SA's Island - a second boom

Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), Monday 5 February 1906, page 5



[No. I.=By our Special Reporter.]

Another boom has set in at Kangaroo Island, and the place is going ahead in true kangaroo style— by leaps and bounds. The old residents tell of just such another boom many years ago, which fizzled out; but it looks as though, the present wave of prosperity has come to stay. It was only a few years ago that the majority of South Australians knew little about Kangaroo Island. To the best of their belief it was in the sea to the south of the State, but beyond that their ideas were hazy. The is land has a remarkably interesting and romantic history, and it only needs to be told in the right way to arouse the enthusiastic attention of old and young.

Phosphates are responsible for the present boom. Land that was until recently regarded as worthless has been made valuable .by the application of fertilizers. The great feature of Kangaroo Island is that it has an assured rainfall of from 18 to 20 in. A drought is unknown. Although sparrows and starlings have flown over from the mainland, neither rabbits nor wild dogs have yet been able to swim across the passage. In J. W. Bull's 'Colonial Experiences' it is recorded that a black woman who was taken to the island by some of the old whalers swam hick to her tribe on the mainland, but this story is discredited by those who ought to know.

—New Blood.—

After the first boom ended the island relapsed into its old state. Those on the mainland forgot all about the place, and those who did not had little desire to visit it in consequence of its inaccessibility, owing to the poor shipping service. The result was that the old settlers became a happy family. They amassed little fortunes, lived a quiet, simple life, and naturally when the second boom set in they resented the intrusion of the newcomers, they had grown to think that the island belonged to them. They cleared small patches of the good land, reaped wonderful crops of barley, all the labour being done by the respective families. They were absolutely a contented people. I remember telling Mr. Edmund, the editor of The Sydney Bulletin, that the Kangaroo Islanders were a contented, but not a progressive community, and he remarked cleverly, ''Yes, contentment does not mean progression. We must start a society to encourge discontent." The new blood is stirring things up on Kangaroo Island now, but the old settlers are naturally the secure, stable, solid class. There have been some grand pioneers on Kangaroo Island, and the children have followed in the footsteps of the parents. If a germ embodying the energy, industry, and simple life of these people could be won and taken to start and ferment in the luxurious, unadventurous, stay-at-home English there would then be no occasion for an observant Japanese critic to deplore the decline of the race. Some of these people made a start in life by snaring wallabies, and they have often had to live on 'possum. One resident of the island told me that young doe 'possum pie was not half bad. He preferred it to rabbit pie.

— Advertising the Island.—

Two harrowing and awful wrecks— those of the Loch Sloy and Loch Vennachar— did much, to interest the world in Kangaroo Island. Then the boom in land set in, and the series of articles by 'A Native' in The Registcr attracted numbers of people to make the trip. There is a steamer service twice a week now, and the Kooringa, in charge of Capt. Germein is a comfortable boat. Capt. Germein is popular with passengers and all people who do business with the line. There is an energetic and most obliging steward on board, but he has too much to do, and should be given assistance. Often two relays sit down to meals in the saloon. People interested in buying and selling land, in barley. in eucalyptus oil, in yucca gum, china clay, wallaby skins, salt, and those on pleasure bent travel to and from the island. Everything produced on Kangaroo Island is the best in the world. To listen to the rival oilmen extolling the virtues of their various brands of oil is as amusing as a chapter from Mark Twain. It is wonderful how Kingscote, the State's first 'settlement', and Hog Bay have gone ahead during late years. Land has increased in value out of all knowledge.

—Old-time Memories.—

The early settlers in connection with the South Australian Company do not seem to have been much impressed with the place. This can be gathered from a narrative by W. H. Leigh, late surgeon to the South Australian Company's barque South Australian, published in 1839, a copy of which is in the possession of Mr. H. W. Varley. The island is now the angler's paradise, but Mr. Leigh says that during the five months he was on the island he never heard of the two fishermen employed by the company at £100 a year catching a single fish. The writer also tells how Mr. Menge, the company's geologist, tried in vain for nine months to raise a cabbage. Later on in the narrative Mr. Leigh says: —

"Old Menge, the mineralogist, has become completely disgusted with his garden. The goats broke into it last night and ate up the cabbages. This morning at daybreak he was seen wending his solitary way by the beach in search of a habitation. This great scholar, for he is eminent as a linguist as well as a mineralogist, is the completest specimen of an eccentric student I ever knew. He is by birth a German, he lives upon tobacco smoke and pancakes. A more perfect hermit could not be. His den, for it cannot be termed a hut. is underground, with the mound or roof just hummocked up above the level: on one side is his fireplace, where he may be observed at daybreak and evening frying his cakes."

— Kangaroos. —

Wallabies even now abound in some parts of the island, but kangaroos are scarce. Flinders landed at Kangaroo Head in 1802, and named tho island Kangaroo Island owing to the abundance of the marsupials. The island had been visited before this date by whalers and runaway sailors. Mr. Leigh, in his book, tells of a visit to the man named Wallen who was the self styled governor of the island. He lived with three dusky wives, and at this time had devoted 20 years solitary exile to the cultivation of his farm, which was annexed by the South Australian Company. During this visit Mr. Leigh discovered the following lettering on a tree— 'This is the place for fat meat. 1800.' The early settlers, however, did not seem to see many kangaroos. The same above quoted authority writes: — 'There is not a kangaroo within 20 or 30 miles of the settlement,: if you want to shoot one you must prepare for a fortnight's march in the interminable bush and when shot how is it to be got home?' The presence of so many kangaroos at the place where the intrepid Flinders landed was a good indication of first-class land. Proof of this is afforded by the fact that 300 acres at Kangaroo Head carry 900 sheep all the year round. Although the land on the island is patchy some wonderful crops of barley and wheat have been grown in picked places. And what a delight it is to the agriculturist to know that rain will fall for a certainty. Mr. Garry Buick reaped a splendid crop of wheat this year on his land just back from the American River. This is what Mr. Leigh considers should have been the site of the first settlement. It is on the American River, which is practically an inlet of the sea, that that grand old octogenarian, Mr. John Buick, has his excellent orchard. Mr. Buick has lived in this beautiful spot for 51 years, and knows the history of the place from A to Z.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA'S ISLAND. (1906, February 5). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 5.

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