canals, thus giving water communication, with the assistance of the Coorong, from Mount Gambier to the Murray.
At that time, from Salt Creek southward the area of the South-East was equal to 7,600 square miles and in every wet season one half of it was under water. The depth of the water varied from one to six feet and some of it was never dry, while many swamps extended from four to six miles. It was argued, therefore, that any drain sufficient to carry off that immense body of water must, practically, be navigable. Further, it was concluded that, to perfectly drain the district and lead the water to its natural outlet, it would be necessary:
To construct one main drain to Salt Creek that could be used as a navigable canal. It would extend from Salt Creek right up to the tablelands of Mount Gambier, with branches branches of equal magnitude... The Dismal Swamp is the biggest and the water, at extreme times of flood, flows to the eastward and westward and it is that that forms the source of the Reedy Creek...
A surveyor, H.M. Addison has left us with a vivid description of the wet lands prior to drainage:
On the swamps swans nested and ducks could be seen in their thousands. Some days we would see kangaroos travelling in Indian file, the last one being a mile from its leader. There were flocks of black cockatoos. We could not tame these birds but the native companions would dance round us, bowing and scraping in a comical fashion. Every swamp was infested with leeches and you had to tuck your trousers inside your socks before crossing them. The swampy country was alive with snakes and in one morning I could have killed six that crosed my track. Ammonia was about the only remedy for snakebite we knew.
Objections to the scheme were raised at once and the grounds of dissent were:
1. It was impossible for man to remove the deluge.
2. It would remove the water so completely that the rainfall and natural climate would be altered.
3. The land was not good enough to pay for drainage - the squatters with their eyes on rents, banked on it!
4. The soil was so light that it would all blow into the drains and be carried to the sea.
5. When dried the peat soils would take fire and burn out.
The first experiments proved satisfactory and a sum of £5,000 was placed on the Estimates - in the succeeding session the legislature was less generous - only £2,000 being appropriated, but their parsimony, as was proved later, was no bar to the progress of the operations.
The southern scheme began in 1863 and, in October of that year, the cutting at Narrow Neck into Lake Frome commenced. The channel was 528 feet long, 12 feet wide and 4 feet deep and carried a great body of water through, but had to be enlarged at a later time.
The first camps were like a gold rush for their miscellaneous collection of humanity. Miners from the goldfields, the unemoployed from the city, stranded professional men, sharpers, actors and human flotsam and jetsam crowded into the the hitherto uninhabited lands looking for high wages.
Before the close of 1865 the work was well in progress and the scores of farmers, who had been induced by the sanguine representations of the Surveyor-General to cast, even at that early period, covetous eyes towards the country as being a "Land of Goshen" in disguise, were assured that very soon their desires would be realised. Indeed, at first, the land was deemed to be a failure and agitation arose for a reduction of price.
The Catt Surrender Act was then passed and this permitted those who had not paid for their land to surrender it for reoffer following which most "surrenderers" got their land back at reduced prices.As for the working conditions of the labourers one of them opined that:
When I arrived here we had to join in gangs, some six men and some three. Then we got our work, when we had to make wurleys to sleep in, until we got tents. So many men coming up, there were no tents nor tools for the men. Barrows and planks were also short. We were working for two weeks, and I saw that I could make fair wages; but the rain coming on flooded us all out and we had to wait for a few days till we got shifted... The water is running like the River Torrens. All the men are idle...
In 1872, the House of Assembly appointed a Select Committee to visit the district and report on reclaimed land following the completion of certain drainage works. Embarking on the SS Penola, Captain Snewin proceeded to Guichen Bay, arriving some 18 hours later when he anchored about half a mile from the jetty. Later, the party was taken by teams and vehicles to the drainage works:
Speculation has now been on foot as to whether the system of drainage... would be effective as to the results looked for, and whether the land would be good for cultivation when the drains carried off the surplus water. There can be no doubt that the drains have proved effective, as just now there is little water in them, immense swamps have dried, and where there were formerly large sheets of water and an occasional clump of rushes seen, there is now dry land upon which farming operations are being carried out...
At Jackey [sic] White's Swamp we saw the first drain... This drain was made by Afghans and connected with the work is the first Afghan joke on record - When the cuttings had been done there arose a dispute concerning payment for them. The Government man said one thing; the Afghan man said another. This went on for some time and at last the Asiatic gentleman came into the Government Office and reverted to the matter. He took out a book and put his hand upon it and said, 'What I say about this work is true. Now, give me the money. I've put my hand upon the Koran.' He thought that settled it, but it did not somehow...
Has some of our northern farmers a section of it near their wheat-sick holdings it would be a fortune to them, as it would furnish a supply of manure for years. The soil consists of partly decomposed vegetable matter for three or four feet and is of such combustible nature when dry that the earth thrown out from the cutting of the drains has in several places taken fire and burnt away...
In 1875 several farmers on drained lands in the Millicent district were charged by the police for burning peat on their properties in contravention of the Bush Fires Act. Following representations being made to the government that, if this was to be prohibited during the dry weather, it would be a great hardship to the residents of drained lands and entail them in heavy losses. They contended that no damge could result from the practice provided reasonable precautions were taken by the burners, as peat burned slowly and without a flame. Accordingly, in its wisdom, the government instructed the police not to interfere with the offenders, holding that it did not come within the definition of "stubble, hay or grass" as stated in the Act.
