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Developing trade and port histories: Outports - Robe

Robe

Robe, or Robe Town as it was initially called, was officially proclaimed a port 13 February 1847. The first sale of town allotments was four months previously in October. The site was selected as an outlet for goods and produce from the South East region of the colony, and its bay, Guichen Bay, was strongly recommended over nearby Rivoli Bay by Colonial Harbourmaster Captain Thomas Lipson who wrote 'Guichen Bay affords a safe anchorage in security against every wind.' The bay is open to the west and is sheltered by Cape Dombey on the south and by reefs. Its landward access was significantly easier than that of its rival at Rivoli Bay.

Wool, wood, wattle bark and seal skins were early exports and in the beginning were taken as far as possible on men's backs or bullock wagons and then transferred to lighters for transhipment to the larger vessels at anchorage. A jetty was needed, and the first one was built by the private initiative of the merchant George Ormerod. In 1855 he built a 91.5 metre jetty of she-oak. At its shore end was a large cave which served as a store shed. George Ormerod ran a successful shipping company from the Port of Robe and in its first 10 years it handled 1,696,700 pounds worth of exports. In 1865 alone 8,000 bales of wool were shipped. In the same year as Ormerod built his jetty, the South Australian government contracted for a jetty to be built. The workmanship on this was of a poor standard, but despite the worst prognostication it lasted 11 years. A third jetty was begun in October 1866 but was not completed until September 1868. It was 310 metres long, and subsequently extended twice to a final length of 341 metres.  The lifeboat shed was erected on this jetty.

Robe was the main port of debarkation for thousands of Chinese men arriving for the Victorian gold fields. Victoria had placed a poll tax on all Chinese immigrants, so to avoid this they landed at Robe and walked overland to the gold fields. This influx of human trade had a significant effect on the port and its businesses.

However the port did not have a long life, with its peak being the 1850s and 1860s. In this period over 1 million pounds of wool were shipped from the port, as well as sheep, cattle and horses being shipped both in and out of the port. In addition wattle bark for tanning, cheese, butter, wood and a quantity of horn, and even copper ore was shipped. And then there were the numerous inwards goods.

For a while there was a healthy rivalry with the other south eastern ports such as Port MacDonnell, and Portland in Victoria. But the last trading ship was SS Kintore in June 1917. The railways were taking goods elsewhere, either directly to Port Adelaide or elsewhere in the state. However a fourth jetty was built in 1949 for the fishing industry.

For a brief period Robe was considered for a deep sea port, but this never eventuated. Portland, its early rival, won the battle as the major port for the south eastern region.

In 1964 a channel was opened into Lake Butler which became a boat haven for both the crayfish and shark fishing fleet, as well as for pleasure craft.

Tumby Bay

In 2008 Centrex Metals proposed the construction of a deep water port in Spencer Gulf, 20 kilometres north of Tumby Bay at Sheep Hill for the export of iron ore. Government approvals were still required but it was anticipated that construction would begin in 2010. Centrex forecast exports in excess of what was currently shipped by OneSteel from Whyalla, further up Spencer Gulf.

 

Further reading:

Bermingham, Kathleen. Gateway to the South East Millicent, S.A. : South Eastern times, 1961

Sprengel, Wilf. The ecstasy and the agony of Guichen Bay [Robe?, S. Aust. : W. Sprengel], 1986 (Naracoorte [S. Aust.] : Hansen Print)

Collins, Neville.  The jetties of South Australia: past and present Woodside, S.A.: Neville Collins, 2005

$180 million ore, port deal The Advertiser 19 December 2008 p. 6

Ardrossan jetty
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Arrival of 'S.S. Morialta' at Port Lincoln.
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Australian warships at Victor Harbor
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Barque Lawhill
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Boats moored at American River
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Cargo ships at Wallaroo wharf
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Channel leading into Lake Butler
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Customs House, Port MacDonnell
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Glenelg jetty 1850
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Grain ships at Ardrossan jetty
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Jetty at Murat Bay
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Jetty Port Lincoln
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