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