Pretty town on the shore of Lake Albert known as the northern gateway to The Coorong
Meningie is a charming holiday destination at the northern end of The Coorong which was created as a staging post for local travellers and graziers. The large number of parks beside the lake, the reeds and the large numbers of birds, all combine to make it a town of particular beauty. As a holiday destination it is popular with visitors who enjoy fishing, boating, water skiing, bushwalking and generally relaxing in a peaceful and attractive lakeside environment.
Meningie is located 149 km south-east of Adelaide on the shores of Lake Albert.^ TOP
Origin of Name
It is accepted that 'meningie' is a Ngarrindjeri word meaning 'mud'.^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Meningie Hill Lookout
Runniing off Cemetery Road and signposted at the Trees of Tribute Monument, the Meningie Hill Lookout is one of the few places on this very flat terrain which offers views over the town and across Lake Albert. The track, known as the Meningie Lions Walking Trail, is a bush track through countryside characterised by orchids in spring, over 40 native flowering plants and a variety of native animals. Check out https://southaustralia.com/products/limestone-coast/attraction/meningie-lions-walking-trail for more information.
The Pelican Path (also known as the Yunti Ngopun Ngami - Ngarrindjeri words meaning 'Together We Walk') is a 400 metres interpretative path along the waterfront (starting behind the Meningie Information Hub) which covers the European, Aboriginal and environmental history of the Meningie region. Signs explain basket weaving and fish trap inlays and and there are impressive viewing platforms.
Meningie Cheese Factory Museum
Located at 3a Fiebig Road, the Meningie Cheese Factory Museum is located in an old cheese factory. It has an extensive collection of memorabilia relating to the local fishing, dairying and agricultural industries. For more information check out https://www.meningiecheesefactorymuseum.com/about-us.
Birdman Ostrich Sculpture
Located near the town jetty is the Birdman Ostrich sculpture - there is a saddle and you can sit on it and be photographed. The story of the Birdman of the Coorong is about as strange as any story in Australia. It is the story of one of the very few bushrangers who operated in South Australia.
John Francis Peggotty was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1864. He was born three months premature and was always small. In fact, when he was living in London he was so small that he specialised in robbery by climbing down chimneys and through narrow spaces that other larger people would never have been able to use to enter houses.
When he was born his father wrote to his uncle stating “He cannot tip the scales against a medium sized bird” and when he left home, at the age of 18, his father noted “As we farewelled him I realised anew that he was the stature of a quite small boy – I cannot think what occupation he could apply himself to in which he would prosper.”
When Peggotty left Limerick in 1882 he travelled to South Africa where he learned to ride ostriches – a sport restricted to particularly small people.
By 1890 he was living in London, stole from the rich, and was eventually arrested and sentenced to 15 years which was subsequently reduced to five years.
Having served the five years he sailed to Australia where, after working briefly for his uncle in the Orange district of New South Wales, he moved to Adelaide where he formed a gang of small boys and started stealing.
It is claimed that when members of the gang were eventually caught, three years after the stealing spree began, the police found that a staggering £30,000 of gold and jewellery had been stolen.
Peggotty disappeared. It wasn’t until 1898 that he was reappeared and this time it was as a very unusual bushranger … in fact he was one of very few bushrangers to have operated in South Australia.
I’ll let Elun Hay take up the story: “He appeared at the mouth of the Murray, near the beginning of the Coorong, stripped to the waist and laden with jewellery and gold chains on his arms and chest, brandishing two adorned pistols and riding an ostrich.
“His victim was a lone traveller named James McLoughlin, and Peggotty robbed him of “two one-pound notes, a gold watch and a half-full bottle of brandy.”
“The astonished McLoughlin reported the robbery to the police, who simply refused to believe him.
“But they began to have misgivings a week later when George McBride, of Adelaide, who had been “inspecting properties for possible purchase”, reported that he had been held up by the half-naked, bejewelled, pistol-bearing ostrich rider and robbed of “17 schillings of silver”.
A party went to investigate and found along the road the “partly decomposed body of a middle-aged man with a bad wound on his forehead.” Near the body were tracks which the police normally would have taken to be emu tracks. But reasoning from the account of the two hold-up victims they could only conclude they were ostrich tracks.
