There are currently 9 State Heritage Listed places on the western end of Kangaroo Island. In the late 2019 / early 2020 bushfire, most were spared or saved through the efforts of firefighters. However, May’s Homestead and Postman’s Cottages at Rocky River in Flinders Chase National Park were severely impacted by the fires.
May's Homestead and Postman's Cottage were part of the original Rocky River Homestead and are State-heritage listed.
Architecturally, May’s Homestead and Postman’s Cottage are typical of the types of houses built on the Island in the 1800s which were crude in design with solid masonry walls and low pitched corrugated iron roofs.
May’s Homestead is a four-roomed stone cottage. Postman’s cottage is a small one-roomed stone hut which was originally built for the mailman who would call and stay overnight once a fortnight at the homestead. In recent times, both cottages were available as rental accommodation.
Regrettably both cottages were seriously affected by the bushfire. Since then, the buildings have been stabilised and specialised tradespeople are carrying out repairs. The burnt out cottages have had some fire damaged walling reinstated stone by stone. This restoration and repair work is under the supervision of a consultant Heritage Architect and an engineer, with advice provided by the Department for Environment and Water Senior Conservation Architect to help preserve the buildings’ heritage values.
The bathroom facilities for both cottages are being upgraded. The bathroom areas in both cottages before the fire were additions to the original floor plans but did not meet the standard expected of visitors and were not accessible for people with a disability. For that reason, a decision has been taken to improve these facilities in the new floor plans. In addition, an extra area of living space is being added to Postman’s cottage.
The Rocky River Homestead dates from the early 1880s when a land boom was anticipated on Kangaroo Island associated with the advance of pastoral settlement on the Island in the 19th century. Records from the period show the homestead was associated with a company owned by Robert Stockdale and Benjamin and William Haigh Taylor, who were pastoralists.
The men are described as "moderately large-scale graziers in the Kingston and Robe districts of the south-east of South Australia who, about 1880, took up approximately 715 square miles of leasehold country on the southern portion of Kangaroo Island….they had had a good deal of difficulty in maintaining their sheep numbers because of 'coast disease’ which was rife on the calcareous soils of the south-east”.
They were convinced that the Kangaroo Island scrub would support sheep and established at least three stations at Mt. Pleasant, Karatta and Rocky River. They brought in men and material, and between 15,000 and 20,000 sheep and some cattle. Their venture failed and Stockdale and Taylor gave up most of their leases, which were taken up by others. While the land boom did not eventuate, the three stations were never completely abandoned and the south coast was slowly occupied.
Rocky River Homestead, being the most remote westerly settlement on the Island, was also well-known for offering assistance after several ships came to grief in the late 1800s and early 1900s along that dangerous section of coastline.
A few years later in 1919 Flinders Chase Reserve was established by an Act of Parliament and it became the state’s second national park. In 1923 Rocky River Homestead was bought by the State Government for around £2,500.
The homestead became the park’s headquarters and the park’s first ranger and caretaker was actually the original lessee of the homestead – Charles May.
Today Rocky River Homestead remains an important part of the park headquarters, and is considered of state-wide significance because of its role in the land settlement history of Kangaroo Island.
The Department for Environment and Water acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and Nations of the lands and waters we live and work upon and we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge and respect the deep spiritual connection and the relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to Country.
The Department works in partnership with the First Peoples of South Australia and supports their Nations to take a leading role in caring for their Country.