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Kingston SE, SA

Attractive fishing and lobster port on the South Australian South Coast

Kingston South East is an historic port which is now a holiday destination famous for its lobsters. It is the home of the Larry the Big Lobster, a genuinely famous and well known "Big Thing". It is also, because of its location on Lacepede Bay, a town known for its safe beaches and outstanding national parks both of which are home to seals, dolphins and sea lions.


Kingston SE is located 294 km south east of Adelaide via the Princes Highway through Murray Bridge and Meningie.


Origin of Name

The town of Kingston (it only became Kingston South East to distinguish it from Kingston-on-Murray) was named after the government surveyor, George Strickland Kingston, an Irish-born architect and politician, by the Governor of South Australia, Governor McDonnell, in 1858. A decade later there was still confusion with the district being variously named Lacepede Bay, Maria Creek, Port Caroline and Kingston.


Things to See and Do

Self Guided Walk 
There is a useful brochure titled Kingston: Historic Kingston Starts Here which can be downloaded at https://www.kingstondc.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/17746%20Kingston%20Historic%20Trail%20Brochure_P6.pdf. It lists 25 buildings and locations of historic interest in the town. The most interesting and significant include:

1. Cape Jaffa Lighthouse
The Cape Jaffa lighthouse was built in 1868-1872 on Margaret Brock Reef, 8 km from Cape Jaffa and 19 km south of Kingston SE. The Margaret Brock Reef was already known to be both dangerous and deadly. It had been responsible for three wrecks: the Maria in 1840, the Margaret Brock in 1852 and the Agnes in 1865. The lighthouse was an unusual wood and iron construction which was built between 1868-72 by George Wells and William King. The design consisted of a prefabricated iron tower mounted on a platform. Twenty-three slender iron screw piles were sunk 3 metres into the reef to support a timber platform. Above this rose a large two-storey corrugated iron building topped by the hexagonal light tower, rising over 40m above the sea. One of the magnifying lens weighed 2 tonnes. By 1973, shipping from the port of Kingston had declined and the ageing light was taken out of service. Recognising the historical significance of the lighthouse, and that its prefabricated structure made it portable, the Commonwealth Department of Transport assisted in dismantling the tower and quarters, complete with the light, and removing it by helicopter and lighthouse tender to Kingston, where it was re-erected on the foreshore by the Kingston Branch of the National Trust. The completed lighthouse was officially handed over to the Trust on 24 January 1976, 104 years to the day after it was commissioned. It was the first lighthouse on the Australian coast to be dismantled and brought to the mainland. The Cape Jaffa lighthouse now stands on the Kingston foreshore as a major landmark and tourist attraction. It is open to the public during school holidays from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm or by arrangement. Tel: (08) 8767 2036.

3. The Customs and Harbour master’s House
Located at the ocean end of Hanson Street, this simple building was designed by Colonial Architect C.E.O. Smyth and built in 1880 as the town's Customs House. When the rail to Adelaide and Melbourne opened in 1887 the port fell into decline and it became the Harbour Master's residence. In 2019 it was under repair.

4. The Old Wool Store
Located on Hanson Street over the road from the Engine House it is now a cafe and restaurant, The Old Wool Store moved wool bales from the inland rail network to ships berthed in Lacepede Bay. Note the curved doorway which enabled rail trucks to enter the building.

5. The Royal Mail Hotel
Located on Hanson Street, the Royal Mail opened in 1867 and, during the time Kingston SE was a busy port, it served the workers in the wool stores and the railway station. The original building has been modernised but it still remains remarkable intact.

6. The Old Court House
Located at 2 Hanson Street, the Court House was completed in 1869-70 and is characterised by high ceilings, some very unusually shaped doors and particularly attractive windows.

7. The Telegraph Station and Kingston Post Office
Located at 1 Hanson Street, the Telegraph Station was built in 1866 and opened in 1867. The attractive design came from the Colonial Architect's Office and the builders were Hodson & Johns. In 1982 it was chosen to appear on a special Commonwealth stamp issue.

