The Rocky River District

It's Productive Capabilities

After a promising start, this is a frustrating article to read, in that there are several truly interesting sentences, but much of the remainder of it is flowery prose.

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), Wednesday 4 April 1906, page 7


(By our Special Commissioner.)

Years ago a sailor lad, a native of Birmingham, was shipwrecked on the western coast of Kangaroo Island. That he at the same time saved the life of his captain, and a thereby earned the Royal Humane Society's medal, was one of the stirring incidents of the period and of the wreck of the You Yangs. Amongst some of the wreckage subsequently, picked up off the rocks was a letter addressed to this lad, containing a lock of his sweetheart's hair. The finder sent the letter on to its owner—then the hero of the hour—with the result that this lad some four weeks later came by his own —the only article, possibly the most treasured, of his sea-chest contents to escape destruction. To-day, after a married life of some 13 years, and after a career of stirring adventure, both lad and sweetheart are to be met at Cape Borda in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. George Luckett.

To settle down so late to the routine of life as third keeper of the lighthouse, so near the scene of the You Yangs wreck, must seem passing strange and a great contrast to a man who, apart from the above-mentioned medal for saving life, has earned a medal for taking part as a sailor in the Boxer rebellion in China, and another with two clasps as a soldier sergeant in the late Boer war.

That the children inherit some of the parent's spirit can be gauged from the following. One, a boy of 16, was shot through the muscle of the arm above the elbow, with a bullet from a small rifle. The companion, who had accidentally caused the mischief made in for help, 1½ miles distant. The victim and his little brother trotted along a few yards until the persistent flow of blood scared them into stopping. When found by the father the victim was sitting with one finger inserted in the wound where the bullet went in, whilst the little brother plugged the hole with his little fingers on the underside of the wound. Experience with bullet-wounds in South Africa enabled the father to make a satisfactory job of binding up the injury. On the way home, on his father's back, the victim enquired, "Do you think I'll die, father?" "Well, not yet, my lad, but maybe when I get you home, and get the strap to work, you will!" A cheery sort of rejoinder, to which the lad attached no importance.

Here is another indication of the naturally independent and enterprising spirit of those very youthful Australian natives. At the time of the the of the Loch Vennachar an important telegram had to be sent by some means to Rocky River, twenty miles distant. Two of these boys, aged 12 and 10, took on the contract, and walked the distance along a dreary and lonely bush track. They subsequently made another trip on a similar errand on horseback, and so far as the writer could ascertain, have not yet been paid for either trip.

Those who are not familiar with the steep hills of the northern coast consider the track from Borda, south to Rocky River, almost impassable for a buggy and pair. The two rivers to be crossed, the Ravine and the Breakneck Gully, are sufficient, in name at least, to inspire caution. Hence the writer took to the saddle, and was much surprised to find the road as a whole better than in most parts, and that these awe-inspiring names could have been bestowed on more deserving material in other directions, certainly at Middle and Western River crossings, on the north coast.

The same class of honeysuckle country on either side of the track, with a dense growth of prickly acacia, carries one wide of West Bay and the scene of many a wreck besides the ill-fated Loch Vennachar, right down to Rocky River, lying in a hollow with a background of immensely high white sandhills. A complete change of country is visible here, and as such is worthy of inspection by even those who are perfectly familiar with other parts of the island.

The Rocky River flats, of which all visitors are told when they commence to enthuse about the flats around Karatta station, are so entirely different from any land to be met with elsewhere on the island that they of themselves call for inspection. Red, loamy soil, of the very best quality, with a heavy growth of big sound timber thereon, in place of the dark alluvial loam of the Stun'sail Boom and the Cygnet, shows by the horticultural achievements of its hard-working owner, Mr. C. J. May, what sort of results await future development. No wonder that this place formed the piece de resistance of the recently stifled land syndicate. Where a cabbage has without watering been known to attain colossal dimensions, where lucern can without irrigation show abnormal growth, where an inconceivable variety of English and other imported grasses have taken root and come to stay, reasons are not lacking for the visitor to congratulate himself upon having ventured into the extreme south-east corner of the island.

Evidence of years of hard manual labor, ringbarking, the cutting down and burning of all the bush round the unpretentious home, causes one to wonder how land such as this can have kept men stationary and almost poor. No lack of industry and no lack of thrift; not a lazy bone in any adult body, and yet the plaintive apology will be made—"But for snaring wallaby and opossum and selling their skins we could not have held on to the place. " The explanation seems to lie in the facts that there is no market for the produce of the orchard or the garden, that no living is be made from a few hundred head of sheep, whilst the much misunderstood coast disease thins their ranks, and that only a poor appreciation exists of the growing of cereals in accord with modern ideas.

A number of valleys branching off from the main body, which follows the course of Rocky River bear evidence of incessant effort to promote the growth of native grasses, and more recently to prepare more than the orthodox few acres for the plough. But it has been slow work even for the most willing, though now the land so cleared probably constitutes the largest area of its sort—heavily timbered—to be met with on the whole island.

Behind the lofty white sandhill ridge one makes acquaintance with an altogether new feature, a series of extensive winding flats, which have been persistently burnt, and cleared until they carry a dense carpet of a rough variety of wire grass. These will be good feeding grounds for sheep, when sheep and coast are better understood. There is also a dark sand, with plenty of substance, capable of growing, so long as sheltered thousands hollows from the wind, either cereal crops or lucerne. An experimental crop of barley has shown what can be achieved, but where so much has to be done, and all at the same time, one cannot help wishing for the owner the power to expend a greater abundance of labor there-on than that which owes its origin to his own tireless frame. The clearing of ten square miles of timbered river flats and sandhill valleys is no mean achievement for one pair, or at most three of hands.

The area of the garden in itself bespeaks the man—its size would daunt most enthusiasts as much as its products of fruits and vegetable would please the traveller. Add thereto a winter occupation, and occasional summer pastime, of snaring wallaby, which in itself, involves a tramp around of from 20 to 30 miles a day, carrying an ever-increasing load of skins, and one wonders more than ever how any constitution survives the wear and tear. The heart of the proverbial lion and a covering of leather might assist ordinary humanity, but our Rocky River friend will modestly lay claim to no other inducements than the need to keep the family pot boiling. An honest, interesting, and genuine personality whom the writer was proud to meet, if only because of a previous knowledge that this personification of tireless energy had been known to make light of carrying from sunrise to sunset as a swag a load weighing no less than 90lb. A stern Puritanical respect for the Sabbath sees all snares lifted (and there will in winter be some 400 out) on the Saturday, lest any victim suffer on the Sunday by the trapper's determination not to move abroad on the day of rest.

There must be something exceptionally invigorating about the climate in this remote corner of the island, (though the island as a whole is proud of its climate), for the visitor will here see among the rising generation what have probably never met his gaze since leaving the south of England, the most beautiful complexions imaginable.

KANGAROO ISLAND. (1906, April 4). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 7.