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Naracoorte, SA

South Australian town famous for Naracoorte Caves Conservation Park

Naracoorte is a substantial rural service centre located midway between Adelaide and Melbourne. It has achieved considerable fame because of the importance of the impressive Naracoorte Caves. It lies inland from the state's Limestone Coast. In recent times the area to the south of the town has seen the development of a significant wine industry with extensive vineyards being planted at Koppamurra.


Naracoorte is located 333 km south-east of Adelaide via Murray Bridge and is 63 metres above sea level.


Origin of Name

There is considerable confusion about the name of the town. It is known that it is derived from a First Nations word but few people agree on the spelling and there are arguments about the meaning. Over the years it has been spelt Gnanga-kurt, Nanna-coorta, Narcoot, Nancoota, Narricourt, Narcoota, Narracoorte and Naracoorte. The meaning has ranged from  "place of running water" to "large waterhole" and some have suggested it referred to a specific waterhole in the area.


Things to See and Do

Naracoorte's Heritage Buildings
Naracoorte has a number of impressive, heritage listed buildings. The Naracoorte Historical Walk lists 18 places of particular interest of which the most interesting include:

1-3. The Sheep's Back Museum
Located at 36 MacDonnell Street, The Sheep's Back Wool Museum and Visitor Information Office is a combination of a gift shop, the Limestone Landscapes Gallery and The Sheep's Back Wool Museum which is a history of wool and sheep which is spread over three floors of the old flour mill and a number of other buildings. The mill was built in 1868, powered by water from the nearby creek, and continued to operate until 1936. A sign outside explains "This mill was built by David Simpson in 1868. It was designed by WT Gore and built by Smith and Agar, using red gum from the Hynam Forest and local limestone. It was powered at first by a steam engine with two pairs of grinding stones. The stone chimney was later destroyed by the earthquake of 1897 ... it was sold to the Naracoorte Historical and Restoration Society in 1971, and became the property of the National Trust of SA in 1985." There are a total of 12 buildings on the site which include the flour mill, a big shed, the Kybybolite school building, Pallant's woolshed, the windmills, Hynam Post Office, the bullocky shed, the open shed and the work shed. The Limestone Landscape Gallery deals with the geology of the South Australian-Victorian border with displays of the Limestone Coast, the Naracoorte Caves, the volcanoes at Mount Gambier and Millicent. There is a very comprehensive and detailed overview of the museum at http://thesheepsbackmuseum.org.au. The museum is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Saturday and Sunday. Tel: (08) 8762 1399.

6. Pioneer Park
Located on MacDonnell Street, this pleasant park is notable for the well preserved 1877 VP Class Steam Locomotive. It is the oldest steam locomotive in South Australia. The council website explains its importance: "V9 was lead engine in a class of four light, narrow gauge locomotives built by Beyer Peacock (Manchester UK), for the new Kingston – Naracoorte line.  Ordered by the SA Government, V9-12 were constructed in 1875 and delivered, crated, in 1876.  Re-assembled in Kingston, V9 first steamed over the new line on 9th December 1876. (Four more engines, V143 – 146 were built in SA in 1893). V Class were 0-4-4BT (Back Tank) engines based on an American design Beyer Peacock had modified for Norwegian Railways, but 25% smaller.  This design maintains a consistent weight and traction effort over the driving wheels on the light track, which at 35 lbs/yd, was the lightest used in SA. The new line was celebrated when V9 successfully hauled a special New Year’s Day 1877 Picnic Outing to Kingston carrying around 500 passengers in open wagons with the town band playing!" For more information about the park and the engine check out https://www.naracoortelucindale.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=607&t=uList&ulistId=0&c=8611.

8. National Bank
Located on the corner of Smith Street and Ormerod Street, a branch of the National Bank was opened in 1867, the first bank in the town. This impressive two storey bank and residence was built in 1873 and renovated in 1954 and 1980. In 1986 the exterior on the building was restored. It is now a branch of the National Australia Bank.

