Hindmarsh Island. At the Murray River mouth. Shacks and jettties.
Our access to Hindmarsh Island from Goolwa is via the bridge which opened in 2001. The bridge is 319 metres long and 19 metres high. Hindmarsh Island leads to the Murray River Mouth beside Mundoo Island and the start of the Coorong. It is 15 kms long and about 6 kms wide and roughly one third of the island is now part of the Coorong National Park. In 1990 the SA government passed an act of parliament allowing the developers to construct a bridge so that the developers could create a marina and housing development on the island. But the SA government accepted legal liability for the financing of the bridge. The bridge became one of the great fiascos and controversies in South Australian history. Some members of the Ngarrindjeri people objected to the proposed bridge in 1994 on the basis of the water channel being part of “secret women’s business” and it being a sacred site. The controversy ended in a Royal Commission and the decision that “secret women’s business” was a fabrication. The Ngarrindjeri group then took their case to the Supreme Court in Canberra which doubted that “secret women’s business” was a fabrication but did not endorse it. The Keating federal government then banned construction of the bridge because of this Supreme Court finding. A few years later the Howard Federal government legislated for the bridge to be constructed. The controversy became a conflict point with much conflict and many competing interests. It involved state and federal governments, locals and outsiders, white and non-white Australians, men and feminists, developers and anti-development people, lawyers for and against it, anthropologists for and against it and much secrecy about the significance or otherwise of the bridge site. This conflict point mainly had direct impacts on the local people – the town of Goolwa was divided over the issue as were the inhabitants of Hindmarsh Island, the Ngarrindjeri women were divided as some opposed the concept of “secret women’s business” and others said it was nonsense. The main people to gain were the developers who had eventual success with their marina and housing estate. The “outsiders” including professors, archaeologists, anthropologists, politicians, bankers and lawyers all made gains – in monetary, publicity or humanitarian rights terms. Their moments of glory seldom acknowledged the difficulties the whole controversy had caused for the Ngarrindjeri people. Ngarrindjeri people have accepted the outcome of the conflict point and whilst they still maintain that the area is a sacred site for Ngarrindjeri women and their “secret business” they allow their people to use the bridge to gain access to their cultural lands.
Captain Charles Sturt on his epic voyage down and up the Murray River in 1829/30 named Point McLeay after one of his officers on their rowing boat and Point Sturt after himself both on the edges of Lake Alexandrina. The large island near the Murray Mouth was named later by Captain John Blenkinsop after the first SA Governor Sir John Hindmarsh. Captain Charles Sturt later became an early settler in Adelaide. After he resigned his commission with the British Military Service he was granted 5,000 acres in NSW in 1835 near what was to become Canberra much later. He purchased a further 1,950 acres in NSW at Mittagong. Two years later he purchased a further 1,000 acres near Sydney where he intended to make a new home. He then overlanded cattle from NSW to South Australia in 1838 to revive his fortunes. This did not work but he was feted in Adelaide as a hero and so he sold all his lands in NSW to accept a government appointment as Commissioner of Lands in South Australia in 1839. He was soon after demoted by the Governor to Assistant Registrar. In 1844 Sturt led an expedition to the Barrier Range area of NSW and he went further trying to cross what was named Sturts Stony Desert. When he returned in 1846 he was made Colonial Treasurer which was a much higher paying position. He returned to England in 1847 to receive the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society in London for his inland explorations. Sturt returned to SA and lived on his 380 acre farm and orchard on the Port River near Grange Beach. This was where he had built Grange cottage in 1841. He returned to England permanently in 1853 so his children could be educated in England. The Grange was sold by members of his family in 1877 to finalise his estate as Sturt had died in 1869.
Early pastoralists recognised the value of Hindmarsh Island as a well-watered spot surrounded by water supplies so Dr John Rankine of Strathalbyn took out occupational licenses on most of Hindmarsh Island in 1844. He had a boat as a ferry at Clayton to cart his sheep back and forth across the channel. But in 1851 the Hundred of Alexandrina was declared and surveyed into 80 acre sections for sale to farmers. The land was quickly taken up when made available for sale in 1854 and the wealthy of Strathalbyn including the Rankins, Gollans and Maidment family bought some land. One of the early farming settlers was Charles Price. Price and his family arrived in Melbourne in 1853 when he was aged 48 but he decided he did not like Melbourne and he voyaged to Port Adelaide. From here he took up land on Hindmarsh Island in 1853 against the wishes of Dr Rankine and he was the first to import cattle from his home county Hereford in 1866. He was also the first to import Shropshire sheep from the neighbouring county of Hereford earlier in 1855. He ran his Hereford cattle stud on the island from 1867 till his death in 1886 and during this time he sold prized stud cattle to George Fife Angas and John Riddoch. His 983 acres were sold at £5 per acre and his son moved on to Eyre Peninsula. Charles Price was buried in the Island Cemetery. Not far away is the Hindmarsh Island School which started in 1880 and closed in 1954. The building is now a part time café of sorts. Next to that is the island butter factory with grand buttresses. It operated from the late 19th century until 1936. Not far away is the Murray Mouth. There was also a Wesleyan Methodist Church on the island which opened in 1857 and closed around 1887 and was then demolished.
The local residents erected a stone cairn memorial to Captain Charles Sturt on the island in 1930 one hundred years after his discovery of the island in 1830. It is also a memorial to the other early explorer of these parts Captain Collet Barker (1784-1831) who explored here in 1831 just after Sturt. As a military officer he had served in India and explored areas in WA including King George Sound where Albany is located. Here he was in charge of the settlement at Raffles Bay with a group of convicts to control. His name was later used for the inland settlement of Mt Barker north of Albany. He was recalled to Sydney with the convicts in 1831 and Raffles Bay settlement was closed down. The Governor of NSW told him to explore the Fleurieu Peninsula region on his way back to Sydney. In SA he climbed Mt Lofty which had been named by Captain Matthew Flinders in 1802. Barker named the Sturt River which he discovered. Collet Barker then explored areas from Cape Jervis to the mouth of the Murray River. Here he was speared by local Aboriginal people. There is a fine memorial to Collet Barker in St. James Anglican Church in Sydney from his fellow officers. Barker’s journals were especially important as they convinced Sturt that the mountain he had seen from Lake Alexandrina was not Mt Lofty but another mountain. Sturt altered his maps and charts and named the second mountain after Collet Barker. This was done by Sturt in 1834.