“There could be no reasonable doubt that the southern Murray and Coorong districts were the haunt of a murderous man riding an ostrich. From the description given by the surviving victims, the police had little doubt the man was Peggotty.”
Hay goes on to describe why the ostrich was such an effective mount in The Coorong:
“A party of three led by Sergeant Cooper at the eastern end of the Coorong on January 10, 1899, saw a “half-naked man on a large bird like an emu with a pistol in his hand and wearing a great deal of jewellery. We first thought it was a boy because of his size, but he had a thick black short beard.”
“The police gave chase and began shooting when Peggotty loosed off one of his pistols at them.
“As soon as our horses reached the soft sand they began to founder, but the bird seemed to take speed and left us far behind. We last saw it carrying it’s rider over a high soft sand hill which our horses could not climb.”
Eventually Peggotty met his match. He tried to hold up a man named Henry Carmichael on 17 September, 1899. Carmichael, who was a crack shot, followed Peggotty, shot the bushranger and killed the ostrich.
And this is where the myth takes over: Peggotty body was never found. Does it lie somewhere in the sands of The Coorong?
Regardless, the enterprising citizens of Meningie have a statue of an ostrich and everyone who passes through can sit on the saddle and be photographed … and learn the strange story of John Francis Peggotty.
The detailed and hugely entertaining account of Peggotty’s life by Elun Hayle can be accessed at http://www.meningie.com.au/media/Birdman/Birdman%20of%20the%20Coorong%20Article%20A3.pdf.
Other Attractions in the Area
Located 12 km north of Meningie on the Princes Highway, the Pink Lake is an impressive and unusual sight. A few years ago someone put a very simple sign on a telegraph post beside the lake. It read: "The pink colouring of the lake is a chemical called carotene. It is produced by an aquatic plant, an algae (Dunaliella salina). The algae is green but releases the carotene to protect the plant from the sun's rays. The pink coloration gets more intense as the lake dries out in the summer months. The phenomena occurs around the world where salty water occurs in very shallow lakes. During World War II, carotene was put in eggs to darken the yolk to make the eggs more attractive. It has also been used as dye to colour canaries pink."
Located on Poltalloch Road, Narrung, near Meningie, Poltalloch Station was established in 1839 by Neill Malcolm who came to South Australia from Poltalloch Estate in Scotland. In the 1870s Poltalloch was purchased by John Bowman who had been in the area since he overlanded 2,000 sheep in 1839. The property has remained in the Bowman family since 1880. In 1974 it was opened for accommodation and tours. The Homestead was built in 1876. It is a beautiful Victorian mansion surrounded by a working farm which is essentially a sheep and cattle station. The outbuildings resemble a small village and include substantial stables, a coach house, barns, a woolshed and the overseer's accommodation. It is open for tours which take around 90 minutes and overnight accommodation in either the Station Hand's Cottage, the Overseer's Cottage, or the Boundary Rider's Cottage. Bookings are essential. Tel (08) 8574 0043 or check out http://poltalloch.com.au.
The Narrung ferry transports road traffic between Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina. It is necessary to take the ferry across to the Tailem Bend side of the lake to reach Portalloch Station. It is a free 24 hour service which can take 8-12 vehicles on each journey. It only takes a few minutes to cross. Check out https://coorongcountry.com.au/narrung-ferry/ for more information.
Point Malcolm Lighthouse
Located 40 km from Meningie via Portalloch, the Point Malcolm Lighthouse is not only the smallest, but also the only, inland lighthouse in Australia. It was established to help guide paddle steamers across Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina. Built in 1878 it is only seven metres high and was named after Neill Malcolm who had taken up land which subsequently became Portalloch Station.. It was built for £605. The light was finally turned off in 1931. By that time very few boats were using the lakes.
Located 43 km north-west of Meningie just beyond the entrance to Lake Albert, Raukkan is an Aboriginal settlement made famous by being the birthplace of David Unaipon, the inventor and author whose image is on the $50 note. The Raukkan Church was built in 1869. The other major attraction is the impressive mural by Guido van Helten, the artist responsible for the famous silo art at Brim in Victoria. He painted local Aboriginal faces on the wall of the Moorundi, the local Aboriginal Health Service.