9. Naracoorte Town Hall
Located at 93 Smith Street, the eastern side of the Town Hall, originally an institute, was built in 1876 followed by the hall in which was built in 1879, providing seating for 700. The building was renovated in 1970 and again in 1990-1993 and is still a popular venue for weddings, concerts, functions and special occasions. It has an impressive auditorium and a pleasant function room which can hold up to 200 guests. For more information check out http://www.naracoortelucindale.sa.gov.au/naracoortetownhall.

10. Naracoorte Historic Precinct
An impressive collection of buildings and historic relics have been designated an Historic Precinct. They surround the Town Square and include the the site of the Caledonian Inn (the town’s first building), The Naracoorte Hotel, the Naracoorte Lucindale Council Office (Windera), the Kincraig Hotel formerly the site of ‘Under-The-Verandahs’, Church Hill, Aitcheson Grieve’s Blacksmith Shop, the Rivoli Picture Theatre and the ANZ Bank. For more details check out https://southaustralia.com/products/limestone-coast/attraction/naracoorte-heritage-trail or get information from the Visitor Information Centre. The buildings all have informational signage outside.

11. Naracoorte Council - Commercial Bank of South Australia Building
Located on the corner of DeGaris Place and Smith Street,  this impressive single-storey building, now the District Council of Naracoorte Office, is listed in the SA Heritage Places Database which offers a fascinating history: "The Commercial Bank of South Australia was established in 1878 during a period of economic optimism in the colony, and the Naracoorte Branch, when opened a year later, was one of its first country branches. In 1884 the Branch moved into these new purpose-built premises, comprising a finely detailed single storey banking chamber and attached manager's residence, designed for the Bank by F W Dancker. However, less than two years later a sensational scandal arising from the embezzlement of nearly three thousand pounds precipitated the collapse of the Commercial Bank, and the building was sold. The Commercial Bank of Australia, based in Melbourne, occupied the building briefly before it too was forced to close during to the Australia-wide depression of the 1890s. The building then became a residence (known as 'Windera') and was associated with two prominent local families over many years, before being purchased by the District Council of Naracoorte in 1968. The building and its intricate wrought iron fence is architecturally significant as a fine example of late Victorian Classical revival architecture of a quality of construction and degree of external decoration not often found in country South Australia." Check out http://maps.sa.gov.au/heritagesearch/HeritageItem.aspx?p_heritageno=16281 for more details.

13. St Paul's Anglican Church
Located at 2 Laurie Crescent, St Paul's Anglican Church was built out of local limestone in 1880. Note particularly the historic lychgate which is now a war memorial. There is more information at https://www.churchesaustralia.org/list-of-churches/denominations/anglican/directory/1524-st-pauland%2339%3Bs-anglican-church.

15. St Andrew's Presbyterian Church
Located at 6 Church Street, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church was completed in 1874 and replaced an earlier Presbyterian Church which was built in 1856. It was built as a limestone structure in a Gothic design with memorial windows at a cost of £3,000. The slate roof on the spire was replaced with aluminium in 1953 and again in 1990. For more information check out http://www.churchhistories.net.au/church-catalog/naracoorte-sa-st-andrews-presbyterian.

Other Buildings and Places of Interest
Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery
Located at 91 Omerod Street, the Naracoorte Regional Art Gallery was the first regional art gallery in South Australia. Established in 1968 and housed in an elegant Georgian home. It houses a permanent collection of Australian art and has regular exhibitions. It is open Wednesday to Friday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm and weekends from 10.00 am - 3.00 pm. Tel: 0478 609 868. Check out https://www.naracoorteartgallery.com for more details.

Mini Jumbuk Factory
Located at 61 Smith Street, the Mini Jumbuk factory began operation in 1975 and since then has established a reputation for superb quilts, mattress toppers, pillows, blankets and protectors. They manufacture and sell a range of woollen products which they claim are the "best bedding products" in the world. For more details and opening times contact (08) 8762 3677 or check out https://www.minijumbuk.com.au.

