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Port Vincent

Beginnings

In 1839 the Adelaide Survey Association organized the surveying of two towns on Yorke Peninsula: Port Vincent and Port Victoria, on opposite sides of the Peninsula. Neither survey resulted in land being taken up, in part because of the economic downturn in South Australia in the early 1840s and also because the quality of the soil and the lack of surface water were disincentives. Initial reports had been exaggerated. However the land was seen as suitable for grazing and a number of large sheep runs were established, including that of Gum Flat Station operated by George Anstey and Thomas Giles, and to the north Stephen Goldsworthy's run which ran from Black Point to Port Vincent Bay.

Then in 1854 three blocks of land facing the bay were sold freehold; 737 acres of land some of which were sown to wheat. This freehold land would later have repercussions for the town of Port Vincent. From 1869 surveying of the Peninsula began as farmers cried out for land. Grazing leaseholds were gradually resumed as Hundreds were proclaimed and towns surveyed.

The port

The earlier sale of freehold land meant that a government survey for a town could not be made at Port Vincent, yet this was declared by many as the best and safest port on the east coast of the Peninsula. To farmers in Curramulka, Port Vincent was the obvious port for their wheat. Ketches used Surveyor's Point, the spit at the southern end of the bay, and then in February 1877 the matter of better landing facilities was taken up privately by Mr Luke Cullen. He erected a jetty 120 feet long, north of Surveyor's Point with 10 feet of water at high tide. A cargo store was built adjacent to the jetty. Hand trucks ran along a railway line from the store to the end of the jetty. Steamers became regular visitors to Port Vincent, still little more than a jetty and grain store.

Charges on a private jetty were necessarily dearer than on government jetties, as the government could afford to subsidise costs for providing an essential service. A private jetty was required to make a profit or at least break even for its owner. The jetty owners also operated the flour mills the wheat was shipped to, and created a monopoly. The farmers who exported through Port Vincent were not getting as high a price for their wheat as those who shipped through Stansbury or Port Julia. As a result they began to agitate for the Government to buy the jetty: the government demurred until finally the lease on the jetty expired in May 1884 and it became the property of the Government. They re-leased for a further seven years, but laid down strict guidelines of operation including that the rates charged be the standard government rates. In 1889 the Government placed the jetties and wharves in the hands of the District Councils. By 1898 when the lease expired on Port Vincent jetty, the District Council of Minlaton (which included Port Vincent) decided it would operate the jetty and harbour itself. In addition they built a new storage shed for goods awaiting shipment. In 1898 Joseph Parsons built another grain store adjacent to the hotel; this however was not near the tramway and necessitated double handling. Council also acquired a stacking area between the road and the beach. Port Vincent now had the same facilities and operated under the same toll structure as all other government ports.

In the early 20th century the wharf was constructed and replaced the jetty: the idea was initially opposed by the Marine Board but Council went ahead anyway. Over a seven year period from 1902-1909 300 feet of wharf was erected. The dredged material from a basin in front of the piling was dumped behind this to form a wharf. Steamers preferred the wharf over the jetty. Loading and unloading was more direct at the wharf, and as the jetty was used less the crane was relocated to the wharf. Then in 1914 the Government resumed control of all country jetties including Port Vincent's wharf. The jetty was demolished in 1918, leaving only the inner 40 feet to be used by fishermen.

The steamer service had finished by 1949, and bulk loading facilities began operating from Ardrossan in 1953. Part of the wharf and the remains of the jetty were demolished in 1956. Bulk handling of grain began from Port Giles in 1970: the wharf area was reduced to 120 feet. Port Vincent's day as a major shipping outlet on the Peninsula was over. A stone seawall was built to replace the demolished wharf. The stacking area for grain was eventually re-developed as a foreshore recreational area.

With no road transport until the 1920s the steamer service was the port's only link to Adelaide: mail, passengers, general cargo, grain and livestock passed through it. For example in 1919, 3827 tons of wheat, 2708 tons of barley and over 5000 sheep were shipped from the port, together other livestock and 706 tons of general cargo. In the same year 919 tons of superphosphate and over 2100 tons of general cargo were delivered to the port. In 1944, 13100 tons of wheat, 4509 tons of barley and 6406 sheep were exported and 460 tons of superphosphate, 750,000 gallons of bulk and cased fuel and oil were received. The last shipment of barley (5851 tons) was made in 1968 and the last shipment of 50,500 gallons of oil received into the port was made in 1957.

