a brief history of the Mt Compass district

see also timeline

The area around Mount Compass, Yundi, Nangkita and Tooperang was originally a meeting place for three Aboriginal nations. The Warki (Ngarrindjeri), Peramangk and Kaurna peoples viewed this area as common ground and would trade or interact in this place where plentiful fresh water and food were available all year round.

By 1920 it was reported that four Aborigines were seen in the area of Blackfellows Creek, reportedly making “a last visit to their country”. Some of the area names from around here are of Aboriginal heritage but their exact translation cannot now be verified. The name Yundi is believed to mean “feathers”, while Nangkita is taken to mean “place of little frogs” and Tooperang is translated as “much water”.

The name Mount Compass itself comes from a journey by Governor Gawler, who lost a compass in this vicinity in 1840. Various travellers would pass through this sandy, swampy country as quickly as possible on their way to Port Elliot, Goolwa or Victor Harbor. Roofing slate from the mines at Willunga, being transported through here by bullock wagons on the way to Goolwa or mail destined for Victor Harbor would also pass through and require a break given the slow soft sands and low scrubby vegetation. An area near Mount Compass known as Square Water Hole, which was formed after peat was dug out for fuel and the resultant hole filled with water, became a popular resting spot. A publican’s licence was granted to Mr Joseph Lush in 1856 for his rudimentary establishment at this place. Very little evidence of the small, wooden tavern he built here remains today.

Pioneers George & Mary Waye

Although squatters and shepherds, as well as Chinese tobacco and market gardeners, were known to have been in this area from around the 1850s. The first home constructed in the immediate vicinity of Mount Compass was the Roadman’s Cottage in 1867. This was built by the first Roadman (or Stationman), Mr Thomas J. O’Callaghan. He was charged with the responsibility of maintaining the road between Mount Compass and Hindmarsh Valley. In 1874, he was succeeded by Mr George Waye, who was to remain a resident here for another 50 years. His initial Roadman’s Cottage was to become the site for many future public meetings and social gatherings, as well as being used for schooling, up until the time the first hall was built in 1903.

The area around Mount Compass was first surveyed in the 1880s as large farming blocks, but was resurveyed in 1893 to include smaller blocks suitable for gardening. These were long, narrow blocks that ensured all owners had access to the peat swamps and water. A number of farming enterprises were attempted around this time, but the first successful market gardeners were brothers David and William Wright, who worked the swamp areas below Mount Moon from the 1890s. Their houses are still in use in Mount Compass.

The Mount Compass district was originally viewed as being very poor land agriculturally and this delayed its development as a community. The migration of people to the district was given impetus by the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, when destitute city dwellers sought to eke out a living from the land. Many failed for a variety of reasons and left the district, but those who remained found their situation gradually improving. What was once considered “undesirable” land for farming proved the opposite with hard work and the development of new farming techniques. The swamplands soon became sought after for market gardening, while the barren sandy soils increased in value with the advent of artificial fertilizers.

In 1899 the first dairy cow was believed to have been brought into Mount Compass by Richard Peters. He proved to be a far-sighted man who went on to develop a productive herd of Jersey dairy cattle, while also becoming one of the key figures in the district’s development. The area was to become known for its many dairies with Dairy Vale building a factory here in 1956 (they were initially known as “United Co-operative Dairymen Ltd”). Originally 10-gallon milk cans were the means of carting milk, but the 1960s saw a progression to milk collection using tankers. The Dairy Vale factory closed in 1996 and milk is now processed outside the district.

The settlements at Yundi, Nangkita and Enterprise Colony were formed during the 1930s depression out of a mix of socialism, government desperation and religious idealism. These ventures did not prove successful but were useful in helping to increase the population of the district to a more sustainable level. Retail ventures developed and the opportunities for social interactions increased.

David Wright in his commercial vegetable garden with Laurie & Len Leane

An incorporated Community Centre Committee had been formed in 1953 as a natural progression of the original hall committee. This new committee was formed with an admirable social improvement constitution and one of their first priorities was the construction of a larger community hall, capable of seating 500 people. Returned servicemen from the Second World War helped provide the extra drive which saw the community-built War Memorial Hall being officially opened in 1958 by the then Premier Thomas Playford. As has been the case for many of the developments in this district, working bees were organised to enable the construction of this major undertaking. On the first day, 60 volunteers and their wheelbarrows turned up to lay the hall foundations which were completed by 2.00pm that afternoon. The hall’s “Gorbat” block walls were laid over an intensive three week period by numerous local volunteers assisting the builder Frank Johansen.

Volunteers laying the foundations for the new hall June 1957


This committee (The Mount Compass War Memorial Community Centre Inc) continues today and has developed many of the existing local facilities thanks to the far-sightedness of the early pioneers. The first hall committee was formed in 1899 and since that time through land donations, bank loans, property purchases and incalculable volunteer work hours, many community facilities have been developed. The current committee now oversees the operation of three halls and associated buildings, two large sporting ovals (with associated netball and tennis courts etc), assorted clubrooms and a playground.

From humble beginnings, the district around Mount Compass has evolved into an enviable thriving community, thanks to the ongoing pioneer “can-do” attitude.

An aerial view of Mt Compass hall and recreation area during a ‘Compass Cup’ event c1988


Information sourced from the following books:

*The History and Development of Mt Compass (The First Hundred Years) 1946

*Chasing Rainbows in the Rain by Ann Riddle 1988

*Where the Compass Leads You (Stories of Mount Compass) by Linton Jacobs 2005

* www.trove.nla.gov.au