The Mural on the Naracoorte Police Station
There is an impressive mural on the front of the Naracoorte Police Station on Smith Street which was painted in 2000 by an artist going by the name of I Can Art. On his/her Facebook page is an explanation: "Here’s a community mural I painted with the community of Naracoorte back in 2000. The only Police station to be legally graffitied on ... hahaha. It was commissioned by SAPOL to celebrate 150 years of policing in South Australia. Designed paint by numbers so the community could come and paint with me. About 400 did including young offenders."

Red Tailed Black Cockatoos on the Toilets
Located on Bank Place at the toilets on Town Square, are flying red-tailed black cockatoos. They were painted in 2018 by Geoff Carran who has become widely recognised for his unique paintings of Australian birds and plants, and his work has been exhibited throughout Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, London and New York. He painted the huge mural in about ten days. It was funded by the Naracoorte Lucindale Council which explained the purpose of the mural: “As a successful applicant of Naracoorte Lucindale Council’s Community Art Fund Round 2, the mural project supports the achievement of the Community Art Framework and Council’s Strategic Plan to use art to create a sense of place and identity, and enrich the cultural identity of our district.”



Other Attractions in the Area

Struan House
Located on Struan House Road 16 km south of Naracoorte via the Riddoch Highway, Struan House is a hugely impressive two storey mansion with 40 main rooms. It was  built between 1873-75 for Henry Smith and Thomas Agar. Designed by W.T. Coke it is a fine example of a Victorian mansion (many of the rooms have beautiful marble mantelpieces) and is now part of the Regional Veterinary Laboratory for the South Australian Department of Agriculture. There is an excellent, and very detailed, plan of the building which can be downloaded at http://www.pir.sa.gov.au/aghistory/dept_of_agriculture_as_an_organisation/locations/struan/struan_house_tour_notes. It is open during office hours but it is advisable to tel: (08) 8762 9100.

Bool Lagoon Game Reserve and Hacks Lagoon Conservation Park
Bool Lagoon can be accessed 27 km south of Naracoorte via Riddoch Highway and Bool Lagoon Road. Bool Lagoon is recognised as one of the largest and most diverse freshwater lagoon systems in southern Australia. It is home to a wide range of wildlife and provides essential drought refuge for many rare and endangered bird species.
There are a number of walks all of which are ideal for viewing the 150 bird species who spend time on the two lagoons -the larger Bool Lagoon and the smaller Hacks Lagoon.
The Tea-Tree Boardwalk which extends 500 metres over the wetlands can pass by the nest areas of ibis, spoonbills, and brolgas. Note the weathered Tea Trees and listen to the insects and frogs which inhabit the lagoon.
Further along is the Gahnia Walk which is 300 metres return (only ten minutes) which passes through tussocks, reeds and Tea Trees and offers and opportunity to view the small birds that live in the wetlands.
On one side of Hacks Lagoon Conservation Park is the 1.4 km (45 minutes return) Pat-om Walk where an overflow attracts literally hundreds of birds and the Gunawar Walk (1.5 km, one hour) crosses a boardwalk to Hacks Island which is the home for a variety of birds, reptiles, frogs, elusive water-rats and many aquatic insects. The visitor can expect to see sharp-tailed sandpipers (which fly thousands of kilometres to the freshwater lake), brolgas, mallards, Cape Barren geese, freckled duck, pied goose and the largest colony of ibis in South Australia. The lagoon area has picnic and barbecue facilities as well as camping between Bool and Hacks Lagoon. There is an excellent brochure which can be downloaded from the National Parks page - https://www.parks.sa.gov.au/find-a-park/Browse_by_region/Limestone_Coast/bool-lagoon-hacks-lagoon#maps.