In 1876 the vessel Lightning arrived at Port Adelaide and the plight of some of the passengers, who were dismissed from working on the drainage scheme because they were unable to cope with the labour, was debated in public by the alleged offended parties and the drainage contractors:
- After arriving at Port Adelaide we were huddled together on the Hesperides without either bed or bedding, more like a lot of pigs than human beings. After some time we were visited by men who we thought were men of honour, but to our cost we found them to be wolves in sheep's clothing. I will now give you an instance of the duplicity... of a man named Hunt, a labour master of Adelaide, in the employ of your model politicians. He came on board and painted in the most glowing terms the advantages of the South East and capped the climax by persuading us to sign a piece of paper to go to the Millicent drainage works, where he told us we would be all right if we were not afraid of work.
We were sent by steamboat to Rivoli Bay where we slept in a barn all night. Next morning we started and after a 25 mile march arrived at the promised land. But we soon found this was no earthly paradise; on the contrary, about as miserable a place as ever my lot has been cast in. We began work on Friday morning, up to our knees in mud and water, and did the best that lay in our power, but were quite unable to stand the exposure and cold. Some of the contractors, Messrs J. & J. Cock discharged [workers] without paying them a farthing, others [were] left to walk to Melbourne and out of thirty men, who left Adelaide two weeks ago, there is not one left.
I ask you, Sir, in the name of common humanity whether you think it is right for this government to squander the public money by paying agents at home to represent the resources of this country in such a way as to cause many of us to leave a comfortable home to become miserable outcasts in a foreign land... This is no exaggeration, but to many of us a stern reality. Where will you find many of our single young women that a few weeks ago were full of health and spirits? Go to the dens of infamy in Adelaide and there you will find them - moral wrecks... [ Signed J.C. Jones, late 17 Victoria Grove, Kensington, London, England - Adelaide papers please copy - Millicent, July 27, 1876.]
We, seeing the government were anxious of getting some of the surplus labour out of Adelaide. wrote to Mr Hunt and offered to take 40 or 50 and we were careful to tell him to fully inform the men selected the nature of the work... 29 were forwarded to Rivoli Bay... They had their supper and breakfast at the hotel and had the liberty of sleeping in Mr French's & Co's store - not a barn as Jones states - and the following morning their swags were taken by a team and they had to walk... - not a very great task. On arrival at the camp they had their supper and breakfast at the boarding places and their tents all ready for them to sleep in... Some of them went to work, but before they did so they were distinctly told that though they had agreed to work at a lower rate of wages than men already [employed] should any one of them prove competent they would get the average wage, viz., 8s. 3d. per day. Most of them - not all - for some two never attempted - went to try their hand. It was quite evident that they were unaccustomed to labour.
The statement as to being up to their knees in mud and water is utterly false, or if so was needless. It would have been quite true if he had said a few inches of mud and water. As to our discharging without payment, we did not, but simply retained what they were due for expense incurred by them, which we had to pay, and several did not stop long enough to do that.
[Jones] told us he was used to contract work... After having tried the work on the drains, he said on the morning when leaving that he was sorry to leave but did so for the sake of trying to get his mate on a ship, and that he would come back again, in all probability, and go on again...
As for the disgruntled men some of them arrived at Mount Gambier and were found board and lodgings by Mr Varley for two nights following which they were supplied with blankets and sent to look for work, three of the eight being successful. They were mostly young men; one, a school master, could not do manual labour and they all complained that they had been misled as to the character of work they were coming to. A second batch arrived a few days later in a sorry plight, having neither money or blankets and an opinion was passed that it was absurd to send mechanics and factory hands to work in drains.
At the same time one of the contractors had another matter to bring before the public in respect of a wine shanty at Hanging Rock::
- In due time it was licensed and becane the Drainage Hotel. The workmen's camp was about four miles aaway and the first night there was the usual orgy, a drunken quarrel in the black's camp, then five or six men who had been working all the winter, and had good cheques, went on a spree, some for a week, and others longer. Drink was brought into the camp and so that within a fortnight of the opening there was more drinking amongst the men than there was for the previous three months.
In 1879, a laudable attempt was made to reclaim thousands of acres of swampy land lying useless in the Hundreds of Robertson and Naracoorte but, owing to local opposition, and some misunderstanding, the Bill was shelved. The proposal was to drain Bool Lagoon, Garey's Swamp and other land and make them fit for agriculture and pastoral purposes. About 18,000 acres would have been reclaimed and surplus water would have been taken off an area five times greater in size.
The plans were drawn up by Mr T. Hindley, and the proposal to form a company favourably received, about half the required capital of £50,000 being subscribed readily. The government gave its sanction to the scheme and all went merrily for a time until opposition came from farmers around Lake Ormerod, for they had commonage rights and objected to being disturbed by the drainage company, or anybody else. They petitioned Parliament and, with support forthcoming from the squatters, the Bill was shelved, but revived in the 20th century:
In the 1860s Bool Lagoon was without doubt Australia's greatest water fowl home. The Coorong at that time was not comparable to it. It comprised an area of many thousands of acres and round its margin was the home of the jack snipe, flocks of Cape Barren geese and magpie geese in the thousands. Early morning and late afternoon for miles the ground was blue with bald coot. I have seen millions of duck rise until coming between me and the sun, they darkened the day.... Had the government of the day only proclaimed and protected Bool Lagoon as a bird sanctuary it would have contained the greatest variety of water fowl in the world. Alas, all this wonderland is practically a thing of the past now. The government has partly drained the lagoon; settlers on the surrounding plains have got at the teatree and carted large quantities of it away for fencing, building and firewood. Great parties of shooters have ruthlessly destroyed the duck and other wild fowl. In that weird, wild place my eyes have seen what few men have ever observed, and what my eyes will never see again.
