In August 2014, Kaurna Warra Pinyanthi offered Yarnauwi (“bald (hills) waterhole”) as a Kaurna name for our farm. This name is a reference in part to Yarnauwingga, the Kaurna name for the area now occupied by the Wirrina Cove Holiday Park. As historical records describe, this area has been an important gathering place for millennia.
Yarnauwingga, Poole’s Flat and Wirrina Cove: the neighbourhood of the farm
‘Rapid Recollections’, a recount of early days of settlement on the southwestern Fleurieu from the Adelaide Register, alludes to the area of the farm, also sometimes referred to as Poole’s Flat, as the Third Valley,
Panacooca is the native name for Second Valley. At the head of the valley are two marble hills, one on each side, and at the foot of each hill is a beautiful spring of fresh water. North of Second Valley is Third Valley, which was a great resort for picnic parties in the early days. Bullock drays were the method of conveyance to these gatherings. To the left side of the creek, facing the sea, is what was known [as] Cutter Flat, where the cutter O.G. (the first vessel to be built in the colony) was wrecked in the early fifties. About quarter of a mile inland from this opening is a place known as Pool’s Flat. This was formerly a great meeting place of the blacks, where many battles were fought, and was named by them, Yarnowinga (24 September 1924, p. 12).
In 1929, Miss L. Webb added to the recollections of early Rapid Bay and districts describing the indigenous name for the place as Yarnoninga, now understood to be Yarnauwingga. Webb goes on to detail how to “the north of Pool’s Flat, along the beach, is a fair-sized cave, and between that and the Little Gorge is a hidden spring of fresh water” (The Register, 2 February 1928, p. 7). These historic details re-occur, with slight variations, in newspaper recollections throughout the early 20th Century. One account, documented by “A Native of Rapid Bay” describes a gathering of Aboriginal men at Poole’s Flat,
A lady told me that her sister and [unreadable] were living at this place in [date unreadable]. One day about a hundred blacks marched [unreadable] to the flat, and formed two lines. They [unreadable] throwing spears at each other, and used womeras with which to protect themselves. After a time, one of the men came up to the house, and, looking round, said, “Where’s your men?” One of the ladies replied, “They’ll be back soon.” … He said, “Look, we been doing big practice; we going to fight the French; plenty blackfellow come round by-and-by. You plenty keep your door shut; don’t be frightened; we’ll look after you; we’re the English.” The women locked the door and kept a loaded gun handy (The Register, 1 May 1919, p. 9).
After noting again that Poole’s Flat was an important Aboriginal meeting place, The Register noted with an air of colonial terror that “the country was then a wilderness, infested with wild dogs, overrun by kangaroos, and inhabited by aborigines”. It was in this environment that throughout the 1840s, South Australian Governor George Grey and wife Eliza were “fond of scrambling over the rough country of Rapid Bay. They used to pitch their tents and make excursions round the neighbourhood. Mrs. Grey was an intrepid horsewoman, and could find her way on the darkest night and over country where men feared to venture” (25 August 1921, p. 3).
Coastal trading and the O.G.
Advertisements for livestock in the South Australian indicate that the coast adjacent to Poole’s Flat may have had its own jetty at one point (16 February 1847, p. 3) to provide access to the mosquito fleet that serviced the ports of South Australia’s gulfs.
