In 1846 the area was known as Square Waterhole and is now listed on the National Heritage list It got its name after large amounts of peat had been removed for burning leaving a big square hole which soon filled up with water. Within ten years Joseph Lush had built an Inn, trying to cash in on teamsters stopping on the way to Port Victor or Adelaide, and became the first publican. It did not take long before it was a favourite place for teamsters and other travellers to stop overnight.
During 1872 the government of the day appointed George Waye as Roadman to look after the road five miles on both sides of the Inn. He would do his job for the next 50 years. Waye was born in Devonshire and came to South Australia and landed at Port Adelaide on 31 July 1855. He first settled at McLaren Vale. After having tried his luck on the Victorian Goldfields he came back much wiser but not richer. In 1864 he married Mary Hearl of Encounter Bay. When he built his house it became known as Roadman’s Cottage.
After some families had made the area their permanent residence a school was opened in the cottage and Miss Cameron was in charge of 11 pupils. The area around it was surveyed in 1880 and in March 1893 some of it was resurveyed into Workmen’s Blocks. Mount Compass was surveyed in the early 1890s but a township was not planned for many years. However before this happened it was already settled and people had built their houses and businesses.
Mount Compass and its surrounding area had some of South Australia’s poorest soils and little would grow without drainage, super phosphate and trace elements. Needless to say that they were some of the last areas to be developed and then only during the 1890’s depression and after experiments along the Murray River at Monteith had proved that it was possible to make a living on these blocks.
The nearby areas of Yundi, Enterprise Colony and Munette were developed during the 1930’s depression. Some of the first enterprising settlers to take up land at Munette in 1934 were Bert Golding, his brother Wally and brother-in-law Bert Deacon. During 1892 some of the Black Peat area was cut up into 100 acre blocks for what later became known as market gardening. Among some of the earliest farmers to give it a try were members of the Waye, Hancock, Slater, Peters and Wehrmann families. By 1894 Closer Settlement was a full swing with dairy farming as the main occupation.
C.H. Hancock's homestead.
Richard Peters, born on 8 September 1857, the son of a Cornish stone mason, arrived in Australia in 1879 at the age of 22. After working in Melbourne for a short time he joined his brother William in Aldgate. There they worked on many buildings but also as far away as the Gladstone Gaol and the Corny Point Lighthouse. Later he worked for the building firm Sarah of Willunga. After his marriage in 1887 to Eda Cora Jacobs, born at Willunga on 25 August 1867, which produced 3 sons and 3 daughters, he invested in a 100 acre block at Mount Compass for his sons. They settled on it in 1898.
Melphord Jacobs and Sam Arthur bought section 321 in 1894 to start farming. After draining and clearing the block they grew potatoes and vegetables for the next 30 years. As more and more settlers arrived a post office was opened by William Wright in November 1897. Two years later Richard Peters brought the first dairy cows to Mount Compass.
In March 1899 the Agricultural Bureau held a meeting at Willunga, where a paper was read and discussed, about the benefits of artificial fertilisers. It resulted in several members making a trip to Mount Compass to see its application for themselves.
At the Mount most of the land had remained in its natural state until the 1890s, a quaking, spongy, sour swamp overgrown with reeds, wire grass, swamp willows, silver wattle and other useless vegetation. However as early as 1870 Thomas Callaghan, the roadman who lived in the area, had cleared a small part and succeeded in growing potatoes and vegetables very successfully. He had even enough surpluses to make it worth his while to sell them in Willunga.
Around the turn of the century the swamps were surveyed and let on miscellaneous leases. The Gardiner Brothers were the first Crown Land tenants. After several years of hard work they had to admit defeat and handed the land to the Bank of New Zealand. Eventually it was taken on by McConville of Avondale Station in the far north. He used the land for emergency paddocks for his sheep in time of drought. After some years the Wright Brothers used it for market gardening and after their success closer settlement soon followed.
During 1899 Jacobs and Arthur, who had previously worked in the Willunga slate quarries but were retrenched during the 1890s depression, also tried their luck at Mount Compass and within a short time were able to employ extra labour on their land. Other farmers followed. Among them was George Waye whose block was worked by his 2 sons. H. McKinlay soon had 3 acres with potatoes. S. Bell had 2 acres under crop and J. Norman and W. Herring were in the process of clearing their land.
Still a lot of land remained they way it had been when the Aborigines occupied it. In November 1903 the Field Naturalists’ Section of the Royal Society visited the Mount Compass area to were impressed enough to return for another excursion in 1924.