Those who knew the country best never thought the land under the permanent swamps would grow wheat. But it grew grasses so luxuriant that those who took it up for pastoral purposes were more than satisfied with their bargain, although the price paid was a stiff one. The experience of one settler might be considered of interest:
He had a square mile of land - the maximum allowed on the drained lands. The first year he ploughed it by the aid of horses shod in leather shoes, the ground being so boggy that the horses legs sank over the knees in mud. His wheat harvest was nil, his potato crop ditto, and the only return he had was through a kindly trespass committed by a neighbour's cattle ere yet the the wheat had shrivelled up and died! The second year the caterpillars came in myriads and devoured his wheat and barley, or such that was not cut for hay, and the only source of profit was from a few acres of rape, which did well. Year No. 3 the frosts came and nipped the cereals, so that besides the cost of the land this selector lost about £800 in trying to fulfil the cultivation clauses of the Act. Since then he has eschewed cereals and cultivated grasses and fortune now seems to be opening up to him.The farmers on the flats, generally speaking, had good crops of up to 16 bushels per acre.
Amongst the farmers, on the Mt. Muirhead side of the township ridge, Mr Spehr had 400 acres ?nder one of the finest crops of wheat, just out in ear, that it could be possible to find in any country. "It stood about five feet high, as thick as it could stand, and perfectly level throughout." His only anxiety, in common with his neighbours, was how to get it off, hands being very scarce and a larger number being required there as compared with the drier lands to the north. He estimated he needed 30 men during harvest and would have to pay them £2.10s. per week. One hundred acres of his farm were under rye and prairie grass and growing with a luxuriance that suggested excellent prospects for the district. On this pasture he ran a flock of long-woolled sheep.
In 1881 I put in 10 acres and received about 18 tons, big and little. Another farmr in 1881 sowed 50 acres and reaped as a return, five tons altogether. If the ground is so marvellously good how is it that the experimaental farm, the pick of the district, where no expense was spared, was worked with a loss of thousands of pounds in a few years... For the last three years the land has flooded and is now in such a sour state that it will take years to sweeten. Had the drains been properly made a very different state of affairs would have been the result...
The gross incompetency of many of the members of the Civil Service in this part of the country has led to many serious blunders in the public works (for which we all have to pay)... on the Mt McIntyre Flats there are now some 200 men... The work is supposed to be measured up on or about the 25th of each month, but the men are not paid until the middle of the following month... a private contractor would not be allowed to treat his employees in this style... I know of instances where men have left their wives and families in Victoria, and who are now unable to send them a penny... It may matter very little to the Government official who can go flashing about the country in his buggy and pair making believe that he has the affairs of a nation on his shoulders...
If any reader of this letter thinks my language too strong just let him pause and bethink of all the blunders he can recall committed by public servants, such as the piles of Kingston jetty. the levels of the Rivoli Bay pier, the rails imported into the colony and passed by the officials thereof, the Wallaroo jetty and a host of other instances that I might adduce of the shameful mismanagement of the public works of South Australia...
25 June 1932, page 16e.
Farms are described in the Register,
8 December 1869 (supp.), page 2e.
A suggestion to establish an experimental farm is canvassed on
17 January 1870, page 3b.
See Place Names - Millicent.
"Communication in the South-East, Land, etc" is in the Register,
6 July 1870, page 6e.
An informative letter headed "Opening of the South-East District" is in the Register,
9 December 1870, page 5d.
"Harbours in the South-East" is in the Register,
19 April 1871, page 5d - see essay above.
"The South-East and its Requirements" is in the Observer,
6 June 1874, page 4e.
"South-East Farming" is in the Chronicle,
5 April 1879, page 5b.
"Rabbit Parties in the South-East" is in the Advertiser,
7 December 1882, page 5g,
"Rabbits in the South-East" on
15 June 1886, page 6d.
"South-Eastern Frozen Rabbit Trade" in the Observer,
28 April 1900, page 2d.
"The South-East New Caves" is in the Express,
21 July 1885, page 3f.
Also see Place Names - Naracoorte.
Forestry in the district is reported upon in the Register,
21 April 1885, page 5h.
"South-East Forests - Great Future Predicted" is in the Register,
15 December 1925, page 11a.
Forestry in the South East
(Taken from an unpublished manuscript by Geoffrey H. Manning titled A Social History of the Lower South East in the 19th Century.)
Fools destroy trees; wise men plant them. As there are at least as many fools as wise men in a community and as a fool can do more mischief in a minute than a wise man can repair in a lifetime, the trees suffer, and the country suffers too.
(Register, 6 March 1914, p. 12.)
Upon payment of a small sum any person could be licensed to cut as much timber as he pleased, to leave as much refuse as he liked. It was illegal to light fires in the open air except under stringent regulations, but it was common practice with settlers in scrub and timbered country to ?have a good burn? whenever the weather was dry and warm enough. The effect of all this was that all young trees were killed and the old ones gradually destroyed.
Mr. F.E.H.W. Krichauff rendered a distinct service to posterity when, on 7 September 1870, in the House of Assembly, he moved for reports on the best size of reserves for forest purposes, where they should be made, the best and most economical means of preserving the native timber on them, and of planting and replanting the reserves as permanent state forests. All other states were endowed by Nature, but this colony was, to a large extent, covered with stunted eucalyptus and other species of little or no commercial value, interspersed with comparatively small areas of good quality red gum, blue gum and stringy bark.
