Thursday, 28 July 2011

"Kangaroo Island is

at the bottom of South Australia - next to the bit that looks a bit like Italy" is how the location of the largest island off the South Australian coast is often described.
It is also described , in the old terminology, as being "about 80 miles wide at the widest point and about 120 miles long". Right.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago yesterday the first ship landed at what is now Kingscote. The intention was to set up a colony there. Kingscote was going to be the eventual capital of South Australia - until they discovered that there were problems with setting up camp on a relatively small island with water supply problems. The infant colony soon removed itself to a new location - which is where Adelaide now stands. Kangaroo Island remains somewhat isolated. It also has a somewhat chequered history.
My father was posted there in the mid-1960's. He was appointed as the headmaster of the school in the centre of the island and remained there four years. It was an "Area School" which meant that the children came in by school bus from the surrounding farms and other locations. There were eleven school bus runs and a spare bus. The longest bus journey went right into Flinders' Chase, the nature reserve at the far end of the island. It left the Chase at about 7:15 am and was, like all the other buses, driven by a teacher. New teachers were taught the school bus run by the children. The children were often remarkably independent compared with their city cousins. One nine year old even drove a small car (on his family property) to the bus pick up point some miles down the track. He had been doing it since he was seven.
The school itself catered for everyone through to all but the last year of school. If you wanted to complete your schooling you had to go to the mainland - and your parents had to have the financial capacity to send you. It did not always happen. The surrounding farms were largely owned by "soldier-settlers" - men sent to farm after the war because the government did not know what else to do with them. Most of them had never farmed before. They were often mentally and physically unfit for farming. Few of them managed to make a go of it - and the problems were compounded by very bad advice from a government department. There were still serious differences of opinion between the original settler families and the incomers.
Even before my father left it was clear that Kangaroo Island would have to change focus if it was going to survive as a community.
It has changed now. It has become a tourist destination instead. Of course there are still problems. There always will be with a location which is an island and where water supplies are limited but the local community has adapted and diversified and it now works together - although the first settler families retain their pride in being the first.
The rest of us can probably learn from the history and community of Kangaroo Island - if we can be bothered to try.


JO said...

Cat - I do hope you are storing pieces like this. It is the only way obscure bits of history can be treasured. And maybe it can find its way into a short story?

You also raise an interesting thought about tourists - I travel whenever I can, and find it an impossible dialogue - satisfying my persistent curiosity versus sustaining vital lifestyles and old stories.

catdownunder said...

Well it is sitting here on the blog but, on the whole, I do not write short stories. I might put one up on the blog tomorrow though - just for the fun of it.