Iconic streets in rural towns are generally few and far between. Willunga can boast of the quaintness and history of its High St; Strathalbyn also has an incredibly wide High St that that offers some amazing antique and collectors’ gems.
Inside the century-old buildings the friendliness reflects these towns, and in their unique, invaluable way offer an enviable taste of the Fleurieu Peninsula.
However, if there were an extraordinary street that makes a village it is The Strand, Port Elliot. But it hasn’t always been this way. It has taken a remarkable sense of pride, ingenuity if you like, to build or transform dwellings into stunning little ‘must go inside’ shops and still blend in extremely well with those steeped in history.
In between Hollywood movie sets residing at the top end, just off The Strand, is the home of Robert Scott Hicks, best known as the screenwriter and director of Shine, the Oscar-winning biopic of pianist David Helfgott.
The sporting identity is Shaun Tait, who made a name for himself slinging a cricket ball at 155kph. These days he pours a perfect cold beer at a slower rate as co-owner of the Elliot Hotel.
On the second Sunday or each month Quakers meet in the old, single-room Port Elliot Council Chamber built in 1879, and across the road is another heritage classic, the Institute, which is home to a throng of table tennis players who would play 24 x 7 if the delightful key keeper turned up. Ladies also come here for their quilt making, and down the road we have the local RSL Hall where our brave souls from the wars are always remembered with utmost reverence.
There are some wonderful people down The Strand, characters and people with character, but the loveable Mr Percival is the new catalyst why tourists are flocking to Port Elliot. Of course, he’s a pelican, and for the record, his namesake, star of the 1976 South Australian movie Storm Boy, died in 2009 aged 33. With the movie remake, due to be released mid-2018, the new Mr Percival is already having huge impact.
The Stand six degrees of separation theory continues with the brilliant Geoffrey Rush having starred in both Shine and the Storm Boy re-make.
With Mr Percival came a team of set makers who turned an old book store into a fish and chip shop, and the Jelly General Store, which had already had that fabulous retro look and feel about it, became an authentic late 1950s store, the era of the original story.
Filming these relevant scenes would have been more appropriate in Goolwa, on which the movie is based, but only The Strand in this region had retained its wonderful heritage without a smattering of contrasting developments.
Brent Tamblyn, owner of the Jelly General Store, a late 1800s building, could not be happier, and saw the movie set transformation as a huge plus for his business and Port Elliot as a whole.
Tourists already familiar with the Storm Boy link come here to look at the store and they love it. Imagine when the movie is released.
Brent said part of the deal with the production team was the need to change the appearance of the store. “I said, okay, but if you are prepared to leave this different look afterwards, and you do it properly and permanently by using proper exterior paint and so on, then we have a deal,” he said.
“It worked for them because they would have needed to pay someone to re-paint and rework everything that was there.
“We already had a big Rosella on the front of the store, but the film crew was so dedicated to having everything like it really was in 1959 that they went to extraordinary lengths to find original Rosella tomato sauce artwork from the late 1950s on the wall of an Alberton shop, and a local artist (James Stewart) went to work.
“Inside there are the groceries; specially-printed old-looking labels on cans of peaches. Even the fish selection on the menu was from the era, including congolli.
“The authenticity was remarkable… the store has become a real stopping point and there are people out the front having their photo taken with the Rosellaw on the wall all the time. They ask questions, and it’s great.”
The thing is, The Strand had already developed into an attraction because it had the right landlords and business people with vision to make it all happen.
Ron Langman, with his partner Sonya Hender, turned the 1910 post office building on the corner of Arthur St into the exquisite The Strand gallery 18 months ago, and has now connected it with a new restaurant/coffee shop and wine bar to be operated by Campbell Haigh, who has ran the popular No.58 cafe and wine bar on Waterport Rd for some time.
The gallery is sensational with its impressive exhibitions, while the just-opened wine bar development has seen The Strand further ooze with sheer class; another great reason to be here.
Ron describes The Strand as the “King William Rd, Hyde Park of the south coast.” He talks about its character, and his gallery definitely raises the profile.
“The beach brings all the people here in the summer,” Ron said. “What we have noticed is that people used to come to Port Elliot and then have a look at the gallery, but now they are coming into the gallery and having a look at Port Elliot. We are drawing our own traffic, and so are other shops and businesses.
“You have population growth in Victor Harbor and good numbers in Goolwa, and we are that little boutique strip in the middle.
“In recent times Doug and Karen Gibson developed two great shops, Mist (contemporary art, fashion, homewares) and Hana Home (vintage and modern Japanese homewares, fashion, gifts), and now with the gallery and restaurant next door we have shifted the centre of gravity further along. We think The Strand is going to grow even more.”
The Strand leads to spectacular ocean scenery, has its old boarding house and something for everyone including old wares and pre-loved clothes.
In many ways it has developed into its own little village, filled with interesting people from wide-ranging backgrounds. Mind you, none have attracted as much attention as the star himself, Mr Percival. Apologies Scott Hicks. And on a quiet night you can hear the table tennis lady rattle her keys. Such is life on The Strand.