Naracoorte Caves
Located 12 km south-east for 12 km of Naracoorte via Riddoch Highway and Wonambi Road, the  Naracoorte Caves Park is one of only three fossil sites in Australia to be given an official World Heritage Listing. 
There is a two simple reasons why the caves are so important: (i) they are caves on a flat landscape and therefore were caves that both animals and humans fell into and couldn’t get out of – nature created them as traps (ii) the animals that fell into the holes and died in the caves became a uniquely important record of such exotica as giant kangaroos, large marsupial lions and giant wombats which once roamed the area. In the case of the Victoria Fossil Cave a staggering 130 different species of mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs have been discovered. In other words, it is a repository of near-perfect fossilized skeletons of ancient megafauna.
The fossils, dating back 200,000 years, have been recognised as one of the richest collections of Pleistocene fossils in the world. Today the caves are an important breeding site for bent-wing bats.
There are 28 caves in the area. There are four caves which are open for inspection and the Stick-Tomato cave can be explored on a self-guided tour.
In December 1998 the $4 million Wonambi Fossil Centre was opened.  The Caves have a very detailed website. Check out https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au.
The Naracoorte Caves Conservation Park covers 410 hectares has powered sites, an excellent cafe (the Caves Cafe), toilets, barbecue facilities, picnic tables, walks, guided cave tours, picnicking, bunk style accommodation and camping. For details check out https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au/plan-your-visit.

Wonambi Fossil Centre
An ideal starting place for any comprehensive overview of the caves, the Wonambi Fossil Centre features robotic recreations of the animals which have been found as fossils in the caves. The robotic recreations allow visitors to imagine what the ancient marsupial lion and giant echidna looked like. In total there are are 17 robotic animals including a Diprotodon, a Phascolarctos (a giant koala) and a Thylacaleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion).

Stick-Tomato Cave
The Stick-Tomato Cave is the only cave in the complex which can be visited without a guide. It is an easy self-guided walk with an automated lighting system. There are two chambers: the first has natural light filters through tree ferns and the second is dark. There are about 20 steps leading down into the cave. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm daily.

1. Alexandra Cave
The Alexandra Cave is 210 metres long and was first discovered in 1908 by the forester, W. Reddan. It is recognised as containing the most beautiful limestone formations in the district. It has the full range of stalactites, stalagmites, helactites, straws, columns and flow stones. The cave's major attractions include the 'Mirror Pool' (stalactites, straws, white flowstone), 'Shower Pool ' (superb display of straws), 'Wedding Cake' and the 'Butcher's Shop'. There are two tours daily - both last 30 minutes. For details of times and prices check out https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au/discover/under-the-ground/alexandra-cave.

2. Victoria Fossil Cave
The Victoria Fossil Cave was a trap for animals for over 200,000 years. Since its discovery it has been a rich source of literally thousands of bones and fossils revealing the presence of giant kangaroos, marsupial lions and giant wombats which once roamed the area and presumably fell into the caves. Ninety-three different species of mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs have now been found in the cave. It was not discovered until 1969 when members of the Caves Exploration Group of South Australia squeezed through a 25 cm hole. The main section of the cave had been open to the public since 1897 having been found three years before. The fossil section of the cave was open to the public in 1971. The website (https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au/discover/under-the-ground/victoria-fossil-cave) explains: "On the tour you’ll walk through magnificent speleothem chambers (e.g. stalactites, stalagmites and helectites) on the way to the Fossil Chamber. Your guide will tell you all about the accumulation of bones in the caves, excavation techniques, current research and World Heritage. You'll also get the chance to analyse complete skeletons of megafauna species. About 400 metres of this cave has a developed pathway and constructed stairs. There are about 50 steps into the cave and a steep sloping path out of it, but the walk is relatively easy." The tours (there are two daily)  last an hour.

3. Bat Centre and Bat Tour
The Bat Tour starts at the Bat Observation Centre which allows visitors to see a significant nursery chamber for the endangered southern bent-wing bat. These remarkable creatures head off each night on eating forays. They can eat up to half their bodyweight every day. The Bat Tour, which takes around an hour and goes twice daily, then enters the Blanche Cave. For more details, prices and times, check out https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au/discover/under-the-ground/bat-centre-and-blanche-cave.

4. Blanche Cave
The Blanche Cave was the first cave in the complex to be discovered. It was found by a group of local settlers who were trying to recover some sheep which had reputedly been stolen by Aborigines. Benjamin Sanders, a local station manager, found some of the sheep in the cave. It is also true that around this time the body of an Aborigine was found in the cave. The body had become calcified and consequently it became known as the 'Petrified Native'. The story is told that they body was stolen by a travelling showman who put it on display. He was caught. The body was returned but, so the story goes, the showman stole it again and it was never recovered. The cave was damaged because, as early as the 1860s, it was used by locals for parties and picnics. It wasn't until 1885 that the government decided to preserve the cave. The cave's main features include features known as 'The Ram', 'The Post Office' and 'The Big Column'.

