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Port Augusta, SA

Crossroads town at the northern end of Spencer Gulf.

There was a time when Port Augusta was primarily a port. Lying at the top of the Spencer Gulf it was vital to all the properties in the Flinders Ranges and beyond. The port was the point where wheat and wool were loaded on clipper ships and transported around the world. By the 1970s that had stopped and the town, exploiting its unique position, became the starting point for tourism for the Nullarbor Plain, the Flinders Ranges and all journeys north to Central Australia and the Northern Territory. If you head north from Port Augusta you won’t stop until you get to Darwin. The Stuart Highway heads north and 2,722 km later you will be driving into Darwin. Head west on the Eyre Highway and 2,390 km (after you have crossed the Nullarbor Plain) you will reach Perth. Head east, via Broken Hill, and 1,561 km later you’ll be in Sydney and, almost as an afterthought, you can head south and in a mere 310 km you’ll reach Adelaide. Port Augusta really does sit at a crossroads and, by strange serendipity, the roads really do head to the primary points of the compass - north, south, east and west. Not surprisingly everyone who passes through Port Augusta needs to stop at the Wadlata Outback Centre. It provides valuable travel advice and is a wonderful introduction to the lives and history of the Aboriginal desert people who, for over 40,000 years, have lived in the lands that surround this strange city.

Location

Port Augusta is located 310 km north of Adelaide. It is known as the Crossroads because the Stuart Highway to the north heads to Alice Springs and Darwin. The Eyre Highway to the west heads to the Nullarbor and the Eyre Peninsula and the Princes Highway to the south heads to Adelaide.

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Origin of Name

The harbour, which became Port Augusta, was reached by Alexander Elder and John Grainger on 24 May 1852. They named it Port Augusta after Lady Augusta Sophia Young, the wife of the Governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Edward Fox Young. The local Aborigines knew the area as Curdnatta, meaning "sandy place".

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Things to See and Do

Port Augusta Heritage Walk
The Port Augusta Heritage Walk which can be accessed at http://wadlataoutback.realviewdigital.com/#folio=20 offers a list of 38 places of historic interest around the town. Most are contained within four blocks of the Wadlata Visitor Information Centre. The places of particular interest include:

1. Wadlata Outback Centre
Located at 41 Flinders Terrace the Wadlata Visitor Information Centre (which includes the Wadlata Tunnel of Time) is an outstanding, award winning information centre. It provides extensive information and maps so the traveller can plan their trip into the Outback. It provides information about the animals which roamed the area thousands of years ago, about the Aborigines who moved through the area, about the early European explorers and the stockmen, pastoralists and miners who opened up the Outback. It looks at the great challenge of transport and communication in the desert and alerts the traveller to the unique set of forces which created modern day Central Australia. Check out http://www.wadlata.sa.gov.au. It is open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

Wadlata's Tunnel of Time
A superb opportunity to experience the world of the Aborigines who have lived in the area for the past 40,000 years and the European settlers. This interactive experience starts with the creation of the Flinders Ranges, includes fossils and a prehistoric lizard, recounts Aboriginal stories from the Dreamtime, tells stories of early settlers and the ongoing battle to get adequate water supplies, explores the desert fauna and flora, includes both School of the Air and Royal Flying Doctor experiences and looks at opal mining and the legendary outback postman, Tom Kruse. It is recommended that you allocated between one to five hours. It is open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Check out http://www.wadlata.sa.gov.au/site/pages/what_will_you_see.php.

3. Mural on the Hill
Located on the corner of Flinders Terrace and the Augusta Highway is a mural made from 2500 hand-painted tiles. It was created by artist Diane Turner and depicts the history of the area from the Dreaming through to the present day.

11. St Augustine's Church
The foundation stone for the church was laid in 1868 and the first service held in 1870. The church was replaced in 1882. The bell was purchased in 1871 for the first church and the hall behind the church was used as a school for boys after 1878.

13. 4 Gibson Street
Built in 1864 by the first British settler in the town, Alexander Tassie, this house was used by a succession of local doctors from 1917 to 2009.

16. Flinders Hotel
This hotel was the fourth built by Alexander Mackay. Completed in 1878 it was, at the time, reputed to be the largest hotel in South Australia. The town was booming at the time and between 1878-1883 a total of twelve hotels were built.

