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Published August 11th 2016
Amble around historic Kingscote
Most of my visits to Kangaroo Island (K.I.) in the past have involved staying in Penneshaw and using it as a base for travelling around the island. As the priority has been to venture further afield to some of the more natural environments and wide open spaces, Kingscote has only been a brief stopover on the itinerary.
However I decided Kingscote was to be my base on my most recent visit, which gave me an opportunity to get to know it a bit more intimately. Being the largest town on K.I., Kingscote is also the island's commercial and business hub.
The first white settlement was nearby at Reeves Point, 6 months or so before the landing at Glenelg in December 1836. Right up to the early 20th century, Kingscote was known as Queenscliffe, and then re-named to Kingscote.
A great way to gain a sense of the rich cultural history of Kingscote is by taking a walk around the town and fortunately there are self-guided trails with maps available from Sealink, located in the main street of Kingscote - Dauncey Street.
These trails form part of a booklet entitled "Kingscote - The First Settlement in South Australia - Visitor Guide 2014 - 16" which is free to visitors and I highly recommend as it has several trails in or near Kingscote and general interesting information that will help make your stay much more meaningful and worthwhile.
The walk which I chose was entitled "Kingscote: A Walk Back in Time" which took around 45 minutes to complete and covered around 1.8 kms, starting at the Aurora Ozone Hotel. Apart from a couple of hilly bits, most of the walk is on flat ground, which makes it easy to negotiate without feeling exhausted by the end.
The Ozone Hotel was built in 1907 and was rebuilt in 1920, having being completely destroyed by fire in 1919 and today overlooks the sea front with a great covered in seated area.
The nearby pier is worthwhile walking out to so as to gain a different perspective of Kingscote and is also near the staging point for Pelican feeding tours.
These tours are run by the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre and feeding times are normally at 5 pm on a daily basis and cost $5 per adult and $3 for children. The tours depart from the northern side of Kingscote wharf.
Tragically Penguin nocturnal tours are no longer available since 2013 due to the large numbers in colonies decimated by the increase in New Zealand Fur Seals in the area. The good news is that protected habitats have been created along the shoreline and tours to the Little Penguin (referring to their size) colonies are still run in the evenings. The latest available pricing shown on the company's website is $18 per adult and $6 for a child ( 3 to 15 years).
A short walk from the wharf brings you to the Memorial Park which was originally known as Flinders Reserve after a memorial was erected to Matthew Flinders, the famous explorer who visited the area in 1802. On the bicentenary of both Flinders and Baudin voyages in 2002, the park was re-dedicated.
On the edge of the park lies the old Police Station and two Gaol cells, which were built prior to 1891. Interestingly right up to 1913 the police station was a one-man operation which increased to two after that time. Then in the late 1920's through to the 1940's it reverted back to be manned by one officer again until it had a "massive" increase of personnel to 3 in the 1960's, just before it closed and moved to the main Dauncey Street.
Veering away from the coast, the walk continues past several historic houses including Bleak House dating from 1898, which was occupied in the 1940's by a T A Harry who built an ice works adjacent to the rear of the property. By the 1950's the ice works were making around 120 blocks of ice daily, which had originally been established to produce ice needed for the storage of fish.
Continuing along Telegraph Road, you come across what is now known as the Island Motel which began its life as Carnarvon House, built around 1911- 1912 by a Police Inspector who had gained a windfall in a lottery and came to Kingscote to fulfil his dream of building a tourist accommodation complex. The original land holding was a massive 5 acres featuring a planted park-like area, tennis court and formal garden at the front.
Apparently the WC facilities at Carnarvon House in the early days were the simple "long drops" which were discreetly hidden behind large clumps of pampas grass.
A sight almost to be unbelieved is the view of a two storey wooden house which was known as the "Doll's House". It is believed that the house was constructed of wood rather than limestone simply because it was a cheaper option back in the era following World War 1. The owner at the time was a local stockman, Roy Carter who delivered mail by horseback from Kingscote around the island.
The property was also owned at one time by a fellow by the name of Strawbridge, who owned much of the land in the area and ran a livery stable. There was much conjecture after several fires at his stables and sheds and subsequent insurance payouts. The insurance company involved became suspicious and Strawbridge was charged. Strawbridge had been going through much in the way of financial strife following the increase in popularity in motor vehicles leading into the 1920's.
Tragically Strawbridge evaded facing court and rode off on his horse and was never seen again. His horse was found 40 kms away at Pennington Bay and several weeks later, his boot was found washed up on the beach.
The walk continues past the former Kingscote Methodist Church, now the Uniting Church and the former Masonic Lodge and eventually reaches the Scout Hall, originally built as a schoolroom back in 1908, with the headmaster's residence next door.
Stories are related of the days back in the 1940's when regular air raid drills were conducted at the school, each child having to wear a small calico bag around their neck, containing cotton wool wads and a cork. During the drill which consisted of three blasts of the whistle, which meant "enemy overhead", the children had to dive under their desks, push the cotton wool in their ears and clench the cork between their teeth.
The school finally closed in 1946, with the building of another school nearby, however the headmaster continued to use the house next door for some years after.
Further on into the journey, you go past St Alban's Anglican Church which was built in 1884 as the first public school room in Kingscote. If you study up close some of the brick work near the vestry door, you can see where children from long ago used to sharpen their slate pencils as indicated by the grooves in the bricks.
Continuing on past the historic Council chambers (Town Hall) and Library, you end up on Dauncey Street which houses the main businesses in Kingscote including banks, cafes, galleries and shops. A great example of imposing architecture is the current ANZ Bank, formally the Union Bank which was built in 1922, an important business for the growing community of Kingscote.
Several other historic buildings are visited in nearby Murray Street, one of which being The Gallery, built in 1913 as a General Store. In the 1980's the Kangaroo Island Art Society leased the building from the council to establish a showcase for Kangaroo Island artists and craftspeople, so as you can imagine there are some interesting pieces on display capturing the essence of what K.I. is all about.
Sauntering back onto Dauncey Street, you will see what was formally known as Barrett's Store built in 1907, which operated as a grocery, ironmongery and drapery. Today the building houses a gift and homeware store.
The second hotel visited on this walking tour is the Queenscliffe Family Hotel, which was the first hotel built on K.I. back in 1883 and was also utilised as at the first Council Chambers and the doctor's surgery. It is the only place in Kingscote which still bears the old town name. Set back from the main street, the Queenscliffe can be described as providing good old fashioned pub meals at reasonable prices.
Roger's Deli and Cafe as well as the Kingscote Newsagency started life back in the early 1900's as Bakers and Confectioners and down the lane at the side of the building used to house the original bakery. This was once also the site for the first power station, generating electricity for the bakery as well as to the nearby Ozone Hotel and other businesses in Dauncey Street.
Another of the historic buildings in Dauncey Street is the current Fine Art Gallery Kangaroo Island which was first occupied in 1906 by a fruiterer as well as Guinea Airways, which serviced K.I. from 1939. Guinea was eventually taken over by Airlines of South Australia which continued aerial services until 1986. The impressive limestone building also at one time was home to Mr Crimp's Tea Rooms.
The tour finally finishes near the end of Dauncey Street at an historic two storey building dating from 1910 built by the Potter family who were responsible for many of the stone buildings around the area. The original home was owned by Mr Reginald Cook and his family and the bottom storey was home to numerous businesses over the years, including a funeral parlour and it is told that the funeral director was a keen fisherman and used his hearse to go fishing.
Other businesses at the site over the years have included butchers, tea rooms, fish and chip shop, vegetable and grocery shop, a barber, gift and souvenir shop as well as a photography shop.