Tennyson Dunes at West Lakes are the largest surviving natural dune system remaining in metropolitan Adelaide. They are not only an important part of our natural history, but also figure in the cultural history of Adelaide.
The dunes have largely survived as a natural environment that sustains a rich ecosystem of plants, birds and animals from before European settlement. The introduction of some pests such as rabbits and oxalis (soursobs) have compromised their integrity a little, but many native grasses and other plants grow sufficiently strongly to support native wildlife.
A team of volunteers from the Tennyson Dunes Group has made a significant contribution to re-vegetation in the area and were winners of the 2011 Premier's Natural Resources Management Award.
Rabbit Burrow Shows Recent Activity in the Tennyson Dune System
There is a coastal path traversing the dunes parallel to the beach from Tennyson Heights almost to where West Lakes Boulevard reaches Military Road. Originally it was possible to cycle along here, but now it has degraded and walking is a better option. A number of entry points along Military Road provide access to this track, one with a large observation deck and interpretive signs.
An Observation Deck With Sweeping Views of West Lakes and Grange
As you wander along the track you will almost certainly see Painted Dragon lizards sunning themselves before scurrying off as you get closer. The odd brown snake has been sighted, most often in the vicinity of West Lakes north of Estcourt House. There is little else to disturb the natural calm other than an occasional bird, sometimes hovering high in the sky to hunt.
There are occasional splashes of purple colour provided by the Native Pigface groundcover. The fruit can be eaten while the juice from the succulent leaves was used by indigenous people to soothe blisters, burns and stings.
Both Tennyson and the Somerton Park dunes behind Minda Home have been poorly managed by Councils over the years. At Tennyson the Council has permitted considerable housing development at the expense of the dunes, with title on some properties extending to the high water line. Apparently in the 1960's some mining was even allowed.
When the government proposed selling more land for development, locals protested vigorously. Christopher Naylor of Western Adelaide Coastal Residents Association has helpfully provided me with the background to this: "We worked with Davey Thomason from the CFMEU union to place the green ban on the Tennyson Dunes and he had the sign made by the union artist. It was probably done in the early 80's when I moved back to the area and the Labor government put up for sale signs on the dunes saying they were a prime development site.
We are eternally grateful to the union movement for their support at that crucial time or they would already be concreted and built over like the rest of the over-developed coastline."
The sign pictured above reads: This area is subject to a Green Ban placed on it by the Tennyson Residents Action Group and the Construction Mining and Energy Union (S.A) The ban prohibits development and will remain until the site becomes a part of the existing coastal reserve for the enjoyment of all.
(Signed in bottom right corner) Matt Fisher
While that campaign successfully prevented further development, many locals are still concerned about other development and a proposal to upgrade the coastal path through the dunes.
Several groups have been working over the years to obtain heritage listing for Tennyson Dunes, but have so far been unsuccessful. These groups include Coastal Protection Ecology Group, the Western Adelaide Coastal Residents Association, the Tennyson Dunes Group, the Semaphore South Dune Care group and Friends of Gulf St Vincent. The National Trust SA has also supported this effort.
Tennyson Beach is not particularly popular with western suburbs families (compared to say Grange), probably because a substantial climb and walk through the dunes is necessary to access the beach. If you're carrying children or lots of baggage then many other beaches are easier to visit.
Perhaps for this reason Tennyson Beach has become something of a haven for people of alternative sexuality for over 40 years. In fact they are often the main users of this beach apart from locals walking and exercising their dogs.
The beach itself is usually clean and pleasant unless there has been a lot of sea weed washed up. However in summer there is an endless stream of huge noisy quarry trucks mining sand here to transport to Glenelg. It probably suits the Council to use this area and maximise annoyance to gay and bisexual beach users.
Council workers also deploy branches, barbed wire, and imported thorn bush cuttings in the nearby dunes to discourage beach users from going into the prohibited dunes.
