Balgowan now

I wrote about my family beach shack on York Peninsula, South Australia, here. It still exists and is one of many built in the 1950s by (usually) the husband of a family and used regularly by the family for holidays. Back then they were typically uninsulated corrugated iron sheds, sometimes divided into rooms but more often one big room divided up by curtains, with bunks for sleeping on, on crown land foreshore with a long and quite cheap lease. They were stinking hot in South Australian summers when the temperature would get into the 40s (Celsius; well over 100 Fahrenheit). These days, more expensive and more permanent houses are evident on those foreshores and in the town itself. But some of the old shacks are still there in more or less original condition.

The Windows' foreshore shack in the late 1950s. The Chapmans' shack is on the left.

The Windows’ foreshore shack in the (probably) late 1950s. The Chapmans’ shack (my cousin’s parents-in-law) is on the left. Photo by Cyril Window

Basic and functional - before Dad installed a rainwater tank

Basic and functional – before Dad installed a rainwater tank.  Photo by Cyril Window

Photo by Cyril Window

Photo by Cyril Window

Who's that cute kid? Photo by Cyril Window

Who’s that cute kid? Moi, of course. Probably late ’50s. Photo by Cyril Window

In the early days there was no town-supplied power or running water, and an outdoor dunny, well away from the building, served as the toilet (oh, those big spiders could be off-putting in the night). The sea was the bath and a quick wash-down with fresh water from a bucket (Dad, being a plumber, installed a rainwater tank and hooked it up to the kitchen) kept the salt off.

I got comments on that post from a couple of people who had also been to Balgowan. Phyllis and her family were there the same time as  mine was, and her sister still owns a shack there. Her brother, Malcolm, was roughly my age. It’s been wonderful to exchange emails and nostalgia for those times. Malcolm is now an internationally successful documentary maker. You can see his work at seafilms.com.au. I got my love of the sea there – I wonder if he did, too. It was that sort of place.

History of Balgowan

I recently bought a copy of Balgowan the Outport, by Stuart Moody (2016, Openbook Howden Design and Print). It’s an account of a side of Balgowan I never knew about – its development and use as a grain port. According to Moody, it was probably named after a place in Scotland in 1876 and proclaimed as a town in 1879, and was eventually a port for the export of wheat and barley from about 1903 to 1950: ‘While wheat and barley were the chief exports, chaff, livestock, wool, fertilizer, cornsacks and machinery were all handled at the [Balgowan] port.’

Moody’s in-depth research shows that the first jetty meant to upload grain to ships was never used as it was built in totally the wrong place (water too shallow for ships, the jetty itself not high enough, and too many reefs for ships to avoid). Grain was then loaded down chutes from the top of the cliffs on North Beach and hand-delivered to small boats which delivered them to a larger vessel (a ketch or schooner), which delivered to an even larger vessel (a barque) at a deeper, larger port like Port Victoria.

The later Balgowan jetty that serviced the grain ships was destroyed by successive storms, and repaired, and destroyed again, but it hung on as a spot for amateur fishermen (and their kids) in the 1960s. I still have a vivid memory of getting the flinging of a squid-jigger wrong and landing the hooks in my leg – ouch! (Squid were used as bait for catching ‘real’ fish – I wonder if they are eaten today now that more ‘exotic’ food is acceptable.) It is totally gone now, replaced by a breakwater and concrete boat ramp.

Balgowan jetty, probably late 1950s; photo by Cyril Window

Balgowan jetty, probably late 1950s, before a succession of storms over the decades reduced its length and finally destroyed it. Photo by Cyril Window

Balgowan jetty after the 1981 storm

Balgowan jetty after the 1981 storm

EPSON MFP image

Truncated, repaired jetty

EPSON MFP image

With added seat

The shack era

The holiday shack era began roughly in the mid-1940s. Dad built ours in 1955. Moody’s book has a photo of two shacks on the South Beach foreshore in 1953 (page v) and four in the early ’50s, but neither of them is ours. Chapmans’ shack is mentioned in the book as one of the early ones, and Dad built ours next to it. I remember the Chapmans well because I spent a lot of time in their shack in the ’50s and mid-’60s. Their daughter June married my cousin Ralph Window; they had four kids who I played with every time we were at Balgowan together. Ralph, along with two of those (now adult) kids, is still living in Kadina.

