Yankalilla - South Australia

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Yankalilla is an agriculturally based town situated on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, located 72 km south of the state's capital of Adelaide. The town is nestled in the Bungala River valley, overlooked by the southern Mount Lofty Ranges and acts as a service centre for the surrounding agricultural district.

In the early stages of the colonisation of the state, Yankalilla was a highly important location, but its close proximity to Adelaide and the advent of fast transport has greatly diminished this position.


Aboriginal history

The Yankalilla area was originally inhabited by the indigenous Ramindjeri people, who occupied an area of land stretching from Cape Jervis to the top of Gulf St. Vincent. The Kaurna occasionally met with the Ramindjeri people from the Encounter Bay and Fleurieu Peninsula region for trade and exchange.  Aboriginal myth credits the formation of the land forms of the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula to the travels of Tjilbruke as he grieved carrying the body of his nephew from the Sturt River to Cape Jervis.[3]

Evidence of Megafauna, including bones attributed to Diprotodon, Maesopus (a giant kangaroo and Thylacoleo (a marsupial lion) were discovered in the 1890s in a swamp near Yankalilla and conjecture surrounds the possibility that the animals were hunted by the Ramindjerl people.

European history

The Yankalilla district has European history dating back to the first settlement in South Australia, with coastal areas colonised in the late 1830s. In 1938 over 5,400 acres (22 km2) of land around Yankalilla was surveyed for sheep and dairy activities, but the current location of the town came into being four years later.

The origin of the town's name is unclear, but it is known that Governor Hindmarsh recorded the aboriginal pronunciation of "Yoongalilla", as applied to the District and noted this in dispatches of 1837. Colonel Light, however wrote about it as Yanky-lilly and Yanky Point, giving rise to the unsubstantiated idea that it was named after an American whaler or an American ship named 'Lilly' which was wrecked off the coast.

More recently, a Kaurna scholar, Georgina Yambo Williams (co-authoring a paper with Rob Amery) has accounted for the origin of the town's name. Drawing from her own knowledge and various literary sources from the period of colonisation, she relates that Yankalilla comes from the words yerkandi, meaning to fall to, to join onto, much in the way a disease does, and lya and illa, which means 'place'. Thus, we get Yankalilla, literally, the 'place of the fallen bits'. This, of course, is in reference to the Dreaming story of Tjibruki related above; who carried his dead nephew's disintegrating body from (what is now called) the Sturt River to Yankalilla, where he collapsed.

The actual town of Yankalilla was established in 1842 when Henry Kemmis, Septimane Herbert and George Worthington took up land and built houses in the town. The farmers planted wheat and barley in the land they had cleared, paving the way for future agricultural developments.

The town grew rapidly between 1850 and 1870 and during this time Yankalilla became one of the five major towns in the colony of South Australia. A jetty was constructed on the coast to export the wheat grown in the district. The district council was officially proclaimed in 1854 and by the late 1860s the Yankalilla and Normanville had three flour mills, five stores, two breweries, four blacksmiths, three hotels and five churches.

The town's Anglican church, 'Christ Church', has a marble font which has its origins in the Middle Ages, once gracing Salisbury Cathedral in England. It was given to a former Christ Church rector during a visit to England. The former owners subsequently regretted their generosity and requested its return, but this was denied.

Another point of interest is the Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla in the Anglican church. In August 1994 an image was thought to have become visible on a wall behind the altar of the 137 year old stone church. It was interpreted as an image of the Virgin Mary, depicting her face and body and appearing to be holding the crucified Christ in the manner of a pieta. Two years after the image appeared on the wall the local press covered the story in the Adelaide Advertiser, bringing international tourists to the town.

A number of buildings in the town are heritage listed, including the Anglican church, Manor Farm and The Olives. A number of previously listed buildings are no longer standing.


Yankalilla lies inland on the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula, a small protruding stretch of land south of the Adelaide Plains. It is situated in the valley carved by the Bungala River, which meets the sea at the coast not far from the town, at nearby Normanville. The natural vegetation is dominated by Eucalypts and other southern natives, although grasses and weeds have taken their toll on many species.


Most of the region lies on sedimentary rock, with sandstone, mudstone and limestone deposited on an ancient sea floor between 1000 million and 600 million years ago during the Proterozoic. The youngest rocks in the region are in deposits laid down during the Cambrian period (600 to 500 million years ago) when fossils first appeared in the record.  Fossils in the Normanville Group of rocks, which outcrop on the coast from Myponga Beach to Carrickalinga, were the first proof of Cambrian-age rocks in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

The area was impacted during the Delamerian Orogeny around 500 Million Years ago, forming mountain ranges, which have long since eroded away. During the Permian ice ages, many of the areas rocks were left with striation pavements, showing the direction of glacial movement, with Glacier Rock at Inman Valley, South Australia a well studied example. During the Triassic, Laterite, an iron rich formation was deposited, and is now of economic value in road metals.

The landscape came to its present form only around two million years ago, after a period of subsidence, followed by uplift from intraplate movements, the same disturbance that formed the Flinders Ranges.


The town experiences a Mediterranean climate, like the rest of the Peninsula; with warm to hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters.

With a maximum annual average of 17.1oC and a minimum of 10.0oC, the area is cooler on average than Adelaide, and the West Coast of South Australia. The area receives 825.5 mm of rainfall annually.[13] The climate data actually comes from Parawa, a small settlement very close to Yankalilla, as no station is present in the town.


The economy of the town is based mostly on the surrounding agricultural lands, with industry and tourism also supplementing the town's economy.

Since its establishment, Yankalilla has had cereal crops such as wheat and barley as a major agricultural component, and today this still remains the case. Dairy farming and livestock grazing, including sheep and cattle have also become important to the economy, with dairy products one of the towns biggest exports. Forestry has been attempted in the area and is still occurring in the district.

Tourism has been a rapidly increasing facet of the town economy, with a little over 12,500 tourists visiting the Yankalilla Tourist Information Centre in 2006, a figure increasing at around 12% each year. The Shrine and the country atmosphere draw tourists to the area, with others passing through the town on drives.


Yankalilla has a number of community based facilities and organisations, including health, education and sporting facilities. There are a number of festivals throughout the year also.

The Southern Fleurieu Health Service covers the town, with no hospital in Yankalilla.  The Yankalilla Area school supplies the town's educational needs, with R-12 level teaching. A public library is also located in the town, with membership and borrowing free of charge.

There are many sporting clubs in the town, with Yankalilla having facilities for, and active teams in the local bowls, football, netball, cricket, hockey and tennis leagues. There is also a golf club, gym and skate park located within the town.

There are a large number of environmental groups in the district, with some based in Yankalilla. Most aim to restore the land to the original conditions, with animal conservation, river and soil monitoring groups well established.

A number of events occur annually, including the Yankalilla Agricultural show, the Easter Art Show and the Christmas pageant notable.