American River 1904

Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), Saturday 20 February 1904, page 37


—Our Most Neglected Holiday Resort.—

[By our Special Reporter.]

Panoramic view of the entrance to American River, Kangaroo Island [PRG 280/1/4/144] 1906. SLSA

Considering that in many respects American River has unrivalled attractions as a holiday resort it is the most neglected spot in South Australia. How many people have sampled the charms of this inlet of the sea which almost cuts Kangaroo Island in two near its Hog Bay end? A one-armed man could count the regular annual visitors on his fingers without being reminded of his affliction. The organization of a party even in the best-informed circles must be preceded by a lesson in the geography of our own front door, for the ignorance concerning even the locality of this beautiful resort is widespread and quite surprising. Further difficulties will present themselves, because the exploiting of American River means an absence from Adelaide of at least nine days, and, for complete satisfaction, 16 days. How indispensable everybody is when the application for 16 days' leave goes in! How finely the labour supply is cut! And so American River remains unknown and unappreciated by the very people who yearn for a change of holiday scenes. Sixty years ago somebody was groaning over the neglect above referred to, for in The Adelaide Observer of September 23, 1844, appeared the following:

"Kangaroo Island is nearly divided in two by American River. A neck of land about a mile across separates it from the Southern Ocean. The river affords a perfectly safe harbour in all winds, and for vessels of the largest size. This is reported on the information of Mr. Dowsett, of the Jane Flaxman, who expressed his surprise that this admirable harbour, so easily accessible, and so important to vessels in the neighbouring setlle in case, of a gale, was not better known. Close to Morrison's Point several whales have been seen, which is a good proof of deep water. At this point there is a most extraordinary echo which distinctly reverberates sounds four or five times."

The reference to whales in the foregoing paragraph lets in here a word or two concerning the nomenclature of the locality. American River received its name from the American seafaring men who in the early days exploited the whale fisheries in the vicinity. Its entrance is marked by two bold heads 10 or 12 miles apart. Kangaroo Head was so named because of the large number of kangaroos which once roamed there, while Ballast Head is distorted from Bellows Head, so called by a late sea captain who experienced a severe blow in the neighbouring waters. Our small party were fortunate in leaving Adelaide for the cool and inviting shades of American River at a time when the summer was entering upon the period of what up till then had proved to be its greatest severity. The thoughts of the people at the time were probably matched by Rossiter Johnson's lines:

Oh, that this cold world was twenty times colder;
(That's irony red-hot, it seemeth to me);
Oh, for a turn of its dreadful cold shoulder,
Oh, what a comfort an ague would bel

—For Men Only.—

I will not discourage possible visitors to this end of Kangaroo Island by making more than passing reference to the shortcomings of the steamer service and to the high tariff—£1 return and 6/ extra for meals. It is only the urbanity of the officers on board which makes that part of the trip sufferable at all, and the competition which is promised shortly may have the effect of improving matters. However, the troubles in this respect are all over so soon as Nils Ryberg's sailing boat comes along side the steamer to take off the occasional passengers for American River. Mr. Ryberg is a Swedish fisherman who speaks English well, and is the only person who caters for holiday makers. There are no hotels for many miles around, and the virgin dark-green scrub has been disturbed only here and there by orchardists and barley growers, who have carried on successful cultivation for many years. Barley of various kinds does particularly well on the island, but the numerous followers of the Rev. J. A. Dowie settled here steadfastly refuse to grow the malting variety.

The national expenditure at American River is almost confined to the provision of a couple of buoys which mark the centre of the channel, and such is the peacefulness of the surroundings that the undisturbed cormorants will soon have completed the transformation of the buoys into floating guano tips. Having in view the fact that trade has not warranted much further public expenditure, the newcomer must not be surprised if the hardy Norseman who takes him in hand from the steamer eventually sets him on shore by pick-a-back means, for unless the tide is high the cutter's dingy is unable to come alongside the little stone landing which some hardworking yachtsmen built several years ago. For the same reason ladies cannot be admitted to American River with any degree of comfort. It is essentially a place of exclusion for men. The late Sir R. R. Torrens, of Real Property Act fame, used to pay it an annual visit, because, according to the statement of a close friend, the sweetest wallabies and the fattest iguanas were to be found there.

