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South Australia – The Ghost Town State

March 30 2017 | Matt

South Australia – The Ghost Town State

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.

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12 thoughts on “South Australia – The Ghost Town State”

  1. A ghost town is where no people live anymore!!! My family plus others still live at Bruce. Please get your facts right!!

    1. I don’t really think that’s how the author meant it, but I understand you wanting to take a stand for your home town. Keep that Bruce flag flying proud bud 🙂

    2. We stayed in the Bruce railway Station B&B for a few days quite a few years ago when after Gwynn & Maggie Jones had finished the renovations.
      Very interesting discussions around the dinner table listening to what and how they did it.
      We came across the station by accident a few years prior, beautiful part of the state with Hammond and Johnburg.

  2. Love driving around our old towns. Dreams and memories gradually fading away. Places like Bruce, Johnburg and Hammond may have a few stoic inhabitants but the vision of the people one hundred and fifty years ago has all but died with those settlers. It would be good for future generations if these places could be maintained.

    1. Would’ve liked to have seen the Johnburg pub in its hey day, to sit outside with a coldie would’ve been great.

  3. Hammond and Johnburg are not ghost towns as we recently visited them staying at the fab Caravan Park at Carrieton but they are less active than their boom days but very interesting

  4. Clearly over zealousness of our early settlers…. their wisdom gained from harsh experiences…. & modernisation of the industry & equipment have contributed more than anything else to the shift in population back to the larger cities, together with the concentration of crop growing & pastoral back below the Goyer Line. These were sensible changes in the positioning of our population & farming activity, learned from hard experience.

    South Australia is the driest State in the driest Continent on earth…. & whilst we are a resilient people…. the going will always be tough. That’s what makes us what we are!!!

    Please let’s restore the old ghost towns for preservation of history & tourism, before it’s too late, just as the other States are doing…. & the remote economies will be all the better for it.

  5. Try visiting Farina between Lyndhurst and Maree. There is the Farina Restoration Group and it operates a 100year + old bakery between May and July every year. This year will see the first new building going up. The group restore all the old buildings to the stage where they are stable e.g. not roofed. In addition there is a great bush camping site run by the station owners. The area was used by Sir Sydney Kidman for his stock before going to Adelaide market. It also has great rail heritage in the area with restored rail carriages. don’t drive pass next time, stop and have a look.

  6. This is a good article, people should understand what the definition of a Ghost Town is, read below.
    Definition of a Ghost Town
    A ghost town is an abandoned village, town, or city, usually one that contains substantial visible remains.
    Ghost towns often become a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, (e.g., a mine, mill or resort) or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters.
    Boom towns can often decrease in size as fast as they initially grew. Sometimes, all or nearly the entire population can desert the town, resulting in a ghost town.

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