The Cole historians, a glimpse of the past, club hospitality – and elusive kangaroos!
Thursday 12th March 2020. Probably the most rewarding day of my visit, when I would see for myself where my parents lived seventy years ago. And yet there would be little to see that could be recognised, if it were not for the priceless input of one particular couple – Lillian and Alan Cole.
We met with Linc at the Coles’ house, perched on the slope of the hill that looks out over the Cape and Kangaroo Island. Both cars were required as there would be five of us on the tour, with our guides split between the two. Both are now in their eighties, while Alan is the senior and has difficulty walking. His long years farming and working outdoors have resulted in skin cancer, but there’s not much that will stop this tough guy from doing what he wants to do!
Alan and Lillian have a passion for local history, and they were both teenagers in 1950. Their knowledge of the area during the four brief months my parents spent here is personal and invaluable. Alan had copies of aerial photographs taken in that year, and he copied them for me. While they are not coloured, they do clearly show the huge extent of the dense scrub that covered most of the terrain south of Delamere, much of it personally cleared by Alan for arable pasture.
But before the History, let’s start with the Geography lesson: we are in (or on) an area known as the Fleurieu Peninsula – that portion of land about forty miles south of Adelaide that juts out to sea like a sore thumb. To take that same analogy, Cape Jervis is at the very tip of the thumb nail, while Delamere is just above the knuckle. If you were to spread out your right hand, for example, looking at the back of it, Adelaide would be at the start of your first finger, and Victor Harbor at the base of your thumb, but at the farthest point from your fingers. Got it? Good!
Two roads converge at Delamere. The northerly one (from Adelaide) passes through it on the way to Cape Jervis for the ferry, while the southerly one (Range Road) starts out from Victor Harbor. The area we were about to venture into lies to the south of Range Road, and below are two maps to illustrate the subject of my interest. On the right is Alan Cole’s 1950 aerial photo, which I have supplemented to highlight the same roads as on the present-day map so far as they existed then. Three sites of personal interest are also indicated.
Our trek into the Delamere wilderness began at the western extension of Range Road, with Alan explaining how much of the open land we saw had been covered in dense vegetation like the smaller sections we were about to pass through.
Much of the roads we drove on were dirt tracks, little changed since 1950, but where we still met scrub, Lillian explained how they used to clear the acacia undergrowth regularly, as tinder dry conditions could so easily aggravate bush fires.
(Lillian leading the way)
It was a journey like no other for me. On the one hand, part of my brain was comfortable enough driving the car with Lillian at my side and Elaine in the back, following behind Linc and Alan. But another part felt detached, sensing a kind of spirituality from my surroundings. We stopped on occasions, while I got out of my car and sat with Alan, listening while he or Lillian pointed out features, or described how many of the trees we were looking at had been planted personally by them both. The numbers, and the acres, were vast. It was hard for my non-Aussie brain to take in how this land had been transformed over a relatively short period of time. And yet I felt an undeniable connection. As we reached the site where my parents and sister once lived, there was one unmistakeable feature that grounded me, and that seemed to have been left in isolation as a tribute to the little family that made it their home in 1950.
Two photos taken by father and son from almost the same place. The one in black & white is marked on the back as “just outside our front gate”.
The aerial shot (above) is a screenshot from Google, but have a look at this wider shot (below) from Alan Cole’s 1950 version, and note the amount of scrub surrounding the Veale house.
Another homestead now sits on the spot where the Veale family lived…
But apart from the stone-edged beds, there is little to resemble what it used to look like seventy years ago, even if this rear view (below) is from a different angle.
