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Published June 27th 2017
I shall return, and they did
It was with some trepidation that I began my trip towards one of the smaller towns in SA's mid-north. A town developing a reputation as a ghost town. A town that was home to one of the famous quotes from World War Two. A town whose name in Aboriginal language means hidden waterhole. I was headed towards the former railways town of Terowie.
The Barrier Highway bypasses the Main Street of Terowie and much of the township, so it is quite easy to just pass by at some unforgiving speed. The small petrol station and roadside motel appear dated, but look as though they are open for trade. My fears are abating, so the indicator is pushed, and I turn towards the township, across a former bustling railway line and find myself a spot on the Main Street to park.
With camera in hand, I start to walk around the town noticing the impact that the combination of war and railroads has on a town. It is not long though before I reflect on my return to this little town for the first time this century, a return that has put me into the unique league of persons who have visited both Terowie and The Philippines, a league that is topped by the one leader sitting above them all being General Douglas MacArthur.
I had the pleasure of visiting The Philippines in 2015, and in particular Corregidor Island, the place where MacArthur departed The Philippines in 1942. And here I was, 75 years later, in front a plaque honouring the occasion in March 1942 when MacArthur stepped onto the Terowie railway platform and issued those famous words that I shall return.
In 1942, the world was at war, and Terowie was a busy place being the break-of-gauge and transhipment point for goods, people and coal. A prominent Railway Station was required, and Terowie had one that remained in operation until 1988. Following a few years of neglect, the Station has been lovingly restored and is now maintained by the local community.
Nearby the Terowie Oval Staging Camp Cell Block is a reminder that not everyone was on their best behaviour when being asked to serve their country, albeit the small cells would hold few people in enough discomfort to discourage them from poor behaviours in the future.
But not everyone passing through the town was a passer-by as the near 2,000 residents would attest to. And to service those residents, the town was home to two Hotels, churches of every denomination, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, a coffee palace, mechanics, service station and numerous other small shops that were most common with the period.
The Heritage Walk informs us that Terowie was the birthplace of pioneering Hollywood actor and director JP McGowan who was born here in 1880, while Dr Hill's Eye Hospital was famous for his experimentation with rabbits to improve human eyesight. But both of these facts do little to mask the impact that modernisation and economics has on country towns.
The commercialisation of the car in the mid 20th century introduced alternatives to train travel, and then the rationalisation of rail lines from the 1970's saw Terowie lose its strategic importance, with the end of line appearing in 1988 when the rail line officially closed. During that time, people departed, shops closed, more people departed, hotels closed and so on.
Today Terowie's population sits around 150 people. Murrays Corner Store on the Main Street offers a range of hot and cold items alongside some friendly conversation about yesteryear. The grand children's playground lies alongside the Pioneer Park, BBQ Shelter and the gardens, and provides a comfortable spot for a driving break.
The CWA building stands proud as a well-maintained building, and with good reason. Over many years, the local ladies of the CWA have done a sterling job in raising funds for the maintenance of their building, and the restoration of other buildings in the town. Their work is partly done, and the efforts to present the façade of the Taylor buildings and the restored Railway Station is most noteworthy.
Back to my trepidation, and I can say that I didn't see any ghosts, but I was there in the middle of a weekday. But I must admit to a slight uneasiness walking the back streets of Terowie, and getting up close and personal to a number of the abandoned buildings. And there certainly seemed to be little evidence of any hidden waterholes near the town. But then again, how would I know ?
Terowie is located 220km north of Adelaide, alongside the Barrier Highway and at the end of Dares Hill Circuit otherwise known as Tourist Drive 21. The Terowie Heritage Walk is around 4km long and takes walkers on a tour of 35 points of interest around the town highlighting items of interest from today and yesteryear. For further details on Terowie refer to Terowie Citizens facebook page.
Postscript: I was honoured to take part in the 2017 Outback Odyssey where some 200 cyclists stayed a night at Hallett, and were treated to a delicious three-course meal courtesy of the people of Terowie. Hopefully our efforts at devouring the food and partaking in some local beverages provided a further fundraising boost to the restoration of Terowie program and to enable further tales to be told.