Kangaroo Island was separated from mainland Australia by a rise in sea level about 9,000 years ago. Stone tools found suggest that Aboriginal people occupied the land at least 11,000 years ago; it is supposed that they disappeared in 200 BC. Theories about the cause include disease and inbreeding, warfare, climatic change or exodus.
In 1802 British explorer Matthew Flinders named the land “Kanguroo (sic) Island” after landing near Kangaroo Head on the north coast of Dudley Peninsula. He was closely followed by the French explorer Nicolas Baudin, who mapped much of the island (which is why so many areas have French names). Although the French and the British were at war at the time, the men met peacefully. They both used the fresh water seeping at what is now known as Hog Bay near Frenchman’s Rock; the community is now called Penneshaw.
An unofficial community of sealers and others was set up on Kangaroo Island from 1802 to the time of South Australia’s official settlement in 1836. The first ship to arrive was the Duke of York commanded by Captain Robert Clark Morgan. The sealers were rough men and several kidnapped Aboriginal women from Tasmania and mainland South Australia. The women were forced to do the work of sealers, amongst other activities. Three Aboriginal women tried to escape and swim back to the mainland; one is on record as having survived the journey.
The biggest town on Kangaroo Island is Kingscote. Originally established at Reeves Point on 27 July 1836, it is South Australia’s first official European settlement. It was later suggested that Kingscote could serve as the capital of South Australia, but the island’s resources were insufficient to support such a large community, so the settlement of Adelaide was chosen.
Population and Economy
According to the 2006 Census, the island has a population of 4,259.
The economy is mostly agricultural (wine, honey, wool, meat and grain). Traditionally sheep grazing has been the key element in agriculture on the Island, however in recent times, more diverse crops, such as potatoes and canola have been introduced. Cattle farming has grown as well. Tourism and fishing also play significant roles, with the island experiencing over 186,000 visitors per annum. Kangaroo Island has South Australia’s only eucalyptus oil distillery with oil distilled from the endemic Kangaroo Island narrow leaf mallee.
The island also has 28 wine growers. The first vineyard was planted at Eastern Cove in 1976 and the first wine made in 1982. Kangaroo Island is famous for its honey and for being the oldest bee sanctuary in the world. Ligurian bees were imported from the Italian province of Liguria in 1881, and Kangaroo Island now has the only pure strain in the world. As a consequence, the importation to Kangaroo Island of bees or any honey products is prohibited.