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Port Augusta : evolution of a city : beginnings

Port Augusta, located at the head of Spencer Gulf in South Australia, lies west of the Flinders Ranges. It is the most northerly port in South Australia and is located 308km from Adelaide.

The large number of pastoralists this far north convinced the government to locate a site suitable as a port as far up the gulf as possible, from which the pastoralists could ship their produce: namely wool, sheep and cattle.

Alexander Lang Elder (brother of Sir Thomas Elder and co-founder of Elder Smith and Co.) together with John Grainger set sail in May 1852 with Captain Edward Dowsett in the government schooner Yatala, initially to survey the known site of Port Ferguson as a potential port site. (Port Ferguson is not shown on modern maps but is shown as Yatala harbour.) This site was found to be too shallow. The Yatala sailed a further 15 miles to a place called Curlew Point (where the Port Augusta Power station is now situated) but this site was found to be "low and boggy".

The party proceeded a further 3 miles above Curlew Point and found a site which was acceptable.

Captain Dowsett's log indicates that on the 24 May 1852 Port Augusta was proclaimed after erecting  a flagstaff on the beach and they all "gave three cheers three times three and named it Port Augusta" (Excerpt from Dowsett's log).

The port was named after Lady Augusta Young, the Governor's wife.  It is speculated that Elder named the Port after her in the hope that it would lead the government  to survey the port quickly.

However it was not until July 1854 that a full survey was completed and a plan of Port Augusta was drawn by James Elder (no relation to Alexander or Sir Thomas Elder). In August of that year George Elder Jnr who joined his brother Alexander in 1849, bought two water frontage blocks in the newly surveyed town.  A wool store was erected on one (built by Alexander Mackay), and AD Tassie, in charge of the business of Elder and Co, became Port Augusta's first citizen.

Further reading:

Anderson, R. J, Solid town: the history of Port Augusta, Port Augusta: RJ Anderson, 1988 

Mincham, Hans, The story of the Flinders Ranges, Rigby: Adelaide, 1964

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