Thursday 25 August 1932, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) Trove

Front Door Of Yorke's Peninsula. Passing Of A Great Industry

The motto of Wallaroo is Hope (Spes.) It required all the optimism of the people to pull them through the crisis of eight years ago, when the famous smelters ceased operations after a period of over sixty years. But with the courage of the race Wallaroo gritted its teeth, and adjusted itself to the new conditions. Now it feels it can meet the future without fear.

A tall, spare man, with iron grey hair, who gives you the impression that he is built on springs—such is Dr. W. H. Harbison, the present Mayor of Wallaroo. He is a mass of nervous energy. Such men are usually “doers.” I have met numbers of them, and they were all alike — full of enthusiasm, public spirit, and progress. The moment I set eyes on his worship of Wallaroo I knew I was in the presence of a man inordinately proud of his town. How a doctor with a busy practice, liable to be called out all hours of the night, can find time to discharge the duties of mayor, and preside over the innumerable committees which form so large a part of the life of an important country town, was something which had me puzzled. Dr. Harbison not only does the job, but he does it with a thoroughness which should put many a more leisured man to shame. I was soon to find out he did it. I struck the doctor at the tail end of his consultation hour, and waited while he finished off his patients.

Come to think of it, you don't need to take that line too literally. "Now, come along," he said, springing from his chair with a suddenness suggesting that someone had jabbed a pin into him. I went along. The doctor's long legs covered the ground at a speed reminiscent of the seven-leagued boots. In two minutes I was panting beside him.

"Are you in a hurry, doctor?" I gasped, as mildly as I could.

"Am I walking too fast?" he asked in surprise.

"Probably not," I replied, "but I think I am."

There you have a picture of the man who is the driving force of civic Wallaroo. We went everywhere. We saw everything. We photographed everything. I say "we" because the energetic mayor was director of ceremonies, and I was only the instrument of his will.

"Take that," he would say, as his long arm shot out towards some local landmark. And I "took" it. The result was that, at the end of the day, I had 32 photographs to fill a space designed for ten.

Dr. Harbison has twice been Mayor of Wallaroo. He is a living epitome of its history. He has the most amazing set of miscellaneous records of any man I have ever met. His rooms are full of them. His office at the hospital is full of them. He can tell you the name of every patient who has passed through the institutlon, what he suffered from, how long he was there, and a great deal about him. It was like the record room at police headquarters. And he has done all this amazing work himself in his "spare" time. He is the sort of man who would do a job while you were thinking about it.

Ghostly City

I crept over the six miles of bitumen road which separates Wallaroo from Kadina through a cloud of thick, white fog. One had to move cautiously, for obstacles on the road loomed up unexpectedly and shapelessly. A black shadow might be a man, a cow, or a motor car, and disaster could easily lift ahead at an unexpected bend in the road. Occasionally I could glimpse the top of a tree through the clouds, but that was all.

Presently I saw a sign. "Welcome to Wallaroo," as though some invisible hand had temporarily drawn aside a curtain. It sounded nice and friendly —but I could see no Wallaroo. The town was wrapped in the white mantle. Very gradually the houses loomed up like ghostly, unsubstantial things. It was too early to do any work, and impossible to use the camera. So I pulled up and waited with what patience I could summon for the sun to come through, and dissipate the opaque obscurity. It did this at the end of an hour. The cloud parted like magic, and I found myself looking down on the sea, where steamers were loading at the jetty and trucks of wheat were being shunted in the busy station yard. To my right loomed the two tall chimneys which mark practically all that remains of the famous Wallaroo Smelters.

End Of A Great Industry

Later in the day the mayor and I stood on a hill overlooking the site of these noted works, which in past years meant so much to Wallaroo. For some time neither of us spoke, but instinctively I knew our thoughts were running parallel.

After an interval Dr. Harbison remarked:— "Heartbreaking, isn't it?" It was. I do not think there is anything so pathetic as a scene of past activity. Even a banquet table after the guests have gone gives one an impression of melancholy. In the case of the Wallaroo Smelters it was distressing to view the once animated place. Most of the buildings were gone, and the few which remained were roofless, windowless, and doorless. The blast furnaces were dead, and around them were a mass of tumbled bricks. The railway line which ran through the works in prosperous days, the huge converter shed, the dumps of slag, the gantries, the refineries, the acid tanks—the whole of the modern and expensive plant of one of the largest and most up to date smelters in the world had vanished. A former resident of the town returning after an absence of ten years, would not have recognised the place. A generation hence the smelters will not even be a memory. Practically nothing of them remains today. Nothing at all will remain twenty years hence, save, of course, the two tall chimneys which serve as a beacon for ships coming into port.

It Is a curious feature of our history books, even those of recent date, that they stress the importance of the Kapunda and Burra copper mines, but merely mention, or ignore altogether, the immeasurably more important mines of Wallaroo and Moonta. Yet, in a sense, Kapunda and Burra were mere muck heaps in comparison with Moonta and Wallaroo.