With the closing of the port the town lost many opportunities for employment. Many wondered whether Port Vincent would survive. But the 1960s saw a new phase in the town's development: in addition to a holiday resort it gradually became a retirement haven, as city people ceased work and decided on a change of lifestyle. New homes were built; the town grew instead of dwindling or dying.

The town

As the land was privately owned the Government could not a survey a town: private enterprise stepped forward again, and again Luke Cullen was the instigator. He employed a licenced surveyor to lay out a township of 101 allotments between the government road and the spit. The survey was registered and the blocks advertised for sale in September 1877. Allotment 1 was larger than any others and was intended for a hotel: this was under construction by November that year.

A general store also opened in November 1877, but this closed in August 1882 and another was not opened until the early 20th century. A Post Office opened in 1878, but the telegraph was not connected to the town until 1907, many years after other Peninsula towns. At the turn of the century there were still very few buildings in Port Vincent: the hub of the town and its reason for being was the jetty and the grain store.

It was not until the early 20th century that the town itself began to develop. William Harris and his wife Maria arrived in 1903: he was the new jetty toll collector, but also opened a general store, tea rooms and blacksmithy. Another business in direct competition with the Harris's was opened by Sam Sweeney in 1908. One year later the store was taken over by Arthur Sparrow when Sweeney left the business. Sparrow did not however operate the blacksmith's business. A flour mill operated briefly from 1909. The Institute was built in 1910 and became the main venue for dances, concerts and picture shows, and the library. It has been extended three times. An agency of the Bank of Adelaide was opened in Port Vincent in 1906; the Commercial Bank operated a part-time agency from 1909, but this closed in 1930.

In 1911 land along the foreshore and on the northern side of the main road was subdivided into building blocks: not all of these sold immediately, and none of the foreshore blocks were built on until the 1920s.

Electricity in Port Vincent was supplied from 1927 through the garage run initially by Leonard Levick and later by Alfred Perry. The Electricity Trust of South Australia took over in 1953. Until 1959 residents had obtained their water from wells or collected rainwater in large storage tanks. In that year they were finally connected to the reticulated water supply through Minlaton.

Industries

Lime kilns were operated from 1908 to 1929 by Millers Lime Ltd. The kilns were built on the north road out of the town. Limestone in the paddocks was a common and ongoing problem for the farmers and kilns operated at several places on the Peninsula. A full kiln could produce up to 450 bags of lime. A processing plant for hydrated lime was built in 1963 south of Port Vincent but only operated for 10 years.

Fishing was for many years a commercial activity in the town. While many fishermen were part-time with other seasonal work there were full time fishermen as well. They were suppliers not just to the local market, but sent fish across the Gulf to Adelaide, either taking it across themselves in their cutters, or sending it across by steamer. Later in the 1950s Raptis and Sons appointed a buyer and the fish were stored in his chiller before being transported to Adelaide. SAFCOL also had a buyer in the town from about 1966. Whiting was a mainstay of the fishing, but in season snapper could be caught from the Orontes Bank halfway across the Gulf, until a decline in the stocks in the 1970s. The restrictions on licences from 1977 have seen this industry almost disappear from Port Vincent.

The district inland from the coast is concerned chiefly with the growing of barley, although wheat is also still grown. Central Yorke Peninsula claims to produce the finest barley in the world due to the gulfs on each side which create cooler conditions and allow the crops to mature more slowly. This is enhanced by the low nitrogen content of the soil which suits malting barley.

Leisure

A recreation ground was acquired for the town when in 1923 Percival Germein sub-divided some of his land for building allotments and allowed a seven acre space for an oval. Adjoining this were some pre-existing tennis courts. Tree plantings were added around part of the perimeter and some additional blocks were added to the area in 1946 which have allowed for further sporting facilities. As a privately surveyed town, Port Vincent always lacked the belt of parklands of other Peninsula towns, and Germein's act in making this land available allowed the town a central area for all its sports. Bowling greens and basketball courts have been added. Another landowner gave some land for a golf course.

Sailing in the sheltered bay at Port Vincent was a popular activity but the first sailing club was not formed until the summer of 1934-35.  A marina has now been built to the north of the town and a walking trail along the cliff top behind features native vegetation and splendid views of the bay.

Reading:

Jones, Alan, Port Vincent: shipping port to pleasure resort Port Vincent, S. Aust.:  Port Vincent Progress Association, 1994

Normandale, H To and about Yorke Peninsula [Adelaide : H. Normandale], 1986  pp.37-38

Boating at Port Vincent
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International 505 class
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Port Vincent
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Port Vincent, South Australia
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Steamship Juno at wharf
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The main street at Port Vincent
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Thomas Giles
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Yorke Peninsula Saltwater Classic
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