The cutter boat O.G., a member the early ‘Mosquito Fleet‘ of small trading ships that plied settlements along the coast of South Australia, ended its career wrecked on the rocks at Poole’s Flat. Funded by the South Australia Company, and named in honour of Colonial Treasurer Osmond Gilles, the O.G. was built on the banks of the Patawalonga Creek in 1840. As the first ship built in the colony, it was launched with great fanfare and operated out of Holdfast Bay throughout its working life. While primarily engaged in the fish and oyster trade, “she was a good sea boat and very useful”, also occasionally making “trading voyages with salt and flour cargoes” (Shefi 2006, p. 128). Of the wreck, the Sydney Empire reported that,
This cutter, which left Port Adelaide on the 19th May, for Yankalilla and Rapid Bay, is now a total wreck on Poole’s Flat, about a mile and a half north of the second valley, Rapid Bay. Captain Reid reports that after he had weighed anchor at Yankalilla, at one o’clock in the evening on the 23rd, the wind began to blow hard and increased to a heavy gale. The cutter was very light, having discharged nearly all her cargo, and Captain Reid, finding it impossible to prevent her from driving her ashore, let go his anchor as a last resource. The cutter, however, immediately dragged anchor, and soon struck on the rocks. The crew, consisting of the master, two men, and a boy, saved their lives with great difficulty, by taking to the boat and running her up a creek, but it was a very narrow escape. The burthen of the cutter was only twenty tons, and therefore she was under the size for insurance, so that Captain Reid’s loss by this unfortunate wreck is estimated at above £300. (12 June 1854, p. 3)
A great picnic resort
As repeatedly noted, Poole’s Flat was a “great picnic resort of early days”, with bullock drays used for “conveyances” to the picnics (The Register, 25 August 1921, p. 3). In a ‘Yankalilla Yarns’ column from The Register, “W. G. R.” reminisces about one incident picnicking at Poole’s Flat. After a tirade comparing the safety and security of the dray and the car with its “infernal combustion, and other atrocious organs”, the writer goes on to recount,
Bullock drays were the chief means of transport either for heavy work or picnic parties. On one occasion, as we had a house full of visitors, a picnic was arranged to be held at Pool’s Flat. It was a case of John Gilpin over again. “My sister and my sister’s child, myself and children three will fill the dray, so you must ride on horseback after we.” I straddled bareback on a great draught mare, and joining the cavalcade, heard a visitor exclaim, “Here comes a tomtit on a round of beef.” (The Register, 24 March 1923, p. 12)
If nothing else, W. G. R.’s recollections demonstrate a shift in cultural reference points. ‘John Gilpin’ is a reference to The Diverting History of John Gilpin, a comic poem from the 1780s by William Cowper, referring to a man caught on a runaway horse, while a “tomtit” is a small New Zealand bird.
In The Advertiser of 9 January 1904, a correspondent notes the discovery of a bottle full of papers on the coast at Poole’s Flat. Washed ashore after being tossed overboard from the troopship St. Andrew by South Australian troops on their way to Africa in 1902, the tail-end of the Boer War, the bottle contained messages of farewell and well-wishing. The writer noted that Poole’s Flat is located “one and a half miles from the Little Gorge, and about two and a half miles from Second Valley jetty” (p. 8). This location corresponds with Ron Blum’s locating of Yarnauwingga/Poole’s Flat at present-day Wirrina Cove in his history The Second Valley, a location that has been further confirmed through correspondence with local researchers.
The establishment of the Wirrina resort
The early history of the Wirrina resort complex is recounted with great exuberance in The Wirrina Story, a compilation of highlights from the first 7 or so years of the development, produced for shareholders in 1979 (Reinschmidt 1979). In the early 1970s, discussions began to explore the formation of a co-operative holiday resort in South Australia. According to the interested parties, the stated purpose was to “establish a resort on a co-operative basis, through the mutual interest and co-operation of local South Australian families, where they could use it firstly, during the immediate years ahead – but primarily, for their use and pleasure during later years of their lives.” Indeed, the committee perceived in the formation of the resort “the creation of a family inheritance for their children and even their children’s children … it would be for those that followed in their place who would receive the maximum benefit of their vision and long term enterprise.” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 5)
Consequently, the Holiday Village Co-operative Limited was formed, chaired by Ron Loveday, former Education Minister under the Labor governments of Frank Walsh and Don Dunstan. Over 6 months, the directors of the Co-operative scouted possible resort locations around South Australia, to find a suitable site. On some visits, the directors’ wives were also invited to attend, “to get a woman’s point of view” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 7). With a number of sites touted, including Port Broughton, Lake Alexandrina, Port Stuart and National Park land near Goolwa, each was eliminated for various reasons. Finally, the co-operative came upon a privately-owned, 640 acre rural property between Second Valley and Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The landscape prior to the resort’s establishment is described in The Wirrina Story,
There existed an interesting variety of hills and flat land on their undulating property with a cliff face to the sea giving wind protection to most parts of the property. The cliff face, a natural scenic feature, was precipitous, but was well fenced and therefore safe.
