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Developing trade and port histories: Outports - Wallaroo

Wallaroo

Unlike its southerly neighbour Port Victoria, Wallaroo has remained a viable port; a deepwater port where large ships can moor directly alongside the jetties, to be loaded directly from that and later from the bulk handling conveyor belts.

Just as a number of other South Australian ports, Wallaroo began its existence as a landing beach for the export of wool from local pastoralists. However a few years after the first wool shipment, copper was discovered at Wallaroo in 1859, and two years later at Moonta only a few kilometres away. A landing stage was built to facilitate shipping of the copper and in 1861 the first jetty. The majority of the copper was shipped to Newcastle in New South Wales, and the return cargo was coal for the smelters. The bulk of this trade was carried by the coastal ketches and barques of the Black Diamond Line. The jetty was extended to 1000 feet in 1864 to accommodate the growing number of vessels trading through the port.

Although a deep water port, Wallaroo was not without its dangers: Tipara Reef the most notable.  A lightship was moored over this, and finally in 1877 a permanent lighthouse was built on the reef. It was also noted on the charts that there was a magnetic disturbance in the gulf - this related to the large iron ore deposits on the western side of the gulf at Iron Knob.

Cargoes were not entirely copper, outwards and coal, inwards. The small coasting vessels brought in explosives for the mines, timber for jetties and the mines, coal, potatoes and later superphosphate for the farms. Outwards goods included flour, wool, hides, as well as copper. In 1880 another jetty was built, and extended again in 1902. This jetty accommodated the large sailing ships that loaded wheat: these vessels loaded between 29,000 - 30,000 bags at a time.  Loading, and hence turn around time, was quicker at Wallaroo with its long jetty and narrow gauge rail line, than at Port Victoria, which first loaded ketches and lighters which then trans-shipped to the big ships.

By the early 20th century steamers were increasingly active in the port and gulf - these carried copper ingots to Port Adelaide for trans-shipment. Later the Adelaide Steamship Company's vessels Moonta and Morialta were prominent in the gulfs. By the 1920s the copper mines were closed as the ore ran out. Wallaroo fell back onto its other great export, wheat.

The physical advantages of Wallaroo with its sheltered bay and deep water had long been recognised but none more so than during World War II. Its position deep inside Spencer Gulf was an additional advantage when it was easiest to secure the Gulf ports from wartime marauders. A number of important secondary industries were relocated to the Gulf, including to Wallaroo, where fertilizer became a major export.

Post World War II saw further expansion that ensured Wallaroo's future. Another jetty had been built in 1926 - then in 1958 the conveyor belt for bulk handling was added and the first block of grain silos was built on the shore. The size of the grain carriers increased dramatically - in 1967 MV Pontos loaded 29,317 tons of wheat at 430.7 tons per hour - a record for the time.  The dredging of a channel assisted in allowing these huge vessels to come into port. These were not without their dangers though - in 1977 the Chinese grain carrier Wuzhau severely damaged the jetty and the conveyor belt when it went ahead instead of astern. Then in April 2000 the bulk carrier Amarantos, one of a series of larger vessels that had begun using Wallaroo port, struck the jetty and grain loader. The port was closed for several months. At the time of the accident, a risk assessment study, to examine the capabilities of the port to handle such very large vessels, was still uncompleted. A major berth upgrade was undertaken from March-December 2003.

In 1874 Wallaroo had been proud to proclaim itself the second port of South Australia, beaten only by Port Adelaide. A century later, its main trade changed from copper to wheat, it still ranks among the seven major ports controlled by Flinders Ports and during 2005/06, 0.463 million tonnes of cargo was handled.

In December 2006, a new chapter for Wallaroo shipping opened when the passenger ferry connecting Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas began service. Operated by Sea SA the ferry service runs from Wallaroo to Lucky Bay (near Cowell) on Eyre Peninsula. It removes some 350kms from the road trip from Adelaide to the towns on Eyre Peninsula. Initially operating the ferry Seaway, it was later replaced by Sea Scape I. This twin hull and quadruple screw vessel carries 50 cars and 200 passengers, and is a 'drive-through' vessel, providing greater speed in loading and discharging vehicles. The service runs seven days a week. Another ferry Sea Spirit 1 went into service in March 2008; this operates alongside Sea Scape I as customer demand is high. The new ferry, also 'drive-through' will carry 95 vehicles and 300 seated passengers. New passenger terminals in Wallaroo and in Lucky Bay are being planned.

Further reading:

Fyfe, Dorothy M. Maritime history of Wallaroo: an outline, 1802-1978 Wallaroo, S.A.: D.M Fyfe, 1979

Ferry link will open area to tourists Advertiser,  20 September 2006 page 34

News in brief: Drive-through ferry's debut, Advertiser,  17 February 2007 page 45

Second Gulf ferry on its way Advertiser, 13 February 2008 page 32

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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