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The Resilient Town of Normanville

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by Steve Hudson (subscribe)
Inspired by Australia's natural, developing and fun environments. Join me. Get some inspiration.
Published November 20th 2015
If at first you don't succeed, try again
Somebody once said that "if at first you don't succeed, then try again". Originally intended as a statement to encourage people to learn and grow from their failings, it appears that this statement may have been adopted as the mantra by the people in the beautiful Fleurieu township of Normanville. Today Normanville is an eclectic mix of cafes, bars and a beach which harbours golden sands and endearing sunsets. But, it wasn't always like that.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Sunset from Normanville Jetty - Steve Hudson


Normanville was founded in the early 1850's by Robert Norman, the first dental surgeon in South Australia who arrived in 1844. Some of Norman's extended family lived in Yankalilla, and Norman, a resident of North Adelaide, observed the land where the river meets the sea and thought that this would be an ideal spot for township. Blocks were surveyed, plans were laid, and all was going to plan until 1856.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Foreshore - Steve Hudson


In those days it was near mandatory for every seaside town to have a jetty, and Normanville was no different. A concept was determined, and before long a jetty was built in early 1856 at the mouth of Bungala River. But with little history to guide them, how were they to know that a particularly wet winter's night would cause the Bungala River to flood and subsequently wash away their newly built jetty.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Jetty c1910 - State Library


Never fear and wiser from the event, a second jetty was built later in 1856 a few hundred metres north of the river mouth on what was anticipated would become the Port of Yankalilla. Like most jetties of the time, it would need a tramway to ease the freight movements, and one was subsequently built across the sandhills from the jetty to the town. However this too was destined for failure due to the large undulations in the tram track and the inability to pass the soft sands.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Jetty c1926 - State Library


In 1865 came some success with Normanville finally being officially declared as a port, but conditional upon the removal of the 2nd jetty and the construction of a new jetty which was to be predominantly parallel to the beach and thus able to service boats better during times of inclement weather. Construction was completed in 1868, and along with a new tramline and road cut through the sandhills, the Normanville Jetty flourished, as did the town of Normanville. .

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Jetty 2015 - Steve Hudson


However Mother Nature was again to unleash her fury and a large storm in 1948 caused damage before a subsequent larger storm in 1952 resulted in serious damage to the outer end of the jetty. Perhaps wiser or perhaps it was the decline of water based freight movements, but many years later (in 1974) it was decided to substantially shorten the jetty to what is in existence today and to maintain a structure that is capable of surviving the conditions.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Jetty 2015 - Steve Hudson


The Jetty was one long adventure for the people of Normanville which took its toll, but by and large the people had shown great adaptability and resilience over a long period of years. Nothing ever appeared to hard for them. For example the adorable Normanville Hotel, originally built in 1851, was not always a public house. In fact in the early days it served as a court house on the fourth Wednesday of each month, as well as having the honour of hosting the first meeting of the District Council of Yankalilla in 1854. Meanwhile outside the hotel, the grounds were once used as sales yards with hedges of prickly pear forming a much talked about feature of the landscape.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Saleyards c1910 - State Library

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Normanville Hotel - Steve Hudson


In a similar way, the St James Anglican Church which was built by Robert Norman in 1850 also served many purposes including as a shelter for rockets, headquarters for the Normanville to Victor Harbor mail service and as a boarding house. This theme of adaptation still continues today with many of the historic homes of yesteryear now serving new lives as cafes, galleries and accommodation houses.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Former Stables and now Gallery / Cafe - Steve Hudson


Rockets also featured at the original Court House building in the Main Street where in 1896 the Navy constructed a shed (at the rear of the Court House) to hold a rocket apparatus which was intended for use in the rescue of crew and passengers of wrecked ships. The local police were in charge of the volunteer rocket crews in this original court house which had expanded to include the police station, post office, telegraph station, customs house and domestic quarters.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Old Court House - Steve Hudson


Luckily though not all things have changed in Normanville, with the town working hard to preserve an iconic site which is the home of the silver banksia. Located at the northern end of town, on a thin tongue of glacial sand, is Banksia Park, which is the last remaining site of the silver banksia on the Fleurieu.

Normanville, Normanville Jetty, Normanville Hotel, Robert Norman, Butterworths, Silver Banksia, Normanville Caravan Park
Banksia Garden - Steve Hudson


Normanville is around 75km from Adelaide and is perfect for a day trip or longer. The Yankalilla and District Historical Society have created a 4km walk which takes in the above features of Normanville, and more. Brochures are available from the Yankalilla Visitor Information Centre.
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Why? Great place to explore on the Fleurieu
When: Any time
Where: Normanville, South Australia
Cost: Free
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