South Australia – The Ghost Town State
March 30 2017 | Matt
South Australia is renowned for its ghost towns, places such as Beltana, Bruce, Cockburn, Coward Springs, Ediacra, Farina, Hammond, Kanyaka, Mount Rat, Nackara, Radium Hill and Yudnamutana.
By 1929 South Australians had settled nearly 500 towns. While a few became cities and some thrived in their heyday, just 167 towns and cities retain more than 200 people today.
So why does South Australia have more than its fair share of ghost towns?
For today’s visitors such places can evoke admiration for the determination and hardiness of the early settlers, as well an eerie sense of a lost era. They are fascinating places to visit, steeped in history, colonial architecture and artefacts. If you’re a keen photographer, they’re also a happy hunting ground for some great snaps.
Human intervention, the increased size of farms, natural disasters, even health scares have all taken their toll. However, the major reason for so many towns forming then failing was a combination of a breakthrough invention and over optimism.
Our state was founded by free settlers. This meant that early grain growers had scarcely any workers, unlike the convict states, to harvest their grain crops. Traditional labour intensive grain harvesting methods were holding back the State’s development. This spurred a series of agricultural innovations.
The big breakthrough came when John Ridley, an English-born inventor and landowner, developed his mechanical grain harvester in 1843. It enabled one man and three horses to harvest five acres a day.
This was the catalyst for South Australia becoming the nation’s granary and home to a massive machinery manufacturing industry. Farmers streamed inland to the North and West for the next 40 years. A feverish pioneering spirit supported by decrees from colonisation commissioners saw huge tracks of land divided into farms, counties and townships. A key planning rule was to establish a township every 16km, a half a day’s horse ride.
The lone voice of caution amid all the enthusiasm was Surveyor-General George Goyder. In 1865 he declared his famous Line of Rainfall, beyond which cropping was unreliable. Initially, few took much notice, especially as the following years were wet.
The land rush transformed the Upper North into a sea of wheat farms, followed quickly by towns such as Bruce, Hammond, Johnburgh, Amyton and Carrieton. The optimism of the wheat boom was likened to gold rush fever as houses, hotels, stores, flour mills, banks, churches, schools and machinery manufacturing factories were built.
When drought years returned and Goyder was proven right, grain farms began to fail and regional populations shrank. As people fled, they left behind their dreams, their farmhouses, railway stops, granaries, even whole towns as the wheat industry retreated behind Goyder’s Line.