Arno Bay - Culture and History

Tiny settlement on the Eyre Peninsula.

It has been common to think that Arno Bay was named after the Arno River in Italy but the Geographical Names Board of South Australia claims that in 1889 the name was chosen because 'Arno' was the Aboriginal name applied to the nearby 'Sandhill Well'. An alternative version, and by far the most attractive derivation of the town's name, is that Matthew Flinders, while circumnavigating Australia in the Investigator sailed up Spencers Gulf. Reaching Arno Bay the lookout cried out 'Land Ahoy!'. Matthew Flinders looked and said, 'Ah! No bay there!' and so it was named Arno Bay. An unlikely tale.

A tiny outpost grew up around Salt Creek because, in the early days of settlement, the coastal plain was covered with mallee scrub. The only access from the wheat farms to the coast was down the dry river beds.

Although the locals referred to the area as Arno Bay it was officially named Bligh, probably after Captain William Bligh, in 1883. The township of Bligh was subdivided and 184 allotments were put up for sale however there was no great demand for land in such an isolated area. The locals resisted the name Bligh and continued to refer to the area around the jetty and Salt Creek as Arno Bay. Eventually in 1940 the town's name was officially changed from Bligh to Arno Bay.

Arno Bay offers an interesting insight into the hardships and hopes which characterised the early development of the Eyre Peninsula. In the earliest days of settlement the tall clippers which sailed along the coast brought supplies and fertilisers to enrich the impoverished Peninsula soils. They took away with them grain and wool. Before the jetty was built the ships had to weigh anchor offshore while a sailor rowed to the shore and lit a signal fire. This fire could be seen for some distance and another fire was lit on Ranford Hill to advise the local farmers that a ship was off the coast.

In 1880, in expectation of Arno Bay becoming an important port, a jetty was built.

Business was slow but by 1911 the port was important enough for the elaborate and solid Hotel Arno to be built. It was built on the expectation that the combination of a railhead and a port would see the area grow rapidly. The following year the jetty was extended to 370 metres and by the 1940s the town had grown to a point where over 11 000 tonnes of grain were being shipped out. All this came to an end in 1963 when the bulk grain silos were built. The ships were replaced by trucks which carried the local grain south to the major port facilities at Port Lincoln. Thus, today Arno Bay is a sleepy little village with minimal facilities.

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