I was particularly interested in the tall square chimney of the original smelters, that chimney of which Sir Walter Hughes was so proud that he had his initials, "W.W.H., 1862," built into the stack. They are still there today, but Time has not been kind to them, and unless they were pointed out to you, you would probably miss them.

At the time this chimney was being built another was being erected at Port Adelaide. Wallaroo had determined to smelt its own ores, but the ore from the Burra mines was to be treated al Port Adelaide. The building of the two chimneys developed into a race between the builders, which caused considerable excitement amongst the people concerned. Wallaroo won, and to signalise the victory Captain Hughes had an immense fire lit so that the smoke could be seen for a long distance as an indication that the big work was finished.

Capital Might Have Been On Y.P.

According to Mr. Rodney Cockburn, whose hobby it is to hunt down the names of towns with the persistency that a farmer hunts rabbits. Wallaroo is a corrupted name. Its original aboriginal form was Wadla-waru, a term with rather an indelicate significance. In the early days of the Peninsula the word was corrupted to Wallawroo. The station hands, finding this too long, for marking on the wool bales, corrupted it to its present form. Now, I suppose, it will be Wallaroo for all time.

Just as the towns of Kadina and Moonta grew round the mines, so Wallaroo grew behind the smelters. In its earlier days the population was largely Welsh, the original smelters having been brought to South Australia from the historic principality. The works were established almost on the foreshore overlooking Wallaroo Bay, and a tiny, scattered town grew to the east of them. Today there is a population of 3,500, and one of the finest centres existing outside the metropolis.

Wallaroo is cut into two by the rail way, which traverses the centre of the town. The main street, Owen terrace, faces the railway reserve on the northern side. Another shopping district, John terrace, occupies the southern. For many years the population was dependent entirely on the smelters. There was little thought of agriculture. The land was regarded as worthless — the old, old story. Today it is recog nised as part of the finest wheat belt in Australia. They did not have much of an idea of the future of the "Three Towns" in 1865. A document of the period says: —“The district is unfavorable for the settlement of a large population in consequence of the entire absence of fresh water. The water used for domestic purposes is obtained by distilling the salt water drawn up from the mines, and by catching and storing the rain water in the winter season." Was ever a prophecy more completely falsified? Wallaroo, Moonta, and Kadina are now three of the largest and most important centres in the State!

It will probably be news to many that there was a time when the question of establishing the capital on Yorke Peninsula was seriously under consideration. This was in 1831, before the settlement of the province. When the matter of founding South Australia was under discussion in England, Major A. Bacon suggested that a site for the capital should be selected on Yorke Peninsula. The proposal was rejected in favor of one deferring the matter until alter the country had been surveyed.

Record Wheat Shipments

Anyone who has doubts about the "wretchedness" of the agricultural lands by which Wallaroo is surrounded should visit the port as I did in the shipping season. He would then see long train loads of the precious grain crawling along the jetty, and big overseas ships lying alongside to receive the cargo into capacious holds. When I was there the Treherbert and Naples Maru were taking in grain for Europe and Japan. The sheds were full of wheat and barley, and long strings of trucks were waiting the attention of the wharf workers. Things looked so busy that then and there I dived into the matter of wheat shipments. I was told that this season would provide a record since the cessation of the compulsory wheat pool of post-war days. Here are the respective shipments for the 11 years since that unhappy dose of socialism was swallowed:—

Year. Bags. Year. Bags.
1921-22 .. 1,617,367 1926-27 .. 2,430,283
1922-23 .. 1,892,885 1927-28 .. 1,619,763
1923-24 .. 2,824,042 1923-29 .. 1,226,601
1924-25 .. 2,172,049 1929-30 .. 1,334,787
1925-26 .. 2,105,706 1930-31 .. 1,677,267
1931-32 .. 2,273,557 (to end of June)

There is still plenty of wheat in sight to be shipped this year. It is confidently expected that when the figures are complete they will exceed 3,000,000 bags. That certainly does not look like stagnation.

Some Local Features

Wallaroo was incorporated as a town in 1874 . There was the customary "strenuous opposition." Reactionaries here always were, and always will be. But in this case they could not stay the stream of progress. Municipal Wallaroo has never looked back. The first mayor was Mr. T. Davies. The first town clerk was Mr. W. Allison. The present clerk is Mr. J. F. Herbert, an ex-mayor, and one time colleague of Mr. Verran as member for Wallaroo.

One of the worst blows the town received municipally was the destruction of the town hall by fire in 1917. With it went the valuable records of the corporation. Today Wallaroo cannot supply a complete list of the names of the men who helped to make it. The mayor, Dr. Harbison, is working patiently to restore the local archives.

The old town hall has been replaced by a larger and better structure at a cost exceeding £10,000. This does not include the handsome clock and chimes, which were presented to the corporation by Mr. Richard Tonkin. The hall seats a thousand persons. The stage is one of the largest outside the metropolis. The "pictures" are run by a town syndicate, which exercises a local supervision over the films displayed.

