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Marion Bay - SA. A Brilliant Blend

On the 'foot' of Yorke Peninsula, Marion Bay is the gateway to Innes National Park. With surf and swimming beaches, and a variety of fishing available, visitors are sure to enjoy this small town.

Marion Bay has a small population of approximately 130 permanents; this swells to 500-900 during holiday periods. The beaches at Marion Bay offer the best of both worlds - a sheltered swimming beach, popular with families and a surf beach on the other side. Fishing is available for everyone offering boat, jetty, beach, rock and surf fishing.

Being on the foot of the Yorke Peninsula incorporates high winds of south-easterly nature during the summer months. The best times to visit are the months of March, April and May where the winds die down and the seas are calm with a mild temperature. Summer months can become very hot and winters can be bitterly cold. Marion Bay has a moderate rainfall and generally does not receive as much rain as Adelaide or surrounding districts.

Marion Bay - SA Memory

Marion Bay, on the very 'foot' of the Yorke Peninsula, is recorded as being named after the steamer Marion which was wrecked on a reef (now known as Marion Reef) near the Althorpe Islands. However the South Australian State Gazetteer suggests that the bay was shown as named prior to the shipwreck.

Like many towns, the population of the Marion Bay area developed in response to economic opportunity. Gypsum, a mineral used as an ingredient for plaster, was discovered in the area, and William Innes (after whom the mining village and the National Park are named) formed the Australian Gypsum and Whiting Company in the 1880s, to mine the gypsum leases in the area.

As a substantial jetty was necessary to support the export of the large quantities of gypsum being mined, the Marion Bay jetty was built in 1889. Unlike other jetties on the Yorke Peninsula which were built for the export of primary produce, Marion Bay jetty was constructed with wooden tramway tracks, along which the gypsum was transported from the Inneston mining operations, located in what is now known as Innes National Park.

When operations were taken over by Mr A. A. Hassell in 1898, the original wooden tramway tracks were replaced with steel rails, and steam locomotives and side tipping trucks were installed to carry the gypsum down to the jetty. By the 1920s grain, wool and salt were also being shipped from Marion Bay. In 1930 nearby Stenhouse Bay took over the shipment of gypsum from lower Yorke Peninsula.

By 1970 Inneston had become a ghost town as mining operations ceased. Today the partially restored Inneston village and the stately heritage-listed Stenhouse Bay jetty provide excellent insights into the mining history of the region.

Other mining that has taken place on the Peninsula includes copper (Moonta Mines), lime (near Stansbury), dolomite (Ardrossan), and salt (Edithburgh and Price).

Marion Bay has now developed into another popular holiday town on the Yorke Peninsula, offering swimming, surfing, fishing, boating, and bushwalking in Innes National Park.

District Council of Yorke Peninsula - History of Marion Bay

Marion Bay is said to be named after the steamer "Marion" which was wrecked here in 1862*.

*Map of Southern Yorke Peninsula, By B. J. Braund.

There was another vessel name "Marion" wrecked on Marion Reef, south of Troubridge Shoals. She was a sailing ship and was wrecked in 1851*. *"The Advertiser," 25th June, 1981.

The aboriginal name for the locality was "Cockadowie" meaning "Head of the bay or water."*
*Cockburn's Nomenclature of South Australia.

Nearby Marion Lake has gypsum deposits estimated to be about 9 millions tonnes*.
The gypsum is reported to be of exceptionally high quality and is used in the making of plaster of paris, as a basis for fertilizers and as a retardant for cement. Work first began on this deposit in 1889.
*The Geology of Yorke Peninsula, Page 74.

The lake is below sea level and the exceptionally high quality is considered to be due to sea water filtering through the sand dunes and depositing the minerals which make up gypsum in a layer estimated to be 1.5 metres (5 feet) thick. Above that was a deposit of flour gypsum 2.4 metre (8 feet) thick*.
*The Geology of Yorke Peninsula, Page 51.