Reports were called for and, on 10 November 1875, a forestry board was appointed while, in 1876, Mr J. Curnow was nominated as nurseryman at Wirrabara and Mr C. Beale at Mount Gambier.
- Mr Beale, ranger, is now laying out the nursery in the valley close to the Leg-of-Mutton lake and forming a pathway to the top of the bank down to it... A neat, commodious and well appointed residence will be erected for the caretaker on the top of the bank, south east of the hospital... [It] will contain four rooms and will be provided ith an underground tank... Mr T. Haig is the contractor...
To South Australia is due the credit of demonstrating the commercial possibilities of Pinus insignis, or Monterey pine, and, it is interesting to note, that in 1878 forty acres were planted at Wirrabara Forest and, in 1881, thirty acres at Mount Gambier. From that time on pine forests were developed and milling commenced first at Wirrabara in 1902 on a 25 year stand. This mill operated continually from that date until it was closed in 1935, all available stands of millable timber having been cut out.
It was not until 1910 that the full value of Pinus radiata was realised, chiefly because of its quick growing qualities. From that time the annual planting of that species increased until about 1924 when private enterprise became interested. Subsequently, a Royal Commission found that Pinus radiata could supply about 65 per cent of Australia's softwood requirements and that South Australia could plant, with safety, 3,000 acres of that timber annually, "of which about 2,500 acres should be in the South East."
In the South East the prevailing indigenous trees near the coast were Banksia marginata, Casuarina quadreivalis and several species of Melaleuca - all indicative of poor and swampy soil. Some of the ridges were covered with stringybark and the margins of the running swamps had a few redgums, but as a rule the banksias (honeysuckles) were the principal trees. As the higher lands were reached, especially towards Naracoorte, between there and Mount Gambier, and from that line up to Border Town, there were a great number of gum trees of various kinds and of good height and girth.
On the extensive sheep runs, which were nearly all enclosed with sheep-proof fences, the landscape was parklike with numerous trees growing a short distance apart and very little undergrowth to interfere with the grass. Over some hundreds of square miles beyond Mount Gambier near Dismal Swamp, the tall, straight-stemmed, noble gums had been killed, probably by some beetle, and, strange to say, there were no seedlings came up to take their places.
There were innumerable tall blackwoods and a considerable number of black wattles. The soil was sandy to a depth of about two feet and here, as well as an immense area around Mount Gambier, the bracken fern grew thickly to a height of three feet or more, preventing the growth of grass and all useful herbage. The sparse population, combined with the fact that nearly the whole of the South east had been "gobbled up" by a few sheep farmers resulted beneficially so far as the preservation of timber was concerned.
In September 1873 Mr Goyder, accompanied by Mr Smith, a nurseryman of Adelaide, made an inspection of the Lake Reserve, including the Botanic Garden Reserve, with a view of selecting a spot to plant forest trees. At this time he selected a place for a nursery and, during his return to Adelaide, visited Mount McIntyre and Mount Burr where he selected sites for a second and third reserve.
The forest reserves near Mount Gambier were sown with more than 200,000 trees in the last few years of the 1870s and were principally eucalyptus, pine, catalpa, planes, elms and oaks, while the forest reserves at Millicent and Mount Burr were in an embryonic state. In 1885 there were about 46,000 acres of land reserved for forest culture in the South East - Mount Gambier, 250; Mount Burr, 14,742; Mt Muirhead Flat, 573; Glen Roy Flat, 8,150; Mundulla, 1,020; Border Town, 8,150; Cave Range, 5.345; Penola, 8,769; Mount McIntyre, 5,966.
The Mount Gambier reserve was situated on the southern slope of the extinct volcano, including the Leg of Mutton Lake and a nice sheltered valley where the nursery propagated indigenous and exotic trees. In 1884 1,000 plants were put out; they were Pinus insignus with a few eucalyptus and only 700 survived. The following year the whole reserve was planted with about 63,000 eucalypts of various kinds, 11,000 oaks, 8,000 pines and a miscellaneous lot of catalpas, planes, Queensland box, ash, cork elms, etc. The ravages of opossums, hares, wallabies and kangaroos necessitated regular plantings each year to offset the losses.
The forest was in charge of Mr Charles Reade, well known formerly as a gardener to Mr G.S. Fowler. His residence was perched on the top of a rise above the lake and regular visitors were members of the local gun club seeking permission to hunt game and animals within the forest and, considering that in one year Mr Reade killed 300 opossums, 200 hares and 50 kangaroos they "?lways had a fair chance for sport".
The Mount Burr Reserve contained valuable forests, chiefly stringybark, and a thick undergrowth of shrubs, etc. in which kangaroos and wallabies were abundant. They were very destructive to the young trees, especially the golden wattles, that grew readily from seeds thrown on the ground.
The Mount McIntyre reserve included some excellent land upon which covetous eyes were laid by some who seemed to think that every piece of good land in the colony ought to be sold to the farmers. It contained some 6,000 acres and its little nursery was hemmed in by a rabbit proof fence which, however, was put up so loosely in parts that no "bunny with the least enterprise" would be deterred for a second by it from forcing his way into the toothsome little trees.
