National Geographic : 1970 Apr
Australia's founding years. I could not disregard his lemony resentment of Col. William Light's having selected Adelaide -instead of Port Lincoln-for the state capital. Tennyson summed up his disapproval by allowing that "Adelaide has survived despite Colonel Light." Perhaps it's just as well Port Lincoln didn't become the capital. I, for one, like it as is: small, intimate, and-well, it haunts me with the persistence of the last words of Colin Thiele's verse on Port Lincoln, "A loveliness that aches." And from here beauty-not entirely free of heartache runs wild around the coast, first charted in 1801-02 by Capt. Matthew Flinders of the British sloop Investigator. When off the foot of Eyre Peninsula, Flinders sent eight of his crew ashore to find fresh water. Their boat capsized in a tide rip, and all the men drowned near a rocky cape their captain sadly christened Catastrophe. A highway named for Captain Flinders invited me to drive along the western shore of Eyre Peninsula. At one intersection a road sign almost persuaded me to take a turn inland to a place called Nowhere Else. Instead I continued to where Gulliver encountered those minuscule citizens, the Lilliputians. For when I reached Ceduna in a remote corner of Eyre Peninsula, I was at the gates of the Kingdom of Lilliput "... North-west of Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania] ... in the Latitude of 30 Degrees 2 Minutes South." Obvious ly, Jonathan Swift wanted Gulliver's Travels to include the most outlandish part of the world in the 1720's. Wallaroo Counted on Copper From Ceduna I went east to Iron Knob, which stands near massive hills of the iron ore that feeds the steel mills in Whyalla, 30 miles distant. Then I swung around the head of Spencer Gulf and drove south. A flock of greenish-blue parrots exploded from the bush and flashed across the road like a horizontal shower of iridescent opals. On Yorke Peninsula, which hangs like a well-filled Christ mas stocking between Spencer Gulf and Gulf St. Vincent, I stopped for the night at Wallaroo. What an utterly Aus tralian name-Wallaroo. Part wallaby, part kangaroo. With few exceptions the houses here are of stone and one story, the front door ingenuously balanced by a window on either side. They have verandas ornamented with wrought-iron patterns as geometrically intricate and perfect as snowflakes. Wallaroo got off to a mining start around 1860 with the discovery of copper in its backyard and at Moonta 10 miles to the south. The copper boom inspired a railway connection with Adelaide. Moonta was the end of the line-perhaps the end of the world for one Cornishman who, having been there, could say to another who claimed he'd traveled every where: "Hast thee ever been to Moonta? No? Then thee's never travelled, boy!" When the mines shut down in 1923, more than $50,000,000 worth of copper had been extracted from some 6,600,000 tons of ore treated at the local smelters, now converted for the production of superphosphate. At the foot of the peninsula I read a big roadside sign: "Beware-the inviting ocean at the bottom end of Yorke 472 Slaking the state's thirst, Murray River water irrigates 108,000 acres and is piped into the outback as far as Woomera, 285 miles away. Chief river in the nation, the Murray runs through South Australia for 400 of its 1,600 miles. Here near Loxton, the 96-year-old paddleboat May flower, now a private pleasure craft, plies upstream, reminiscent of pre railroad days when side-wheelers ferried goods and passengers. Feathered fishermen, Australian pelicans, Pelecannus conspicillatus, wait for dinner tumbling over a spillway on the Murray. The river's inviting waters lure more than 300 of Australia's 650 species of birds.