Much of it was exported to New Zealand and there was sufficient to supply all Australia's needs. It was shipped from Stenhouse Bay.

In the town was a small fenced area marked "Caltrop Area - Keep Out." It referred to a noxious weed which must be reported to the local plant pest control board if found on one's property. It has a seed which when mature splits into 5 segments resembling a spiny Maltese cross. It takes its name from a medieval weapon used to incapacitate an enemy army's cavalry. It was an iron device with 4 spikes which was lain on the ground to spike the hooves of the horses.


[From a Special Correspondent.] Tue 29 Nov 1883

In the hundred of Warrenben there is no settlement of any kind. The country is unsuited for it; there are thousands of acres literally covered with lime-stone, and that district is about as poor as it can well be.

Stenhouse Bay was a port operated for 50 years by the Waratah Gypsum Company which established a community of 35 families to administer the gypsum workings; it had 37 houses, a community hall, school, post office, a licensed general store, and administration buildings. When production ceased in 1972 the town was offered as a going concern to the Government of South Australia for purchase.


State Library of South Australia - B 62791

MARION BAY: Three men identified as Messrs. Davis, Boyd, and Limb photographed sitting on a rail scooter used for work associated with transporting gypsum from the workings at Marion Bay, South Australia 1930


State Library of South Australia - B 62780

MARION BAY: Premises of the Victor Electric Plaster Mills factory photographed from the west at Marion Bay, South Australia. A researcher suggests that the photograph was not taken at Marion Bay but was probably taken at Gilman. 1927


State Library of South Australia - B 62788

MARION BAY: A crane loading gypsum on to railway trucks at Marion Bay, South Australia 1930


Saturday 7 April 1923, Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 - 1931) Trove

Our Gypsum Deposits. South Australia Supplies the Commonwealth. Through the courtesy of Mr. C. A. Searcy, manager in South Australia for Mr. Arthur H. Hasell, of Melbourne, I was afforded, a few days ago, an opportunity to gain an insight into an industry which is beginning to assume very large dimensions in this State, and of the existence of which the average man-in-the-street has practically no knowledge whatever. The industry to which I refer is that of raising gypsum, and converting it into that useful and valuable product, popularly known as plaster of Paris. The principal gypsum deposit in South Australia is located near Marion Bay, at the extreme southern end of Yorke's Peninsula, about 200 miles from Adelaide by road. We started from Adelaide at a quarter past 8 o'clock in the morning, and motored right through to Yorketown, a distance of 150 miles, reaching the latter place shortly after 6 p.m. We travelled via Port Wakefield, Maitland, and Minlaton, and had a very pleasant trip, except for the fact that we met with a couple of punctures caused by nails lying on the road, and broke our speedometer, which however, we managed to get repaired at Port Wakefield. The roads in places were very good, but in others bore evidence to the long, dry spell, being worn and dusty. In the vicinity of Yorketown they are much cut up on account of the heavy salt traffic, and although a steel track has been laid for the greater portion of the way between the above mentioned town and Edithburgh, I noticed that several huge wagons, laden with the useful commodity, appeared to prefer the macadam to the steel traks. The latter in places was certainly in bad order, and in the interest of all concerned the authorities should see that it is maintained in good working condition, as the wear and tear on the ordinary roads from these heavy rains must be tremendous. Yorketown, like a good many other places at present, is short of water, and on our arrival we had to be content with a sponge-bath, our host's supply of water having almost reached vanishing point. In this matter he had had an unfortunate experience. He possesses a large underground tank, which he relied upon as a standby. Imagine his disgust on proceeding to draw upon it, to find it empty. An examination disclosed the fact that the root of a neighbour's pepper tree had pierced the masonry, resulting in the loss of thousands of gallons of water. He then understood why this particular pepper tree's foliage completely eclipsed that of its neighbours, and his feelings towards it were not softened when he was called upon to pay £8 for repairs to his tank. Next morning we made an early start for Marion Bay, a distance of more than 50 miles, via Warooka. The road to Warooka is in excellent order, but after leaving that township it is little more than a rough bush track. We were lucky to get through with only one puncture, a sharp stone cutting through the tyre and the inner tube. However, we carried a spare, so it took only a few minutes to make a change. The country is very poor, mainly comprised of low scrub, and practically uncultivated. We passed several kangaroos, but saw only about a couple of rabbits, and there appeared a great absence of bird life. On reaching Marion Bay we met a Parliamentary party, consisting of the Commissioner of Public Works (Hon. T. Pascoe), Hon. W. G. Duncan, and Messrs. P. Allen and H. G. Tossell, M.P.'s, who visited the gypsum lake, five miles distant, inspected the works, and appeared much interested in all that was shown them.

