Tag Archives: Paddlesteamers




The drawings and the stories for this book were collected in and around Goolwa between 1950 and 1960. This is the explanation of how it all happened and how the book developed into its present form…

I gained my degree in medicine and surgery at Manchester University in 1935.  I married in Bombay in 1936. I went home to have my first baby in Manchester in 1937 and met for the first time a much loved sister of my mother’s who had spent her married life in Australia married to Dr. Frank Mathwin, for many years doctor at Port Broughton.  After his death she came home for a trip with her daughter – we liked each other very much
and she gave me a very pressing invitation to visit South Australia with my husband and baby. Many British people in India spent their annual leave visiting Australia on the P&O ships.


The war came in 1939 and I got a most loving letter from her offering a home to me and my children (two by then) if Donald should be posted to the Middle East.  In September, 1940 we were in Calcutta. Donald was ordered to the Middle East, my baby boy was very ill after a dreadful attack of dysentery, I gratefully telegraphed to my aunt and we landed in Port Adelaide on October 14th, 1940. What a welcome! I shall
never forget their warmth and generosity.


My cousin had married a descendant of the original German settlers in South Australia and was living in Tanunda. The children and I spent many many happy weeks there. I was fascinated with the stories of the German settlers, many still speaking German and above all worshipping in German, yet loyally fighting for Australia in this bitter war against Germany. The war memorials tell only too sadly the price the Barossa Valley paid in two world wars.


This is what drew me to read all about Wakefield’s dream and the settlement of white people in South Australia, determined by Act of Parliament in 1836, almost a hundred and fifty years ago.


Another event that tied my love and loyalty to South Australia, apart from my children’s wonderful health, was my commission as Captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps in charge of the Blood Transfusion Service in the Freemason’s Hall on North Terrace. I was so proud of my uniform and my rising suns, the only woman in South Australia commissioned into the men’s army.

When the Japanese were defeated I took the children back to India. My husband had been able to come on leave so I had a nine months old Aussie baby born in Mount Lofty – one born in Manchester, one born in India, and now one in Australia.

I went back expecting to pick up life as 1 had left it, like the happy years we had spent from 1936 to the outbreak of war. I did not dream that within two years the partition of India would confront us. What to do? I had been very happy with the children here in South Australia, so Donald brought us over to find and make a home here while he went back to spend a last six months in India trying to tie up loose ends. He had a very responsible job in Ordnance to hand over.


Meanwhile, I looked for somewhere to settle. It wasn’t easy after all the confusion of the war, but somehow we found ourselves in River Road at Goolwa, opposite the Captain Sturt camping ground.

I had no medical work and so I looked for something else to do. My deep interest in the history of South Australia sent me delving here and there, all over Goolwa, the quiet ghost town. It was easy to find people who remembered going up the river on the paddle steamers with their grandfathers. I began to write down their stories. I looked at all the old buildings, and gradually the river history began to shape itself in my mind and then on paper.

Two wonderful people appeared to help me. My husband and I went to England in 1956, and on the way back we met Harry Rolland, a famous architect and Commonwealth Director of Works, who had built Canberra from Burley Griffin s plans.  He started in 1913, and handed over the city to the Duke of York (later George the Sixth) in 1928.  Later he planned and built Alice Springs when Director of Works here in Adelaide. When
I saw how beautifully he could draw I begged him to come and draw Goolwa. Retired, widowed, lonely, he agreed and for three years he came for about three weeks perhaps four or five times a year and drew everything that was precious and beautiful in and around Goolwa.

My ‘book’ was a hopeless uncoordinated muddle. I gave my manuscript with the drawings, to a much-revered man of letters at Adelaide University whose family I had known well during the war. I shall never forget him standing on some steps at the University with my manuscript in his arms. “Leslie!” he said. “What on earth have you written?  A document or a novel? An autobiography? A collection of anecdotes? What a muddle!
But there is so much in it, and of course the sketches are exquisite. Do try and do something sensible with it.”

Along came my second wonderful person, Nancy Cato. She was living in Goolwa at the time. She already had a number of highly successful books to her credit and above all she loved the River Murray and Goolwa. She took my muddle, added to it much of her own knowledge, worked for six months and produced this book, River’s End.  A third wonderful person was Dr. Norman Tindale, anthropologist, who had spent many years studying the Narrinyeri, the Aborigines who belonged to the river. Recently a full blood aboriginal born at Point McLeay told me that he had been about ten years of age when Dr. Tindale went to live with his people there. He said it was because the elders of the tribe loved and trusted Dr. Tindale that they told him their stories, for they were very silent secret people.

When Dr. Tindale met me and read what I had managed to put together he gave me all the myths, stories, beliefs that he had been given by the elders of the Narrinyeri, and he gave me permission to include them in my book as a permanent tribute to those wonderful people who had belonged to the river for thousands of years.

I have just had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Tindale again after all these years, and ne has given his blessing to this book and to my use of the name ‘blackfeller’ rather than aborigine’ because of its poetic sound. He also confirmed the story about the Encounter Bay tribe singing to the whales, and told me that there is evidence that they were using porpoises to bring in the fish!

Thank you, Nancy Cato. Thank you, Harry Rolland. Thank you, Dr. Tindale.
Lastly I must add one more thank you. I had great difficulty in trying to publish the book.  Then in 1960 I became a Medical Officer at Northfield Mental Hospital – 1200 patients under the care of Dr. Salter with only three doctors on his staff. I was the fourth, and for twenty-one years I worked at the hospital which later became Hillcrest.

There was no time to think about books! It was people that mattered.  However, I retired three years ago, and with all the publicity about South Australia’s 150th anniversary I began to think of my book, River’s End. Harry Rolland’s pencil sketches were nearly twenty-five years old. But our Senior Pharmacist at Hillcrest, Peter Ruch, is a gifted artist, and he took Harry’s drawings, copied and strengthened them, making them young again. The majority of drawings in the book are Peter Ruch’s copies of Harry’s sketches. Thank you, Peter. . .

*    *    *    *


Today I am sitting quietly in my little office, so generously given to me by Hillcrest Hospital when I retired, and thinking about the past.  We moved from the house on River Road at Goolwa, to the original old house built by
Younghusband the Chief Secretary in 1854.  It stands on Admiral Terrace high above the river at the exact point of the elbow. We can look far up the river towards Point McLeay and down as far as the Barrage.

We still go down to Goolwa most weekends and from our verandah watch the sun and the moon rise above Hindmarsh Island and make a path of light across the water opposite our house.   Many of the old buildings appearing in this book have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. But more and more people are coming to Goolwa today and building new houses. They are interested in the past, and the Goolwa Museum is doing wonderful work keeping old memories alive.   I hope this book will add to the history of our town and our river. Let us not forget that in the early days Goolwa supplied the needs of the Eastern States, and played a
great part in the development of early Australia.


And that’s the how, why and wherefore of this book. . .

Leslie Margaret McLeay

Hillcrest Hospital
April 1985