Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
29 May - 3 June 2012 - Naracoorte
Varieties of winter weather prevailed during our week in Naracoorte. Some days were bright and sunny without a cloud in sight; other days were cloudy with intermittent rain. All days were cool to cold and all the nights were cold. Some days were made even cooler by a cold breeze.

Naracoorte has a population of 4880 (2006 census). The town is a service centre for the surrounding agricultural region and offers a full range of shops and businesses.
Naracoorte shops Part of Naracoorte shopping area

Public building Stone used for a public building.

Church Church overlooking the shopping area from Naracoorte Ridge. The exterior is dressed limestone, the interior lining is Gambier Limestone with a smooth, painted surface.

Limestone is widely used in construction; some buildings are built of dressed blocks cemented together, often with considerable trimming added to make a noteworthy building. Other buildings, and fences, use Gambier Limestone which is initially soft enough to be cut into rectangular blocks with a very large toothed cross-cut saw and laid in the same way as concrete (Besser) blocks are used elsewhere. The Catholic Church appears to be a double skinned limestone building with an outer shell of dressed limestone and an inner lining of smooth faced Gambier Limestone. Despite the name, Gambier Limestone is not restricted to Mt Gambier but is found near Naracoorte.

Present-day Naracoorte began life as two distinct settlements on either side of the creek; the two settlements are still easy to distinguish on town maps because streets are oriented differently. The settlement with older buildings was originally known as Kincraig, founded about 1845. The other settlement was established by the government and named Mosquito Plains. In the early 1850s the townships flourished because they were on transport routes between South Australia and the Victorian goldfields. In 1869 the two settlements combined and the various names of Kincraig, Narracoorte, Skyetown and Mosquito Plains were replaced by Naracoorte.

Growth was slow, the population reached 900 by 1870 and the train line reached the town in 1876.

First buildings were near the creek but in time the town has spread up and over Naracoorte Ridge on the eastern (Victorian) side of the town. This ridge, part of the shoreline about 800,000 years ago, is up to 20 metres above the level of the floodplain. The Catholic and Anglican Churches, built side by side on the ridge above the shopping area, visually dominate the town but are now surrounded by housing.

Average annual rainfall is 578 millimetres. Hottest month is February with average maximum and minimum of 28.7°C and 12.4°C; coldest month is July with 14.2°C and 4.9°C respectively. July is also the month with highest rainfall.

Naracoorte is about midway between Bordertown and Mount Gambier. Historically it has relied on sheep (wool), beef cattle and wheat farming. Wool is not quite as popular as previously after the reserve price scheme collapsed but is still produced in the region, many sheep are intended for the fat lamb business and there is a beef export meatworks in Naracoorte as well as stock saleyards. The Coonawarra wine region is less than 50 kilometres to the south and vines are grown around Naracoorte.

Tourism is an increasing activity in Naracoorte with several attractions. Bool Lagoon, a few kilometres south of Naracoorte on the Penola/Mount Gambier road is managed by South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. This freshwater lagoon system is advertised as a bird refuge; several walks, and a boardwalk, have been installed to give visitors access to interesting parts of the reserve. Unfortunately, there has been insufficient rain and the lagoon complex was mostly dry at the end of May this year.
Naracoorte caves Part of Victoria cave limestone formations

The Naracoorte Caves is another tourist destination easily accessible from Naracoorte. These caves were developed so visitors could see the limestone formations in some caves and for many years that was the sole reason to visit these caves. In 1969 remarkable fossil deposits were discovered in a previously unknown part of Victoria Cave leading to expansion in the service offered by National Parks. After looking at the limestone formations in one part of the cave, visitors make their way along a corridor excavated through limestone into the fossil chamber. This chamber has been extensively investigated by palaeontologists who have identified remains of thousands of species of animals, birds and reptiles; a selection of bones has been left for visitors to see. Skeletons of two species found during excavation have been assembled and illuminated to serve as discussion points for tour guides who describe the life of the marsupial lion and the leaf-eating kangaroo in fascinating detail.

Less well known is the Sheep's Back Museum attached to the Information Centre. This museum reproduces much of the life of the early settlers of the Naracoorte region with some emphasis on the wool industry. Among the exhibits is the first working robotic sheep shearer as well as the original shearer's sling adopted to reduce the strain on shearers' backs while bending over a sheep. For anyone interested in history and the pastoral industry this museum is a hidden treasure. The Outback Shear museum at Hay, which deals mainly with shearing, would no doubt be interested in acquiring much of the material on display in the Sheep's Back Museum if it could.
Robot Shearer Robot shearer developmental model on display in the Sheep's Back Museum. The white wooden shape represents a sheep secured to the machine. Two cutters under computer control remove the wool from the back and sides of the animal ready to be removed by the human attendants who then transfer the sheep to a cradle where it is secured on its back while attendants manually remove wool from the underside using ordinary shears. The end of the wool floor price scheme ended financial support for this machine.

The Information Centre itself includes a model of the limestone coast region with some explanation of the sequence of coastlines and coastal dunes laid down as the sea retreated from an early coastline through present-day Naracoorte.