Home » Towns » South Australia » Eyre Peninsula » Elliston, SA

Elliston, SA

Artistic holiday town on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula

Elliston is a delightful seaside town located on Waterloo Bay on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. Set between rolling and pleasant sheep, mixed farming and cereal-growing country and some of the most dramatic coastline on the peninsula, the town is known for its fishing, swimming and surfing. There are excellent walking trails along the rugged sandstone cliffs.


Elliston is located on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula 696 km north west of Adelaide via the Princes and Eyre Highways. It is 390 km south-west of Port Augusta and 168 km north-east of Port Lincoln.


Origin of Name

There is considerable debate about the origin of the town's name. One popular version, and the one accepted by the locals (it is mentioned outside the Community Hall) is that it was originally known as Ellie's Town it was named after the writer and teacher Ellen Liston who was born in England in 1838 and emigrated to South Australia in 1850. She became a governess and was working on the property owned by John Hamp near the present town when Governor Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois decided to name the town after her. Other sources argue that it was named after Sir Samuel Burdon Ellis who was a friend of Governor Jervois while still other sources think it might have been named after Sir Henry Walton Ellis who died at the Battle of Waterloo.


Things to See and Do

Elliston Township History Tour
There is a brochure available which lists a total of twenty places of historic interest around the centre of Elliston. These include the Council Chambers (1913); the site of the old jetty (1881); the Post Office (1880); the Waterloo Bay Police Station (1881); St Andrews Church (1881); the Elliston Hospital (1910) and the Doctor's Residence (1906). Many of the buildings are notable for their fine combination of local stone and bricks.

Waterloo Bay
The bay offers the visitor pleasant walks along the beach to the jetty and good facilities for picnics and barbecues. There is a new walking track which loops around the town and a pontoon in the bay is ideal for swimming.

Elliston Jetty
The original Elliston Jetty was replaced in 1900 by this impressive 427 metre long structure which was listed on the South Australian Heritage Register in 1992. It is notable because of its steel pylons which were screwed into the seabed by a horse-drawn winch.

CWA (Country Women's Association) Rest Rooms
The first meeting of the Elliston CWA was held in August 1933 and the rest rooms were opened in 1936. They are reputed to be the first purpose-built CWA rest rooms in South Australia. They are listed on the State Heritage Register.

Elliston Community Hall and Mural
The huge mural, painted by the community under the guidance of artists Siv Grava and John Turpie, depicts the life of Elliston. It was completed in 1992 and repainted in 2014 and is reputedly the largest single mural in the country. The sign outside the Hall notes: "This mural is the largest of its type in Australia. It depicts the historical life of Elliston and covers more than 500 square metres in area." The mural was painted over three weeks in 1992. The council and local sporting clubs covered the cost and a grant from the Australia Council paid for the assistance of two professional artists, Siv Grava and John Turpie. The mural depicts both historic and current life in Elliston and most of the imagery - houses, boats, carts, horses and people came from local family photo albums. There is a brochure which identifies all the people in the mural. It can be obtained at the Visitor Centre.


Other Attractions in the Area

Cliff Top Drives at Elliston
Little Bay Cliff Top Loop
Located to the south west of the town centre the Little Bay Cliff Top Loop provides a number of lookouts over the outlying islands, including Top Gallant Isles, Flinders Island, Pearson Island and part of Waldegrave Island. It is also possible to see Waterloo Bay and Elliston township from the lookout.

Anxious Bay Cliff Top Loop and Sculptures
To the north of the town, just beyond the town jetty, lies Anxious Bay which offers spectacular cliff top views as well as access to the area known as 'Blackfellows Point' (now called Blacks) which is recognised as one of the best surfing places on the Australian coast. In recent times the loop has been enhanced by a number of uniquely Australian coastal sculptures including "the big thongs".
The history of the Sculptures on the Cliffs is intriguing. In their book Out of the Silence: The History and Memory of South Australia's Frontier Wars, Robert Foster and Amanda Nettelbeck explain: "stories of a massacre [of local Aborigines] on the Elliston cliffs have endured, a symptom of unreconciled tensions in the region's past. In 2002 members of the Elliston community initiated a community arts project, Sculpture on the Cliffs, as part of the state-wide Encounter 2002 commemoration, a bicentennial celebration of the meeting of Matthew Flinders' and Nicholas Baudin's navigating vessels on the South Australian coastline in 1802. Sculpture on the Cliffs aroused so much public interest in 2002, it subsequently became a biennial event until it ceased in 2008. One of the project's first art installations in its Bicentennial Encounters year was 'The Sea Wailing' by local artists Cameron Robbins and John Turpie. A sound work installed on the cliffs which draws on the ocean's movement to play 'a moaning lament', 'The Sea Wailing' was designed, according to the artists, to respond to 'the stigma of the "Elliston Incident" and ... try to redress some of the bad feeling.' The power of the Sculpture on the Cliffs project to express a local need for reconciliation has remained strong." There is a brochure available from the Community Centre which will help to identify the sculptures and the sculptors.
Five sculptors are represented: Siv Grava, John Turpie, Thomas Tesselaar, Dave Beaty and Todd Romanowycz.
The sculptures that particularly caught my imagination included:

