Okay, Hindmarsh Island is not a town – it’s part of Goolwa – but there are a lot of misconceptions about this gem on the edge of the spectacular Coorong and the Murray Mouth that is surrounded by seven other islands.
Ask the city folk and they only think of the Marina Hindmarsh Island and all of its magnificent houses and a flotilla of wooden boats, cruisers, fishing boats, ski boats and everything else that floats.
However, go past the turn-off and people here show you a completely different picture – the farms, vast grasslands and wetlands, places of the most significant history of this state, and historical buildings like the cheese factory and school. There is also a huge monument honouring Captain Charles Sturt, who was the first European to step foot on the island in 1830 – six years before Colonel William Light chose the site for out capital city after considering this region – and Captain Collet Barker, who perished a year later following his discovery of the Port Adelaide inlet.
There are hundreds of permanent and holiday places, and a two-time national award-winning tourist spot Narnu Farm where children and mostly the ‘big kids’ have learned to ride on a Palomino named Liberty so they can imagine moseying out to the Double R Ranch like Roy Rogers did with Dale Evans in his TV series 60 years ago.
There are the traditional fishers like the Hoad family, and many other places of abode that help make up the character. Hindmarsh Island really has a wealth of diversity and natural charm, and the marina plays a huge part in building Goolwa’s reputation as a boating hub.
Dee-Anne and Garry Farrow planned to tour Australia just over 10 years ago, but when they stayed in the caravan park that Easter they never went further than the 80-acre property they bought down the road. “The holiday turned into 10 years of work,” Garry quipped.
According to Dee-Anne, it’s what this place does; you discover the island’s beauty and amazing serenity and you’re easily hooked like a giant mulloway down at the southern end of the 14.7km long and 6.5km wide island that is home to just over 1200 people and a gazzillion birds in a stunning natural wildlife environment.
“The island is diverse and it is how you see it, or want to make it,” Dee-Anne said. “For me, it is about some wonderful memories since I first came here on a school camp when I was 10, and often with my family as a 12-year-old.
“There is a family photograph that to me epitomises what this place is about… my Auntie Kay, Aunty Bet and my mum sitting on park bench wrapped up in a blanket eating fish ‘n chips in the middle of winter. It’s the simplicity of it all.
“As soon as you’d drive on to the island you would immediately feel like you were on holidays. The dogs Beauty, Isaac and Mackie Kelpies always knew. Everyone felt safe because the ferry operators knew the locals, and if you were visiting you soon made friends with locals, and for me some of those close friendships have remained.
“I can also remember as it were yesterday when we’d have New Year’s Eve parties on the ferry… there would be almost 50 people singing, dancing, drinking and having fun. We’d get there a half hour before midnight and people would pile on from both sides, and at the stroke of midnight we’d stop the ferry in the middle of the river.
“I stood there beneath the bridge and cried when the ferry stopped.”
Ah, the bridge with the boring name – Hindmarsh Island Bridge – which took 20 years to build because of the marina development and objections, including accusations local Indigenous members, the Ngarrindjeri, fabricated the cultural significance of the island in order to help fight the development. It put Goolwa on the national map for the wrong reasons, and after a Royal Commission decided the Secret Women’s Business was made up, construction was blocked by the Keating government of the day but given the go ahead by the Howard government in 1996.
The bridge was finally opened on March 4, 2001, and Dee-Anne said that most people felt that it was opened much earlier because of the exasperating controversy.
Fortunately, those issues have been long resolved, and these days Hindmarsh Island is being recognised nationally for its incredible land care work.
“The first year we were here we planted 200 Melaleuca trees at the very end of the planting season and during the big drought,” Dee-Anne said.
“Every year since we have planted an average 2000 trees each year, totalling more than 1500 trees over the 80 acres which includes wetlands and grasslands.”
The Hindmarsh Island Land Care group was formed in the mid-80s, and incredibly has planted more than 200,000 trees – and is going stronger the ever. The need comes from the pioneering days when settlers chopped most of the trees to fuel the paddle steamers, and the tireless efforts of today’s volunteers ranks among the most outstanding contributions to our environment.
After a national property slump, the interest in homes and blocks within the Marina Hindmarsh Island is buoyant, to say the least, while many are still chasing the two-acre blocks to find their perfect lifestyle.
There is, after all, plenty to do, with Garry highlighting the benefits of being by the sea and the river, living in the heart of bushland, and the ability to go fishing, boating, skiing, sailing or whatever tickles you fancy, including motorbike riding and bird watching.
Further up the island there is access to Mundoo Island, another superb tourist spot which should be on everyone’s ‘must visit’ list.
“And we’re only an hour from Adelaide,” Garry says.
Garry says the hard work on the property is more like a passion in between working as a shed constructor, and Dee-Anne feels the same when not in her role as customer relations officer for the Goolwa & District Community Bendigo Bank.
And then there is their love for alpacas, indeed the tedious work in making the pin-up boy among the 17 alpacas, Windsong Valley Andean Regent, look his magnificent self. Laugh we may at this fellow’s name, but just be grateful we didn’t name the bridge after Captain John William Dundas Blenkinsop who named this place Hindmarsh Island.