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Published July 9th 2015
From sea to rail to car, Port Wakefield has seen it all
Tucked away near the top of the top of the Peninsula is the roadhouse town that we know as Port Wakefield. Service stations, quality bakeries and quick bathroom facilities are an integral part of the fabric of the town, and give rise to many visitors during weekends and public holidays.
But that wasn't always the case in Port Wakefield. Behind that façade of logos, color and speed lies over 165 years of history, changes in circumstances and shenanigans that became unmentionable or undesirable in many circles. To get a better appreciation of this history, I picked up a Historical Walk brochure from the Caravan Park and set off on a walk to see what it was all about. (Note that the brochure was not available on the intranet, so I have replicated the brochure below).
The walk commences at arguably the most well-known buildings in Port Wakefield being Kiplings Bakery and the Shell Service Station. It was on this site in 1955 that Possum Kipling opened the first roadhouse in Port Wakefield, also being the second roadhouse ever in South Australia. In 1957 it commenced operating 24 hours per day in order to service the passing vehicle and railway trade, and has done so ever since.
Ironically, it was the roadhouses and the growth of cars that indirectly resulted in the end of country railways in SA, and Port Wakefield was no exception. In 1981 the rail line from Bowmans to The Hummocks closed, and most of the rail infrastructure was sadly removed or demolished. The former railway station (1927) still stands today, albeit it is owned privately, and is no longer the grand old building that is used to be.
Now some may be thinking that this may be poetic justice because in 1857 the importance of Port Wakefield as a port waned considerably after the opening of the rail lines to Gawler and Kapunda. Prior to these openings, the Monster Mine at Burra was pumping out copper ore, and the shortest (time) to get to export was using bullocks via Auburn to the Port Wakefield Wharf, and ketch to Port Adelaide. This early life of Port Wakefield was its busiest, but also its most illustrious.
Initially known as Port Henry, and founded as a camp site where the tidal Wakefield River met St Vincent's Gulf, the town gained notoriety as one where it was possible to purchase liquor before they had completed the plans for the township. Five hotels sprung up soon thereafter to cater for the miners and seamen and the passing transient workforce. Today, only two of these are still standing, with the Rising Sun Hotel (1856) and the Port Wakefield Hotel (1849) both being classic two storey country pubs.
The name of the town changed in 1850 to Port Wakefield in memory of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, himself a colonist who served time for kidnapping a 15 year old to be his bride, and was involved in a number of other suspicious improprieties in England. Legend has it that the name of the town was initially offered to the then Governor Sir Henry Young who declined the honour because he considered the town's image didn't suit his name.
After 1857 ketches still came on the high tides to transport the large quantum of wool and cereal crops. Wealth continued to grow in the town and the National Bank of Australasia took it upon themselves to build a large Italianate style bank and manager's villa in 1877. Troubled times hit the bank at the turn of the century, and the building changed hands several times, before settling on today's use as an Antiques Shop and a private residence.
Private residential ownership of buildings continued through the town with the local betting shop, butchers shop, fruit and vegetable shop, tea room, fabric shop, undertaker, grocery, drapery and blacksmith all going the same way at various times over the last 100 years.
By far one of the most attractive alternative uses found for a building is the new Salt of the Earth Café and Gallery. Located in the former St Albans Anglican Church and Hall, the owners have restored the buildings magnificently and now have a thriving café that not only serves some of the best coffee in town, but also makes a pretty special egg and bacon sandwich on sourdough complete with homemade special relish.
Within the town, the Uniting Church and the Catholic Church remain in active duty today, with a special commemorative tiled wall alongside the Catholic Church providing a great place to entertain kids while the parents take a rest. However if it is summer and entertainment is needed, then look no further than the tidal swimming pool near the Caravan Park. This pool was built in 1930 and has the proud honour of once having Dawn Fraser take a swim in there soon after Jack Brabham and compatriots had starred in the 1955 Australian Grand Prix which was held in the town.
Alongside the pool is a boardwalk, picnic area, and several shelters, with a memorial to the fallen WW II soldiers. Across the road is one of the largest pepper trees to be seen on the Yorke Peninsula. This tree is now estimated to be 160 years old and has a circumference of 6.6m, and casts a mean shadow across some picnic furniture in the depths of summer and provides a welcome break for visitors looking for somewhere more pleasant to relax.
The Port Wakefield Historical Walk is around 4km long, and takes just over an hour to complete. It is suitable for families of all ages and can be undertaken at any time, noting however that many of the well kept and maintained properties are now in private ownership with expectations that their privacy will be maintained.
Have spent many hours travelling the roads of South Australia, But Port Wakefield has not inspired me. Have explored the back roads here while waiting and waiting. It seems like a place that people travel through rather than to. But Talem Bend is like that too. Thanks for the photos and info.