Mara by Siv Grava
“In Latvian tradition Mara is considered the mother of the Earth, the provider of water and milk, a protector of livestock and was thought to be present at birth and death. The shape at the back of the sculpture signifies the ghost of a ship that brought us to these shores. We are all newcomers to this ancient land. The symbol, the Mara, of Latvian weaving is depicted by the wavy straight line of yellow embroidery over and under a straight row of red embroidery. The zig-zag was also a version and interestingly the ordinary straight line used along borders of wraps is also considered Mara. It is certainly one of the most ancient symbols, often found in jewellery and pottery from the stone age.

Headland by Thomas Tesselaar
“This creation conjures up images in the mind of other sculptures from around the world. So often the true story is lost in time and we are left in awe to wonder about the objects. So many questions!”

Another Time by Dave Beaty
“This sculpture has evolved from thoughts on time and history, and the way society represents and records our past. The skeleton of an ancient ocean dinosaur lies like some strange museum exhibit, on a lattice of Casuarina saplings. Below is mounted a stainless steel panel displaying letters from the 1870s from aboriginal women to much loved white women who had moved away. The shoes suggest a delicate human link between the past and present representing the ghosts of the writers who penned these letters. They offer a touching and poignant link with the past. We share this space and time on earth with others of our own species, look after each other!” Dave Beaty also created the Whale Tail in the centre of town.

I Feel Like I’m 15 Again by Todd Romanowycz
My sculpture shows a big older guy riding a kids bike to the beach with a massive smile on his face. Reliving his childhood!

Thongz by Todd Romanowycz
Thongs are easily associated with the beach and coastline whether it be wearing them or finding the washed up on the beach.

The Waterloo Bay Massacre Memorial
On 15 September, 2018 a Memorial designed by artist Simon Follett - the Waterloo Bay Massacre Memorial on the Elliston Coastal Art Trail - was officially launched with Senator Patrick Dodson observing: "Elliston will be one of the places the country remembers for this. Reconciliation is not a one way street, it is a liberation for the perpetrators of wrong and the people who suffered through that wrong - it’s mutual, there is nothing to be lost for anyone”.
We can only move forward with truth-telling and I hope to see more memorials across South Australia that reflect the atrocities that were inflicted upon Aboriginal people during colonisation."
The Memorial recorded: "This monument commemorates an incident referred to by the traditional owners of this land as "The Massacre of Waterloo Bay". A number of Aboriginal people were killed near this site in May, 1849 by a party of settlers. Waterloo Bay is a significant site in the history of frontier conflict between traditional owners and settlers, often resulting in the destruction of traditional family life. This memorial promotes the new spirit of reconciliation, helping to forge a renewed and healing sense of community through tolerance and understanding."

Elliston Town Jetty
The town jetty has been Heritage Listed because the steel pylons were screwed directly into the sea floor using a horse drawn winch. It is 424 m long and is perfect for a walk at sunset or for throwing a line in and hopefully catching garfish, trevally or tommy ruffs.

Ancient Fossils
Elliston is located on the shores of Waterloo Bay which has always had a dangerous entry with reefs lying between the two headlands - Wellington and Wellesley Points. On these headlands it is possible to see the unusual weevil (Leptopius duponti) fossilised cocoons (known as 'clogs') which are reputed to be over 100,000 years old.

Waterloo Bay is known as an excellent fishing location where it is possible to catch King George whiting, salmon (it holds an annual salmon fishing championship), mulloway, sharks and commercially the local fishing fleet catches abalone and lobster.

