When a State was born

‘When a State was born’ – Kangaroo Island Settlement Day 2018

by Stan Gorton


With Kangaroo Island Settlement Day coming up on Friday, July 27, former mayor and founder of The Islander newspaper has submitted a short article on what it would have been like to land on Kangaroo Island back on July 27, 1836.

Mr Cordes said he wrote the article to support a proposal he is putting together for a world-class history pavilion at Reeves Point.

We have included a photograph of the original painting done by Jenny Ayliffe of the first landing commissioned for the 140th anniversary back in 1976, as well as some of the coverage in The Islander of that that celebration and some photos to show what Reeves Point looks like today. [16 images included]

Settlement Day 2018 will be celebrated with an official function at the Mulberry Tree at Reeves Point, Kingscote starting at 11.15am on Friday, July 27. starting with a speech by Mayor Peter Clements.

The 2017-2018 Young Achiever of the Year winners will receive their awards.

This year’s Young Achiever winner is Holly Muecke, while Commununty Service Individual winner is Jai Turner and the Community Service Group winner are the KI Gymnastics beginner coaches.

This will be followed by a free community lunch at the Kingscote Town Hall at 12 noon where everyone is welcome, no RSVP required

Here is Neville Cordes’ article about what it would have been like to land at Reeves Point 182 years ago:

When a State was born

When visiting Kingscote if you are able to spend a few quiet moments at a high point overlooking historic Reeves Point and picture in your mind the scene that would have been taking place before you on July 27, 1836, you would have to be made of stone not to feel the complex web of emotions of that time.

Reeves Point simply demands contemplation, stillness, silence. For it was here, in the most remarkable circumstances, a State was born. The scene before you was, at that very moment, giving physical birth to the State of South Australia.

On the flat land below you a tiny group of people, the colony’s first official settlers, men and women and children and a handful of seamen, had just landed from the barque Duke of York.

The 12,000-mile journey from England was harrowing enough, but having arrived safely at their destination they found...nothing.

That’s all there was. Nothing. No people, no animals, no buildings, no water. Nothing. Nothing except biting, wind-driven, icy cold rain in the middle of a bitterly cold Kangaroo Island winter. And scrub, seemingly interminable scrub.

There were no sounds of welcome, indeed no sounds at all other than the gentle lapping of water on the shore. There was just an ominous, overwhelming, foreboding silence. Later, of course, came the sounds of shouting and urging and cursing as the brave souls did whatever they could to protect themselves against the elements.

As you recreate the scene in your mind you wonder whether these extraordinary adventurers had any idea of what awaited them when they embarked on their journey to a lonely land half way around the world. Were they foolhardy or brave or perhaps desperate?

Nearly 200 years on no one really knows, but what is known is that here in this most remote and lonely outpost of the British Empire they set about creating a community and etching their place in the history of Australia.

Fortified by copious supplies of warming rum, thoughtfully provided by the South Australian Company, these stout-hearted pioneers set about erecting flimsy shelters and, eventually, some stone homes.

They dug pits and wells, built rudimentary jetties, carted stone for building homes and brought water in barrels by boat from the other side of the bay; they planted gardens and trees.

Remarkably one tree, a gnarled old mulberry, survives today. It is the oldest colonial relic in the State.

All this was nothing if not heroic.

However, by the time eight ships loaded with settlers had arrived it was already becoming clear that the tiny town was doomed : there was no economic base.

Meanwhile, sorrow and heartbreak from accidents and illness was an ever-present companion. There were frequent visits to the little cemetery on the other side of the creek.

The place today is marked with headstones and cairns indicating where lie the remains of those who died in this fateful experiment. It’s not difficult to picture the groups of mourners huddled, grieving, around the sad little mounds of earth marked only with simple wooden crosses.

And yet, despite the appalling hardships, the seeming lack of hope and the frequent reversals of fortune, the little community of Kingscote, the first town in the State, somehow prevailed.

It was, without doubt, a massive triumph of the human spirit.

Within just a few years the South Australian Company pulled out unable to see a future for the place in which so much hope and money had been invested. The little community was abandoned.

Now, nearly 200 years on, and from high above the now deserted site, the visitor would be consumed with admiration for what those amazingly tough men and women pioneers achieved against incredible odds.

After the community was abandoned in 1839 a few of the sturdier souls stayed on : their names are now immortalised in Kangaroo Island history. Surely no one can fail to admire their spirit and tenacity.

To them all, the known and the unknown, we say ‘Well done. We are now the custodians of your toil and sacrifices, your heartaches and your achievements. We will not let you down”.

– Neville Cordes

Founder of The Islander newspaper and mayor from 1983 to 1987.