The History of the Deposit.

It will come as a surprise to most people to learn that the gypsum deposits in this State were worked as far back as 1874 nearly half a century ago a Mr. Thomas Wood having obtained in that year the right to remove gypsum from lease N. 80, Hundred of Melville, Yorke's Peninsula. In the same year a lease in the same, hundred was taken up by Mr. W. S. Douglas, but in 1883 it was transferred to Mr. A. Tochi, who sold it to the South Australian Plaster of Paris, Cement, Salt, and Chemical Manures Company, Limited. The company went into liquidation in 1886. It is stated that Mr. Tochi was the first man to make plaster of paris from South Australian gypsum, and as far back as 30 years ago had on exhibition casts made from plaster of Paris, which he bad manufactured. According to the official records, three years after the company just mentioned went out of existence, attention was directed to tbe gypsum deposits in the Hundred of Warrenben, and a company, called the Australian Gypsum and Whiting Company, Limited, was formed to take up gypsum leases in and around Marion Bay. This company spent something like £30,000 in developing the Marion Bay deposits. They erected a jetty with the object of shipping the gypsum, and constructed a wooden tramway between it and the lakes, from which it is obtained. They established works in Melbourne for the manufacture of plaster of paris, to which they shipper the gypsum, and altogether spent about £70,000 in endeavouring to establish the industry. Their efforts, however, ended in failure, and in 1898 they went into liquidation. Then Mr. Hasell came on the scene, and purchased the whole of their interests at Marion Bay. Three years later, having entered into a contract with the Australian and Refining Co., at Dapto, New South Wales, to supply them with 10,000 tons of gypsum ner annum for flux in the smelting of nickel ore from New Caledonia, Mr. Hasell replaced the wooden rails with steel ones on the tramway, Which is 2 ft. gauge, and obtained a couple of small locomotives to haul the gypsum to the jetty, which he lengthened. Altogether, he spent about £10,000 upon the necessary equipment. When he had delivered 1,500 tons of gypsum the company ceased operations, and for some years the demand languished, the gypsum only being used for the manufacture of cement and for fertilizers. Then the Great War broke out, the importation of plaster of paris from countries overseas ceased, and it became necessary for Australia to provide her own supplies. Melbourne businessmen, ever keen to scent the possibilities of trade, promptly took up the manufacture of plaster of paris in that city, and in 1915 the Austral Plaster Company, having entered into a contract for a supply of rock gypsum with. Mr. Qasell, started operations for the manufacture of the same product in close proximity to Birkenhead Wharf, Port Adelaide.

The Gypsum Beds.