Exploring The Coorong
There are three sensible ways to explore The Coorong:
(i) take a cruise from Goolwa which crosses the mouth of the Murray at Lake Alexandrina and has passengers alighting on Younghusband Peninsula, walking across to the ocean side and seeing the long, beautiful beach which runs the length of the area.
(ii) drive down the Princes Highway from Meningie stopping at the various points of interest - check out the pelicans at Jack Point, go for a walk at Salt Creek, inspect the historic ruins of the Chinaman's Well and learn about the Chinese who were dropped off to walk all the way to Victoria, visit 42 Mile Crossing. Stop at lookouts and admire the rich birdlife of the Coorong lagoon.
(iii) if you are driving a 4WD cross over the sand dunes (42 Mile Crossing is the most convenient access point) and marvel at the beauty of the long beach
The Coorong is famed for its spectacular birdlife displays. The lakes are home to populations of egrets, cranes, swans, pelicans, wood ducks, sandpipers, terns, white-faced herons, ibis, kites, galahs, rosellas, wattlebirds, red necked avocets, purple swamphens, grebes, spoonbills and currawongs. It has been estimated that there are more than 240 species of bird have been observed on The Coorong with some migrating from as far away as Siberia, China and Japan. There is a map, with pictures of many of the birds, which can be downloaded at https://coorongcountry.com.au/coorong-birdwatchers-trail.
The Coorong is home to western grey kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, possums, a variety of snakes and there are mulloway, mullet and bream in the waters of the lagoon.
Camp Coorong, owned and operated by the local Ngarrindjeri people, is located 11 km south of Meningie. Here is the description of its aims taken from the website: "At Camp Coorong we offer various activities we feel will suit any person or group wishing to learn more about Aboriginal History, Arts, Crafts and the environment within the Ngarrindjeri region. The idea of the development of Camp Coorong was a vision that we, the Ngarrindjeri people, had back in 1985. We believed that we must have a place where people can come to learn about our heritage and culture. We also believed that this would lead to non-Aboriginal people developing a better understanding of our Ngarrindjeri traditions and our relationships to the land, waters, trees, plants and animals. At Camp Coorong, to develop better understandings, we tell of our traditions and our way of life before European invasion of our lands, We teach the ways that my ancestors lived. We take groups out on field trips upon the land talking about places that are important to us. We teach our Ngarrindjeri basket-weaving techniques. We tell of our stories relating to the land, waters, trees, plants, birds and animals--people call them our dreaming stories." For more information check out https://www.ngarrindjeri.org.au/camp-coorong.
* Prior to European settlement the area around Wellington was home to the Ngarrindjeri people. They made bark and reed canoes and lived on the fish and the animals which came to the riverbank.
* The first European into the area was Captain Charles Sturt who, being assigned to solve the great mystery of why so many rivers flowed westward from the Great Dividing Range rowed a whale boat down the Murrumbidgee in late 1829 and reached the mouth of the Murray River on 9 February, 1830.
* By the 1830s the whole area along the Murray was opened up particularly by overlanders who moved sheep and cattle across the land.
* In 1842 there was an estimated 3,200 Aborigines living along the Coorong.
* In the 1850s a coaching route from Adelaide to Melbourne traversed The Coorong. Travellers crossed the mouth of the Murray by paddle steamers which travelled between Meningie and Milang.
* The town was surveyed in 1866 and land was offered for sale.
* A jetty was opened in 1867 and the town operated as a port.
* A school was opened in 1869.
* By 1874 there were only 511 Aborigines living in the area - they had been decimated by smallpox and casual killings by the settlers.
* A local AFL football club was formed in 1890.
* In 1936 the town's port operations stopped.
* In 1976 the local newspaper, The Lakelander, published its first edition.
* Today, with modern agricultural methods of irrigation and cropping, the Meningie district is known for its dairy industry and irrigated crops. The town also has a large fishing fleet.^ TOP
Coorong Cottage Industries & Lakes Hub, 14 Princes Highway, tel: (08) 8575 1770. Open 10.00 am - 4.30 pm and Meningie Information Hub, 49 Princes Highway, tel: 1300 785 277, Open Monday-Friday 8.30 am - 5.00 pm.^ TOP
The local council website has useful information about the town. Check out https://www.coorong.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=1969. As well the dedicated local site - http://www.meningie.com.au - has a useful downloadable brochure on the area.^ TOP