Gawler’s Hidden Secrets: Goose Island
Once known as Duck Flat, Gawler’s Goose Island is little known outside of the town.
At the end of 8th street, which was known as Water Street, sits the parkland which was once home to Chinese’s market gardeners.
Parts of the land were originally owned by local Gawler identity, Mr James Martin, who is often referred to as “The Father of Gawler”, as his foundry helped employ many locals and brought industry and commercial growth to the town.
Goose Island, which sits about four meters below the level of the rest of the town, and lower than the eastern river bank, is prone to flooding. Before a swing bridge was built in 1889, residents had to navigate the river bed, and then climb the riverbank to get to Whitelaw Terrace and the rest of the town.
In 1865, Goose Island was used for sporting events. One such event was between Gawler’s H. Ortel and Kapunda’s Abel Marryat, who were sprinting against each over for the princely winnings of $40 pounds. Marryat won the races easily.
As Gawler grew, people began to build on Goose Island, and soon many residents had little cottages surrounded by pig sties and chicken coops. In 1885, a Typhoid outbreak hit Goose Island, thought to be due to the unsanitary conditions being caused by stagnant water in the river. A few residents died, but the outbreak was contained quickly.
An attempt to damn the river to allow people to swim or boat on the south para lasted only a short while around the early 1900’s, with a downpour of rain soon cutting a new channel around the dam. The dam was eventually blown up with dynamite in the late 1930’s.
In 1899 the first swing bridge spanning from Goose Island to Walker Place was built. Unfortunately, as the South Para river was prone to extensive flooding every winter, the bridge was washed away only a year later.
The bridge had to be built many times over the years, as flooding almost every winter, saw it destroyed.
It wasn’t until the late 1920’s that council found a solution for the bridge being washed away, and instead of just building a rope style swing bridge, or a reinforced wire swing bridge, it was decided to sink railway line in concrete in the base of the river to offer more stability, then add steel cable anchored on the riverbanks. This bridge lasted until 1937, when it was washed away again!
Not far from the swing bridge of Goose Island, a little area was set aside as a reserve for children to play. Water was diverted around the play area, which was adjacent to Walker Place creating a small island, the island itself covered with sand.
Children often played here unsupervised, which led to the tragic death of 12-year-old Flora Kamprod on the 16th of July 1927. Flora had been playing in the sand with several friends, who had dug a tunnel, and a large chamber. The chamber and tunnel collapsed burying four children, with Flora being completely buried inside. A mad rush to get helped followed, but it was too late for young Flora who suffocated under the sand.
Flora wasn’t the only tragedy near Goose Island, in 1892, Willie Sampson, aged nine years, drowned in the river. Willie was playing with friends and dove into the water, and possibly hit his head on a submerged branch, and then got stuck.
The two other boys called out for help, and it took two passers-by over an hour before they could pull Willie from the river…
In 1951, Goose Island was again covered in water, this time flooding the gardens of local business owner Mr Noack. Noack lost 3000 poppies, 4000 gladioli and other bulbs, but considered the damage only slight to his business
In 1985, Goose Island flooded again, but the bridge, built in the 1960’s withheld the raging torrent. Again, the river flooded in 2005, this time flooding well up into 8th street, but still the bridge survived!
Today, Goose Island is a reserve right in the heart of Gawler that may soon become another car park to meet the growing needs of the town. It will be interesting to see what artefacts are found if the proposed carpark for goose Island goes ahead.
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