Denial Bay, Eyre Peninsula, West Coast, South Australia

Denial Bay

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Ruins of William McKenzie's homestead.

Denial Bay was named by Matthew Flinders on 7 February 1802 because of 'the deceptive hope we had formed penetrating by it some distance into the interior of the country'. Its Aboriginal name was Nadia. After settlement of South Australia in 1836, several enterprising men tried to find good land for farming and settlement. In the early days of sailing the west coast was attractive as ships would reach it much sooner than Adelaide. In 1839 Captain Hart sailed the Rapid to the West Coast with Samuel Stephens and John Hill who were looking for sites for a secondary town and farmland. They were disappointed on both accounts.

Nearly twenty years later in 1858, Bloomfield Douglas made a survey of the area and reported that it 'was worthy of the attention of sheep farmers'. Douglas had been a clipper skipper in the China seas and later worked in Adelaide as Collector of Customs. In April 1870 he was appointed Government Resident of Port Darwin.

Among the first sheep farmers to have a look at the place was William McKenzie of Bugle Ranges near Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills. McKenzie was a progressive minded individual. As early as 1853 he had been trying to get a District Council established. In 1889 he built a homestead about three kilometres west of present day Denial Bay. It soon became a small village as he helped new arrivals transporting their goods from the ships to land. He would take care of them until they were able to continue to their own land.

Within a short time he had added a blacksmith shop, post office, saddlery, a large dining room which could hold as many as fifty people and several cottages. Mac's Town as it became known was the social hub of the district for some ten years. When the government town of Denial Bay was laid out suggestions were made for it to be called McKenzie. It was gazetted as such on 16 June 1910 but was officially changed to its present name on 19 September 1940.

Another early arrival was Johann D. Meier with his wife Maria and four children. They arrived on the Wollomai on 23 October 1893. Meier planned to farm and he and his family worked hard for years to achieve their goal. In 1910 they left for Adelaide but their daughter Freda stayed behind as she had just been appointed Postmistress. However in 1914 the family was back together again when they returned to Denial Bay and Johann continued farming until his death in 1920.

Among some of the later arrivals were George Starling in 1891, and Heinrich Ernst Gersch in 1908. Starling arrived in South Australia in 1878 and had previously farmed at Hindmarsh Valley and on Yorke Peninsula. He took up 4000 acres near Denial Bay. Gersch was born at Urania on York Peninsula in 1885. He bought 8,400 acres in 1908. Luckily for him nearly 4000 acres of it had already been cleared.


1908 Bagshaw Winnower used in the area.
Donated by Keith Tonkin

Farming on the West Coast was not easy as the new settlers soon realised. Among their many problems were water shortages at almost any time of the year. To obtain at least drinking water several farmers condensed seawater on the beach. Others carted it home where they used the mallee from their cleared blocks as fuel. It provided employment for a long time to Scrub Cutters who cleared the land for farmers. Other problems were mice, weavils, rabbits and dingoes. If all this was not enough they also had the problem of transporting their produce to the nearest jetty, before proper roads were built.

To add to their incomes many farmers, or their sons, contracted as builders, well or dam sinkers, scrub cutters or shearers. Others would speculate and buy one or more town blocks in newly laid out towns. In 1903 W. McKenzie bought lot 60 at Ceduna. That same year he became Vice-Chairman of the local Agricultural Bureau and was involved with the first Annual Agricultural and Horticultural Show.

Four years later G. Tharne and W.A. Leckie bought lots 41 and 72 respectively. In 1908 A. Tainsh secured lot 45. Naturally all hoped that Ceduna would return their investment with interest.

One early building was the Denial Bay Hall completed in 1892. It was used for many purposes, including church services, Sunday School, general meetings and picture shows. A School had been petitioned in 1896 by, among others, W. Lutz, A.H. Hoffrichter, J.D. Meier, G. Handtke, and F.H. Kloeden. They were successful and the first teacher appointed was Doris Domeyer who taught her students in McKenzie's Hall. This building was used until 1903 when school was conducted from the Denial Bay Hall.

On 19 January 1906 Denial Bay was visited by his Excellency the Governor Sir George Le Hunte. About 50 Aborigenes from the Koonibba Lutheran Mission Station, twenty miles distant from Denial Bay, attended to see him, including 28 native school children.

According to the local reporter 'His Excellency was very much interested in the blacks and spoke to them as follows: England is not so big as Australia by a lot, but a very great King lives there, who rules England, Australia, and a lot of other places; and he is your King, and wishes you to be happy and good. I am his representative, and I also wish you to be happy and good. I have had a great deal to do with black people for the past 25 years, having for some time represented the King in countries where most of the people were black; and I am very much interested in the welfare of all black people, and I am very much interested in your welfare, and would like to see you all be good and happy'.