8. The Old Gaol and Police Station
Located in Cooke Street, the former Police Station and gaol was built in 1865 to a design by the Colonial Architect, W. Hanson. It was completed in 1866. The signage outside explains: "It features a semi-walled design, with the residence and police station facing Cooke Street and cells accessed from a separate rear entrance, with a detached stable block beyond."

10. The Old Bank House
Located on the corner of Hanson Street and Cooke Street, the old Bank House includes an impressive entrance door, formal symmetrical design and excellent stone masonry. It was built in 1876 and opened as the Bank of South Australia. It became the Union Bank in 1892. The Union Bank was converted into an agency in 1897 but returned to full bank status in 1923. It became to Union Bank of Australasia in 1951 and the ANZ Bank in 1970.

11. J J Jarman’s Sawmill Complex
The Kingston SE National Trust Museum is housed in the former J J Jarman’s Sawmill and General Merchandise building at 23 Cooke Street. The National Trust website explains: "The museum displays many examples of household items used by early settlers including kitchen and laundry memorabilia, telephones and typewriters as well as agricultural equipment, saddlery and horse drawn vehicles, tractors and small engines. There is also a small collection of Aboriginal artefacts and a display telling the story of the fishing industry, one of Kingston’s principle trades from the 19th century. In addition, there are interesting examples from the bark tanning industry, unique to this area from the 1870s when black wattle bark was collected and ground into powder to tan leather. The ship wreck display includes one of the most significant items in the museum’s collection, the 8 foot anchor from the Margaret Brock, the coastal trading ship that was wrecked on its way to Melbourne from Port Adelaide in 1852 after striking an offshore reef south of Guichen Bay. The reef is now known as the Margaret Brock Reef." It is open during school holidays from 10.00 am - noon and can be opened by appointment, tel: 0417 174 815. Check out https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/kingston-national-trust-museum.

14. Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Located at 59 Agnes Street, this simple church dating from 1873 was originally built as a Congregational Church. Over the years it has had its belfry removed and tie rods installed following the earthquake of 1897. It has been used continuously since it opened.

15. The Uniting (formerly Wesleyan Methodist) Church
Located on Holland Street and originally established as a Wesleyan Methodist church, this simple whitewashed church was opened in 1887 and the roof was ripped off by a storm just before it opened.  However it has remained as a church, now a Uniting Church, ever since.

Kingston SE - The Beach Starts Here
This brochure - Kingston SE - The Beach Starts Here, available at the Visitor Centre, duplicates some of the historic places on the Historic Kingston brochure but also includes important tourist attractions including the Big Lobster, the Sundial of Human Involvement and Kevs Kollections.

Of particular interest are:
2. The Engine House
Located in the park off Hanson Street, the Engine House is a simple building purpose-designed to house the engine which provided electricity for the town until 1974. The engine was shipped out from England in 1946 and it is estimated it operated for over 100,000 hours.

3. The Jetty
The water off the coast from Kingston SE is so shallow that when the town's first jetty was built in 1864-65, it was 511 feet (155 metres) long, and it ended in water which was only a little over 1 metre deep. In 1876 a second jetty - 4000 feet long (1,219 metres) - was built and reached water which was 5 metres deep. It was the victim of storms from the Southern Ocean and was frequently damaged. It was wrecked in 1923, rebuilt and then wrecked again in 1958 by a severe storm and, after that, it was shortened to the length it is today.

6. Sundial of Human Involvement and Sculptures on Maria Creek Island.
The Sundial of Human Involvement, correctly known as an Analemmatic Sundial, is located at Maria Creek adjacent to Apex Park. When it was completed it was one of only eight in the world. The sculptures which surround it were created by the  sculptor in residence, a South Australian artist, Silvio Apponyi. The huge centrepiece is an elephant seal and cub. There is also a blue-tongued lizard and a Japanese crab carved from granite rocks. The aim was to involve local citizens in the sculpture. People would bring fish, crabs, frogs, lizards, seaweed, shells and even dead birds to Apponyi and suggest that he sculpt them. Part of the unique appeal was that the sculptures behaved as though they were living creatures. Some of them crept away from Maria Creek. There is a shingle-back lizard behind the Wood Hut craft shop, a mulloway in the town's Lions Park and a kangaroo near the Aboriginal burial ground at the north-western corner of the town. The island also has a memorial to Queen Ethel the area's last full blood Aboriginal who died as recently as 1954.