Ever since Mr. Hasell acquired the gypsum leases in the neighbourhood of Marion Bay from the Australian Gypsum and Whiting Coy., in 1901, he has worked them. The gypsum lake is 5.5 miles from Marion Bay, with which, as already indicated, it is connected by a 2 ft. gauge tramway. It is 1,200 acres in extent, and the gypsum deposit varies from 6 inches to 10 ft. in depth. The lake has been estimated to contain from 10,000,000 to 40,000,000 tons of gypsum, and so far only the fringe of it has been worked. In the distance the lake appears to be covered with water, but on inspection it is found to be dry in most parts, but so level that in a high wind in the summer monthsand they say there is no lack of wind during that period of the year-what water there is is driven over the surface in a fine spray before the gale. In the winter, however, the quantity of water that gathers is so great that quarrying operations have to be discontinued. The work done sofar has only been carried out on the edge of the lake, but for all that many thousands of tons of gypsum has been raised and shipped. The gypsum is blasted out with gelignite, the holes for which are bored by rock drills, driven by compressed air, a steam-driven compressor plant having been erected for this purpose. The building in which it is located recently caught fine, but fortunately the plant was not damaged sufficiently to prevent its working. The face of the gypsum at present being worked is about 2 ft. 6 in. thick, with a limestone floor below it. A tramline is laid alongside the working face, and as soon as a charge is fired the broken rock is shovelled into side-tipping trucks, and when some 25 or 30 of these are loaded they are hauled to Marion Bay by a funny little engine and emptied into the ketches waiting for them alongside the ietty. In the event of the ketches not being on hand the stuff is emptied into a tip in the vicinity of the jetty, where it awaits shipment by the first boats that arrive. As it is impossible to quarry the gypsum during the winter, this dump is continually added to during the summer, thus forming a reserve that can be shipped at such time as quarrying operations have ceased. Mr. Hasell, it may be mentioned, sells the bulk of the output to the Austral Plaster Company, and the balance goes to the eastern States. The output irom the lake ranges from 110,000 to 20,000 tons per annum. It is carried from Marion Bay to Port Adelaide by a fleet of schooners and ketches, and what is not required by the Austral Plaster Company, is transhipped into interstate steamers. A special depot is leased from the Harbours Board at Darling's Wharf, Birkenhead, and the lighter Uribes, is used for storing the gypsum required for shipments.

A Valuable Commodity.

The value of South Australia's gypsum deposits is sure to greatly increase as the population of the Commonwealth grows. The high-grade character of the produces manufactured from it are daily becoming more recognised by our builders and cnotractors, and during the past two or three years some of Australia's finest buildings owe their internal decorations to plaster of paris, the produce of this State. Mose people are familiar with the internal appearance of Charles Moore & Co.'s beautiful building in Victoria square. Here the magnificent balcony front, the Ionic caps, cornices, and balustrades are all composed of Austral plaster, the product of the Austral Plaster Company. The same firm also supplied the plaster for the ceilings of the main banking chamber of the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, one of the most imposing structures in the southern hemisphere. The last three wings of the Melbourne Hospital were also plastered with "Victor" hard-finish made by the Austral Company. Prior to the war a very large proportion of the plaster of Paris and hard wall plasters used in this country came from Germany and America. In 1909 Australia imported plaster of paris of the value of £ 12,239, the quantity being 4,046 tons. In 1914-15, when imports practically ceased, the quantity had risen to 18,942 tons, of the value of £33,450. According to a bulletin issued by the Government, in regard to this matter, statistics as to the quantity of plaster of paris manufactured in Australia are unobtainable, but practically all the plaster of paris made in Australia to date has been manufactured from gypsum obtained near Marion Bay, Yorke's Peninsula, South Australia. Gypsum occurs in South Australia in three forms-viz!, crystallized gypsum (locally called 'rock gypsum'), seed gypsum, and flour gypsum. Rock gypsum is obtained from the Marion Bay district, but work is now being carried on on the west coast, somewhat similar deposits having been discovered near Penong. Most of this west coast gypsum is being sent to Sydney, Port Le Hunte beihg the port from which it is shipped, but later it will be dispatched from the new harbour at Thevenard, when the Kowalka guaranteed railway has been constructed to connect with the Penong to Wandana line. A company which holds a considerable area of gypsum leases near Cape Spencer, close to Marion Bay, is the Permasite Company Proprietary, Limited, and Melbourne speculators have invested a large sum of money in the concern. This company has erected substantial works on their property, as well as a fine jetty. They have a large staff, manufacture plaster of paris on the spot, and ship the product, for which there is a ready sale. The gypsum from the lakes in the vicinity of Marion Bay, it may be mentioned, is practically free from iron, and is consequently extremely suitable for the manufacture of white plaster of paris. Seed gypsum produces plaster of paris of good tensile strength, whereas flour gypsum, which is found in various parts of the State, including the Renmark district, is most useful as a fertilizer. It is stated to be very valuable where there is any alkaline reaction produced in the soil, as it neutralizes the injurious action produced by the presence of magnesia and alkaline carbonates.