A large proportion of this reserve was a natural habitat of red gum and the growth of this tree was encouraged by the system of natural regeneration. In suitable spots it was intended to form small plantations of exotics, protected by a vermin fence of wire netting four feet high. Here, in excess of 16,000 trees raised in the Mount Gambier nursery were planted including, Pinus austriaca, oaks, cork elms, poplars, Catalpa species, etc., and about 70 per cent survived. The great drawback was the want of thorough drainage and it was expected that a main drain being constructed through the reserve as a part of Mr Goyder's plans to drain the Millicent and Mt McIntyre flats would alleviate the situation.
Also see South Australia - Industries - Rural, Primary and Secondary - Forestry.
"By Rail, Road, River and Rocks in the South-East" is in the Register,
5 June 1886, page 7f.
Information on cheese factories is in the Advertiser,
3 January 1887, page 7d.
"The Dairying District of SA" is in the Register,
11 December 1888, page 7c.
Also see South Australia - Industries - Rural, Primary and Secondary - Dairying.
A letter headed "A Voice from the South-East - Disgust and Secession" is in the Advertiser,
3 April 1888, page 6e.
"Agriculture and Horticulture in the South-East" is in the Register,
16 December 1889, page 6d,
5 April 1890, page 6b.
"Resources of the District" is in the Express,
5 February 1889, page 3d.
"Industries of the South-East" is in the Observer,
17 August 1889, page 9b.
"On the Wheel in the South-East" is in the Register,
19 February 1890, page 6g.
"Popular Cycling Tours" is in the Register,
24 December 1897, page 6c,
"The South-East - A Cyclist's Paradise" in the Chronicle,
13 April 1901, page 39.
"Our Inheritance in the South-East" is in the Register,
2 July 1892 (supp.), page 1a,
23 July 1892 (supp.), page 1a.
"The South-East - Its Industrial Resources" is in the Advertiser,
16 January 1893, page 7a.
"Storms in South-East - A Fall of Frogs" is in the Chronicle,
10 March 1894, page 22g.
"The Bunyip of the South-East" is in the Register,
6 October 1893, page 5c,
7 October 1893, page 31e.
"In Search of Oil" is in the Observer,
27 February 1896, page 30d,
14 March 1896, page 14e.
"Oil in the South-East" is in the Register on
27 and 28 June 1921, pages 5f and 4f,
1, 2, 4, 7, 13 and 19 July 1921, pages 3f, 10a, 3f-g, 8h, 3d and 6e,
18 April 1924, page 3a,
"Oil Prospects - Remote in South-East" on
24 February 1926, page 6a.
Also see Place Names - Coorong and South Australia - Mining - Petroleum.
"Garden of the Colony" is in the Express,
6 January 1899, page 4b,
"Garden of the State" in the Register,
26 November 1902, page 5d; also see
15 December 1902, page 6h,
30 March 1903, page 6e.
"The South-East - Its Products" is in the Chronicle,
29 June 1901, page 21b,
"The South-East - Where Is It? Whose Will It Be" on
13 July 1901, page 26b.
"Should We Hold the South-East - A Question for Taxpayers" is in the Register,
13, 15 17, 20, 22, 27, 29, 30 and 31 January 1902, pages 6d, 6g, 6a, 6c, 6a, 6c, 6e, 6a and 4d-6a, 5 February 1902, page 7h,
18 July 1902, page 4d,
10 and 13 September 1902, pages 8a and 10e,
12 July 1905, pages 4d-7a,
26 January 1906, page 5d. Also see
8 July 1914, pages 8c-13g.
"South-East Trade" is in the Advertiser,
27 August 1902, page 5h,
"Closer Settlement in the South-East" on
26 April 1904, page 7c,
"What Is It Doing for the South-East" in the Chronicle,
28 May 1904, page 34c.
"Racing in the South-East" is in the Advertiser,
28 June 1904, page 9a.
Also see South Australia - Sport - Racing.
A fox hunt is described in the Register,
10 February 1903, page 7i (See South Australia - Sport - Fox Hunting).
"Stage Notes From the South-East" on
21 October 1905, page 4d,
"The Garden of the South" on
4 November 1911, page 8d.
"South-East Industry - Oatmeal and Leather" is in the Advertiser,
10 January 1906, page 9b,
"The Outlet for Trade" on
12 January 1906, page 6d,
"The Future of the South-East" in the Chronicle,
20 January 1906, page 39.
"Rabbits, Old Age and Other Things" is in the Register,
9 July 1914, page 11a.
"Shall We Hold the South-East" is in the Register,
8 July 1914, pages 8c-13h.
"Shall We Lose a Province" is in the Advertiser,
10, 12 and 13 April 1916, pages 9a, 7a and 5a.
"South-East Racing in the Early Days" is in the Observer,
22 March 1924, page 24b.
"South-East - Need for Development" is in the Advertiser,
2, 3 and 30 December 1929, pages 10f, 9b and 6e.
"South-East Development" is in the Advertiser,
12 July 1937, page 18d.
Also see South Australia.
Coaching Days in the Lower South East
Coming from Adelaide the South East may, at first, be said to be fairly impinged upon when the puffing little flat-bottomed steamer from Milang had landed the traveller at Meningie, where a coach stood waiting to convey him along the shore of the Coorong to Kingston. Owing to the fact that mail requirements required this journey to be made, except on Sundays, at night time, this route acquired an undeservedly bad name.
(Advertiser, 29 June 1885, p. 6.)
