Port Broughton with Keith ConlonPORT BROUGHTON: In the Mid North of South Australia

A picturesque old ketch port in the off-season, it's a growing retirement town that quadruples in population in the summer holidays. Port Broughton is a pretty Yorke Peninsula retreat between Wallaroo and Port Pirie. It is just over 170 kilometres from Adelaide, or just under two hours' drive.

A lone soldier in marble stands at the end of the main street, just as it meets the solid wooden jetty projecting into the sea channel bending in from Spencer Gulf. Exactly on this spot 130 years ago, Captain Henry Dale chose this inlet for a new official town and port to serve the wheat farmers busy knocking down the mallee scrub inland. He smashed a bottle of good whisky on a dray to declare it Port Broughton. (The explorer Edward John Eyre had named the nearby river after the first Anglican Bishop of Australia, William Broughton).

The pylons of Dale's original rickety jetty are still sticking out of the mud of the Mundoora Arm, the narrow inlet of the sea that peters out in salty shallows not far from the town. The new jetty is celebrating its 125th birthday - it reaches out to a deep dredged channel that is still busy. Prawn and crab boats ply it now, in the mid-twentieth century it was fishing fleets and in the Victorian era ketches and even steamships called. Thousands of England-bound bags of wheat each harvest came down the middle of "the Broughton's" main street on a railway that came sixteen kilometres across the plain from the hills.

Horsedrawn rail trucks and wheat stacks abound in old photo images of the port. Today, instead, the holiday and tourist side is much in evidence with motel, service station signs and café hoardings up the short and wide main thoroughfare. I'd love to have been sipping a coffee on the footpath when the tractor that replaced the horses came down so fast that a truck uncoupled and careered down the centre of the street and onto the jetty, ending up tilting off the jetty, halfway into a waiting ketch!

You know a town was thriving in the late 1800's when it could boast a pub like the one overlooking the foreshore and jetty. With its broad verandahs, the grand edifice started modestly.

A rustic section that's still in use was built by Mr Eddy Wall from Wallaroo, and his son Bill backed the port's continuing prosperity with his grand fifty-two room double storey hotel, with iron lace work trimmings imported from England. It was a welcome terminus for the horse-train that served the "pie-cart" (as they called it), as it took a good seventy-five minutes to make the sixteen kilometre journey from Mundoora.

The 1880's churches dotted through the town, testify to the early growth of Port Broughton, and it was running its own affairs from a still-standing tiny council office before the turn of the century. The town has been transformed in the recent decades; the old railway goods shed, for instance, has given way to a modern district hospital, with a new wing for the aged who can recall the old days.

Some would remember the main street flour mill before it came down. Its proprietor was an internationally famous Broughton-ite a hundred years ago. John Darling captained the Australian test cricket side for The Ashes Tour of 1896 and for three Australian seasons as well. He'd be amazed to see Port Broughton today, with its subdivisions of new homes for old farmers and two caravan parks to cater for the holiday rush. The town population sits around the one thousand mark in winter, but in January…. make that four thousand people enjoying the fishing - and just thinking about it.

Through the wheat paddocks that roll along the blue of Spencer Gulf north of the old port, about five kilometres north along the coast is a sandy headland that's become a shackies' sanctuary called Fisherman's Bay. The sandy and seagrassy tidal flats stretch for kilometres out to the distant gulf waters. They are excellent crabbing stretches, but fishing in the gulf and sitting on the calm beaches are what this place is all about.

Ninety or so shacks are occupied all year 'round. The other 350? They're bulging at Easter and through the summer break. The street names (garfish, snook, whiting etc) emphasise the intentions here. Beyond the shack town is a giant shallow and circular tidal bay, and it's down that end that it all began. The quaint "galvo" quarter began as farmer's sheds on crownland on a shellgrit spit with high-tide mark mangroves for beach shade.

After harvest, mid-north families came to relax, to spend time with the kids - and go fishing of course. This end has become a shacklife time capsule - so corrugated iron, so cheek-by-jowl, so basic - with its loos all perched in a line on the edge of the swamp, that the regular here regard it as their own different version of Paradise. I have to confess to holding that belief too, having spent many a long weekend down the heritage end of Fisherman's Bay.

Back in Port Broughton, the long and sturdy jetty no longer creaks under the weight of the region's wheat crop. But it still makes a fine fishing spot for visitors. The best way, however, to get into this side of this very popular holiday town is to get on the water and up the channel that once buzzed with the ketch trade. Right up until the 1930's, they'd act as the mosquito fleet, buzzing out eight kilometres to the anchorage for the majestic European windjammers, who'd catch the Roaring Forties back to England.

Port Broughton's marine trade today is blue swimmer crabs, trucked fresh to Sydney restaurants twice a week. The Barnes family - four generations of them - have been in boats and fishing here since the 1950's. And when he's not line-fishing professionally, Gary Barnes will take you charter fishing…the big questions here are…will we drop the lines in a hole off the channel? Or out at the long reach? Maybe the snook peg or the ballast ground? Decisions, decisions!!

Then again, maybe it's a day for a walk on the jetty and an afternoon snooze. It's that kind of place….a real country town, very relaxed, sitting pretty on the gulf. There are a host of ways to stay and enjoy an old port that's buzzing anew…Port Broughton. For more information email info@postcards-sa.com.au

Tourist Information:
District Council of Barunga West
Bay Street
Port Broughton, South Australia. 5522
Phone: (08) 8635-2107

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