I'm not sure when this pic was taken, bt it was before the shack had its paint make-over. Photo by Cyril Window

I’m not sure when this pic was taken, but it was before the shack had its white paint make-over. Photo by Cyril Window

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

Not exactly House and Garden, but the white might have reflected some of that searing summer heat

EPSON MFP image

Rainwater tank and an updated boat – luxury!

View from the front of the shack to Point Warrene

View from the front of the shack to Point Warrene, where the small cave was; I remember the corrugated iron structure on the bottom right as housing a winch for dragging up a boat onto the beach.

Fishing, both professional and amateur, was very popular. According to Moody, there is only one professional fisherman based at Balgowan these days.

EPSON MFP image

Possibly the first of a long succession of Dad’s boats at the North Beach red cliffs. The Holden could have been Dad’s as we had one back then. The car towed the boat down a ramp to the beach and then the boat was launched. Photo by Cyril Window

EPSON MFP image

Dad (right) and friend with snappers – there is nothing like the taste of very fresh fish lightly fried in butter! Note that the jetty in the background is still long, so this probably dates to the late 1950s. Photo by Daphne Window

A place on the foreshore is great for views to the ocean and quick access to the beach, but it has its drawbacks. At Byron Bay, some multimillion-dollar homes at Belongil Beach are in danger of falling into the sea, and there have been huge controversies and legal cases about what to do. Nothing has been resolved yet.

There have been many storms before, with the sand being dragged off almost to the shacks themselves.

1981 storm erosion

1981 storm erosion

The Balgowan foreshore shacks on South Beach are facing the same dilemma. The two big storms of 2016 have cut the sand dune back even further towards the line of shacks. Malcolm has generously allowed me to use his photos of what Balgowan looked like in September 2016, just after the last storm (the one that blacked out the entire SA power grid and caused massive flooding in the mid-north of the state).

South Beach, Balgowan, September 2016; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

Looking south along South Beach, Balgowan, September 2016. The olive green shack at the far right is my old one. Photo by Malcolm Ludgate

The sea has scoured the sand dune back up the beach; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

The sea has scoured the sand dune back up the beach; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

My poor old shack - headed for oblivion? photo by Malcolm Ludgate

My poor old shack – headed for oblivion? Photo by Malcolm Ludgate

Time for the shelter to be rebuilt again

Looking north along South Beach – time for the shelter to be rebuilt again; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

‘My’ shack top right – the sand dune cliff is getting very close; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

The boat ramp down to the North Beach is presently unusable

The boat ramp down to the North Beach is presently unusable as the clay base has been ripped away

Sand entirely swept away and boulders washed out of the clay cliffs on North Beach

Sand entirely swept away and boulders washed out of the clay cliffs on North Beach

The caves, now almost all gone, at the point where we played as kids

The cave, now almost all gone, at ‘the point’ (Point Warrenne) where we played as kids; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

Tow adult Pacific gulls and one immature (the black one, commonly called a molly hawk)

Two adult Pacific gulls and one immature (the black one, commonly called a molly hawk) survey what’s left of the cave; photo by Malcolm Ludgate

So the latest in a long line of storms has affected the old place, but still it lingers on. May it continue to do so for those of us who knew it as kids.

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One Response to Balgowan now

  1. Phyllis A. Glaetzer says:

    Thanks Joy for continuing to help us remember Balgowan as it was, it is good too that books are being written of its history. The storms have done much damage, but nature can repair itself to a degree. I hope it does, because the South beach is really under threat.
    Also in time perhaps the council will do what they can to restore some of the facilities.
    We will all watch with interest. Phyllis

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