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Developing trade and port histories: Outports - Connecting Kangaroo Island

Connecting Kangaroo Island

By its very nature Kangaroo Island is dependent on sea transport: the story of its two main ports of entry, Kingscote and Penneshaw is largely the ongoing saga of private and public service of the island's needs for the import and export of goods, and tourism.

When the first colonists arrived in South Australia, they landed in Nepean Bay where it was hoped that a whaling station could be established. It was also hoped by some that the main settlement for the colony would be there. This in fact was established at Adelaide in Gulf St Vincent, a site selected by the Surveyor General Colonel William Light after a careful examination of the South Australian coast.

However a small settlement remained on Kangaroo Island at Reeves Point for a short time.  Several small jetties were built over the decade or so that settlement remained in this area, but later it moved down the coast a little to Kingscote. Port facilities were basic, as they were elsewhere on the island: the mosquito fleet of ketches and other small craft supplied the island's needs, lightering goods out to larger vessels as and when required. Then in 1884 Kingscote petitioned the government for a jetty.

After examination of the area, a jetty was erected in 1886. Of screwpile construction it was 87.5 metres long and was used until 1910 when another jetty was erected to the south of it. This new jetty was initially 161.5 metres but was later reduced in length. This was repaired in 1952, modified in 1954 and again in 1961 to accommodate the roll-on/roll-off vessel Troubridge.

Regular, scheduled service came to Kingscote and Kangaroo Island in December 1907. The Gulf Steamship Company's new ship Karatta went into service and was the mainstay until 1961. Of 500 tons it was faster and more efficient than any previous ship servicing the island; it could accommodate passengers for the burgeoning tourist trade and was also able to carry 2600 bags of wheat, or 900 shorn sheep. Gulf Steamship Company and West Coast Shipping Company merged in November 1913 to form Coast Steamships Ltd; the new company maintained Karatta on the Kingscote service. In 1915 Coast Steamships became a subsidiary company of Adelaide Steamship Company; again Karatta remained on the Kingscote service and would do so until 1961, when it was finally replaced by ASC's new roll-on/roll-off vessel Troubridge.

This kind of vessel needed particular loading facilities and these were constructed at Kingscote, Port Lincoln and Port Adelaide. ASC requested a government subsidy to maintain the service and in June 1972 the government decided to purchase the Troubridge so the vital sea link to Kangaroo Island could be maintained. The ketches Nelcebee and Falie had also continued to provide a service to the island, with Nelcebee modified to carry bulk fuel supplies, rather than drums. In 1987 Troubridge was replaced by Island Seaway built by Eglo Engineering at Osborne.  The Island Seaway was withdrawn in March 1995 and ended the freight service that had operated beteen Adelaide and Kingscote. From that time forward Kangaroo Island freight would use the Cape Jervis/Penneshaw ferry link. For a few years from 1994 to 1997 a superfast, passenger-only ferry service operated from Glenelg to Kingscote.

Penneshaw and the Cape Jervis link

A jetty was built at Penneshaw in 1902, but was strengthened and lengthened in 1908. The Karatta called at Penneshaw as part of its Kangaroo Island service until it was withdrawn from service in 1961, but otherwise as elsewhere on the island, the small port was served well enough by the fleet of ketches.

Meanwhile a number of people had endeavoured to operate a service from Cape Jervis to the island. In 1934 a steam launch Cheopsis operated across Backstairs Passage but was not successful. In 1970 Peter March introduced Philanderer capable of carrying 80 passengers and four cars from Cape Jervis to Kingscote. This service was closed by Department of Marine and Harbors. March persisted, and introduced the larger Philanderer II in October 1982. Such was the success of this that the even larger Philanderer III was ordered from Eglo Engineering at Osborne.

Philanderer III could handle 250 passengers and 25 cars, and operated from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw. The government assisted March in making improvements at Cape Jervis.

From the early 1990s the ferry service to Kangaroo Island has been run by Kangaroo Island Sealink; today they operate the Spirit of Kangaroo Island, an aluminium catamaran capable of carrying 244 passengers and 55 cars, or 16 cars and eight trucks. It is powered by two 1118kw diesel engines, and its service speed is 16 knots, with a scheduled crossing time Cape Jervis to Penneshaw of 45 minutes. Spirit of Kangaroo Island went into service in 2004. Sealion 2000 is a slightly larger vessel carrying 354 passengers and 63 cars or four coaches and 42 cars. It is powered by 2 1078kw diesel engines.

Kangaroo Island Sealink is now the only sea service to Kangaroo Island. In December 2005 the new Cape Jervis Terminal was opened providing greatly improved facilities with undercover seating for passengers awaiting the ferries. The terminal was jointly funded by Kangaroo Island Sealink, SA Tourism Commission and a loan to Sealink from Transport SA.

Further reading:

Parsons, Ronald Southern passages:  a maritime history of South Australia.  Netley, Wakefield Press, 1986

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

Report on the investigations of M.V. Troubridge and future sea services to Kangaroo Island.  Adelaide, Dept. of Transport, 1984

Tregenza, John Le Messuriers of Port Adelaide:  five generations of enterprise in transport and timber.  Port Adelaide, Le Messurier Timber Company, 1991 (see index for SS Karatta)

Alexander, Sandy Kangaroo Island:  a brief chronological history, pre 1800-1997 Kingscote, S. Alexander, 1997

Websites:

Falie

South Australian Maritime Museum:  MV Nelcebee  

Kangaroo Island Sealink  

'Medium speed' ferry first in Australia 

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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