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Published March 9th 2016
Marking time in this colourful town
On an epic journey down the Murray in 1830, Captain Sturt stumbled upon Australia's largest inland lake, and named it Lake Alexandrina after the British Princess who would soon become Queen Victoria. On the banks of the lake, Sturt discovered a tribe of Punguratpular people who knew the district as a "place of sorcery", Milangk. Just over 20 years later, the township of Milang commenced.
In the mid 1840's a few pastoralists made their way towards the lake but the lands lacked farming quality and with plenty of others to choose from, the town was ignored. Well at least until 1853 when two paddle steamers made their way past the town to pioneer the riverboat trade. By this time Port Elliot and Goolwa were starting to bloom, and the pastoralists from the Angas Plains and Strathalbyn and beyond all wanted a piece of the action.
From the initial survey in 1853, Milang grew rapidly in to a bustling little port servicing the traders on the way up and down the river. Prosperity and culture were soon in place, as evidenced by the town's Historical Walk which highlights the substantial buildings like the Institute, Post Office, Police Station and churches of every denomination.
Meanwhile on the water, the jetty jutted out 217 metres to ensure many boats could be serviced at once. At the end of the jetty, a huge hand crane was erected to facilitate faster goods handling during the peak trade seasons. Today the crane is still there, but the jetty has been reduced to half of its original length as a result of the devastating 1956 flood.
Not content with supplying goods for the boats, several locals set their skills on ship building, and Milang had its own industry. Pioneered by Frank Potts who built several boats for local businessman Albert Landseer, shipbuilding was an activity that lasted until the turn of the century with the PS Wilcannia and the PS Marion being two of the more famous boats built in Milang.
And talking of Landseer, he built a large store on the Main Street and then gradually added a flour mill and chimney, all of which became the headquarters of the Landseer business which had branches in Morgan and other parts of the Murray, as well as having interests in paddle steamers and several barges.
Trade soon included tourism and fishing, and hotels and accommodation houses became necessities to cater for the growing number of visitors to the town. The Milang Inn was the first pub followed by the Pier Hotel and the Lake Hotel, the latter which shared part of the premises with the local butcher's shop until the 1940 when the old hotel bar became the town's butcher's shop.
However all good things come to an end sometime, and in a sense of irony it occurred for Milang in the early 1880's. After many years of lobbying, the State Government decided on the introduction of a state wide rail network which would include services to Morgan and Milang to provide greater access for the river trade. However, and perhaps not as expected, the opening of the Morgan line saw the introduction of a quick route to Adelaide, and much river trade between Milang and Morgan disappeared over night.
Nevertheless the rail line was built on the floodbank in front of the town, and served the town until the last passenger train departed in 1970. The colourful old rail station became the Milang Visitor Centre which is open on Sundays with its special serve of lake baked scones and tea. Aside the Centre is an assortment of old trains that once served the town and region so proudly last century.
Matching the old station for colour are the rows of brightly painted miniature shacks that crowd along the banks of the lake, most with sailing boats or equipment of some sort. The Regatta Clubhouse stands above all at the back of the row of shacks keeping an eye on the boating activities and the regular regattas and races that take place on the lake.
Recent additions to the town include the Wetlands walk highlighting the plight of the birds and bushes during times of high and low river movements, as well as the stunning Anzac Park and Soldiers Memorial. Recently renovated with the installation of Manchurian Pears, the gardens are a perfect place for reflection upon the Milang locals that served Australia during the various wars over the last Century.
Today Milang is a mostly quiet town on the banks of Lake Alexandrina some 80 kms from Adelaide. There are several accommodation options including a Caravan Park for those looking to stay. Or alternatively why not hire one of the coloured lakeside shacks, stay for the weekend, grab a Historical Walk Map from the Visitor Centre and take a tour on the lake to see how and why Milang is known as South Australia's historic lake port.
Excellent article Steve.Nice to see the town making some improvements.The caravan park is an ideal spot for a few days camping,by the lake.The jetty once had bathing sheds and the little sandy beach was very popular with children.Fishing off the jetty was once productive,but this has declined a fair bit over the years,as there are just few to little fish to catch there anymore.Some one a few years ago decreed the shacks had to go..fortunately this decision was reversed.Housing development has begun in the town,so we may further improvements as time goes by.There had been talk of the rail line between the town and Strathalbyn being reinstated...this will not happen..it is now a walking track.