—Shells, Fish, and Fruit.—

Having landed in the dark the visitor will awake in the morning probably with the idea that he has been set down in Sydney Harbour. Such is the impression conveyed by the close proximity of the scrub to the water and the numerous bays which make up the salt river. How may the time be spent in a place so completely out of touch with the world and so sparsely populated? The answer is that the variety of attractions before the holiday maker will prove beyond his imagination. We spent the first day in searching to wards Ballast Head for nautilus shells. A few weeks before these chaste and chambered treasures had come sailing into the shore in hundreds; but we had been forestalled in the gathering. Small wonder, for every pair picked up commanded a ready sale at 5/ to £1 in Adelaide. It was 1½ years since such a perfect fleet of nautilus shells had stranded in American River. Our love of conchology, however, was subsequently amply satisfied on the opposite beach, which, especially after a good blow, is strewn with a great variety of shells worth collecting. In the same locality may be found a natural sea grotto full of interest and fish and dog sharks. We took out a fine bag of sweep. The principal pleasure at American River for most people is the wonderfully certain fishing combined with the sailing. What a contrast the inlet affords to many other resorts in this respect! The writer of the articles in The Register on the Port Lincoln district penned the following lament: —

"We try in the dingy to catch whiting; we try to catch snapper; we try to catch snook, or even the despised rock cod, good eating though he is if put in salt for 24 hours; and find, alas! that all these dainty fish are away visiting."

There is no doubt in my mind that they were visiting American River, for not once during a fortnight's hard angling all over the in let did we put out the lines without being well rewarded. Our best catch was 153 good-sized whiting in one afternoon, while the small party who succeeded us pulled out 25 dozen in one day. Whiting are by far the most plentiful, but our diet was daily varied by trevalli—which surely lives next door to the flounder—gar, moonlighters, salmon, sweep, and flatheads. Occasionally a fiddler would get on the line for the purpose of being hauled up and having his tail docked. Being armed with harpoons the party had some exciting hours in wading on the shallows and making war on the stingrays and fiddlers — vermin of the sea. We made no bones about it because frequently the presence of these creatures drove a hungry shoal of fish from our lines. Mr. Ryberg extracts an oil from the liver of the stingray, which has distinct curative powers when applied to cuts and abrasions.

When the wind is favourable it is a pleasant diversion to sail across to Queenscliffe or to Hog Bay. The former, may be regarded as the headquarters of the island. There are many interesting objects of early South Australian settlement to be seen in the neighbourhood, including the first fruit trees planted in this state. We ate mulberries from a tree that has been bearing for over 60 years. In visiting Queenscliffe the Spit—called by the elite of the island the "Expectoration"— should not be passed over. It is three miles off the township, and is the breeding ground of the shags and seagulls. In our rambles we found it almost impossible to avoid the litter of nests, built to the height of a foot above the ground, which cover an immense area of the Spit. During the period of breeding, when the birds are weak with sitting, some of the is landers make great slaughter among them with the aid of sticks, and thus perform a valuable service to the fishing industry.

—An Old Tragedy.—

If a change from the daily sailing is desired one can foot it across to the south coast of Kangaroo Island where the breakers are magnificent to behold. The cutter took us up the river to within a mile and a half of the ocean beach, and making our way through the dense and tall native tobacco scrub with barren Mount Tisby on our right we struck the sea at Pennington Bay. The colour of the water and the character of the rocks forming the high cliffs were strongly reminiscent of the Blue Lake. Surf bathing and tobogganing down the dry and steep sandhills were events in our programme here, while splendid examples of petrified roots were noted. The name Pennington, which has been given to the bay, recalls a sad tragedy of the fifties. Advocate-General Hanson and party picnicked at American River and spent a day in visiting the ocean beach. In returning to the boats the party separated, and Mr. Pennington, a clerk, was never seen again. The theory of Mr. Tom Coward, who was sent by Mr. Warburton to direct search operations, was that Mr. Pennington, while scratching for water on the edge of a salt lagoon, was devoured by wild pigs, which had been introduced on the island by the late Mr. G. Bates. Mr. Coward found the heel of his boot. There are many other rambles which may be profitably undertaken with American River as the starting point, and among these should not be over looked the guano islands at the head, besides old whaling bases and the fine, orchard still personally tended by the owner, Mr. Buick, at the age of 86 years.

In conclusion, I would warn visitors against bathing in deep water, as American River is infested with sharks. One day when the water was beautifully clear we threw over board eight large stingrays, and almost immediately three sharks, fully 14 ft. long, came on the scene. Two of them swallowed three stingrays each with alarming ease, and in so doing exploded the old theory that a shark must turn on his back to take a mouthful. On another occasion we hooked a five-footer and discovered 18 well matured eggs inside. Mr. Ryberg once opened a shark caught in American River which had a whole porpoise within.

AMERICAN RIVER. (1904, February 20). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), p. 37.