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Published March 13th 2014
Seek and be surprised
The Hidden Secrets of Battunga Country
A Derelict Car Near a Pine Forest at Prospect Hill
The Battunga Country in the Adelaide Hills is a scenic district of rolling green hills, pine forests, bushland, and small country towns centred around Meadows. Despite being less than an hour's drive from Adelaide, the area has a tranquil country feel with lots of natural attractions.
While the Battunga Country is largely a farming area, there are some notable wineries to be found, and abandoned mine workings still remaining at Jupiter Creek. There are many attractions listed on the Battunga Country website, including walking trails, cycling trails, picnic spots, and places to eat and stay. But for me there are other attractions which add to the mystery of this historic area, which I literally stumbled over while on my way to research another story.
The Ethereal Entrance to the K1 Winery Cellar Door at Kuitpo
My first port of call was Meadows, where I found the Pik a Pie bakery across from the Meadows Hotel. I'm quite a fan of pies and pastries and have previously written about Adelaide's weirdest pie flavours, and was pleasantly surprised with Pik a Pie bakery's innovative range. Apart from the usual flavours, you can choose a garlic prawn pie, salt and pepper squid, or even a cheeseburger pie. Check it out if you're a pie fan and need provisions while you explore the Battunga Country, otherwise pop over to the Meadows Hotel for pub grub.
Despite being born in SA I have to admit that I had never heard of Prospect Hill, a small village not far from Meadows. It's a scenic drive off the beaten track that quickly had me reaching for my camera as I passed what could be the world's biggest letterbox - a 1960's Ford Falcon ute on a tree stump.
The rural setting was so tranquil that I thought it was the perfect image for an article on South Australia's World Heritage Listing bid for the Mount Lofty Ranges.
Further down the road I saw my first farm machinery graveyard. Unlike at the train graveyard and ship graveyard, you could wander around and explore these disused pieces of farm machinery, which are part of the Prospect Hill Museum's collection.
The museum is housed in several buildings including the 1872 post office and general store, blacksmith's shop, an 1893 school room, and a dairy museum. The museum is only open on Sunday afternoons (or by appointment), but it's possible to wander around and explore some of the exhibits, and there is a playground, toilets and barbecue area conveniently across the road for families to use.
The Kyeema Conservation Park lies further south of Prospect Hill, on the far side of Kuitpo Forest with access from Woodgate Hill Road. The park website says it is a haven for bird watchers (and hopefully the birds too), with around 70 species recorded as living in the area. It's quite an isolated place with two trails mapped through fairly dense bush - not the place to be on a day of high fire danger.
The Heysen Trail Passes Through Kyeema Conservation Park
As I walked a fairly narrow track through the tranquil scrub I connected with the Heysen Trail, receiving a sudden shock when I confronted a large kangaroo. There was very little sound once it had bounded away, not even many bird calls. Ironically the most musical bird call I heard was when I was getting back into my car near the park entrance.
With Wings Folded, the Monarch Butterfly is Almost Invisible
Like at the Hender Reserve in the Stirling Linear Park, a flight of Monarch butterflies surrounded me at one point, lazily following me as I walked along the path. When resting on leaf mulch they are quite hard to spot, as their distinctive colours are hidden.
While I found the Heysen Trail easily in the conservation park, I did not see any sign to return me to the car park, so needed to retrace my steps to go back.
An area at the western end of the Kyeema Conservation Park was once known as the Kyeema Prison Camp. Established in 1932, the camp was intended for well behaved prisoners from Yatala and held about thirteen prisoners on average. There were originally only two guards, and the prisoners were placed on their honour to behave.
The thesis Prisons Without Walls by Benedict Taylor contains much more information about the Kyeema Prison which closed in the mid 1950's. Today there is only a cleared area of land visible in the Kyeema Conservation Park to remind us of the Kyeema Prison Camp's existence.
Continuing along Blackfellows Creek Road leads to another forgotten part of our history - Kuitpo Colony. Started during the Depression in 1930 by Samuel Forsyth of the Central Methodist Mission, Kuitpo Industrial Colony was intended to help unemployed men learn skills and maintain their self respect while looking for work. Over 7,000 men are said to have been helped at the colony.
By the 1980's Kuitpo Colony was being used as a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics who were unable to work. John Cornwall, the Health Minister of the time expresses doubts about the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program in his memoirs, and the colony eventually finished that role.
Travelling in the Battunga Country can be a thirsty business, especially if you have been hiking in Kuitpo Forest or the Kyeema Conservation Park. Fortunately there is a choice of three wineries nearby in Battunga Country - the intriguingly named Lazy Ballerina, K1 Wines by Geoff Hardy and Griffin Wines which only appears to be available online.
These Places Also Qualify as McLaren Vale Wineries
On a visit to K1 Wines I was surprised by the number of grape varieties that they use, while noted wine critic Philip White appears to enjoy an occasional visit to the Lazy Ballerina. These places are virtually McLaren Vale Wineries, producing excellent red wines and fortunately all are within easy travelling distance. They are definitely worth calling in to complete your visit to Battunga Country.
What a glorious spot, I shall have to visit with one of my wives. There's something timeless about old farm machinery rusting against the Australian bush, it eventually looks like it belongs there. Thanks for the enthralling article Dave.