In the early days of South Australia an "overlander" was a hero in the eyes of less adventurous people who stayed at home and "kept shop" in Adelaide and contiguous villages. It was true that pioneers had ventured as far as Echunga, Mount Pleasant and other places in the "bush" The overlanders' slouched cabbage tree hats, leather belts, long stock whips and leather "strapped" and "seated" trousers, the black "cutty" pipe and, above all, their long hair, unkempt beards and bronzes faces, distinguished them from the smug, clean shaved, white-neckclothed merchants, clerks, artisans and others who, at that time, followed the absurd fashions of the old country. What a change occurred by the close of the 19th century.
Within the colony of South Australia in the 1840s the creaking bullock dray was the sole transport available and by the turn of the century many colonists, in the prime of life, could remember the days when railways and sleeping cars were unknown and where:
The cloud of dust, which was the herald of a coach-and-four, was to be seen on every country road, through cloud or sunshine, across rivers, and over hills, that would appal many a modern driver; often with axles afire, these antiquated vehicles carried their living load from the city to the outermost fringe of settlement. They were guided by men who knew nothing of fear...
When the diggings started at Bendigo in 1852 a great number of South Australian rushed off by the overland tracks. Some used horses but the majority took bullocks and drays. To reach the El Dorado more quickly a number took the track through the Long Desert or as it was then called the Ninety Mile Desert, beginning about 10 miles east of Wellington on the River Murray and ending near Border Town. Between the river and the commencement of the desert was an open space known as Cooke's Plains consisting of fairly good arable soil and at the edge of the desert was the "Twelve-mile" where water and the first camp, or halting place, was made. Beyond this, at intervals, were wells and swampy springs. To travel from Adelaide to Wellington in four days was considered exemplary and from there to Border Town a bullock driver was happy if he got through within another five, whilst a good many took from a fortnight to three weeks to travel between Adelaide and Bordertown.
Reminiscing in 1898 a colonist proclaimed that:
We have moved so quickly in these new lands, that the present generation, accustomed to travel in every direction by means of the "iron horse", are apt to forget or despise the methods which were the glory of their father's day...
Day by day for half a century from those gates flowed a steady yet immense stream of every description of vehicle from the spring cart to the coach-and-eight... In its palmy days as many as 1,000 horses were required to carry on its enormous traffic.
Fancy a little pine hut divided into a kitchen and three bedrooms, the cob [clay mixed with gravel and straw used for building walls, etc] a great deal broken away from between the slabs, and the chimney persistently smoking as to decline to draw at all unless all the doors were open. No woman's face brightens the scene; no woman's hands to battle with the dirt... The venerable cook smokes as he prepares the supper and bears relics of many a former feast upon his shiny trousers. Those who are the most impudent get the beds, those who are honest get the floor...
Coaching in the South East
For a resident of Adelaide the South East was as remote as a foreign country. Indeed, in the early days one could not help feeling that Melbourne, rather than Adelaide, held the greater influence. It was, however, a lone land for it was about two day's hard travelling from either metropolis. The mails took 48 hours by coach and anyone who made the journey was not anxious to repeat it.
An alternative means of transport was available by sea. The traveller, therefore, had a choice of evils; he could be tossed about by either sea or land and neither could be recommended, for on land there were only ordinary bush tracks, in the wet season up to the axles in water in many places; and on sea a small steamer of about 250 tons, when exposed to the long wash along the coast was able to dance about with great liveliness and vigour.
In 1852 the Government stopped the mail runs; they were renewed partially in the following year, but it went "no further than McIntosh's", leaving the township at Guichen Bay completely cut off and it was said with a grim foreboding of events to come for many decades:
Unless the Government performs with promptitude those duties the settlers will be looking to Melbourne instead of Adelaide as the metropolis of their country... Trade is now lost to this province and the course at present adopted by the Government is certainly calculated to alienate their sympathies also.
It is a very rare thing to see a South Australian newspaper, but their Victorian counterparts were anxiously looked for. The natural result of this is that the people are Victorian in their sympathies... The rapidity of communication with Victoria, has, little by little, cut off all business with South Australia and thrown it into the hands of Victorian merchants.
It takes now 10 days with the best chance and making the best of arrangements to write a letter and get an answer at Penola from Adelaide and it will take exactly five days to do the same with Melbourne.
In the summer of 1867 a trip by mail coach from Adelaide to Mount Gambier was described in the following terms:
It was under dire necessity that I chose that mode of transit, for I had heard the journey described as most fatiguing, especially as involving heat, dust and sand by day and sleepless travelling throughout the night. This continued through 48 hours, was certainly no delightful prospect... The mail by which I had elected to make my journey left on Thursday from the Post Office at 10.30 pm... Dreading the sleepnessness of the journey, instead of waiting for the night mail I came on by Strathalbyn coach which leaves at 3 pm, arriving at about 7.30 pm. Here I found the Milang mail was about to start as soon as the letters had been given out and by it I came on, arriving at Milang about 9.
The coach, by which the latter journey is made, is one of the new vehicles Cobb & Co have put on the road and is the perfection of comfort. There is a dashing look about it which reminded one of the old stage coach whose traditional bright red and black it retains for its colours; but in structure it closely resembles a double buggy. There are two seats which I should say would comfortably accommodate five persons besides the driver...
Anticipating the night mail I was able to secure six hours of very satisfactory sleep at the Milang Hotel and in the morning when the mail arrived from Adelaide was ready to go on board the steamer... The water of Lake Alexandrina was very low and from the muddy character of that in our wake it was evident that we had, sometimes, but an inch or two of water to come and go upon over the two feet which the steamer draws. Shortly after 9 found us at Meningie.
