The Rocky River District

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


(By our Special Commissioner.)

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. 

1906  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 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. 

Sale of Rocky River Property.

1909  We understand that Mr C. J. May has disposed of his Rocky River property, comprising 9000 acres, at a satisfactory figure. This is another instance of the growing demand for land on Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 18 September 1909, page 4


1910  The proprietor of the Rocky River Estate on Kangaroo Island (Mr. F. L. Duffield) is just the man for new country, for he is an indefatigable worker thoroughly enterprising, and remarkably resourceful. Consequently it is not surprising to learn that he has completely transformed a portion of his estate, although he has been in possession for comparatively only a short period. 

In the course of an interview, published in The Kangaroo Island Courier, he said:— 

"We have 80 men, mostly on contract work, clearing, splitting, and fencing. We hope to get in about 500 acres this year of barley and oats— and this tract is nearly all cleared at present. In a few days we expect to land a large traction engine with trucks complete, and which is costing £1,000. In the very rich land on the estate potatoes are being tried, and we are pumping 10,000 gallons of water per hour on to the tubers and fodder — such as the panicum crus galli, various kinds of millet, and lucerne. 

A recently discovered spring is watering 8 acres of lucerne on the limestone country at the rate of 3,000 gallons per hour. We have just received 10¼d. for our wool, the highest price yet realized for the Rocky River brand. A good quantity of country is being subdivided into suitable-sized paddocks. On the rough sandhill country it is intended to try marram grass. 

A scheme I have much at heart, and which, I think, is a good one, has for its objective the peopling of the Rocky River Estate on the shares system. The system will possess much better advantages than the ordinary share system, and will be available for approved applicants. Already I have had numerous applications from experienced farmers to take up land on that basis. 

The estate comprises 9,000 acres, and there are four varieties of soils— the rich sandhill flats, which have been highly commented upon by the Assistant Director of Agriculture; stiff black river flats, 2,000 acres of heavily timbered red loam and limestone, some few thousand acres of ordinary ironstone country, and a light soil, similar, I am told, to the famous White Lagoon land.

Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), Friday 11 March 1910, page 10


1922  The Government have purchased from Messrs. Pender Brothers, for £2,800 the Rocky River farm, on Kangaroo Island, adjacent to the boundary of Flinders Chase, the Stat fauna and flora reserve. The property comprises about 9,000 acres and on it there are several waterholes, "large enough" (to use Mr. Laffer's words) to float the Karatta in. The Commissioner of Crown Lands believes that these waterholes would be excellent nurseries for English fresh-water fish, and probably steps will be taken to stock them. He considers that the buildings on the farm are worth £1,000. There are two good houses and stables. The farm, he thinks, will he an excellent camping place for visitors to Flinders Chase. In time, if the tourist traffic warrants it, the Government may provide accommodation for travellers there. Mr. Laffer announced the purchase when opening the exhibition of the Field Naturalists' section of the Royal Society last night. He claimed to have been responsible for the Bill being put through the Assembly which created Flinders Chase as a fauna and flora reserve. He took the matter up with his late colleague (Mr. Peake), and induced him to introduce the measure. Later, in his capacity of Chairman of Committees, he (Mr. Laffer), took the Bill through committee. He was deeply interested in the reserve, which he thought was on the road to success. There was a splendid board, which put a good deal of time, and also money, into the work. Parliament during the last two sessions had voted a subsidy of pound for pound up to £500, and the board had been able to claim a fair proportion of the amount. The key to Fiinders Chase was the freehold property known as Rocky River, at which the road ended. The Government, at the request of the Flinders Chase Board, had purchased that property. The members of the board visited it during this week, and it was their intention to put a man in charge at Rocky River. (Applause.)

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), Saturday 14 October 1922, page 11

Adelaide Scientists Successful Visit To Rocky River.

1934  During the visit of a number of Adelaide Scientists to Rocky River recently, they found several series of teeth of the large extinct Australian marsupial, Diprotodon Australis giant wombat which was about 5 feet high and 9 feet in length. The teeth were about 9 inches long. The members of the party who secured these teeth, were Messrs N. Tindale (Museum ethnologist), F. Fenner and F. Hall. The place where the investigations were made was discovered and reported by the late Mr C. J. May, many years ago. The Adelaide Museum has the only com lete set of bones of the Diprotodon in the world. These were obtained at the Strzelecki River in the North West of South Australia. The party also found some teeth of the Giant Kangaroo. Prof. J. B. Cleland and Mr Womeraly (Museum entomologist) obtained a number of specimens of insect life.

Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), Saturday 15 December 1934, page 2