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Port Germein. Old general store from the 1880s restored as the new Post Office and cafe. | by denisbin
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Port Germein. Old general store from the 1880s restored as the new Post Office and cafe.

Port Germein is a relatively new port in South Australia. The town here was only established in 1879 and the residents began petitioning the government for a jetty and port facilities almost straight away. The government responded favourably and what became the longest jetty in South Australia opened in 1881. But that jetty did not reach the deep water beyond the tidal flats. The residents continued petitioning the government for a deep water port to facilitate the easy handling of grain and the jetty was expended in 1883 and it was then 5,459 feet or 1,664 metres long. Although there was talk of a railway line through the Flinders Ranges and Bangor Pass to Booleroo Centre and Orroroo that never eventuated as the gradients would have been rather steep and the engineer works very costly. So despite early promise Port Germein was very limited in terms of hinterland. Its wheat belt only extended a few miles to Telowie and the foothills of the Flinders Rangers. But grain was carted by horse and bullock teams from the Booleroo Centre district down through Bangor Pass to the ships at Port Germein. A harbourmaster’s house was built to provide a staff member to control the port. A lighthouse at the end of the jetty erected in 1894 has now been moved to the shoreline. Because the bay is shallow Port Germein was ideal for visits by windjammers and sailing ships. They continued to visit the port for grain until 1939. In the 1950s bulk handling of grain was first established in SA at Ardrossan in 1953 and then such facilities were located at Port Pirie and Wallaroo spelling the end of shipping at Port Germein. The port formally closed in 1959.

 

Port Germein.

Captain John Germein from the south of England was employed as a navigator and ships pilot for the SA Company. When exploring for the SA government in 1840 he discovered a huge bay on Spencers Gulf. Governor Gawler named it after Captain Germein (or possibly his brother). Captain Germein later worked on the Ceres for 27 years, a supply ship which crossed St Vincent Gulf to take supplies to early pastoralists on Yorke Peninsula. Eventually Captain Germein retired to Stansbury on Yorke Peninsula. After the pastoral era ended the land along the northern part of Germein Bay was surveyed and sold for grain farming in the mid-1870s. A town was created in 1878 by the government and it grew well because of the bullock teams bringing grain down from the Booleroo Centre district through Bangor Pass in the Flinders Ranges. The town soon had two hotels, several general stores, butcher, bank agencies, grain merchants, Post Office, two churches, an Institute and a government school. The life of the town relied on the government jetty built in 1880 and extended in 1883. After that Port Germein became an international port. Up until 1939 it was common for up to 20 large sailing ships to berth each year at the end of the jetty and load grain for England and Europe. Some grain was also loaded on ketches and transhipped to Port Adelaide. Several streets in the town have been named after some of these great sailing ships. In 1901 Dunfermline loaded 37,000 bags of wheat and at almost the same time Hendrika loaded 42,000 bags of wheat. Both were records at the time. In 1924 the largest sailing ship in the world, the Kobenhavn docked at Port Germein. Just four years later it disappeared on a voyage and was lost. Similarly the Karpfanger with a crew of 60 men loaded wheat at Port Germein in early 1938. Like the other clippers of that time it sailed from Port Germein to Cape Horn. Alas it was never seen or heard of after leaving Port Germein.

Port Germein was the headquarters of the local District Council from 1888 to 1980. Its school opened in 1881 but alas it closed for ever in 2013. The local history group is hoping to get funds to open it as a museum as it is a fine solid stone building. The Institute opened in 1892 which was also the year in which a Royal Commission was held into the viability of a railway from Port Germein through Bangor Pass to Booleroo Centre and on to Orroroo. The government took no further action on that and a railway line was built to Booleroo centre in 1910 ending the grain trade down to Port Germein. The first church erected in the town was the Bible Christian Methodist Church which operated from 1884 to 1966. The nearby Anglican Church opened a year later and also operated through to 1966. The original Police Station was built and opened in 1879 as did the first Post Office too and a house on the esplanade was erected for the harbourmaster and customs collector in 1884 when Port Germein became an international port. Among the fine buildings left in the town is the old National Bank and manager’s residence in the Main Street. It was built in 1901 and is undoubtedly the finest house in the town. The old Methodist manse near the church is a fine house with an unusual half hipped gable each end which indicates it was built around 1910. The town had two hotels. The first built in 1878 was the Pier Hotel on the esplanade. It has survived several closures and a short life as a café but is now just a residence. It closed as a hotel in 1933 during the Great Depression. The second hotel in town was the Port Germein Hotel which was erected in 1879. It still trades as a licensed hotel. The town has a small post office agency and general store these days but several old shops have operated as galleries or cafes in the last decade. Unlike many old dying towns the residents of Port Germein have obtained funding for information boards and sculptures and art work around the town to keep it vibrant and of interest to tourists. The jetty survives but not at its original length. The old lighthouse beacon that used to be at the end of the jetty was relocated to the town end in 1975.

 

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Taken on October 22, 2017