Here two stone cottages, chiefly used for refreshment, are all the buildings to be seen. The rest of the journey during the day was performed in an open American wagon, the proper coach having met with some damage. At Magrath's Flat we stopped to dine between 11 and 12 (but remember we had breakfasted at 5 am) and here all was clean and comfortable.
The drive along the Coorong was delightful, the summer track being that chosen, a considerable portion of which is a most exhilarating gallop along level sands... We observed that the new telegraph posts were completed as far as Policeman's Point. They are a great improvement on the old ones and are also turned to the purpose of mile posts, the mileage being marked in conspicupus figures.
The rate of travelling this day was often 11 miles an hour and throughout the whole journey a speed of between 7 and 8 miles an hour, including stoppages, is maintained.. Tea is provided at Coolatoo and the traveller certainly need not complain of deficient provision. The place is left behind a little before nightfall and at 11 o'clock the mail arrives at Lacepede Bay... Just as day was breaking we left Kingston which, in that foggy air and at that time in the morning, looked a very squalid tumble-down place, hardly justifying the boastfullness of the inhabitants...
The 10 miles easward of Kingston is through scrub dreary enough to strike despair into the the least imaginative soul and over what I think I must set down as the most objectionable variety of bad road to be met with on route, where bad road is the rule and smooth travelling a rare exception. I can stand stumps and roots of trees crossing the track and ruts and sandhills, but to travel over an apparently sandy track, in which the rocks cropping up unseen jar every nerve and fibre of the frame, is just a little more than mortal endurance can stand.
About 9 o'clock we arrived at Rogers' Station where we had a clean and good breakfast. The heat had by this time become intense and travelling in an open conveyance approaching to torture. At MacBean's we found a covered coach into whose welcome shelter we crept with no little alacrity. We stopped at Naracoorte to dine and reached Penola as the sun was getting low. Leaving between 6 and 7 we arrived at Mount Gambier a few minutes after half past 10 - a distance of 312 miles had thus been accomplished in 48 hours and of this 6 hours was devoted to rest at Kingston.
The horses were in splendid condition and the driving perfectly wonderful. Four drivers divided the journey between them... But I cannot help saying that the fare is exorbitantly high. To Mount Gambier is £5.10s. to which another pound must be added for expenses on the way - more than this if the traveller shares the common and delusive belief that frequent "refreshers" enable him better to bear up against unusual fatigue...
Through some strange infatuation one of the changing places on the line had been abolished so that the last team of horses had to cover a stage of about 27 miles.... The jaded horses, after reaching McBean's, the site of the abandoned station, turned up rusty and objected to complete the journey.
By dint of whipcord admonitions they were induced to go a mile or two onwards but, at length, aided by darkness, they left the track and quickly got enveloped in the swamps so thoroughly that extraction seemed impossible. Hour after hour was spent in endeavouring to get a fresh start; but all in vain. Finally, the coach was lightened and the unfortunate guard had to load two of the horses with the mailbags and set off to complete the stage.
For ten miles he had to carry them; but this was not the worst of it, for an unlucky passenger, Mr Charles Aubrey of Mount Gambier, having spent his strength in trying to recover the coach, set out to walk and trudged the whole distance in mud half way up to his knees. The finale was that the mail arrived six hours late and with such a limitless number of "cursory" remarks being made they could not have failed to astonish the Road Board members had they heard of them.
Stopping places were few and far between; the pace was slow and, owing to the rolling and lurching of the coach, an experience akin to seasickness was not unknown among the passengers. In some watercourses the water at crossing places would, on occasions, be over the floor of the coach, but those parts of the track most dreaded were the "gluepots", a succession of deep holes full of sticky pipeclay mud and, here and there, a broken pole had to be replaced sometimes. Sleep for the passengers was out of the question and the discomfort had to be endured in silent misery:
I had been informed that the road along the Coorong was frightfully rough going over boulders for miles, the stone being up to nearly two feet in height... I occasionally got a nasty bump on the back of my head through the top rail of the coach coming violently forward whenever we went into a rut across the track. The most disagreeable thing on the whole journey was the flights of 'midges', as the driver called them, which every now and then assailed us in myriads.
These did not sting, though they made a noise like the singing of mosquitoes, but they were so thick I could catch a dozen by simply making a grasp through the air, and they settled in hundreds on my hair, got into my eyes, nose and ears and made me generally miserable. I tried to wrap my head in a pocket handkerchief, but was very glad to get it untied again, for they began to crowd in thicker than before. The other nuisance proceeded from the carcasses of 3,000 sheep scattered along the road, portion of a huge flock of 10,000 which was being most indiscreetly travelled in one mob. There was scarcely any feed for the poor animals and water was even more scarce and the driver is reported to have been unacquainted with the locality and drove the famished animals past the wells.
Let us accompany an apprehensive passenger on a coach trip to Naracoorte via Kingston in 1875:
Good coaches, capital teams, clever, careful drivers and an excellent road make the journey very enjoyable as far as Strathalbyn, when a less pretentious vehicle, with a pair of horses, succeeds and the remaining 12 miles on the macadamised way to Milang are got over in an hour, thus accomplishing 47 miles from the city with three changes of horses. Here we go by steamer across the lakes... Here the passengers coil on the couches whenever they feel disposed to slumber. They are not supposed to disrobe, but those who appreciate comfort kick off their boots [and] at about four o'clock [the vessel] made fast to the head of the jetty at Meningie... We were [about] six hours in accomplishing it.
