Reed Beds
W.H. Gray
Patawalonga & The Reedbeds, Holdfast Bay
Adapted from the painting by Colonel Light early in 1837
The Glenelg Flagstaff overlooking the beach and entrance to the Patawalonga Creek.

Light's Landing at Patawalonga Creek
On the morning of October 1st 1836, Colonel Light had sailed southwards from the mangroved inlet (Pt. Adelaide), to see if he had missed the elusive harbour which had been discovered by Collet Barker in 1831 and re-examined by Captain Jones in 1834.

Due to a strong gale with a heavy swell, the Rapid veered away to a deeper anchorage to ride out a storm. Light was not able to land until the 3rd.

It is believed that Sal Cooper, a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman on board the Rapid, who had been living with the sealers on Kangaroo Island for many years, was the origin of the name Patawalonga, which means - 'boggy and bushy stretch, with fish.'

The native description of the creek was found to be most accurate. Claughton and Jacob, two assistant surveyors, were sent to trace the river up till they found fresh water. They were able to sail the gig 4 miles in a northerly direction towards the reed beds.

The next party of white men to arrive had been sent from Rapid Bay by Colonel Light to establish a survey camp. George Strickland Kingston, Deputy Surveyor General and half the survey party landed on the 5th November.

Arrival of the Africaine
In the meantime, Light remained at Rapid Bay preparing for his further exploration of the gulf when the Africaine arrived. An agreement was made with Gouger and Brown to proceed to Holdfast Bay to land the immigrants there. The weather was so bad it took the whole of the next day to reach the anchorage arriving off the Patawalonga at 6 p.m. on the 8th November 1836.

Mr. Field and Mr. Morphett came down to meet us before we anchored;... I had to undergo a little torment, which I kept to myself, being still pursuaded, that the connexion of these plains with the creek, their immense extent to the N.E., consequently towards the Murray, and the certain conviction in my own mind of the existence of plenty of rich soil, would, after a month or two of dissatisfaction, fully quiet any apprehensions now entertained by these gentlemen.

Kingston's party report the discovery of a river
Light's hopes were lifted when advised that Kingston, Field and Morphett had discovered a fresh water river a few miles inland. This river was later named the 'Torrens' - native name Yatala.

Light, Gouger, Brown and Captain Duff of the Africaine, led by Mr. Field, landed two miles north of the 'Patawalonga' to see if they could locate the mouth of this river. The sandhills along the entire coastline of the Bay obscured the view of the immediate plain from on board the ship. Light reported to the Commissioners:-

We have this morning been looking for the mouth of the river and find it exhausts itself in the lagoons, these must either ooze through the sand into the sea, or be connected with the creek*. I strongly suspect the latter, as the distance to the creek is small at this part, and the water in the upper part of the creek, where I grounded^, was far from being salt.

(*Pt. Adelaide inlet Sept 26th - ^Tam O'Shanter Creek)

Arrival of the Cygnet at Holdfast Bay 9th November
The party returned to the Holdfast Bay anchorage to see the Cygnet coming in to join the Rapid and the Africaine.

The Landing of the Pioneers 10th to 12th November 1836
After three days of atrocious weather and trying to land the settlers with a high swell and surf, Light's report continues.

Looking generally at this plain I am quite confident it will be one of the largest settlements, if not the capital of the new colony, the Creek* will be its Harbour.
Six months labour would clear a road down to it, and if not, there is a hard sandy beach the whole way, on which a mail coach might run.

I next view the range of mountains going with a gradual slope into the plain where it ends altogether, and we see no other hills, which gives me great hopes that this plain extends all the way to the Murray, and in spite of all the opinions on the subject now, I am positive there is quite enough of good rich land for every purpose; the low parts of this plain are covered with fresh water lakes, many of which are full of rushes, and in the winter a great part of the plain may be covered with water, but the ground rises gradually towards the mountains, and that part can never be flooded, and it has the same appearance that exists on the hills about Rapid Bay, the second valley, and other parts which are extremely rich.

Much remains to be done also by proper management of the waters that have hitherto run in natural courses, by collecting them with proper dams, and conducting them through more eligible channels. This will I am sure be one of the finest plains in the world.

Colonel Light was not only an astute observer of the natural environment, but a superb geographer. These opinions were expressed after only four days at the location. A comparison with Light's map, show how accurate his observations proved to be.