Walks near the Caves
There are four walking trails in the Naracoorte Caves National Park. See https://www.naracoortecaves.sa.gov.au/discover/above-the-ground/walking-trails for details.

Rooftop Loop Walk
The 850m-long Rooftop Loop Walk links the Wonambi Fossil Centre with the Bat Observation Centre, Bat Cave and Blanche Cave. It has been purpose built for people who use wheelchairs and walkers, families with small children, and people who cannot go underground - the walk is greatly enhanced by megafauna figurines, interpretative signage, cave markers and viewing platforms. It is also for the able bodied. 

World Heritage Walk
There are two walks - one is 1.2 km one way and takes about 30 minutes, the other is 2.2 km one way and takes about an hour - which depart from the Wonambi Fossil Centre and go to the Victoria Fossil Cave. The signage details information about the World Heritage of the area.

Stoney Point Hike
Taking about one hour and involving a 2.7 km loop from the Wonambi Fossil Centre this is a nature walk which passes along Mosquito Creek, tracks through a Red River Gum forreest and a Stringybark Forest and, if the walker is lucky, will come across western grey kangaroos, wombats and echidnas.

Limestone Cliffs Hike
Leading off the Stoney Point Hike, and taking about 30 minutes return (it is 1.4 km return) the limestone cliffs, as the name suggests, passes outcrops of limestone.



* Prior to European settlement it is believed the Meintangk First Nation peoples lived in the district. 

* The area was settled in 1843 by the pioneer squatter George Ormerod. 

* In 1845 William MacIntosh, a prosperous Scot who owned most of the land around the site of the present township, decided to establish a township. He named the town Kincraig after his birthplace in Scotland and built a hotel and store to attract settlers.

* In 1847 the government established a settlement in the area which it called Narracoorte.

* In 1849 both Macintosh and Ormerod purchased their holdings.

* In the 1850s the town became an important stopping point for gold escorts making their way across South Australia. It became an important stopover point for miners moving to and from the diggings. In one year more than 7000 Chinese passed through the town on their way to the diggings.

* The post office was opened in 1853.

* A blacksmith set up his shop in Kincraig in 1854.

* The first Presbyterian Church was built in 1856.

* In 1862 a road was built from Naracoorte to Mount Gambier for £4,000.

* In 1869 Kincraig was officially absorbed into Naracoorte. At the time it was recorded that "Kincraig, Narracoorte, Skyetown and Mosquito Plains ... these several names refer to one township ... had decided to adopt one name Narracoorte". 

* Local government was proclaimed in 1870 when the town had a population of around 900. 

* It wasn't until 1875 that it had its first newspaper - the Narracoorte Herald. 

* The railway reached Naracoorte from Kingston in 1876. 

* The Tatiara and Lawloit News paper started in 1908.

* The town became a municipality in 1924. 

* Today it is a thriving rural centre serving the rich farmlands which surround it. 


Visitor Information

Naracoorte Visitor Information Centre, 36 MacDonnell Street, tel: 1800 244 421 or (08) 8762 1399. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm on weekends.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website with information about accommodation and eating in the area. Check out http://www.naracoortelucindale.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=220.

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  • I only came across this website because I follow horse racing in Victoria and sometimes South Australia. I Live In Mackay, Queensland, and don’t travel much. I had never heard of a place called Naracoorte until I noticed a race day on 26/9/2021, and so searched the Town Name and Location. This is a wonderland site of Historical Importance and amazed me. Thanks to those that amass historical information, some things seem unreal, 7,000 Chinese in SA, i think that happened in Qld as well and caused many conflicts. Anyways, that’s before my time, but what has been discovered in Naracoorte caves etc. is a National Treasure.

    Rodney Lindemann