When Colonel William Light went in search of the exit of the Torrens river out to sea, he found it didn't have one. Instead, the Torrens River flowed freely from the Adelaide hills to the plains ending amoung huge gums in an extenxive reedy swamp known as the Reedbeds, located in the area now known as Henley Beach and surrounding suburbs.
Settlers soon found the area was ideal for grazing stock, and growing crops. However, the Torrens brought with it the storm water run off from Adelaide, and the area was prone to frequent flooding. This resulted in the loss of crops, occasional loss of stock, and severely hampered further development around the area. This was finally resolved with the construction of the Torrens Outlet - Breakout Creek.
As the main means of transport, horses played an integral role in the development of this state. Their role in the Reedbeds became more significant in 1840 when the South Australian Volunteer Cavalry was formed. This was followed by the Reedbeds Cavalry in 1860, which eventually led to the formation of the 'A' Squadron 3rd/9th South Australian Mounted Rifles who went on to fight in the Battle of Beersheeba.
Horses again contributed to the community when they were used to develop the area by building the Torrens Outlet in the 1930's. As a result, horses have since remained a valued part of the identity of the Breakout Creek.
South Australia has a proud, but sadly little known connection with one of the great alliances between rider and horse. Watts (2005) (http://www.diggerz.org/~samra/reedregt.htm) states that the South Australian Volunteer Cavalry was formed in 1840 and was the first Military unit established in Australia. The Cavalry was known to train in the Reedbeds along the banks of the Torrens River.
In the years following the Crimean War that ended in 1857, a number of volunteer troops were formed throughout the colony of South Australia. Thirty-one members of the public met on January 15th, 1860 at Weetunga, residence of Mr White at the Reedbeds (Sabretache, 9, p.4, 5.).
Mr W. Gray chaired the meeting and they decided to form a volunteer cavalry corps to be known as the Reedbeds Mounted Volunteers (Sabretache, 9, p.4, 5.). When the troops trained, the Drill ground was located at Mr Beck’s, Section 192, Reedbeds. (See Rules and Bylaws of Reedbeds Mounted Volunteers) Members of the Reedbeds Cavalry would assemble on horse back in the front Garden of Weetunga House at Fulham and ride to the Torrens River (Anecdotal evidence from Mrs Chesser).
In 1884 and 1885, Cavalry Camps were held at Henley Beach. The volunteers underwent training exercises with their horses, including maintaining and using equipment. They were called the South Australian Mounted Rifles as of 1895, and served with distinction in the Boer War in the Bushman’s Contingent, supporting England (Webb, M. (1982).
One of the most outstanding contributions of the mounted regiment was their involvement in the charge of the Light Brigade, which occurred at the Battle of Beersheba in World War 1. The Turks were Germany’s allies, and the Australians were sent to the Sinai Desert to capture the town of Beersheba. The Australian Light-horsemen were known to be outstanding troopers, as many had been at Gallipoli, and had exhibited leadership, experience and courage (www.lighthorse.org.au & Army Museum of SA, Information Sheet).
What is without doubt, is that the Reedbeds Cavalry was part of the spirit of those who came to South Australia, to defend the new land, and to establish the tradition that then went on to the Light Horse. The foundation of the “A’ Squadron 3rd/9th South Australian Mounted Rifles began as the Reedbeds Cavalry (Army Museum of SA, Information Sheet). This squadron served with distinction at the Battle of Beersheba and had its humble beginnings in the relationship of ordinary people with their horses.
Descendents of the people who lived in the Reedbeds areas, remember fondly some of the other activities carried out by local horse and riders. The Torrens River and surrounding areas were popular for children to play in and a common sight was of young boys playing hide and seek on horseback among the reeds (Casson, M. (1958) in The Chronicle, cited in the Henley and Grange Historical Society Journal (HGSJ,) 1980).
An excerpt from the Henley and Grange Historical Society Journal (1991) gives details of a steeplechase that was held in the West Beach area, promoted by the Adelaide Hunt Club in August 1898. Hundreds of vehicles lined the route that stretched from Glenelg to Fulham, and followed the area that would now approximate Tapleys Hill Road. There were considerable celebrations held after and the article gives insight into the social and sporting activities associated with horses at that time.
Furthermore, horses played a vital role in providing transport for people living in outer regions of Adelaide, and Lancelot Hurcombe (1982) writes of the Reedbeds and of his father’s role in running a horse tram service. His father had the contract for delivering mail, and Lancelot wrote of his memories of being on the front seat of the tram and seeing his father throw the mail onto the loading platform of the GPO. This was in the early 1900’s. Eventually the family ran two horse trams, and when the electric tram was introduced, the need for this service declined.
Hurcombe writes with pride of his mother’s sidesaddle riding ability. He tells of his father’s role as a marker at a Rifle Range, which he describes as being situated in the sand hills near Military Road. In discussing the development of roads throughout the area, Hurcombe describes that the bend in Henley Beach Road at Lockleys came about due to the carts and drays taking the easiest routes through the sand hills. He also writes that flooding was a constant problem, interfering with farming of crops, and damaging houses.
Work finally commenced on developing a new channel that would divert Adelaide’s floodwater out to sea. In 1935, following consultation with Engineering and Water Supply officers based at the University of Adelaide, construction started. Photographs taken at the time of this work demonstrate that this was a massive undertaking.
A concrete weir, reinforced to withstand the volumes of water produced during sudden floods enabled storm water to be diverted to an outlet that discharged the water out to sea, while also preventing seawater from entering the channel. Sand hills that were 30 to 40 feet high had to be cut through in order to create this outlet. 104,000 cubic yards of sand, 200 tons of steel piling and 878 timber piles were used to construct the foundations. 13,200 tons of concrete and 43,500 tons of cement were used (Advertiser, Dec 9th, 1937).
Photographs taken at this time indicate the significant roles of large Draught horses. They can be seen working in difficult situations, dragging heavy equipment for the construction of the outlet and weir. Mr J Fuller of Henley South remembers his father Maxwell Fuller discussing the horses at work, as he was employed on the building project along with many residents of the area as the construction provided employment during a period of economic depression.
Once the Torrens River/Breakout Creek Channel became an efficient channel of water out to sea, the area, rich in alluvial soil rapidly became overgrown and a haven for vermin. Mr H Doyle who was a lessee of the area from a period in the 1960’s to 1983 remembers that horses were used to graze the area to keep the overgrowth of grass down and to prevent vermin from breeding. He remembers that he took over the lease after several other lessees, and our research has found that horses were grazed on Breakout Creek from soon after the channel was completed. This was because there was a tradition of keeping horses in the area, and land was becoming built on, decreasing the available land for horse agistment.
Mrs Betty Eastgate remembered that the racehorses of Sir Sidney Kidman trained along the banks of the river. Mrs Eastgate kept a pony for her daughter on the area from the 1950’s. It seems that because it was accepted for horse agistment to occur, little official documentation was kept.