Approaching the property from the main road consisted of a small drive along a creek lined with large gums which led to the farm house, a modern home situated near a considerable piece of land with an excellent flat base and surrounded by hills in the centre of the property to form almost an amphitheatre.
There were two creeks traversing the property which joined together about two hundred metres from the sea and flowed out through the valley. These creeks would provide plenty of fresh water and one particularly would allow the opportunity for creating an internal lake on the property.
Whilst the property was lacking somewhat in trees on certain areas of land, there was on other areas some very mature gums. Good rainfall in the area however would afford excellent prospects for the easy growth and establishment of additional trees and wooded areas.
The beach area on the property whilst limited in size was found to be entirely private and secluded. It was what could perhaps be termed as scenically interesting and attractive but lacking in sand.
The Directors felt that the value and effectiveness of their beach frontage could be substantially improved by creating additional sand, swimming facilities and a boat haven in the future plans of the development of the complex. (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 9)
After its acquisition in 1972, the property hosted monthly “open inspections” for shareholders to view the development of the complex. To host these events, the construction of the “Oval Complex”, now the office and toilet block of the Wirrina Holiday Park, was prioritised to cater for these events and to allow for additional income streams as a venue for group functions. As described in the official history, “the Complex on the oval is truly of unique and attractive design … The building, which incorporates toilet facilities, change rooms, bar and lounge facilities, kiosk and barbeques forms a beautiful backdrop to the lush playing field of the automatically irrigated oval. The barbeques, a real feature of the Complex are automatic gas-fired and so constructed to cater for fifty-four families cooking at one time. Furthermore, by virtue of their design, they can be used fifty-two weeks of the year – not being subject to fire bans” (p. 21). In its first years of use, the complex “provided a happy picnic venue for thousands of families on Sundays”, as well as “many major companies” visiting on annual picnics, hosting football and cricket games and social gatherings of service clubs. School camps would pitch their tents on the oval, and senior citizens would be hosted on bus tours through the developing resort. Some 50,000 visitors were estimated to pass through on coach visits in the first four years. A pinnacle of the complex’s potential was when children’s television personality Fat Cat appeared at a benefit event for the Crippled Children’s Association, an event that attracted an estimated 7,500 people.
In 1973, Ian Boothby was appointed as the resort’s full time Resident Property Manager, following his agricultural experience in the Adelaide Hills. Their first primary task was “the planting of trees to re-landscape the denuded hills which in previous years had been cleared for grazing.” Plantings were designed in anticipation of future development, particularly to provide shade and shelter from the wind. Without irrigation, the initial plantings were selected from locally indigenous species, as well as species from elsewhere in Australia (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 15). With support from the South Australian Woods and Forests Department, on Mother’s Day 1973, the project commenced. Forty-three thousand trees were planted in the initial planting, followed by two years of “back-breaking” weeding. “At times, Ian and his staff had to crawl on their hands and knees among the dandelions to establish where the tree was before they could use a hoe. It was almost two years before a vineyard plough could be used to weed among the trees and even then they had to be finished off by hand with a hoe.” A celebratory sign along the newly cut road to the coast listed the species planted as red gum, Tasmanian blue gum, SA blue gum, pink gum, Southern Mahogany gum, cup gum, swamp yate, peppermint box, mallee box, narrow-leaved gimlet, sheoak, black oak, swamp oak, a variety of acacias and melaleucas, willow myrtle, native pine and hop bush.