The Printing Hut - Shipbuilding - The Customs House
Reed Hut Printing Office was erected on the north bend of the Patawalonga on the 20th December 1836.

The first Government tender to assemble the mud barges for use at Port Adelaide was carried out in the Patawalonga in June 1837.

The first boat constructed in the Patawalonga was the 22 ton cutter O.G. for the Colonial Secretary, Osmond Gilles. On the day it was launched in 1839, the boat was stranded till high tide. There was only 4 feet of water over the sand bar at the entrance.

Ships of over 300 tons, which were too big to enter Port Adelaide, discharged their passengers and cargoes at Glenelg. Floatable goods were pitched overboard and tided into the creek to the Customs House. The Customs House and flagstaff were erected in November 1839 for the accommodation of the Customs Officer and the crew of the two landing waiters. Pilots fees were still being collected on the Pat. fishing fleet of 35 vessels and for the landing of mail from the steamers until the 1880's. At that time it was called Port Glenelg.

Draining the Reed Beds
William Henry Gray, John White and Cornelius Birdseye were the first European land owners of the sections on the reed beds. The aboriginal name for this area was Witoingga - 'reedy place'.

Gray owned all the land from the Glenelg boundary, (St. Anne's Terrace) to Henley Beach, including the present day airport. He had properties called 'Frogmore' and 'Graymore'. John White, surveyor and builder, owned the land on which the Torrens diverted south into the Patawalonga. His property was called 'Fulham Farm'. Birdseye, a market gardener, owned the section to White's north where the Torrens diverted into the Port River system. The first crop grown on these flood plains in 1839 was maize.

Gray's Drains
Colonel Light had written on his 1839 map "Low Land subject to flood". This proved to be the case. When interviewed about the Patawalonga Improvement Scheme in 1883, Gray reported to the committee:-

The drains I have made have relieved all this land, and where only salt scrub grew there is now hay growing. I have about fifteen miles of drains made, which have cost me thousands of pounds. I have been at it for forty odd years.

Captain Brinsden reported to the same committee on the flood waters of the Torrens:-

Much the larger portion goes to the Port creek, because it is very much wider. ...When it comes to Fulham it divides into three, ... the whole of this land from the meatworks at the Port to the rifle butts at Henley Beach was one vast lake from 3ft. to 4ft. deep was an immense body of water rushing northwards the whole distance to the Port creek.

Torrens old outlet through the sandhills
Captain Brinsden also mentioned that there were two ridges of sandhills running obliquely in a south-east north-westerly direction at Henley Beach South, which was probably an old mouth of the Torrens. The artificial channel to this point was constructed in 1960, the problem of the Torrens flooding having abated somewhat after the construction of the weir in 1881.

The Military Road
The Military Road from Glenelg to Henley Beach, running behind the sandhills, was constructed on Gray's land in 1879. The road had been planned by Colonel Sir Peter Scratchley, Royal Engineers, and constructed by Colonel M.F. Downes of the Royal Artillery.
The idea was to provide for the coastal protection of South Australia by placing gun forts at Largs, Glanville, Semaphore and Glenelg.

The Military Bridge, Patawalonga
Gray and Downes made a verbal agreement to swap what is now known as Patawalonga Frontage, western side, with the road Gray had constructed along the eastern side, (Adelphi Terrace). A bridge was built across the Patawalonga (at Anderson Avenue), to give the military access to Tapleys Hill Road from the forts. This was known as the Military Bridge. The only other bridge across the Patawalonga at that time was the foot bridge across to the north arm from the Customs House Quay opened in 1868.

The present King Street Bridge was named for Thomas King, Mayor of Glenelg 1882-84.

The Chamier Lock Gates Scheme
The Patawalonga remained basically unchanged as a tidal estuary until 1886. It was then planned to dam the river up to keep the seaweed from entering the creek; rotting then smelling, and also to provide a scouring effect when the water was released to the sea.

It was also proposed to provide a weir to make it safer for small fishing craft to shelter in the 'pool' entrance in case of storm. The lock gates were washed away by stormwater 12 months later, the debt not being paid off by the Glenelg Corporation until 1912. The only remnant of this scheme is the wall built along the reclaimed land of Wigley Reserve. There have been many other schemes proposed in the intervening years. The Barcoo stormwater pipe outlet idea was first put forward in 1931.

The present lock system was constructed in 1960, however, the problem highlighted by Colonel Light in February 1837 in respect of the sand bar at the entrance, remains to this day.

Chamier Scheme
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