There are no lights or beacons to guide the steamer which is supposed to go all hours and all weathers, never stopping except when there is a fog. The township consists of a few houses about the shore of the lake and a small farming district furnishes most of its trade. This is not by any means a flourishing location. As poor old Pasquin used to say, with rather less truth of Adelaide, it is a good sheeprun spoiled....
The tribes that used to be so numerous all along this branch of the sea appeared to have nearly died out, drink, consumption and other diseases having swept them away, excepts such remnants scattered about the squatting stations or sheltered an cared for at Point Macleay Mission.
At Magrath Flat there is a public house... [and] we succeeded in rousing two sleepy females... These good women provided the hungry travellers with tea and slices of bread and butter... After passing Wood's Well and Policeman's Point we came to Salt Creek; forever notorious as the scene of one of the most diabolical murders ever committed... Coolatoo is a usual halting place where dinner is welcome and is provided by the landlord of the hotel in liberal quantities and variety. We passed through Mr Gall's run and into Messrs Cooke's which then extends to the farming holdings about Lacepede Bay. On both these stations horse breeding is carried on extensively, the proprietors apparently going in for draught stock principally...
Coming to the bridge crossing Maria Creek we observed a tributary pouring into it through an artificial channel a rushing stream and were informed that this was a drain from a swamp in the vicinity... We rested an hour at the Ship Inn kept in the old English style by Mr and Mrs George [and] after a good feed and half-roasting ourselves at a roaring fire we braced ourselves for the supreme effort of the trip, the coaching from Kingston to Naracoorte, a distance of about 52 miles.
The road for four-fifths of its length goes through wretched, valueless land [covered with] stunted scrub and small timber and by the alternation of sand, stone and swamp, the horses had to work and tear there way through. After two or three miles of metalled road the dangers and discomforts commenced and lasted until within about eight miles of Naracoorte.
Sometimes the poor horses were toiling through deep sand, then floundering through swamps, or straining and heaving through gluepots... For a large part of the journey no road is visible as the drivers are continually obliged to strike out fresh tracks, as the old ones are cut up or ploughed down, so as to become more or less impassable... Often when the animals appear to sink to their chests or stifles, it seems impossible that they can extract themselves and pull the coach through... Mr Handyside, the contractor for the South Eastern mails deserves credit for having collected so many staunch horses that can be depended upon for such an undertaking.
Occasionally, the drivers lose themselves and have to camp until daylight in the scrub and such an experience nearly fell our lot. [Our driver] knew he was on unfamiliar ground and performed some circle sailing in the unsuccessful attempt to pick up some track or object that should show him his position. A passenger produced a compass, discovered that we were returning to Lacepede Bay, though on no track. The right course was soon taken and the road recovered after about a half an hour's delay...
Not many days before a coach with a full complement of passengers stuck fast and was broken in the attempt to extricate it, when all hands - male and female - with the exception of one lady who was ill, had to get out and proceed on foot for several miles, much of the distance through water... The last eight or nine miles is pleasant travelling through open country and at Naracoorte, which we reached a little before sunrise, and with as little delay as possible betook ourselves to bed, having had but one hour's sleep since leaving Adelaide, 39 hours before.
When the first combustion engines snorted so fearlessly upon our roads in the early 1900s few people saw in the nauseous clouds of vapour a future network of bitumen roads in South Australia crowded with motor cars. The saving of time and money made possible by motor transport became so apparent as the years rolled by the horse was gradually relegated to the background. Hill & Co ceased to run coaches in about May 1921 when the mail coach to Gumeracha was withdrawn from service.
Possibly the last man to drive a coach in South Australia was Mr Frank Adams who spent 50 years working for John Hill & Co and Fewster & Co and in May 1932 he was to be seen constantly on the streets of Adelaide driving an old landau for Duncan & Fraser Ltd to direct attention to new and old methods of transport.
"Mail Coaches in the Old Days" is in the Observer,
10 and 31 March 1928, pages 55b and 17c.
The bogging of a mail coach and its aftermath is reported in the Register,
28 September 1868, page 2f; also see
11 June 1869, page 2e.
The "South-East Railway Scheme" is discussed in the Register,
25 and 26 August 1868, pages 2h and 2d. Also see
3, 6, 10 and 27 December 1869, pages 2e, 3d, 2b and 3d;
1, 3, 8, 11 and 26 January 1870, pages 6e-f, 5e, 6a, 7a-b and 4d;
4 and 12 February 1870, pages 5f and 6b,
3 October 1872, page 4e.
An amusing letter entitled "Letter from Mother Adelaide to her S-E Daughter" is in the Register, 29 August 1868, page 3d;
it alludes to the railway problem; also see
21 December 1868, page 2d.
The bogging of a mail coach and its aftermath is reported in the Register,
28 September 1868, page 2f; also see
11 June 1869, page 2e.
Internal communication in the South-East is reported on in the Register,
26 April 1871, page 6b, while a mail coach trip between Kingston and Naracoorte is described on
14 August 1872, page 5c.
A report on ports is in the Register,
3 July 1873, page 6c.
A coach trip from Adelaide is described in the Register,
9, 10, 13 and 30 January 1883, pages pages 7a, 5g, 1a (supp.) and 1a (supp.).
"Broaden the Gauge - The Isolation of the South-East" is in the Register,
7 July 1914, page 8g.