The first road from Main South Road to the coast was cut along the course of the Anacotilla River in 1973, with additional roads connecting the oval complex, golf course and reservoir engineered in the years following. Throughout 1974-1975, the Congeratinga River valley was carved up to form a 530 megalitre reservoir. According to Reinschmidt, this “provides a wonderful site, particularly from June to December [as] it overflows into the creek below as a cascading waterfall where it then joins the Anacotilla and flows out to sea” (1979 p. 17). The reader is assured that during the “transformation of the landscape … the emphasis has always been on enhancing the natural beauty which abounds the property – special care being taken at all times not to upset the ecology” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 17).
With the “Oval Complex” apparently booming, in 1978, the resort built on this success by opening a “grass skiing slope” on an adjacent hillside. Complete with a ski lift to tow the skiier up the hill, all necessary equipment was available for hire from the Oval. With the introduction of this, “truly a 12 months of the year sport, with virtually no limiting factors,” “thousands of men, women and children now enjoy the thrill of zipping down slopes” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 23). The implementation of the grass skiing slope was tipped to be followed by tennis courts and a swimming pool at the Oval Complex, as part of “the never-ending quest of Wirrina to provide for visitors and guests the “complete” Holiday Resort” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 23).
In 1979, the Co-operative imagined Wirrina as a “Golfing Mecca”, with “unparalleled” scenic views from the fairways. Indeed, the view from the eleventh hole, “is truly unique and has already, in the short history of Wirrina, been put to film by many top photographers.” Such was the beauty of this vista, that the Co-operative were certain that it would be used not only in promoting the merits of South Australia, but Australia as a whole. All visitors were urged to take in this view, as it was “truly worthwhile” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 27).
For a modest $8.00, any golfer, “lady or gentleman”, could enjoy a full day of golfing, complete with “a delightful luncheon”. Following the eighteenth hole, players could then retire to the “four diamond rating” Savannah Motel to hear the results and commentary from the day “delivered in a most capable manner”, by hotel manager Guenter Buczynski. In the general air of optimism, Wirrina trumpeted itself as Australia’s first to introduce a fleet of twenty-one T-Bird Electric Golf Cars. This development “electrified” golf play and made it “a sheer delight and pleasure”. This “delight and pleasure” was even felt by more experienced senior players, who expressed such after playing a round with these “handsome” machines. The cars were available for both golfing and sightseeing purposes at a mere $5.00 a day. The course even recieved an endorsement from “shapely” Cop Shop star Lynda Stoner, who described playing golf at Wirrina as “the best way I know of ‘coming down’ after a busy shooting schedule on the TV set” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 29).
Regarding itself as “one of Australia’s most ambitious and potentially most comprehensive holiday complexes”, continued developments and new additions to the resort were certain to assure its future as “a major tourist attraction”. In 1979, the Savannah Motel was tipped to be increased by a further 105 rooms, squash courts, saunas and “an exercise room”. This would be further added to with a convention centre, public and lounge bars, golfing shop and a further barbeque area. The Oval Complex would be enhanced with a 75-berth Caravan Park. The rest of the the resort would see the construction of further roads, “beach improvements”, a boat ramp, indoor lawn bowls, and a 200-berth marina flanked by the proposed “White Waves” motel/boatel, on the hillside facing the sea. A 70-person ferry between Adelaide and Wirrina was touted, together with big game fishing craft. All of this would be watched over by a clifftop restaurant and a “TV-monitored child-minding centre”, together with a “children’s complex incorporating bunk house style accommodation and a mini-farm, a horse-riding academy and individual chalet-style accommodation”. In short, while Wirrina was to become “a complete, self-contained holiday resort”, it was also certain to “open up the whole of the lovely Fleurieu Peninsula” (Reinschmidt 1979 p. 67).
Blum, R 1985, The Second Valley: A history of Second Valley, South Australia, Ron Blum, Oaklands Park
Reinschmidt, L J 1979, The Wirrina Story, Holiday Village Cooperative Ltd., Adelaide
Shefi, D 2006, The development of cutters in relation to the South Australian oyster industry: an amalgamation of two parallel developing industries, Department of Archaeology, Flinders University