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Published September 19th 2017
Curious tales from Pekina
State Heritage Listed Pekina Pound Near the Flinders Ranges
Pekina is a small town in the Mid North region of South Australia near the Flinders Ranges. It was carved out of land from Pekina Station, a sheep farm started in the mid 1800's and the locality was best known for the Pekina irrigation system. Like many country towns in SA this historic location struggles to hold its place at a time when life is increasingly concentrated in big cities.
Even finding Pekina can be a challenge if you're not a local. It lies between Melrose and Mount Remarkable and Orroroo, but I struggled to get there by car. Entering Pekina into a fairly new Garmin GPS took me west from Orroroo, and from there via a dirt road into a large empty paddock. Following signs south from Orroroo with the aid of Google Maps took me to the same paddock from the opposite direction.
While the Bureau of Statistics will tell you that the population of Pekina is 172, very few souls live in the town. There's one business still operating in town - the Pekina Hotel, a community centre for the surrounding areas. But that is not the full list of the Pekina attractions - it is also the home of the State Heritage listed Pekina Animal Pound, the only remaining one of its type in South Australia.
Pekina pound was a stone enclosure built in 1899 to deal with the problem of wandering cattle. For years landowners had complained of strays, with public notices threatening that stray pigs, dogs, goat and poultry would be shot on sight. Many councils built an animal pound to address the problem, but few were made of stone like in Pekina.There was even a Pound Keeper appointed to look after the animals.
Pekina General Store Served Pekina For Nearly 100 Years
From the heritage assessment: Throughout the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, many people depended on horses both for personal transport and industrial power. In wheat farming districts, each one square mile farm might have from four to eight working horses, and in towns on a busy weekend there might be hundreds of horses yarded, stabled or simply hitched to fences or trees. Unlike parked cars, horses move about of their own volition, and the possibility of horses straying, becoming lost (or stolen briefly and then abandoned to find their own way home) was very high, so that these loose horses constituted an ever-present nuisance and hazard. · It was common practice for communities to have a local officer whose job it was to round up stray animals and confine them in a yard, from which the owner might claim them on payment of a fee, traditionally of one pound, hence the name for the enclosure where they were kept.
An interpretive sign next to the Pekina Hotel tells the history of the Pekina pound, which is located about 100 metres away from the Price Maurice Road. One amusing episode is recorded where Bepo, a cow belonging to the nuns at nearby St Joseph's convent was incarcerated. It seems that one of the congregation must have taken pity, because the cow made it home in time for milking.
After taking a leisurely stroll around the animal pound, you will probably be ready for the other main Pekina attraction - the Pekina Hotel. The pub is open from noon till 7pm (Thursday to Saturday), while on Sunday it's usually open from 12 noon with lunches available from 12-3pm. The menu includes most things that you would expect to find for a pub lunch in Adelaide, but it's best to check with publican Gary in advance whether they are available.
The Pekina Hotel has been recommended for local heritage listing, but the local council have done nothing so far. It does have an interesting history since being built in 1870 - being used variously as a school room, dance hall and meeting room. The town has always had a large population of Roman Catholics, and in fact the area was called Vatican Valley by some. In 1936 when publican Thomas Ryan died the Pekina Hotel was bequeathed to the Sisters of St Joseph convent, but they sold it the following year.
Flinders Ranges caravan travellers are welcome to park free next to the Pekina Hotel, and dormitory style accommodation is available cheaply at the former presbytery of the Catholic Church. It's a quiet little town to stay for a couple of days and explore abandoned railway stations and derelict ghost towns. If you're looking for more facilities Melrose and Mount Remarkable are nearby and have a great animal-friendly B&B that is welcoming.
Despite the difficulty I had in locating Pekina from Orroroo, I'll be back for another visit. It's easy to find now by searching for the Pekina Hotel on Google Maps and there are old buildings to see and friendly locals to chat with. Just don't let your pets roam or you may find them in the Pekina pound!