7. The Big Lobster
Standing 17 metres high and made out of fibreglass this is a seriously big object which can be justified by the fact that Kingston SE is one of Australia's best lobster/crayfish fishing areas. The whole structure is secured by guy wires and it stands 15.2 metres from mouth to tail and has a leg span of 13.7 metres. It was the idea of Ian Backler, a local lobster fisherman who, at the time, was the President of the Australian Fisheries Council. He owned the land which was located next door to the Kingston Lobster Motel and wanted to build a very inclusive tourist centre with something to attract the attention of passing motorists. Backler chose a large lobster, had it stuffed by a taxidermist, and commissioned Paul Kelly (he had designed the Big Scotty in North Adelaide) who took six months to build the supra-big thing. It was planned to be positioned over the front entrance to the building but this did not meet council requirements. Kelly took six months in a specially rented warehouse in suburban Adelaide to build the monster. He used welded steel which he covered with hessian, sprayed with polystyrene foam and carved into shape. There is a wonderful rumour that Kelly misunderstood Ian Backler’s instructions. Backler had given the measurements in feet. Kelly built the lobster in metres. In other words it is about three times larger than was originally intended. It required three semi-trailers to move the lobster which, by this time, had been painted and carefully moulded with fibreglass. It was assembled on site and on 15 December, 1979 it was formally “opened” by the Premier of South Australia, David Tonkin. For the next five years (until he sold it in 1984) Ian Backler enjoyed huge success. People came from great distances to see the huge Big Thing and to buy lobster aprons, lobster back scratchers, lobster crucifixes, watch A Day in the life of a Lobster Fisherman with Ian narrating, and, of course, to eat local lobster, caught by Backler, in the appropriately named Lobster Pot Bistro and Restaurant.


Other Attractions in the Area

Cape Jaffa
Located 22 km south-west of Kingston SE, Cape Jaffa stands at the southern tip of Lacepede Bay and is known for its excellent marina and its lobster fleet which returns to the anchorage with their daily catches of crayfish. Each day, at approximately 1.00 pm., the fishermen return with their crayfish.

Mount Scott Conservation Park
This park, located 20 km east of Kingston SE on the road to Keith, has richly diverse flora and fauna. The Mount Gambier website, which offers a detailed map and park information, notes that the park has "A number of animals native to the area can be seen at the conservation park. They include the silky mouse, the common wombat as well as the western grey kangaroo. The red-necked wallaby is also common within the park. Tourists who love bird-watching will be enthralled to learn of the numerous bird species present at Mount Scott Conservation Park. One of the most exciting sightings for bird watchers is that of the rare Mallee Fowl, which is native to this area." Check out https://www.mountgambierpoint.com.au/attractions/mount-scott-conservation-park for more information.

Butcher's Gap Conservation Park
Located 6 km south of Kingston SE this park contains wetlands and dense coastal vegetation. The Parks SA website notes: "Butcher Gap Conservation Park is one of the last remaining significant coastal scrubs between the Coorong and Robe. This wetland area, encompassing Salt Lake and Butcher Lake, is separated by the Butcher Gap Drain which brings large amounts of fresh water from the farmlands, through the park and out to sea. The park attracts an array of wildlife throughout the year. Seasonal waterbirds such as swans and white-faced herons frequent the lakes, while small bush birds may be seen along the park's scenic walking trails." Check out https://www.parks.sa.gov.au/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Limestone_Coast/butcher-gap-conservation-park." There is an excellent and detailed brochure which has a map describing walks in the park. Check out the "See and Do" section of the website.