In April 1902 the first Mount Compass Show was held and it was decided to make it an annual event. In April 1903 the second and also very successful show took place. Many prizes were awarded. Some of the lucky ones were R. Cameron, W. Dryer, L. Townsend, W. Pengilly and J. Youlton. A few months later a much anticipated event took place when the foundation stone was laid for the Hall by H. Malpas. During the gathering W. Gowling lost no time to point out the need for a railway to reduce the high transport cost of bringing the produce to market.
As the number of school aged children kept increasing it was decided in 1904 to move the school to the new Hall. During all these years the perception of the swamplands had changed dramatically and in 1914 it was stated that Mount Compass had some of the richest swamp flats of Australia. The only thing needed was an efficient drainage system to remove the surplus water. That was easier said than done. David Wright, while assisting to get a horse from a drain paid for his efforts with a broken leg.
Clearing the scrub.
However several farmers, gardeners and orchardists, were very pleased with their efforts. George Stone of Nangkita and Wellesley Cocks of Mount Compass were doing well on their farms while Frank Slater and T. Trevena got good returns from their market gardens. Douglas D. Hancock and Arthur J. Hancock, orchardists of Mount Compass were also more than pleased. Arthur had shipped 1500 cases of apples in 1913 and obtained a gold medal for them at the Franco-British exhibition.
Other gardeners at the Mount, among them R. Peters, W. and David Wright, M. Jacobs and Hutton had provided overwhelming evidence of the suitability of the rich swamplands for the growing of potatoes, onions and other vegetables. On some blocks potatoes had yielded up to 20 tons an acre. Cabbages also flourished. George Way produced one of 28 lbs while R. Peters did even better with a 38 pounder. David Wright and his brother claimed to be the pioneers of vegetable gardeners at the Mount. After more than twenty years and transferring the ‘useless swamps’ into highly productive gardens they certainly had proved it.
David Wright with his produce.
In 1914 the railway question was raised once again. This time it was proposed to build a line between the Mount and Tailem Bend. It even resulted in a Commission of Inquiry. To everyone’s disappointment nothing came of it. Still it did not stop the progress of the town too much. More and more services and shops became available making shopping trips to Willunga or even Adelaide a thing of the past. In 1923 Alex Dowell even opened a grocery shop which was sold in 1944 to Jim Caddy.
Albert Waye made it possible for those who died to be buried locally when he donated an acre of his land for the use of a cemetery in the 1930s. Although South Australia was hit hard by the depression of the 1930s the farmers at Mount Compass somehow managed to live through it and not only made the best of it but also expanded settlement and increased the amount of land under cultivation.
The Yundi settlement was started during the depression years when the government moved 19 destitute families to it and granted each family £400 to get started. They were also provided with 600 fowls and expected to be self-sufficient after 3 years.
In June 1931 it was reported that ‘A striking instance of what can be accomplished on small holdings when properly developed is provided by several settlers where on a few acres a living is obtained by means of cows, pigs, poultry and vegetables’. A. J. Peters had made dairying his main source of income but was also maintaining a breeding stock of 50 ewes.
Malphord Jacobs and Richard Peters, who had selected land more than 35 years ago and with the help of their wives Emma and Eda, as well as their families, had transformed the swamp and scrub into market gardens and grassland, now found their efforts rewarded with the possession of good and comfortable homes, set in the midst of fertile valleys overlooked by hills green with wonderful pastures.
Still a lot of clearing had to be done to bring all the land under cultivation. C.E. Verco was doing just that while H.B. Peters had cleared some 50 acres of his 150 acre block. Carl Verco, son of C.E. Verco had gone in for breeding Jerseys and probably could claim to be the youngest breeder in South Australia.
Virgin land on C.E. Verco's property.
A. Kidman, a relative of Sir Sidney Kidman, was also very enthusiastic about the possibilities of the Mount Compass area. He had obtained land in the late 1920s and was convinced that the area could support hundreds of families. Additional services became available in 1935 when Sam Peterson built a butcher shop. It was run by Herb Watson and his family.
One of the last to buy a scrub block was Lance McHugh who in 1938 bought 150 acres. His ancestors had arrived in South Australia in 1836 and had helped Col. William Light with the survey of Adelaide. His grandfather had a mixed farm at Quorn but later moved to the much better watered area of Echunga. Ten years later saw the fulfilment of Kidman’s prophecy when in 1948 the South Australian Housing Trust subdivided some land for residential purposes.