Wallaroo stages one annual fixture which, I believe, is unique. They call it the Old Folks' Home. Just why it bears that name I cannot tell you. It suggests a public charitable institution, but Wallaroo has nothing of the kind. The Old Folks' Home was inaugurated in 1920. On the second Saturday in December the elderly people of the town are invited to an outing. A committee of townspeople provide motor cars, and the old folk are taken for a two-hours drive. This is followed by a dinner at night in the town hall. It is a splendid idea. It provides a reunion to which the old people look forward from one year to another. It is their day. They are made to feel they are somebody. It is also Wallaroo's tribute to those who have done their bit, and are now sitting back, leaving it to the doers of today to carry on. A town which does that sort of thing is a town with a conscience. It is a rather nice town to know.

As you stalk along behind the old smelters your nostrils are inclined to be assailed by a pungent odor— sulphuric acid. Then you know you are close to one of Wallaroo's staple industries— the manufacture of super phosphate. I did not have to poke my nose into those big works. On the contrary they forced themselves on my notice. As I gazed on the huge smoking chimneys I could not help speculating on the wonders of science. For super phosphate is science — science with the biggest 'S' it is possible to give it. Super has made South Australia. It is still making it. In the days before this artificial fertiliser was known farmers often had to be content with four bushel crops. I am not exaggerating. In many of the wheats-growing areas on the Peninsula I spoke to pioneer farmers, who told me that figure was a common one in their early days. Today the same land is yielding 20 bushels and more because science has come to its aid. When I hear a man scoff at science, as sometimes I do, I feel like injecting a solution of super phosphate into his thick head to see if it will produce ideas.

Mrs. Carleton's Grave

"Is there anything in Wallaroo you want to see particularly?' enquired his worship.

"Yes," I answered promptly, "Mrs. Carleton's grave."

So we motored south to the cemetery, where all that is mortal of the authoress of the "Song of Australia" is resting under a cement slab. At the entrance to the cemetery stands a granite monument, erected by the Australian Natives' Association in commemoration of Mrs. Carleton's masterpiece. On it is inscribed the first verse of the inspiring poem. This monument, however, does not stand over the grave, which is almost at the opposite end of the ground. The grave itself bears a plain slate stone with the names of Mrs. Carleton and her husband. Mrs. Carleton died at Wallaroo on July 11, 1874, at the age of 54. She was the widow of a gentleman who had been superintendent of cemeteries. Although she is generally remembered as the writer of the "Song of Australia," she wrote extensively for the press of her day, chiefly poetry and short stories.

I let my eyes stray round, and they came to rest on a nearby pillar. The inscription struck me. It seemed to me that a whole volume of romance lay buried there. This was the inscription: —

Jesus St. John XIV. J. St. J.M. — F.E.A.M.

"What does it mean?" I asked.

"I don't know," said Dr. Harbison. "No one does."

Nobody knows now. Then you may depend upon it, the mystery will deepen with the years.

Wallaroo has an old-fashioned police station. It looks as if it were built in the year one. It is a converted stable, and gives one the impression that it could tell all sorts of stories if it chose. Unfortunately, when I investigated this apparent treasure mine it proved a dud. The old walls refused stubbornly to part with their secrets. But I was not deceived by its pseudo-respectability. I knew the secrets were there. The trouble was, I had not the art to extract them.

There is another police building on the other side of the town, which is the divisional headquarters. It occupies the site of the original post office. Inspector R. Giles is the officer in charge. This is the centre of a police district, embracing 17 important towns extending from Edithburgh in the south to Port Broughton In the north. It is not large as police districts go, but it includes Wallaroo, Ardrossan, Balaklava, Blythe, Brinkworth, Bute, Edithburgh, Kadina, Maitland, Minlaton, Moonta, Port Broughton, Port Victoria, Port Wakefield, Snowtown, and Stansbury, as well as the lesser towns within the area. A job of that kind is no sinecure.

I stood on the old weighbridge which is still intact, in the midst of the surrounding desolation, which was once the Wallaroo Smelters. A memory came back to me of the almost forgotten story of its construction. When the workmen were excavating the site, l co not know how many years ago, they came on the remains of a blackfellow, who had been buried in a sitting posture. It appears he was a "king" held in great veneration by the aboriginal population. The story of the "desecration" got round among the natives with that incredible speed which has always mystified the whites and there was a great hubbub among the brethren of the bush. The white workers left the body where it was while they deliberated that, night as to what should be done with it. The natives solved the problem in their own way. They stole the body, and carried it off to the sandhills, where it was reinterred. For some days after that the black population was so sullen that the whites deemed it wise to keep a sharp eye on them. There were times when the peninsula blacks were liable to hit back. And when they did someone usually got hurt. In this case, however, a short fit of the sulks was the only trouble.