Good Country: Innes, the soul of the Yorke Peninsula

The shape of the Yorke Peninsula is often likened to a leg. And at the end of the foot is the magical Innes National Park. Innes, as it’s affectionately known, has distinct segments, all offering different immersive adventures in nature and history.

For instance, in the part of the foot where one would normally expect a big toe, Innes has Stenhouse Bay. With spectacular views of hills and coast, along with old gypsum-mining implements and a heritage-listed jetty, the bay provides an ideal backdrop for fishing, walking and musing.

Leigh Rigney, his nephew Lachlan Stone, and Jason Martin enjoy Stenhouse Bay’s charms while jetty fishing for squid. Rigney, a nature lover, takes his wife and grandson to Innes: “I’m a real outdoors bloke, and I want my grandson to get into nature as soon as possible. He’s just turned one.”

Rigney and Stone are proud Ngarrindjeri men. When I struggle to spell Ngarrindjeri, Stone presents his hand to me, where the word is tattooed in elegant script. He runs an environmental landscaping business, Stone Environmental Contractors, and he often works in Innes (doing penguin surveys, weed control, fox shooting and such). Stone loves Innes’s variety: “There are hidden rock pools in Shell Beach for swimming, and you have Browns Beach for fishing, which is fantastic. And I drive to the middle of the Boral mine site on my lunchbreaks. Enjoy the views. Everything’s not busy. Peaceful feeling. Out there, there’s no-one but me.” True words, but the widely spaced tracks among the faded green and deep red samphire bushes reveal someone else enjoys the saltpans: emus. Indeed, emus are just as likely to wander around your campsite as kangaroos. If you’re lucky, you may even glimpse the timid malleefowl common to the region.

Cape Spencer (Photo: Michael X Savvas)
Cape Spencer (Photo: Michael X Savvas)

Another section within Innes is Ethel Beach, displaying dramatic cliffs and the relics of two separate ships (neither of which have particularly sexy names): the Ethel and the Ferret. As the Ferret’s boiler and the Ethel’s rusty skeleton are lodged on the shore (rather than underwater), you can walk around the wrecks and imagine what they once were. Sadly, the bottles of wine and spirits that used to wash ashore after the Ferret’s shipwreck in 1920 are no longer a thing.

A perfect Innes spot for viewing the unforgiving waters behind many shipwrecks is the lighthouse at Cape Spencer. In 1802, Matthew Flinders named this cape after George Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Di. Enhancing the magnificent views here, the plentiful gypsum catches the sun, making the paths and cliffs sparkle like the tiara of the people’s princess.

An intriguing Innes attraction is the ghost town of Inneston. The town began in 1913 around a gypsum mine site. Before Inneston ended in 1930, it had a post office, school, public hall, butcher and baker. Remains of several buildings can be explored, and some original homes have been renovated into public accommodation.

Ethel shipwreck (Photo: Michael X Savvas)
Ethel shipwreck (Photo: Michael X Savvas)

A by-product of the famed Inneston gypsum was chalk. Along with the glistening Inneston roads, traces of coloured chalk are still visible in front of the Bellco chalk factory.

Inneston has the sparkle of magic about it, and according to Rigney and Stone, the old township feels eerie and haunted. But in general, they feel the Innes vibe is extremely positive. “As a blackfella, our ancestors walked around here, so you get these good feelings,” Rigney says. “We’re Ngarrindjeri, but it’s actually Narungga country — the Narungga are called the butterfish mob because they love to eat butterfish.”

Jason Martin is a Narungga man, who also feels a protective force in Innes: “All through the Yorke, it’s just special,” he says. “This is home. If I want to go for a swim in other places, I feel wary. But here, I feel safe and comfortable, like my ancestors are protecting me.”

Take the time to absorb Innes’s many attractions. As Stone says, “Innes is full of hidden gems. You can come here for a week and not get sick of it.”

Ethel Beach, Inneston National Park (Photo: Michael X Savvas)
Ethel Beach (Photo: Michael X Savvas)

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