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Travelling through South Australia in 1966

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Continuing my story of driving from Queensland to Adelaide in 1966.

Just before we left New South Wales, we were stopped at a ‘fruit check-point’, set up to prevent travelers bringing infected fruit into an area where there are huge areas of orchards. We quickly ate all the fruit we had with us, then proceeded to the gate. There was a young man at the barrier, who was supposed to inspect all our luggage. We explained that we had eaten all our supplies, then opened the front ‘boot’ to allow him to inspect our carefully-packed goods. He declined unpacking everything to examine it. Perhaps 3 smiling faces may have influenced his decision, but we had been truthful in telling him that we no longer carried any fruit!

We crossed the Murray River into Victoria, then drove to Mildura. Gardens and fountains everywhere, all thanks to irrigation from the river. Also lots of pushy young men, Australian Italian and Greek, who thought we had arrived in town just to please them, on a quiet Saturday. Ugh.

We left Mildura after lunch, and the road was soon back in wheat and sheep land, as the irrigated orchards were restricted close to the river. After a few miles, we left Victoria, and passed a couple of signs showing we were entering South Australia.

We had to pass through another ‘fruit-inspection site’ on the SA side of the border. Then, travelling beside the Murray, we discovered that it had tall red cliffs on the northern side, but very low ones on the southern side. None of us had ever been told about these cliffs, and we were really amazed.

We crossed the Murray River again at Renmark, from south to north, amid lots of orchards, then travelled on towards Waikerie. We had never heard of this town, and had a lively discussion about its pronunciation. I thought it was a New Zealand word, and would sound like ‘WiKARie’. How wrong I was. It’s an Australian name, and sounds like ‘WAkerie’.

But first we paused at Barmera, to visit Lake Bonney, a large area of shallow water. Then, as now, it was a well-known holiday spot, with sailing boats, a beach, and an enclosed swimming area. While we were there a terrific storm blew up, lots of wind and dust. The water colour changed completely from blue to green.

We crossed the river again at Kingston, from north to south, on a car ferry, my first trip on one. The river was 100 metres wide, and providing a free ferry must have been cheaper than providing a bridge. After another 60 years, I think SA still has some car ferries over the Murray River.

We spent the night in the camping ground at Waikerie. We bought fish and chips from a funny old man who wasn’t going to give us any, but finally succumbed before the combined charm of 3 young ladies.

We were rather doubtful about our neighbours that night, three young men already the worse for alcohol as we settled in. They went off again somewhere. We were worried that they might come home later, very drunk, and very objectionable. They did come home late, but very sleepy, and hadn’t woken up by the time we left the next morning.

We were a bit late getting away, as we needed a clean-up. This was our last day on the road; we would be in Adelaide today, so wanted to look respectable. Our first stop was in Blanchtown, where we crossed the river, from east to west, on a wonderful new bridge.

Beside the bridge is a lock, one of many which were installed in the river to make it navigable at all times. Previously, the river could almost dry up in long droughts. There is a spillway on the lock, and there was a flock of pelicans fishing in the water coming through it.

Most of the residents live beside the river, with a cliff behind them. After we crossed the bridge we climbed to the top of the cliff, and found ourselves back in flat grazing country. There were mallee gums on the side of the road. Now we left the Murray River far behind us.

Then on to Truro, where we finally found a garage and were able to buy something for breakfast. Sundays were very quiet in country SA.

We drove through the outskirts of the Barossa Valley, and saw some vineyards, but then detoured to Kapunda, to see the old copper mines. They were large open-cut mines. The ore that was left was not worth extracting then, and the copper in it had oxidised into shades of blue and green on the walls of the mine. Quite pretty.

We drove on the main road to Gawler, and thus bypassed the true Barossa Valley. The few wineries we did see were most unromantic, all galvanised iron and steel, like factories. Nothing like the French wineries I had read about. My mistake, for not remembering how young the grape-growing industry is here.

Then on to the new suburban city of Elizabeth, very dry and brown in the middle of summer. It was obviously a very new, planned town, everything set regimentally in squares. It would improve as gardens and trees grew to soften the angles. The new houses were quite nice, and there were quite a few different styles to choose from.

Finally, we reached Adelaide about 11.30 am. It was easy to navigate the city centre, as all the streets are set at right angles, like Elizabeth, and well signposted. I left my two passengers at their hotel in the city, then travelled further south to my friends in Belleview Heights. I arrived there about 12.30pm.

The trip had taken just over 100 hours, and my speedometer showed that we had driven 1400 miles, or some 2250 kilometers. The VW had not missed a beat the whole way, I was proud of my little car, that I had christened ‘Egbert’. I drove Ebert for many more years.

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