Granite Island is situated a short walk or horse tram ride from the heart
of Victor Harbor
on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. With over 700,000 visitors
it is the most visited park in South Australia.
Granite Island, characterised by its huge granite boulders tinged with orange and green lichen, has a uniquely distinctive history. The island has a cultural history based on the beliefs of the Ramindjeri group dating back countless generations, as well as a European history dating back to 1802 when Englishman Captain Matthew Flinders on the Investigator and Captain Nicolas Baudin on Le Geographé discovered the area.
Granite Island is part of the local Ramindjeri Aboriginal landscape, and is identified as Kaiki rather than Granite Island. The island has always been of great importance to this indigenous group, as the male Supreme Creator Ngurunderi is believed to have created the island by throwing a spear into the sea. The Ngurunderi Dreaming extends from the upper reaches of the River Murray, to Kangaroo Island.
The meeting between Flinders and Baudin at Encounter Bay in 1802 marked the beginning of enormous change at Granite Island and surrounding areas. In his journal, Flinders described how he prepared his crew for action and instructed his crew to hoist a white flag of truce. Like Nicolas Baudin who hoisted the French and English flags from his ship Le Geographé, Matthew Flinders hoped for a peaceful encounter.
To the relief of both captains, the exchange was peaceful. Flinders boarded the French ship and the two captains exchanged information about their explorations. They learned that they had been given the same task to chart the 'unknown coast' of Terra Australis. In recognition of the meeting, Flinders named the area Encounter Bay.
From this point on, Victor Harbor became recognised for its whaling and sealing opportunities. In the early nineteenth century, Encounter Bay attracted large numbers of whales and seals. Whaling stations were erected on Granite Island and the Bluff to pursue the Southern Right Whale. The Ramindjeri people were regarded as competent whalers and were employed as harpooners and whale spotters.
Whaling at Victor Harbor produced whale oil, one of South Australia's first exports. Business was good and Encounter Bay was the most productive of the colony's whaling stations. However, by the last years, whalers were only finding two to three whales each winter. In 1872 the industry closed down.
Victor Harbor was thought to be better than other harbors in the colony. It was also conveniently close to the River Murray trade. For this reason, Victor Harbor was considered to be South Australia's capital city. The town's bid to become the capital city saw the construction of Granite Island's causeway, jetties and breakwater. Victor Harbor was unsuccessful in this bid. Shipping continued successfully, however. Products like wool and wheat traveled down the River Murray by boat, then by steam train to Victor Harbor and across to Granite Island by horse-drawn tram. They were loaded onto the ships bound for ports around the world. By the end of the century, the railways were rapidly expanding and the need for shipping was reduced.
Text supplied by Government of South Australia | Department for Environment and Heritage