Locks Well
Located off the Flinders Highway 16 km south of Elliston is Locks Well Beach. The beach is known as an excellent place to fish for Australian salmon. There is a staircase down to the beach and the views from the surrounding cliffs are impressive. The story behind the well is amusing. In the early 1950s a well digger attempted to find water. He went down 50 metres and was unsuccessful. The well with no water became known as Locks Well. Eventually others went further down - only another 20 metres - and struck bore water. The area became popular with anglers because of the Australian salmon which could be caught if you were prepared to risk your life going down the cliffs. In the 1980s the local council approached the landowner who gave them land and access. They duly built a road and a very impressive 283 step stairway and viewing platform. It is worth visiting. Look at the anglers below with their impressive catches and marvel at the stairway.

Drystone Walling
Located 22 km south of Elliston is an interesting sample of the drystone walling which was common in the area in the nineteenth century. It appears likely that the stonewalls were built by Chinese shepherds who arrived in the area after the European shepherds had left to seek their fortune on the Victorian goldfields. An excellent example of drystone walling is located at the parking bay near Tungatta Lakes. This wall was reputedly built by prisoners under the direction of a Trooper Harte and was used as a sentence for hard labour. The Tungatta Police Station, which would have house Harte and his workers, was completed in 1849.

Leo Cummings Monument Lookout
Located 60 km south of Elliston on the coast is a monument to Leo Cummings, a local who was drowned when his crayfishing boat was wrecked at the site in 1959. The importance of this lookout is that offers uninterrupted views of Point Drummond and superb views up and down the coast. The sign at the monument explains the sad story of Leo Cummings: "On 29 June 1959, near Eagles Nest, the fishing cutter 'Wangaree' was wrecked whilst retrieving craypots with the loss of crew member Leo (Lew) Cummings. The other two crew members, skipper Eric Tapley and son Barry made it ashore and were later rescued. The boat became stricken when a craypot buoy line fouled the propellor. Efforts to free the propellor were unsuccessful and when the anchor parted, the cutter was brought ashore by the sea where it struck a reef. The crew sent a radio message before jumping overboard where they struggled against strong undertow currents. Barry made it ashore, but re-entered the water to help his father who was in difficulty and successfully brought him ashore. Barry once again entered the water to help Leo who was also having difficulties, but Leo disappeared before he could get to him. Despite intensive and risky searches over the next few days in Barry was again instrumental, Leo's body was never found."

Walkers Rock
Located 13 kilometres north of Elliston Walkers Rock beach is one of the longest on the Eyre Peninsula and is known for swimming, fishing, surfing and wind surfing. Remember this area is infamous for its sharks.

Bird Watching in the District
Popular bird watching locations include Lake Newland and Venus Bay Conservation Parks which are home to more than 100 bird species including peregrine falcons, sea eagles, rock parrots, honeyeaters and over 30 species of water birds.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied Narangga Aboriginal people.

* In 1802 Matthew Flinders sailed down the coast and named the Waldegrave Islands and Anxious Bay.

* In 1840 Edward John Eyre, on his epic journey across the Nullarbor, reached the area and named Lake Newland.

* European settlers arrived in the area around 1847.

* By 1848, according to one local legend, the port had been named Waterloo Bay because some settlers rounded up a large number of local Narangga Aborigines and forced  them towards a cliff where they were confronted with either jumping to their death or being shot. Some macabre European wit decided that the Aborigines had met their Waterloo.

* An alternative version is that the bay was named Waterloo Bay in 1865 on the Golden Jubilee of the Battle of Waterloo. At the same time, and in the same spirit, Wellington and Wellesley Points were named.

* Elliston was planned and named by Governor Jervois in 1878.

* The Post Office was opened in 1880.

* The town's Police Station was opened in 1881.

* In 1900 a new jetty was built with steel pylons. It was 427 metres long.

* In the mid-1960s a Sydney-based company brought Chinese, Tahitian and Malay divers to the region to exploit the abalone beds which lay offshore.

* By 1965 road transport had replaced the port as the primary transport mode for the district.

* The Council Chambers were built in 1913.

* In 1936 the Country Women's Association built its first rooms in South Australia in the town.

* A coastal walking track was completed in 2016.


Visitor Information

Elliston Community and Visitor Information Centre, 6 Memorial Drive, tel: (08) 8687 9200.


Useful Websites

There is a good local site. Check out http://elliston.com.au. There is a downloadable brochure which can be accessed at http://www.imags.com.au/elliston_eyre_peninsula.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.