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Visitor Information

HISTORY OF REGION

Port Augusta Yesterday and Today
Fifteen million years ago this part of the world was densely covered in rainforests. Over time the climate shifted and, as it did, the landscape evolved to become the austere arid ecology we see today. Placed at the head of the Gulf, Port Augusta was an important meeting place for many and diverse Aboriginal groups who gathered to trade and exchange knowledge and skills.

1802
Young Captain Matthew Flinders, in 1802, was the first European to explore the area around Port Augusta. Forty years later pastoral leases extended from the Flinders Ranges north to Leigh Creek. It was the prosperous wool merchant and MP, Thomas Elder, who initiated the mid-1850s move to survey the harbour and layout the township.

Port Augusta Jetty

A wool store was set up near the beach, a jetty was built, then a second "Burgoyne" jetty- and over the next 10 years the town took the shape it remains today. Many of the stone hotel and churches so admired today were designed by prominent architect Thomas Burgoyne. The population boomed, as settlers came north in expectation of finding rich farm country.

Port Augusta jetty and wharf

Small vessels delivered "tea and sugar" supplies to the Port. These were carted through the Pichi Richi Pass, or sent to the Western Plain, east through Horrocks Pass, or to the shore of Spencer Gulf and on to the arid north and west. Each September half a dozen 300-500 ton seagoing ships took wool to the London sales.

1864
In 1864 the boom went bust when the summer "dry" stretched into a devastating three-year drought. Inland transport stalled and, as an emergency measure, camels were brought in.
Port Augusta wharf and camels

A sad new industry emerged - the Boiling Down Works salvaged fat, hide and bones from the carcasses of starving stock.

1877

Despite the drought the wheat industry spread northward at fever pitch. The first 199 bags were shipped to Adelaide in late 1877 and by early the next year wheat was bound for London.
With the coming of rail the Port's shipping tonnages quadrupled. The rail brought building supplies, consumer goods and more workers. Rail meant that pastoralists on large northern properties could get their cattle to market in days instead of weeks.

Port Augusta street cargo
 

But by 1900 the harsh, dry climate had won. Wheat was not a dependable crop and so the number of ships entering the Port dwindled. Now it was rail's turn to drive the town's fortunes. Port Augusta was the right place to become the headquarters for a vast rail extension across the Nullarbor Plain to Western Australia. The Rail industry saved Port Augusta from the worst of the 1930s depression and when war came, this industry was crucial to the war effort. Bomber aircraft flew overhead, air-raid trenches were dug and from 1941 lookouts for Japanese aircraft were posted at the high water towers. Local rail workers were not allowed to enlist because they were maintaining an essential war industry. More workers were brought in.
Following the war the town became a centre for light industry and the site of an electrical plant.

Ship at Port Augusta

NRG Flinders $500 million coal-fired power station is an industrial landmark that dominates the skyline adjacent to the smaller Thomas Playford power Station. Completed in 1985 it generates 500 megawatts of electricity. The stations produce about 40% of South Australia's electricity.

1958

Port Augusta also became known as a centre for outback distance education. The original School of the Air started in 1958 at the Royal Flying Doctor base. A year later, when it moved to it's own headquarters, there was an enrolment of 100 students. Now this world famous education service for remote isolated children has taken to cyberspace, letting children and families learn and communicate in a virtual classroom via the internet.

Port Augusta (population 14,000) remains a rail town, especially since 2004s inaugural run of the long-awaited "Ghan" Adelaide to Darwin rail link, and the continuation of the Pichi Richi historic narrow gauge rail from Port Augusta to Quorn. But the "crossroads" town is diversifying. Aquaculture is an expanding industry and Port Augusta is gaining a reputation as a centre for Aboriginal culture and learning.

Water Tower

Viewed from the west side water tower the impact of successive industries and the highway that connects Port Augusta with the rest of the country is laid out. No matter how humans change landscape, what dominates is Port Augusta's natural setting: the Gulf with it's blue water snaking north to the white salt of Lake Torrens. And the Flinders Ranges, ancient mountains reflecting the sun's journey: grey, olive, blue, green, red, brown, orange and purple.

Port Flinders

Although, in 2011, with a population of 14,527 people, times change, but this landscape remains.

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Information Tourism - Visit Port Augusta
Visit the Port Augusta Tourist Information Centre - Wadlata, for additional information and bookings - Phone 61 8 86419193