14. Cape Hart

Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Saturday 23 June 1906, page 43


(By Ethel A. Bates.)

The many beautiful specimens of sponges and seaweed obtainable from the shores of Kangaroo Island are always object of much admiration to the mainlander. The most peculiar in construction are usually found on the uninhabited south coast of the island. Owing to a desire to add further to my collection of shells, sponges, and sea-weeds, I hit upon the happy thought of journeying to Cape Hart to collect further specimens. This particular spot lies in a south-easterly direction from Penneshaw, being distant some 18 miles. The road thence lies for the most part through dense scrub land.

Horseback was my mode of transit and I started early, one spring morning on my lonely ride. I was not well acquainted with the road, so after traversing some miles I entertained not a little fear as to whether I was pursuing the right track. However, I trusted to the superior knowledge of my pony, who was well used to the road I desired to take.

Passing Hog Bay River, which was half-way to my destination, and is a pretty place, with large gum trees growing majestically, I had now left all settlers behind me. After passing the homes of Mr. T. and M. Willson, and Mr. L. Neave who are residents of this spot, nothing but scrubby land and lagoons on the road, and the telegraph line from Borda to Willoughby, broke the monotony.

Following the telegraph lines for some miles I presently descried the track which leads across country; this was the one I intended to take. My pony readily yielded to gentle persuasion, so in a short space of time a new settler's homestead was reached. Twelve months previous to my visit this settler, contrary to the advice of old islanders, took up a large tract of land in this vicinity. At that time it was one mass of short bush, and was generally thought to be of no use to either man or beast. However, contrary to the expectations of everybody in general, and of the islander in particular, through the united efforts of this settler and his sons a large area has been cleared, and is now under cultivation, and looking extremely well. If all remaining land near this vicinity is of equal merit, there is plenty of scope for our young farmers.

The sight of a human being other than one of the family, appeared a rather unusual occurrence, and I was the object of much scrutiny, but thanks to the hospitality of these settlers I was soon re-galing myself with a refreshing "cup o' tae."

Whilst here I was somewhat startled to notice the juvenile members of the family apparently suffering from injured legs, toes, &c. Here one staggered with a crutch, whilst another hopped on one leg. Serious thoughts as to what wild beast had been encountered now took possession of me, thrilling thoughts of fights with iguanos, lizards, and porcupines, besieged my brain, so to allay my growing anxiety I questioned the mother as to the meaning of such mutilation.

Drawing herself to her full height, I was earnestly assured "that the child was staked." "What!" I cried, and again I was assured "that she was staked," and then the meaning dawned on me, and my evident denseness was unmistakable. Having left these good Samaritans behind, my thoughts were occupied fully with the lonely surroundings, and of the awful consequence if by any ill-fate I should meet with a similar calamity and become "staked." [According to Geoffrey Chapman: My father said [children] only wore shoes when they went into the school room or church, the rest of the time they went barefoot. My Grandfather said it was only in the 1920's that men started wearing leather boots- especially about WW1. Until then, the men usually used to wear moccasins made of wallaby skins with the soles using the skins of the tail [which was thicker & harder skin]. Kangaroo's were only a rare sighting and weren't generally seen until the 1950's, so they didn't use roo skins.]

When I asked about the kids feet - they said they soon hardened ---but the main issue was not the pebbles and stones if you were careful and watched where you trod, but from staking themselves when they were running about from sticks laying on the ground, or in the scrub after the scrub had been rolled and burnt. The fires burnt the broken off sticks to a point

The track to be followed was narrow, bushes almost overhanging it; it also appeared so long disused that I wondered if by any chance I had strayed from the right path. About this time, to add to my nervousness, a wallaby hopped across in front of my horse. This gave me such a start that I drew rein and looked about me; nothing but hills and masses of scrub rewarded my gaze. Having thought it time I had reached the coast I became thoroughly alarmed, so I gave the horse the reins to let him pick his own way. Within a couple of hours, after, stumbling through scrub and over limestones innumerable, a clear track was struck, and now the keen sea air could be felt, and soon my destination was reached.

