Yankalilla, South Australia: Travel guide and things to do

Located 72 km south of Adelaide and 35 km west of Victor Harbour, Yankalilla is a small, attractive town which nestles into the surrounding hills. It is located on the main road from Adelaide to Cape Jervis, the departure point for one of the main ferries across to Kangaroo Island.

A town of considerable historic interest it is one of the more important centres on the Fleurieu Peninsula. No one knows exactly how the town got its name. Some people think it comes from a local Aboriginal word of unknown meaning. The argument for this is that the area has such names as Tunkalilla, Yattagolinga and Carrickalinga - all of which would seem to come from the same language. Others, noting that Colonel Light (the founder of Adelaide) wrote about it as Yanky-lilly and Yanky Point have come up with the rather quaint theory that there was an American, possibly a whaler, who had a daughter called Lilly and that is how the place got its name. There is no evidence to support this theory. There is also an argument that an American ship named 'Lilly' was wrecked off the coast.

It was settled very early in the history of South Australia with the first Europeans arriving as early as 1836. 5,400 acres of land around Yankalilla was surveyed in 1838 and within the next two years sheep and dairy activities were occurring on land along the coast. The actual settlement of Yankalilla occurred in 1842 with the arrival of Henry Kemmis, Septimane Herbert and George Worthington who all took up land and built houses. The farmers planted wheat and barley in the land they had cleared.

The town grew rapidly between 1850 and 1870. During this time Yankalilla became one of the five major towns in the colony of South Australia. It was serviced by a jetty on the coast which was used to ship the wheat out. The district was officially proclaimed in 1854 and the first council meeting took place in the Normanville Hotel that same year. A postmaster was appointed in 1855 and a police station was built at Normanville in 1856. By the late 1860s the town and Normanville had three flour mills, five stores, two breweries, four blacksmiths, three hotels and five churches.

The town remained an important centre but, as transportation improved, its proximity to Adelaide (it is now less than an hour away) ensured that its original importance was reduced.

Things to see

Christ Church
The money for this church was raised between 1851-57 and on 9 July 1857 the church was opened by the Bishop of Adelaide.

The window in Christ Church, Yankalilla which is dedicated to John Woods Clayton and his wife Elizabeth, is an extraordinarily strange depiction probably of St Elizabeth of Hungary but in a very contemporary kind of way. The St Elizabeth looks more like a Hollywood movie star than the Mary of more conventional religious paintings. The Christening Font has been vandalised. People have actually scratched their initials into the marble which is tragic given that it originally came from Salisbury Cathedral in England and is over 250 years old.

The Old Schoolhouse
Located at 48 Main Street the Old Schoolhouse is not open to the public. However, people interested in the history of Australia's first saint, Mary McKillop, should recognise that this schoolhouse is claimed as the first place where her Sisters of St Joseph order taught. Certainly Mary McKillop opened the school in 1867 with an enrolment of 40 pupils.

On the outskirts of town, on the road to Victor Harbour, there is a strange, and charming collection of garden gnomes in a place known as Gnomeland. It is probably the only one of its kind in Australia.

Located only 3 km further south from Yankalilla, Normanville is a pleasant holiday resort town. There was a time when it was a busy port servicing the area which was once of South Australia's richest wheatbelt districts. Consequently there are a number of interesting old buildings still in the town although its focus is now firmly on modern tourism.

For tourism information, see Yankalilla Bay website