Uses of Gypsum.

The uses of gypsum are many and varied, and such as the ordinary man has no knowledge of. Its principal use is for the manufacture of plaster of Paris, or calcined gypsum. The process of manufacture of this product is a simple one. The rock gypsum is first crushed, it is then calcined, after which the calcined product is finely ground and bagged. There are several methods of manufacture, but as they are largely of a technical character a description of them would be unsuitable for this article. It will suffice to state, however, that various types of plaster, suitable for differing kinds of work, are now being manufactured in Australia, and the results being achieved go to prove that nothing superior is being turned out in any other part of the world. Gypsum besides makes a valuable fertilizer, is also utilized as a flux in the smelting of certain nickel ores. In Germany it is much in use as a flux in the concentration of leadcopper matte in reverberating furnaces. It plays an important part in the manufacture of various grades of paint, and is also used by cotton and paper manufacturers. Small quantities scattered around the floors of stables and manure heaps act as a disinfectant, and retain the ammonia, the result being that this valuable fertilizer is saved to the agriculturist when he comes to use the manure. Another valutble feature in connection with gypsum products is the fact that they are incombustible, and owing to low conductivity form a perfect protection for steel construction. Heat, it is stated, penetrates plaster at such a slow rate that metal will hardly get warm during the duration of an ordinary fire. Most of the beautiful interior decorations that we see in our buildings to-day are composed of plaster of Paris, and according to a valuable bulletin, entitled "Gypsum and Plaster of Paris, issued by the Department of Chemistry, calcined gypsum is very largely used in Germany, under the name of estrichgyps, or flooring plaster, for making floors of houses. The plaster for this purpose is specially burnt. It is slow setting, but makes a hard and durable cheap flooring for ordinary purposes. This class of material is not manufactured in Australia at present, but certainly suggests a field for future exploitation in this country, where timber is expensive. Enough has been stated to show the great value of this product to South Australia, and that the possibilities attaching to the industry in the future are immense. The Austral Plaster Company, already referred to, keeps about 30 employes constantly at work at their factory at Port Adelaide, and it is satisfactory to learn that there is an ever-increasing demand for the Australian product. The extent of the gypsum industry certainly comes as a surprise to the ordinary enquirer, and is an instance of what has been achieved by private enterprise, without the Government being called upon for the slightest assistance. Without going into the technicalities of the subject, I do not think I can do better than conclude my article with an extract from a very artistic brochure issued by the Austral Plaster Company; The writer says:- "Gypsum, in its calcine form, can be put to go many uses that it is now looked upon as one of the most important and useful of all materials used in construction. As a practically indestructible wall plaster on wood and metal, lath, brick, tile, and concrete walls, and so on, it will last as long or longer, than the material it covers. As a fireproofing in the shapel of plaster, tile it will stand against a fire test that will cause any other material to expand and collapse. In the plaster board form it is better than lath substitute, and is a fire retardent that can be adapted to almost any form of construction. It enters largely into the composition of asbestos pipe coverings, and wherever insulation against cold and heat is required. Gypsum products in some form are invarably called for on good constructions by those who understand the peculiar properties of the many materials used in up-to-date building operations."