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Published June 9th 2015
The Cactus Garden in Joe Lowey's Arizona Cactus Ranch
South Australia has lost many unusual attractions over the decades. They ranged from simple places like Shell Land at Glenelg to the massive monolith of Monash Playground.
The largely forgotten Puzzle Park near Murray Bridge, a Lion Park at Two Wells, and the Koala Farm in Adelaide are now just distant memories for most of us.
Even a multitude of museums have disappeared. The Telecommunications Museum in Electra House, a museum at the School of Mines, a private museum at Naracoorte, and another in Adelaide have all disappeared without trace.
Sombrero Statue at Arizona Cactus Ranch (Image Courtesy Mallala Now & Then Website)
The Arizona Cactus Ranch, also known as the Model Ranch is another lost icon of Adelaide. It was a popular tourist attraction near Windsor on the road to Port Wakefield from the 1950's. For many families holidaying on Yorke Peninsula the drive between Port Wakefield and Adelaide was long and dull. It was a delight to encounter this free attraction for passing travellers to stop and enjoy, but the Cactus Ranch disappeared off the horizon around the 1980's.
The Lost Cactus Ranch on Port Wakefield Rd at Windsor
The lost Cactus Ranch does still exist but is a victim of its own success. The cacti have taken over like triffids, creating an almost impenetrable screen to this once popular traveller's haven. Few people speeding past on their way to Port Wakefield would even notice the roadside remains from this once popular place.
Created by Windsor man Joe Lowey in 1952, the cactus garden had many different species which flourished in the local environment. It was landscaped with paths, concrete statues of animals including an emu and donkey, and other creations made from recycled materials. A deep sea diver's helmet was used to accept donations from visitors.
Table and Chair at the Cactus Ranch (Image Courtesy Mallala Now & Then Website)
Later the Cactus Cafe was established in the Arizona Cactus Ranch to sell refreshments. Although Joe Lowey was a Jehova's Witness and a conscientious objector during World War 2, the Cactus Cafe also advertised liquor for sale.
At its peak the Arizona Cactus Ranch was even featured on popular TV show "Ask the Leyland Brothers" in 1978. After Joe Lowey died the property was sold, but it did not reopen again to the public. The cactus garden had a brief flash of fame when the SA Film Corporation used it as a set for a movie called Siam Sunset. It is now a cactus lover's heaven with cacti of all descriptions propagating around the property.
The Abandoned House at the Cactus Ranch (Former Model Ranch)
An abandoned house is almost hidden by the succulent growth, but is clearly disused and decaying. I did not enter the building as it is still private property.
While the reality no longer matches the memories of visitors from decades past, the lost Cactus Ranch remains a powerful attraction for nostalgia lovers and urban explorers in Adelaide. Could it be one of our best kept secrets?
You can find more about the Arizona Cactus Ranch (or Model Ranch) on the community based Mallala Now and Then website. There are also many recollections from former visitors on the Adelaide Remember When Facebook page here and also here.
The Flickr website also has some fairly recent images from the cactus garden.
Oh, this has brought back a lot of memories! My family and I used to stop there every time we went away on holidays to the Yorke Peninsula. My dad has film (somewhere) of me dancing around in the cactus garden, circa 1970. I might have to go for a drive and see it again - how fascinating!
Great article Dave, keeping the memories of past things alive. I have a feeling kids are kids and these old style entertainment venues would trump a Sunday Afternoon of virtual reality on the Xbox, given another chance.
I too remember visiting this rather strange place and never ever saw anyone there.A lot of work had gone into it and I always wondered why someone would bother to create such a place.I wonder what will become of it?
I have memories of this garden. My father was a truckie from the West Coast of SA, and occasionally us kids went on a trip to Adelaide with him. This was in the late 1950's or early 60's. Dad always stopped there for a drink, and us kids could run around the cactus garden. I do wish I could visit, guess I will try and have a roadside look when I am in that area.
This place is still there but now overgrown with cacti. If you want to see this place it is located between Windsor and Wild Horse Plains on the left hand side going towards Port Wakefield. I know it is still there as I drove past it today and it has a For Sale sign up so someone please buy it and revive it