The Guardian December 8, 1999


Against the tide of destruction

by David Kirner in Port Adelaide

There is no shortage of recognition amongst residents of Port Adelaide, 
South Australia, with their knowledge of the Port Adelaide River and its 
banks, that we are on Kaurna people's land.

However, the SA Department of Environment, Heritage and Aboriginal Affairs, 
who currently own much of the land along with the SA Ports Corporation, 
deny the significance of feasibility studies.

Further, according to letters to major newspapers from Heritage SA  the 
Government's arm for recognising things of historical significance  
"significance" is considered insignificant.

As a result, without proper government recognition no action is being taken 
to secure land for the Kaurna people or for community ownership.

Local councillors over their coffee, and picketers around their campfire, 
say documents suggest that the Tjibulki Trail started at Pelican Point, 
Outer Harbour. Aboriginal resting places are referred to in reports on the 
construction of a gas pipeline from Torrens Island to the Pelican Point 
power station.

History of the area resides in some known written and recorded references, 
including The Tjibulki Trail, a copy of which is held by Port 
Adelaide Enfield Councillor Bruce Johanssen.

There is also a book and a recorded story by Kaurna elder Auntie Veronica 
Brodie, copies of which are available at the Port Adelaide Enfield Library.

Kaurna people and the river

Kaurna people, who talk of one of the symbolic animals of the area as being 
the possum (brush-tailed), also talk of Kaurna people who remember when 
they used to sew possum skins to make possum skin footballs. The possum has 
a suburb, Taperoo, named after it.

The dolphin and pelican dreaming exist for Kaurna people and are felt by 
the community.

Recorded history recounted by Kaurna elders recalls when Kaurna people were 
forcibly removed by CSR from the old sugar refinery site and made to walk 
to Adelaide where they were arrested and charged as vagrants.

Resting places or burial sites are talked about as existing on the Port 
Adelaide River bank near the new Harbour Side Quay housing development, at 
Linear Park, along the Port Adelaide River and at Torrens Island Quarantine 
Station.

When the river was clean

In the early 1930s the Port River was so clean that people could see the 
bottom of the riverbed.

The Port Adelaide Swimming Club swam from the wharves at the Birkenhead 
Bridge whilst swimming races were held down in the Ethelton and Granville 
areas where today people diving and jet skiing risk catching Hepatitis.

The Christening of the Fleet used to see thousands of people jump into the 
Port River. Now it happens further along the coast near Henley Beach or 
Glenelg.

People also swam in the 1960s and early 1970s in river tributary Sturt 
Creek and at Bonython Park and in the Torrens River beyond the Chain of 
Ponds, where the Port River started. Aboriginal people lived on the 
Torrens; Kaurna people.

The waters of the Port River were lined with mangroves until the 1970s, 
where environmental protests took place to protect the mangrove wetlands 
from the Westlakes residential development, including people chaining 
themselves to bulldozers.

The Torrens River used to run into the Port River, until it was diverted, 
destroying the original pathway of the estuary. In the old days there was 
also straight effluent running into the Torrens River, and an abattoir and 
tannery. People used to catch cholera.

At Largs North there was an old dumping ground for asbestos and a paint and 
acid factory.

Night time dumping

Today, according to residents there is late night dumping. This normally 
goes on between 2.00am and 5.00am when it is dark and the community is 
asleep.

The increasingly restricted public access to the river is considered to be 
in order to hide effluent dumping.

Residents recall the petrol leaks and oil spills colouring the water in 
rainbows: a resident talks of thinking whilst fishing that "this is 
pretty", until the realisation that it was an oil slick.

A new proposal has been floated secretly by staff from the Department of 
Industry and Trade for an export abattoir to be built near the mouth of the 
river at Pelican Point, the site of a power station currently under 
construction by AB & B and National Power, both overseas transnational 
corporations, one from Germany and the other from England.

The Olsen Government was recently forced by environmental and community 
opposition to reject a ship breaking feasibility study proposal which was 
backed financially by Transfield, Air Liquide, P & O and other 
corporations.

45% human excrement

Testing from the SA Water sewerage pipe at Ethelton shows human excrement 
levels of 45 per cent entering the river system.

SA Water and United Water, another overseas transnational corporation, deny 
human excrement level claims. Funnily enough the government department 
responsible for testing water quality lost community test samples two 
months ago.

SA Water's latest proposal is to relocate the sewerage pipe to the mouth of 
the Port River. The community wants all sewage taken from the river and 
effluent pumped to northern treatment works to be treated and desalinated.

The struggle in Port Adelaide is part of a wider struggle by Australia's 
people against unacceptable risks to public health and for the vitally 
important restoration of degraded aquatic environments, such as the Snowy 
River.

Our local and indigenous communities' aspirations for freedom and 
recognition and a proper place in the democratic ownership and governance 
of the lands and laws of Australia are paramount.

Back to index page