Beneath Milang’s peaceful lakefront image lies a colourful history of militant beach shack owners, rare birdlife and booze smuggling.
When, as a teenager, I lived with Mum at her Langhorne Creek dairy, nearby Milang intrigued me. Or more accurately, it made me hungry — the name Milang always conjured up lemon meringue. A slice would have gone well with the glass of fresh milk Mum would pour me after my cross-country motorbike adventures.
Milang, the only town on Lake Alexandrina, is a lovely, relaxing spot for fishing (carp and redfin) and water activities. But Milang’s sedate feel contrasts with its colourful past, having one of South Australia’s busiest ports from 1860 to 1880 and a fearsome reputation.
It seems that the yellow and white I visualised in meringue form were actually the colours of one of Milang’s notable features today: the floating population of little corellas. They may be little, but their noises certainly live large. Add to this cacophony many more who scream as though undergoing every agony of hell. Personally, I find the sound soothing.
Betty Werrey, the wonderful Bird Lady of Milang, and co-proprietor of the Milang Lakeside Caravan Park, loves Milang, loves birds, but corellas not so much: “Customers complain because they shit on their caravans.”
I thought the corellas were strangely considerate to stop their screeching from late evening until morning. But Werrey explains why: “My husband Bob goes out at nine-thirty and I go out at five in the morning. We use laser pointers to move them out of the trees in our park. It’s not hurting them. It just pisses them off.” Not so different from rounding up sheep.
Indeed, Werrey’s a softie and often looks after rescued birds and animals, including (currently) a baby corella and a baby ringy (ringtail possum), who scampers under her jumper at the first opportunity. Werrey also explains that Milang’s abundant birdlife includes “two very rare birds: a Latham’s snipe and a little wren, just found in our wetlands and near [neighbouring] Clayton. Last May, a Brazilian researcher and his team from the university came down and found them. They thought they were extinct!”
Brazilian guests are not alone in the caravan park, for Werrey owns a blue-and-gold macaw called Mack (“As in Mack Truck because he’s that big!”). Mack is a man of few words. Says Werrey, “He bites arms, says ‘Hello!’ and when the corellas fly past, he yells out ‘Shut up!’ if they’re too loud. Funny bugger!”
Other iconic Milang features are the holiday shacks by the lake. Built from 1947 onwards, these two lanes of humble yet funky shacks are a part of SA’s history that various government interventions have attempted to abolish over the years. Luckily, the Milang shackies are politically charged and have fought hard to keep their shacks viable. Shackie Peter Lodge says, “It’s like a community within a community. People look out for each other. I’ve been coming down here for 25 years now, and they’ll carry me out in a box.”
Lodge adores the Milang lifestyle. “I try to go out on a canoe every day and say hello to Dad. My dad, Errol, played footy for West Torrens and the national league. He lived in Clayton Bay, and his ashes are buried in the lake.”
Lodge also loves Milang’s vibrant history. “When it was Port Milang, it was like the Wild West. A church minister had to come here and sort out all the trouble because people were too scared to come to the town. And a tunnel goes from under the Pier Hotel to the pub that was opposite the post office. When the Pier closed, they took grog through the tunnel to the other pub and kept drinking illegally. A bit like Prohibition.
Also, a mate of mine found a stash of old guns hidden in the cliffs of Clayton Bay.”
With South Americans feathered and tenured, political activism, gun-smuggling and moonshining, the citrus-scented lakeside town Milang is even more exotic than I could have imagined.