24. Seaview House
Constructed in 1881 by the Bank of South Australia at a cost of £4,500 it remained a bank until 1891 when it became a boarding house for employees of the Commonwealth Railways. Today it houses offices for public servants.

27. Town Hall
The original Town Hall was completed in 1887 with stone quarried at Quorn. It was burnt down in 1944 but successfully rebuilt with the original facade in 1946. Although somewhat unloved it still has a ballroom and a two-storey theatre.

Port Augusta Cultural Centre - Yarta Purtli
Located at 6 Beauchamp Lane in the old Magistrate's Court is the local home of Aboriginal art. It holds regular exhibitions (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) and celebrates the art of the Aboriginal language groups who live in the Port Augusta region. It is open weekdays between 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel (08) 8641 9175.

Royal Flying Doctor Service
Located at the Port Augusta Airport Base and Hangar this is one of the many Flying Doctor bases which is open for inspection by the public. There are tours of the base which include a video presentation of the work of the Royal Flying Doctor in the 21st Century and a visit to the Alf Traeger Communications Room which deals with emergency calls from all over the 840,000 square kilometres served by the base. It is open weekdays between 10.00 am - noon and 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm. Tel (08) 8648 9500 or check out https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au.

Military Memorabilia Museum
Located at 15 Fulham Road and open from 4.00 pm daily the RSL Military Memorabilia Museum features a Leopard Tank (outside - and available for viewing anytime) with a museum which houses memorabilia collected from wars dating back to the Boer War and including the most recent conflicts. For more information tel: 0467 804 976.

McLennan Lookout
Located on Whiting Parade (at the far south-eastern extremity of the city and on Spencer Gulf) the McLennan Lookout and park is located on the site where Matthew Flinders landed in 1802. It was named after Alan McLennan, a local historian, and offers excellent views across Spencer Gulf towards the Power Stations.

Water Tower Lookout
Located just across the bridge to the west of the town on Mitchell Terrace this old iron water tower (the first one was built in 1882) was built to provide water for people living in Port Augusta West. Today, when you climb four flights of stairs, it offers panoramic views across Spencer Gulf, the salt pans to the north and the Flinders Ranges.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden
Located 2 km north of Port Augusta on the Stuart Highway and on the edge of the desert this 200 ha site offers dramatic views across the Flinders Ranges and provides an insight into the rich diversity of flora on the Australian desert. There are three walking trails through vegetation which grows in the Great Victoria Desert, the Flinders Ranges and the Gawler Ranges, and along the West Coast of Eyre Peninsula. The garden has two bird hides and there are excellent views from the Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout. The garden is open from 7.30 am - sunset and the centre is open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 8641 9116 or check out http://www.aalbg.sa.gov.au.

Matthew Flinders Red Cliff Lookout
Just beyond the Botanic Garden (there is a dirt road to the east) are some impressive red cliffs, first sighted by Matthew Flinders when he explored the upper reaches of Spencer Gulf on 11 March, 1802. Like most sites there are excellent informative signs which explain the history of the area and on the one describing Flinders voyage up the mangrove-edged swamplands is a note on Robert Brown:“Like his mentor Sir Joseph Banks, Robert Brown was a schoolboy naturalist whose passion for Australian botany continued all his life. Unaffected by seasickness on board the Investigator, Brown used a primitive microscope to meticulously record more than 3,900 plant specimens; 2,000 of these were new to science. Here in the Upper Spencer Gulf, Brown collected the first specimens of a plant he named Eremophila from the Greek eremophiles which means ‘desert loving’. Brown also lead an ambitious inland expedition with a small party that included botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer. In those days artists accompanied scientific expeditions to accurately record what was seen because there were no cameras. The group trekked a very difficult 24 km from the coast to the highest peak to the east which Flinders later named Mount Brown. Many of the plants collected locally via Brown were also illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer whose botanical paintings are now considered to be among the world’s finest. Robert Brown was truly one of nature’s investigators. As one of the first scientists to effectively use a microscope for plant research, Brown discovered the nucleus in cells and the phenomenon of molecular agitation now known as ‘Brownian movement’.”

