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Published September 1st 2017
Despite the losses, life must go on
Many of us have never heard of the township of Yackamoorundie so perhaps we'd be excused for knowing little of its history, a town that is the midst of some of the best farm lands in SA's mid north. As I was about to discover on the Historic Walk, Yacka, as it is affectionately known, has some history that puts it in to rare space within Australian history.
Yackamoorundie is the name also given to the small creek that starts near Caltowie in South Australia's mid north, winds its way southwest crossing the Heysen and Mawson Trails, before eventually emptying its contents into the Rocky River near Crystal Brook. Yackamoorundie is loosely translated in Ngadjuri language as the 'sister to the big river', a name which pays tribute to the River Broughton, a river which runs through the centre of town.
In fact it was the deceptively slow running River Broughton that was to cause much grief in the small town. The need for a bridge to ensure north-south access to the town has seen as many as five road and rail bridges built across the river, with many of the predecessors washed away through flash flooding. Today the road bridge forms part of Main North Road from Clare to Wilmington, while the 1927 rail bridge sitting alongside it is a memory from days when rail was popular throughout South Australia.
The rail line closed in 1989 and associated infrastructure was removed soon thereafter with the exception of the rail bridge and the old railway cutting. Next door are the silos and the weigh bridge, an item that is relatively new in that it took a bumper harvest in 1969 to create logjams at the old weigh bridge and a community action which finally resulted in something more modern being constructed.
This new weigh bridge came to be some 100 years after the town was first named, and 96 years after the Witcomb family constructed the town's first and only hotel, one that served the community and visitors until 1994. Soon after the Hotel, the Institute (1875), Tilbrook's Blacksmith Shop (1875), Samuel Pelton's Store (1878) and Sarah Witcomb's house (1880) followed and the proud life of the township of Yacka commenced.
The drought of 1914 brought an end to an era of farmland riches, but it was World War One that would ultimately cause more emotional damage to the town. In an effort to support the Australian war effort overseas, the young Yacka community sent 41 of their male community to the war, and were most distressed when only 28 of those returned. The 32% loss of life remains one of the highest contributions in an Australian township.
In keeping with the modestness of the town, which encouraged funds to be re-invested into farms, many buildings were built to size and to suit the structure of the community at the time. The Church of St James in Broughton Road and the Methodist Church were two such examples where grandeur was replaced by economics and priorities.
The latter part of the 20th Century saw economic rationalisation contribute a large part to the history of the town with not only the railways and hotel being closed, but also the school. It wasn't long thereafter that the GMH dealership would end its time in the town as well as Samuel Pelton's store. Klau's Butchers in the Main Street also closed, and the building is now occupied by the Yackamoorundie Craft Association and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
In 1995 the township celebrated its 125th year, and it was appropriate that it be 'kept in the family'. Nan Witcomb, Adelaide writer and radio celebrity was invited along to the celebrations and to unveil a plaque outside of the Interstate Building. The Witcomb family had been a part of Yacka since its beginnings, and were also part of the community that lost a family member to the war effort.
Today the township of Yacka is a lot smaller with a population of around 90, the craft shop, the large picnic area within the Yackamoorundie Park and the small caravan and camping facility making it ideal for a pleasant break of journey. Further details on Yacka are available from the Yacka community website or their facebook page. Historic Walk brochures are available from the Craft Shop or any of the visitor information centres in the Southern Flinders Ranges.