Situated 71 kms west of Ceduna on the Eyre Highway, the small town of Penong fascinates the traveller with its myriad of windmills on the eastern outskirts of the town, providing water for the area.
Visit the Penong Woolshed on the western edge of the town. It is a restored 100 year old shearing shed, which now serves as an historic museum and arts and crafts shop. Penong has a hotel, shop, roadhouse, silo complex, a school, football clubrooms and oval.
Make time to visit Cactus, Sinclair and the other spectacular beaches. Salt and gypsum industries complement this predominantly farming district.
The basin with the windmills near Penong is called Anjutabie Basin and wells were sunk from 1868 to 1884. In later years the windmill bores were sunk. Each windmill there is privately owned and supplies water for domestic use. Twenty six windmills service the people of the area.
1963/64 was the last year that bagged wheat was used at Penong and the first vertical silo was erected in 1964 with a capacity of 3000 tonnes. This silo was demolished in 1985 and a white painted steel vertical silo of 5000 tonne capacity was built to replace it in 1986. An 8200 tonne emergency storage shed was completed in May 1969, then, in 1974, a vertical 4 cell concrete block of 6500 tonnes capacity was built.
There have been 8 schools in the Penong area over the last 100 years. Penong Station Woolshed School 1893-1899; Bagster School 1897-1910; Bookabie School 1892-1973; New Way School 1917-1933; Kowulka School 19281936; Burgoyne School 1926-1940; Watraba School 1931-1942; Cohen School 1933-1940; Penong School 1899 - and still going.
The Penong Cemetery was gazetted on 28 April 1892. The first burial was John Brown, June 1894. As well as the established cemetery a short distance east of the town, there is an old cemetery on Penong Station. The first burial was a shearer's cook, in 1883.Two shearers also died soon after that. There are eight other graves, including three children.
The Hall was erected in 1901 by voluntary labour, with Mr J Stiggants as supervisor. Volunteers carted stone from a site 5 kms south of the town. As with halls in many small country towns, this hall was used in a variety of ways - balls, weddings, fetes, agricultural shows, Masonic Lodge, court cases, polling days, travelling picture shows, piano lessons and roller skating. That hall was used for 17 years, until the new one was built and opened 21 January 1966.
The original hall is owned today by Paul Gravelle and is used as a surfboard factory. Paul's boards have travelled worldwide - Indonesia, South Africa, Mauritius, France and Hawaii, as well as all over Australia. Some are made to individual specifications, some are Paul's own designs and are sold in shops around Australia. Paul moved from South Africa in 1973, found Penong and decided to stay.
His working hours are irregular - open when he is there, closed when he is not - dictated to by the quality of the waves at Cactus.
Work can be done when surf is not so good!
The Woolshed was established long before there was a town, and Smith and Swan built the manager's cottage and men's quarters, now the Murray homestead. The Woolshed was the first stone building in the district. Timber was imported from England and landed at Point Bell, carted by camels over the sandhills to a staging ramp near the present gypsum works, and unloaded onto wagons to make its way to the Woolshed site. Some timber, both at the Woolshed and at White Well Station, near Nullarbor Roadhouse, was stamped with Point Bell, Smith and Swan. The Woolshed, which has been renovated, is an evocative reminder of the past, with its arts, crafts and museum.
You will see her work in shops around Australia, beautifully crafted platters, jewellery, trays, bowls, plates and other wonderful creations... The uniqueness and appeal of her pieces makes you think, "I really must have one of them!" Cindy Durant lives south of Penong and has been working with glass for almost 20 years and glass slumping for around 10 years. Glass slumping, a process Cindy has perfected, involves fusing pieces of glass together. Glass is cut to fit a mould and fired in a kiln. Cindy has also worked with local school children allowing them to experience a new and unusual craft. Her work reflects her love of the sea, things from the sea, and their many colours. She often depicts fish, seahorses, crabs, mermaids, and shells in her pieces. That love of the sea is a reason that Cindy, born in San Diego, USA, her husband Bruce and son Dylan, settled here; to be close to the wonderful beaches. The special glass that Cindy uses comes in from overseas and finished products are sent around Australia. Call into Ceduna Pharmacy or Penong Woolshed to see just what we mean when we say "I really must have one of them!"