And he went on 'I thank you for coming so far to see me, as I always like to see the natives of the country I visit, and I would like you to follow the instructions given you by the missionary and teacher, as they are spending their lives to give you instruction that is for your own good. By attending to what they teach you will become better people. I would like you all to live good, pure lives. Those of you who are men to be good to your lubras, and you who are women to live pure lives and be an example to the younger ones, and you who are bigger boys and girls to attend to your lessons and be good in all respects, and be an example to the younger boys and girls. You who are the smaller boys and girls try and learn all you can, and follow the good example of the older ones!'

'His Excellency then promised to send them a new football and cricket set, and called for three cheers for the King, which were heartily given. The Hon. R. W. Foster then called for three cheers for his Excellency the Governor, which were also heartily given'. No doubt from then on they were all good, happy and pure boys and girls!

Although there was a strong Lutheran community at Denial Bay, it remained too small to attract a permanent Pastor for many years. They had to be satisfied with occasional visits from travelling Pastors. The land for their Lutheran cemetery, school, church and manse was donated by Gottlieb Handtke. Before that they had their meetings at the home of W.A.E. Lutz. In 1897 Pastor H. Kempe was appointed to look after them. Kempe knew the outback, loneliness, isolation and the many other problems faced by his flock from personal experience. He had been instrumental in the setting up of the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia.

Although a long way from town, the services were attended by most Lutherans every Sunday. In 1901 Pastor C.A. Wiebush of Koonibba Aboriginal Mission took on the spiritual care of the congregation. A manse was built near the church in 1908 for Pastor Benno Schwarz who was the first resident Pastor. His spiritual care took up most of his time as he also taught four days a week in the German school. Pastors continued to live at this isolated location until 1925 when a manse was bought at Ceduna.

A similar problem was that of obtaining, and holding a doctor. After Dr Siegwardt Bruehl left in 1906, after having served the community for three years, another doctor could only be attracted if offered a guaranteed income paid by a Medical Society. The Denial Bay Farmers Medical Board was founded by W. McKenzie and H. Smith in 1906. By paying a yearly subscription members would receive free medical attendance....if a doctor was available.


Wheat stacks at Denial Bay in 1919.

Transport problems were partly solved in 1910 when the Denial Bay jetty was built. This would make it a lot easier for farmers to transport their wheat to Port Adelaide. The first boat to load at the jetty was the Wookata. In 1936 she was converted into a barge and employed on the Port Pirie-Whyalla run, carrying coal or occasionally wool or limestone.


Denial Bay 1930s.

Regardless of the problems there was still time and occasion to have fun or play a sport. Football was popular even after the Denial Bay team was defeated by Charra in 1908. Race meetings had been popular and were often held in farmers' paddocks. From 1913 races were held on A. Hoffrichter's course. The town also had a hotel, the Federal, and a few stores, including Darling's General store and Betts store. William Henry Betts came to Streaky Bay in 1883. Within two years he had started storekeeping and before long he expanded and had stores at Fowlers Bay, Murat Bay, Denial Bay and Euckla in Western Australia. Henry Brown, born at Streaky Bay in 1887 became manager of the Denial Bay Store in November 1907.


Federal Hotel around 1900.

John Feltus Burke, born in 1876 and educated at Streaky Bay, built the hotel. Previously he had worked as a telegraph line repairer between Port Augusta and Eucla. He married Hilda Rose Haseldine of Athenna in April 1908 which was one of the best reasons to have a party.


Betts Store around 1900.


Denial Bay 1930s.

In 1913 the town supported a population of 179. Miss J.M. Skinner was Postmistress, D.J. Whyborn the Harbour Master, Miss Robinson was the local teacher and the Lutheran Rev B. Schwarz held services each week. W. Bogan had a greengrocer's shop, J.J. Burke had the Federal Hotel and B. and S. Lindsay were the local wheat agents.

When WWI broke out many young men of the West Coast volunteered for the front. Sadly many of them also paid with their lives for their ideals. From Denial Bay Horrace Coppins, Ronald Knight, W.O. Kloeden and Ben Whyborn were among those killed in action.

After the war life returned to normal again, sport again became important as was dancing and balls. Most of the money made at these functions went to improve the town's facilities. In 1921 the local hospital was completed and 4 years later it could boost a doctor's residence, nursing home, hall, showground, police station established in 1900 and a workers' home as well as all the services mentioned before. The town and its residents had experienced many ups and downs but it had survived and prospered, it was here to Stay!


W. Haseldine's horses pulling car and buggy, August 1933.

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Denial Bay Cemeteries

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