Pitch up at Port Parham, you won’t be disappointed

At Dublin on the A1 just one hour north of Adelaide on the St Vincent’s Gulf, turn left and find your way to the little seaside village of Parham.

It’s known as a top crabbing beach and has access to the Gulf’s many fishing spots.  

The tide recedes for miles in the gulf and the local fishermen in Parham have come up with an ingenious, motorised contraption called a “jinker” that allows them to launch their boats from the beach in the shallow waters at any time of the tide.  

I have seen tractors launch boats in Queensland coastal areas where the sand is just too soft for a regular 4WD but these little jinkers are built to retrieve fishing boats miles offshore. They simply drive through the shallow water out to meet the deep.

It is as good as crowd watching to sit and simply observe these inventive Mad Max-type vehicles come and go with the tide.

We camped at Parham campground behind the low dunes with many other caravan and motor home travellers.  
Apparently it is one of the top free camps in SA and by the number of people camped there, it certainly isn’t a secret.  

It is always good to make the effort to chat to fellow travellers as it is an opportunity to learn many tricks that don’t make it into print.

The locals and council ensure that the campground is kept tidy and clean and it has toilets as well as some taps to top up water tanks.    

There are no shops in Parham to purchase petrol, groceries or even milk and bread.  One important thing we have learnt travelling is that you can easily be caught.  Lots of places don’t even have the basics.  

What Parham lacks in basic supplies is covered by nearby Dublin which has fuel and fresh fruit and vegies.

Locals fundraised and built the Port Parham Sports and Social Club in the 1980s. It is open to all the community and the travelling public on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 5pm and Sunday from 4pm to 8pm.

Dinner is available each night and there are light meals on Wednesday and Sunday.  The locals certainly make you welcome and are always up for a chat while you enjoy a meal and a coldie.  These small towns really seem to appreciate the financial support which comes with the grey nomads.

So, back to Parham and crabbing.

As Queenslanders, we are familiar with dropping the crab pot off the side of the tinnie but in South Australia, it’s a whole different ball game.

It is called raking for crabs.  Armed with a rake and bucket (for the big catch), we set off  down to the water (reef shoes are advisable). With a local willing to show how it really is done, we hit the beach on the receding tide and worked the water channels.  

The rake isn’t quite the normal garden variety, but similar.  

In no time we had our first blue swimmer and expectations were high.  

Care is needed along the channels as they can get very soft with silt under the sand. Within hours, the bucket was full and there was no bag limit.

Back at the camp we boiled up the catch and shared a crab sandwich – yum!

For the history buffs, Port Parham was surveyed in about 1870 and is named after John Parham, a local farmer, who brought in his grain to be loaded on ketches for shipment to Port Adelaide. The port has never had a jetty or wharf, but gained port status with a number of other St Vincent Gulf ports because flat bottomed ketches were able to float in on the high tide and settle on the bottom when it receded. This meant they could be loaded from drays or trucks driven out to where they had settled.

The practice continued at Port Parham from about 1870 to the late 1940s. Families from all over SA have been coming to Parham for holidays since the 1850s.

There were few buildings before World War II, and most of those were to service the grain trade. After 1945, holiday shacks started to appear.  

Today, Port Parham and Webbs Beach have about 350 dwellings, many of them vacant most of the time but filling up during holiday times.

There is another story to Port Parham.  The area was the subject of national security as the defence department had been testing munitions in the mud flats since 1929.  

It covers an area from Pt Wakefield to Two Wells with Parham, allocated to the army in 1937, slap bang in the middle.  Restrictions meant no building over 15ft but that changed in the 1970s when some stylish homes were built.

The army fired at high tide and retrieved munitions at low tide. Consequently not all were found and the area is littered with unexploded ammunition.

In July 1983, the defence department wanted to extend its operations, an idea which obviously didn’t impress the residents, some of whom had been there for decades. Residents didn’t want their area contaminated for all time and the army admitted it would never be able to clear the mudflats of unexploded material.

The protests were a running battle for four years and many meetings were held at the old social club (grain store).

Signs appeared on fences and roofs – my few favourites were “P*ss off Army”, “We have enough shells” and “People before guns”.  

Hats, stickers, shirts and beer coolers came out with the slogans “Save the crabbers and the Gulf” and “Save the crabbers from the army shells”.  

A compromise was reached and ultimately 2900 ha was acquired, including 16 farms and two houses inland.  Port Parham gave up 2kms of land and survived and thrived.  

Power to the people. Every place has a story. You just have to look for it.