Long Beach
Long Beach is located to the north of Kingston SE. It is approximately 100 km long and connects with the superb, lonely beach that is the coastal edge of The Coorong. The excellent Beach Safe site (see https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/sa/kingston/west-range/long-beach-south) describes the beach as "Long Beach (south) ... is a 15 km long section of relatively straight, low flat beach, extending north to The Granites. Wave average 0.5 m at the Drain and are 1 m high by the northern end of this section. Because of the firm beach sand 2WD and as well as 4WD often use this beach. The beach is low and wide, particularly at low tide and fronted by a shallow surf zone which gradually widens to the north. As it does so a second bar forms off the beach, while rip currents and channels begin to cut the inner bar." It provides detailed information about swimming, surfing and fishing.

The Granites
Located 21 km north of Kingston SE, and clearly signposted off the Old Coorong Road, are The Granites, a collection of rocks which are the only break on the 90 Mile Beach (actually it is 160 km long) that stretches along The Coorong and south to Kingston SE. They are, according to Beach Safe, "a few 2 m high rounded granite knobs that lie in the intertidal swash zone". For more information check out https://beachsafe.org.au/beach/sa/kingston/west-range/the-granites. There is a car park and a viewing platform at the beach.



* Before the arrival of Europeans, the area was settled by the Ngarranjeri First Nations people who lived along the Coorong.

* The first Europeans to make contact with this stretch of coastline were itinerant sealers who drifted along the coast searching for seals and sea lions and treating the Ngarrandjeri people with considerable violence.

*  On 7 April, 1802 the French explorer Nicolas Baudin reached, and named, Lacepede Bay.

* On 8 April, 1802 Matthew Flinders met Baudin off the mouth of the Murray River.

* By the 1830s sealers from Van Diemen's Land were visiting the coast.

* By 1839 teams of explorers were moving through the district. Overlanded cattle was being herded through the district.

* The district was the subject of a much publicised tragedy in 1840 when the Maria was wrecked off the coast. The Maria left Adelaide bound for Hobart on 26 June, 1840. On 28 June it was wrecked off the coast near Lacepede Bay but the crew and passengers managed to get to shore. It appears that the sailors began trying to take advantage of the local Aboriginal women. As a form of reprisal 25 of the 26 survivors were killed. One young girl survived and was looked after by the Ngarranjeri people until eventually handed over to Europeans.

* Savage reprisals followed with massacres and damper being laced with poison.

* By 1847 there was a track from Adelaide to Melbourne which passed near the current site of Kingston.

* A private town named Kingston was established Archibald and James Cooke who took up land near Maria Creek in 1856.

* The town was named after the government surveyor, George Strickland Kingston, by the Governor of South Australia, Governor McDonnell, and officially proclaimed in 1858.

* By 1860 a jetty was under construction.

* In 1861 the government surveyed a town which they called Kingston.

* In 1863 a bridge was built across Maria Creek.

* In 1865 the port was proclaimed. It was named Port Caroline.

* The local Post Office opened in 1869.

* The Cape Jaffa lighthouse was completed in 1872.

* The Lacepede District Council was proclaimed in 1873.

* The railway from Naracoorte reached the town in 1876.

* A public school was opened in 1880.

* Prince George and Prince Albert stayed at Otter House in 1881.

* A new jetty was built in 1881. It was 4,005 feet long.

* On 10 May 1897 the town was hit by South Australia's worst earthquake.

* In 1940 it was changed from Kingston to Kingston SE to distinguish it from Kingston-on-Murray.

* The Kingston Weekly was first published in 1946.

* Queen Ethel, reputedly the last full blooded Aborigine in the district, died in 1954.

* In 1958 the jetty was seriously damaged by a storm.

* The Cape Jaffa lighthouse was decommissioned in 1973.

* in 2021 Larry the Lobster was declared No.1 Big Thing in a national survey of Big Things.

* Today Kingston South East is a charming coastal town which is an ideal holiday destination for people seeking somewhere which is quiet and peaceful.


Visitor Information

Kingston SE Visitor Information Outlet, 29 Holland Street, tel: (08) 8767 2033. Open 8.30 am - 5.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.kingstondc.sa.gov.au/discover.

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