Tumby Bay, South Australia: Travel guide and things to do

The small and charming settlement of Tumby Bay is located 301 km west of Adelaide via the Princes and Lincoln Highways.

Tumby Bay is a typical Eyre Peninsula holiday resort. The township is dominated by the long, narrow arc of beach, the two jetties which jut out into the bay, the large caravan park on the beachfront, and the remarkable domination of corrugated iron which assails the traveller who drives in off the Lincoln Highway. It seems as though every second building and fence on the outskirts of town is built out of corrugated iron.

Like so much of the coastline of Eyre Peninsula, Tumby Bay was first explored by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Flinders named the bay and a nearby island (somewhat incongruously) after the village of Tumby in Lincolnshire, England. In 1984 the name was expanded from Tumby to Tumby Bay.

The first settlers moved into the area in the 1840's. In 1854 a farmer named James Provis took up land around the bay. The area was agricultural for nearly 50 years before the town came into existence.

There is a fascinating account of life in the area at this time: 'People who came to Tumby Bay in 1858 were carried ashore from sailing boats. Sandhills, scrub and black "wurlies" were the only objects that met the eye...A jetty was built at Tumby Bay, which became the shipping port of the Burrawing Mine. There was no regular services, boats called only when there was cargo offering. The only building then erected was a small office near the jetty.'

By 1874 the first jetty had been built but there was no sign of a permanent settlement. One of the many interesting sights in town is the old tram at the end of the jetty near the Seaview Hotel. It was originally used to take bags of wheat from the drays to the boats berthed at the end of the pier.

The low rainfall in the area meant that the European population in the area grew very slowly. It wasn't until 1900 that the town was gazetted and even then it was really only a port where supplies could be landed and bags of grain could be shipped out.

It is a comment on the size of the town at this time that 'The new buildings were hidden by scrub and people had to clamber over low sandhills to reach them...When the institute was erected in 1907, it was thought the occasion warranted something extra in the way of ceremony, so the Premier was invited to perform it. The ceremony took place at night, and in case the Premier and his party should get lost in the scrub before reaching the building, lanterns were hung in bushes along the route.'

Today Tumby Bay is a popular seaside holiday town which services the surrounding farming community.


Things to see

Seaside Activities
As a holiday resort it offers the usual range of seaside leisure activities - swimming in the beautiful clear water of the bay, skin diving , fishing (there is an annual fishing tournament), walking along the beach, admiring the museum and the monuments on the beachfront. Tumby Bay is much more than a transitory holiday destination. The Tumby Bay Yacht Club, the large number of permanent dwellings, the sense of permanency created by the lawn and the pine trees which lie between The Esplanade and the beach, all give Tumby Bay a quality which is missing from many of the fishing haunts in the region.

Charter Trips to Sir Joseph Banks Islands
One of the town's special attractions is a charter trip to the Sir Joseph Banks Islands (named by Flinders after Cook's botanist) which lie 12 nautical miles off the coast. The islands were originally used to graze sheep but today they are a conservation area where Southern Ocean birds such as Gape Barren geese and albatrosses as well as seals and porpoises can be seen.

Memorial to Robert Bratton
Over the road from the Sea Breeze Hotel and the Police Station is an unusual monument (a miniature plough) to Robert Bratton, Overseer of Works, Tumby Bay. Bratton used this plough (it was invented by a local tractor driver named Ferguson) for road building in the harsh mallee environment of the Eyre Peninsula and the method became so successful and so widely used that it eventually became known as the Brattonising system of road making. The technique was to plough up the ground until a layer of clay was reached. Limestone rocks were then laid with smaller material and the surface was then sealed.

C.L. Alexander Memorial Museum
The C.L. Alexander Memorial Museum, located at the northern end of West Terrace only a couple blocks from Bratton Way (the major entry road to the town) is open Fridays 2.30 p.m. - 4.30 p.m. and Sunday 2.30 p.m. - 4.30 p.m. Originally a three room schoolhouse, it is a typical, small rural folk museum piled high with interesting pieces of memorabilia about the area. Three rooms are devoted to recreating the kitchen, bedroom and parlour of a typical Eyre Peninsula rural dwelling from the 1880's.

Koppio Smithy Museum
Inland from Tumby Bay, on an interesting road which twists and turns through dry, gently rolling hills, is the village of Koppio which is really nothing more than a few houses and huge, outdoor museum. The Koppio Smithy Museum gets its name from the fact that it is located on the site where a man named Tom Brennand built a cottage and a blacksmith's shop in 1903. Today these two restored buildings are just a small part of a huge complex of historical buildings and machinery. There is the old Koppio school house (which has a range of exhibits including some old firearms and some interesting photographs), a magnificent old slab and daub hut called Glenleigh, a post, telephone and telegraph office, and a vast collection of restored tractors which is reputed to be the largest collection in South Australia.

The Koppio Smithy Museum announces itself as a 'tractor display, harvest machinery, blacksmithing, rural school and a horse drawn vehicles and cottage' which is a rather simple and bald description for a museum where an enthusiast could easily spend a day inspecting the wide range of exhibitions. The Museum is open from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

The hills around Koppio are the catchment for the short, but vital, Tod River which runs only 40 km from its source to the coast.

Tod River Reservoir
To the south of Koppio is the Tod River Reservoir. It is worth visiting not only for the unusual EWS Heritage Display (lots of pumping equipment and pieces of piping) which is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm seven days a week but also to see the reservoir which feeds the pipelines which are such a common site on the peninsula.

The great breakthrough for the Eyre Peninsula as far as water supplies are concerned came with the establishment of the Tod Reservoir. It is remarkable that in an area of some 8 million hectares (the approximate size of the peninsula) that the Tod is the only river of any importance.

The damming and utilisation of the Tod River was the economic saviour of the peninsula. In the years between 1918-22 the South Australian Government built a dam on the river and in the 1920s pipelines were built to Minnipa, Ceduna and Port Lincoln.

The Tod River Reservoir was completed in 1922. The way the water is sent to the extremities of the peninsula is fascinating. Water is pumped by the Tod River Pumping Station to Knots Hill Reservoir from which it gravitates through the Tod Trunk Main to Ceduna a distance of 386 km. Water may also be pumped to the summit tanks to feed the east coast main as far as Cowell or a southern branch main to Port Lincoln. The reservoir has a capacity of 11 300 ml.