The humble salt crystal originated with the birth of the earth. The metal, sodium and the gas, chlorine, combined to form sodium chloride or common salt. Salt is one of the most commonly occurring and most widely used minerals on earth. When the salt harvest is due to start, ponds are drained of their brine and large machinery separates the layer of crude salt from the paddock floor. Salt is washed with a clean saturated salt solution to remove chemical impurities and then centrifuged to remove washing brine. Dry sterile salt crystals are then graded from coarse to fine, over a series of sieves. Situated on the Far West coast of SA, Lake McDonnell is around 880 kms from Adelaide. It was purchased by Cheetham Salt Limited, from Boral, in 1993 and has an average yield of 100,000 tonnes of salt per year. Much of the harvested salt is exported through the port of Thevenard 100 kms to the east. Large amounts of salt are transported to depots in the eastern states.
Gypsum is a common soft material, which consists of hydrated calcium sulphate with a proportion of water. The Lake McDonnell deposit, 13 kms south of Penong is the largest in the southern hemisphere, covering 87 squ kms, to an average depth of 4.8 mts, with reserves estimated at over 300 million tonnes. The largest use of gypsum is in the building industry where, as Plaster of Paris, it makes plaster sheets, wallboards, cornices and is used for fire proofing structural steelwork, doors and safes.
The mining of gypsum commenced on a small scale in 1919.The output was bagged and carted by horse and bullock drawn wagons to Sinclair, around 8 kms, from where it was shipped to Sydney. An aerial ropeway was erected by Bullivants Aerial Ropeway Ltd of London in 1925/1926, but its active life was only until 1930. It was 8 km long and supported by 35 pylons between 7.5 mts and 20 mts high. It carried 166 buckets, each with a capacity of 760 kgs. It took the gypsum 65 mins to travel from Lake McDonnell to Kowulka. In 1930, the Penong Gypsum works were abandoned. Waratah Gypsum reopened the Lake McDonnell deposit in 1947, using a crawler tractor with a dozer blade to heap the gypsum into piles. The railway line to Kowulka was built and the bulk loading facilities at Thevenard were upgraded.
In 1955, Waratah abandoned plaster making at Thevenard and concentrated on shipping bulk gypsum. Plaster is now manufactured in company plants in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. To get to the gypsum, it is necessary to remove an overburden layer up to a metre thick. This exposes an unconsolidated layer of gypsum fines, which is removed easily and cheaply by bulldozers and loaders. This material is wind rowed and left in the field until the salt in it is leached out by rainfall over three or more years. Once the salt level is acceptable the gypsum is trucked to the rail head and transported by train to Thevenard. Today, any one train travelling to Thevenard carries more bulk gypsum than the pick and shovel workers accumulated in the full year of 1920! Gypsum is exported to New Zealand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Suva and Noumea.
In 1958, Captain Bloomfield Douglas was in charge of the Government Schooner Yatala and examined the coast between Point Fowler and Kangaroo Island. The Governor, Sir Richard McDonnell accompanied him on part of the journey. Lake McDonnell was named after him. The production of salt was in operation in the early 1900s. From 1927, the salt was worked for a few years, but it was found to be too expensive to be viable and was discontinued in the early 1930s. In the early days, harrows pulled by a horse team were driven over the field of salt. This was then scraped into heaps by shovel, bagged and carted to Point Sinclair for shipment. When it reopened in the 1940s a British Fordson tractor was fitted with a scoop on the front like a front end loader and this scraped the salt, which was then carted to a stockpile by truck and bagged by man and shovel. When the railway came, salt was stock piled at the railhead at Kevin and railed in bulk to Thevenard. Today modern equipment harvests the salt, which is transported by truck to Thevenard when a shipment is due.