Pichi Richi Railway
The Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society Inc. was formed in 1973 to preserve, restore and operate the historic Pichi Richi Railway which was the first leg of the old Central Australian Railway to Alice Springs - the old Ghan route. The route from Port Augusta to Quorn (a distance of 78 km which takes 2 hours each way and has a stopover of 2 hours - 6 hours in all) departs Port Augusta at 10.30 am and returns around 4.30 pm. The website explains the journey: "See the ancient Flinders Ranges landscape unfold before you on the full-day Afghan Express return trip from Port Augusta Railway Station to the historic outback town of Quorn. Travelling the old Ghan route over red earth and bluebush plains from Port Augusta, you'll watch the ranges creep ever-closer before entering the Pichi Richi Pass with its rocky outcrops, dry riverbeds and beautiful hilly scenery. The Afghan Express is the name railwaymen gave to the passenger train that ran from Terowie to Oodnadatta, through Quorn, in 1923. In time, this was abbreviated to the Ghan. The railway was ultimately extended to Alice Springs by 1929. The Ghan used the Pichi Richi Railway route until 1956 when a new standard-gauge railway from Stirling North to Brachina bypassed the narrow gauge railway through the Pichi Richi Pass." It usually runs around 20 times a year (not in the summer months). For more details tel: 1800 777 245 or check out http://www.pichirichirailway.org.au which provides comprehensive information about timetables and costs.

A Solar Future?
From the 1950s until 2016 Port Augusta relied on its two power stations - Playford B and Northern - for employment. The brown coal was dug at Leigh Creek, transported by train for 260 km, and turned into electricity which powered most of South Australia. In 2012 Playford B was closed down and Northern was closed in May, 2016. There are a number of companies eager to turn Port Augusta in a solar power centre. Already there is a lobby group Repower Port Augusta “The Repower Port Augusta Alliance has developed a solid proposal to replace the coal plants with 6 solar thermal plants and 95 wind turbines. This will create 1800 jobs, save 5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of the local community and ensure energy security and stable electricity prices.” There is a very detailed article which appeared in the Australian version of The Guardian which explains the potential future of the area. Read about it all at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/24/port-augusta-busting-a-gut-to-reinvent-itself-as-a-solar-city-when-coal-fired-power-is-switched-off.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was inhabited by the Banggarla and Nuguna Aborigines.

* The area was first explored by Matthew Flinders who came up the Spencer Gulf in 1802 hoping to find a waterway into the interior.

* In 1803 the French explorer, Louis de Freycinet, sailed around the top of Spencer Gulf.

* In 1839 Edward Eyre led an expedition from Port Augusta north to Lake Eyre.

* In 1846 J. A. Horrocks discovered a pass (Horrocks Pass) through the Flinders Ranges and onto the coastal plain.

* The first pastoral leases in the area were granted in 1851.

* The harbour was reached and identified on 24 May, 1852 by Alexander Elder and John Grainger who named it Port Augusta after Lady Augusta Sophia Young, the wife of the then Governor of South Australia, Sir Henry Edward Fox Young.

* By 1854 land around the port was being sold for £100 an acre and the first wool was being been shipped through the port.

* By the 1860s the port had become a vital transport node with its own troopers barracks and brewery.

* In 1860 10,000 bales of wool were shipped from the port.

* By 1865 a pipeline had been laid from Woodundunga Springs in the Flinders Ranges and the town had reliable water.

* The Town Hall was completed in 1866 and that year the first consignment of camels arrived from India.

* In 1868 the foundation stone for St Augustine's Anglican Church was laid.

* The Greenbush gaol was completed in 1869.

* In 1872 the Overland Telegraph Line linking South Australia with Port Darwin and the rest of the world was opened.

* The town was officially proclaimed in 1875.

* The railway from Adelaide arrived in 1882.

* The Morgan-Whyalla pipeline was laid in 1944 resulting in the town receiving regular water from the Murray River.

* The first power station was opened in 1954. It was supplied with coal from Leigh Creek.

* Port Augusta became a city in 1963.

* In 1973 the port ceased to operate.

* In 2012 the Playford B power station was closed.

* In May, 2016 the Northern Power station closed and power generation was no longer a major source of employment.

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Visitor Information

Port Augusta Visitor Information Centre, 41 Flinders Terrace, tel: (08) 8641 9194, Open Monday - Friday 9.00 am - 5.30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

The town's very comprehensive tourist brochure - Port Augusta Now! - can be downloaded (and printed out) at

http://wadlataoutback.realviewdigital.com/#folio=OFC.

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1 suggestion so far
  • Where is Edgerton please? My 2x great grandmother was living there when she died in 1884. I have visited her unmarked grave in Port Augusta and I will be travelling east again soon and would like to pass through Edgerton. Thanks

    Marion Newman