Estcourt House was built in 1883 near the beach at Tennyson by Adelaide businessman Frederick Estcourt Bucknall. Together with Arthur Harvey, Bucknell set up the Grange Company to develop a seaside resort. It was responsible for the construction of the Grange railway, Grange jetty, and roads in the area.
Bucknell lost Estcourt House in 1886 after financial difficulties and being bankrupted. After it was sold it remained empty for years until it was bought as a convalescent home for children. There have been many newspaper reports of visits to the sick children at Escourt House, such as this one in The Register in 1895 and another in 1905.
Site Where Estcourt House Annexe Once Stood (2012)
Over nearly one hundred years Estcourt House has remained a convalescent home in one form or another, mainly for seriously ill children. In 1931 it became a convalescent home for children recovering from medical treatment, and it also provided specialist care for survivors of tuberculosis, poliomyelitis and children with rheumatic fever. It could look after up to forty children at the time.
It was expanded with the addition of an Annex, which was reported in 1962 as having a capacity of 100 beds. In 1961 The parish priest of neighbouring Henley Beach was a regular visitor.
During the early 1980's it was common to see indigenous children enjoying a walk on the beach accompanied by nurses from the Annexe.
A Womens Weekly article from 1979 describes the fight of Anthony Nolan, a well known sufferer of bone marrow disease in the late 1970's who lived in Estcourt House prior to his death aged 8 years. His mother worked tirelessly in his lifetime seeking compatible donors, founding a charity then called the Anthony Nolan Register to assist in the ultimately unsuccessful search.
The Estcourt House Annexe site was subsequently demolished around 1989, and the land is currently vacant and for sale (2012).
Estcourt House has returned to private ownership and been restored, with an outbuilding added.
Estcourt House Ownership
James Brown Memorial Trust (1894 - 1955) - supporting up to 45 needy elderly people and children
Adelaide Children's Hospital (1955 – 1978) - accommodating up to 100 children
Ru Rua Nursing Home (1978 – 1989) - used by the government as a children's wing for Strathmont Centre
Warrawee Hospital was not in the central Tennyson dune system, but nearby at 61 Seaview Road. The home was originally established by the Reverend John Flynn and was operated by the Ausitralian Inland Mission on behalf of the Presbyterian Church from 1950 to 1975.
The Directory of Social Agencies SA 1965 records: On the sea-front in the Adelaide suburb of Tennyson, a home and registered hospital known as "Warrawee" has been established to provide care and attention for needy inland children. This is the Adelaide base of the Far North Children's Health Scheme, and a matron, nursing sisters and nursing aid staff maintain the thirty-bed hospital. Inland children are recommended to the Home by patrol padres, welfare personnel and almoners from children's hospitals.
The property was originally named after the ship Warrawee which plied between Edithburgh and Pt. Adelaide and the AIM were content to continue using the name.
Like Estcourt House, Warrawee had its moments of sadness. This article from 1970 records the death of a young boy whose parents could not be told of his passing.
Another fantastic article Dave, you are truly an ambassador for Adelaide. Such a shame the value of our natural and historic sites is not appreciated as it should be. Future generations will mourn the greed that caused this damage.
I worked here when it was then Ru Rua , a home for profoundly disabled children . One thing about going to work was the view . We took the kids down on the sand when we were able to. I always felt a little sad driving up to the building though l, it was a lonely looking place . Now it is surrounded by buildings and you can only just se it's roof from the road .
Bit more of my story of the Tennyson Sand Hills. I was 10 when the second world war finished. In the morning, trucks towing trailers especially built to carry 25 Pounder guns would arrive at a bunker in the sand hills for a test firing. After the war lots of houses had dead shells in the corners of their gardens to drag their hoses around. Also, in what the locals called "Pebble Valley", now Arthur St. was a huge American Army Staging Camp. All of our local beaches were Barbed Wired Off and were No Go areas.