Seventy years ago, my mother and sister went for a walk down the lane at the side of their house and discovered they had a pair of Swedish farmers for neighbours – the Jacobsons. Lillian also got to know them, and it was there that she once met my mother. She didn’t remember her surname, but when asked by Linc if she ever came across any Poms in the area in 1950, she recalled a lady from Manchester who walked with a limp. Peter Jacobson died not long after the Veale family left, but Helga stayed on for several years before moving to the Adelaide area to be nearer her daughter. We have to assume she took the famous sideboard with her, as nothing remains of the original farmhouse. We drove down to the site, and while there were several buildings and signs of habitation, the only occupant we found there was a goat tethered to a small fruit tree who had nothing to say for himself…
Our excursion concluded with a drive along Three Bridges Road – Lillian pointing out the structures built over small creeks, as we wouldn’t otherwise have noticed what we were passing over. There is nothing to see now of the saw mill where my father worked for Joe Hooper, but then this would have only been a temporary structure, dismantled and moved from site to site as required. But the distances between features brought home how isolated mum and dad must have felt. On the night of the rainstorm in particular, it is easy to understand how my dad would have had to remain under cover as best he could, rather than try to walk home.
We split up from Linc, Alan and Lillian outside the Delamere General Store, turning onto the main road in the direction of Yankalilla and Adelaide. Elaine had been patient during my morning of nostalgia, and it was high time we had a look at something other than scrub, fields and acacia.
Linc had recommended we check out Second Valley, being a place on the northern coastline with the ubiquitous fishing jetty, a bit of beach and a café.
We’d gone about ten minutes up the road now from Sue Mac’s place, and it felt good to have a closer look at the other attractions in our neighbourhood. At this point there is no coastal road, and we had to take a small quiet road off the main through route, but at the end of it was a tiny parking area with very few other vehicles, some public toilets and a café/shop. Walking along the jetty, we found a couple of ladies sitting on canvas chairs, enjoying a picnic while their menfolk were line-fishing. One couple was from Essex, enjoying their last few days before flying home. The conversation quickly turned to our observation about the absence of kangaroos, and one of the guys assured us if we continued up the road to Normanville we would find a golf resort – where the number of roos outnumbered the bunkers.
A quick spot of lunch at the café, and we were off again on our quest. In one sense the guy was right: we did find the golf resort – but of kangaroos there was not even a paw-print. Ho-hum.
So we carried on to the beach at Normanville. Another jetty, some kids bathing in the sea, and ice cream for our dessert.
There was no chance of us taking a dip – at least not today – but at least we knew a little more about where we might want to visit again upon our return from Sydney. For now, we had a twenty-minute drive back to Sue Mac’s, time to freshen up and get changed before our next outing: to the Cape again and an evening at the Community Social Club.
The club was built a little over twenty years ago, and contains a large function hall, bar and kitchen as well as gym facilities and a small library – which also boasts two books authored by yours truly. It was a pleasant surprise to walk in and meet not only Lillian and Alan, Linc and Lyn, but also several others who had read my books and enjoyed them. I felt like a minor celebrity!
We were just taking in the rules regarding food and drink (anything alcoholic $3, while tonight’s speciality of a steak sandwich would cost us $8), when the conversation turned to our present disappointment over the absence of kangaroos. “What?” said Linc. “We’ve got some of the buggers just round the corner right now! Come on. I’ll show you!”
And he was right. We rushed outside and piled into Linc’s car. I barely had time to fasten my seatbelt before he turned a corner and… there was one sat on its own at the end of a cul-de-sac. We slowed down and approached carefully while it lifted its head and viewed us warily. Beyond the land was undeveloped, and a few yards distant were another half dozen kangaroos, all staring back at me as I cautiously climbed out of the car with my camera. Would they stay still? Not for long…
Returning from our successful safari (thanks to Linc), we relaxed around the table with Sue Mac, the Barringtons and the Coles. The steak sandwiches were HUGE, filled with what might pass in the UK as an all-day breakfast – minus the sausage and egg – inside a toasted bun the size of a saucer. The interest in history continued, Lillian showing us just one volume of her collations on local history, while I shared some more of the original souvenirs of 1950 Australia that I’d brought to show them.
On the day that, seventy years ago, marked Mum and Dad’s first full day in Delamere, I felt well-satisfied with my own first impressions. I hoped they were still there, sitting on my shoulder and smiling at how history had turned out.
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