The warm welcome I received from some of my relatives who reside at this spot soon drove away all disagreeable thoughts of my unenviable experiences. I found upon en-quiry, however, that I had strayed from the "Serpentine," as the winding track is called, but fortunately my pony's sagacity had asserted itself, with the result above-mentioned.

This is the spot near which first evidences of the loss of the Loch Vennachar were discovered, so it was with very mixed feelings that I overhauled the numberless pieces of wreckage lying strewn along the beach. A small piece, evidently a remnant of one of the dinghies, I carried away with me as a fitting memento of the appalling catastrophe. Whilst here I was somewhat startled to see another immense four-masted vessel sailing close past the reef whereon the ill-fated Vennachar was at first supposed to have met her doom.

Of seaweeds I collected some beautiful specimens of every color and quality. These I have since pressed, and they can, I think, vie with any I have yet had the pleasure of seeing. The sea sponges I collected were also of varying kinds, from beautiful, soft, white pieces, honeycombed most prettily, to a peculiar specimen of ocean vegetation unique in its construction. It was brown in color, and almost exactly similar to a network of fencing wire.

Whilst here I spent a pleasant time fishing for crayfish, but unfortunately the sea was very rough and unruly, and necessitated close watching. Every few minutes an extra large sea would break, when we would be compelled to leave nets, fish, and lines, and flee for our lives. On one occasion an immense sea sneaked in rather unexpectedly. We were in the act of bagging our crays when we noticed the huge wave about to break. There was nothing left for us to do but drop our spoil and run. Fortunately our lines and nets were firmly secured to the rocks in case of an emergency, so they were in safety, but our captured fish had been swept off the rocks, and basket and all had disappeared. Doubtless the fish were grinning consciously at our chagrin.

Just previous to our adventure I had removed one of my shoes, and in the scurry produced through fear of filling a watery grave, I had hurried off leaving it in company with our lost spoil, and it appears they found it impossible to part company, as presently I descried my hapless shoe being drawn out to sea. However, these are but slight consequences following upon the efforts of the fishers on our south coast.

Cape Hart is some eight miles from Cape Willoughby; between these two places the greater part consists of what might reasonably be called a sandy desert, but Cape Hart is quite an oasis, being strikingly verdant. It is splendidly adapted for agricultural pursuits. A barley crop, the heaviest known to grow on this end of the island, was, at the time of my visit, growing there, the wet spring having proved exactly suited to this locality. The grass waved dangerously high, proving a source of extreme danger to all sorts and conditions of men, owing to the venomous reptiles so numerous there.

Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 - 1922), Saturday 14 July 1906, page 8


Olive Cottage, Kangaroo Island.

Dear Sir—Will you kindly allow we a little space in your column to correct a statement made by E. A. Bates, which appeared in "The Chronicle" dated June 23 regarding life on Kangaroo Island. She states that she called at the house of a new settler on the road from Hog Bay River to Cape Hart.

Now, as I am the only new settler on that road it is quite clear that it is my place she is referring to, and by her letter she wishes the reader to think that we are so isolated that the advent of anyone outside of our family circle is quite an event. Notwithstanding we are in the back blocks, on the day in question I had eight guests before the arrival of E. A. Bates.

Again, she states that one child was on crutches, while another was staked. I can only pass over this last statement as purely romance. I hope if E. A. Bates makes another excursion to Cape Hart she will oblige by taking the public road, as I don't approve of any person gleaning items for a future romance at my expense. —I am, &c., J. A. SAWYER.

"J. A. Sawyer" would be Joseph Andrew SAWYER who is the eldest of nine children of Andrew Thomas SAWYER and his wife Louisa Ann DANZIE who came to K.I. from Port Lincoln.

The children referred to in the article would probably have been his siblings, when Joseph was 22. Joseph did not marry until 1923.