Kanyaka station was one of the greatest pastoral runs of the southern Flinders, but only for a short time. It got off to a tragic start and its life was cut short by the expansion of wheat farming.
Its ruined headquarters are clearly signposted on the western side of the road from Quorn to Hawker.
Hugh Proby, 3rd son of the Earl of Carysford, took up the Kanyaka and Coonatto leases for cattle in 1851. The next year, he was dead, drowned in the flooded Willochra Creek as he searched for cattle frightened by the same storm that sent the creek down in flood. Proby was only 24 when he died in 1852.
Proby was obviously loved by his brothers and sisters, because six years later, they arranged for a memorial stone to be set above their brother’s grave. And more than 40 years later one of his sisters, Lady Hamilton, came from England with her husband, Lord Hamilton, to visit his grave in the ranges beyond Quorn.
Tragedy struck again when two young men, (James Grant and a Mr Roberts) rode north in the summer heat to take over the lease. But they strayed out of their way and died in the arid country to the north east.John Phillips, who inherited Kanyaka from Proby, settled there and managed the run. He built the massive station headquarters that soon came to look like a village.
The Phillips family entertained guests in the large dining room. It’s said that the family always ‘dressed’ for dinner. The polished wooden floor of the dining room was ideal for the dances that were held there.
There was no doctor in the area, and one room was used by Mr Phillips as a surgery – for setting broken bones, extracting teeth, or treating any illness [Quorn 1978:31]
The station office was also the post office. In 1862, over 23,300 letters were received at Kanyaka and nearly 21,600 were sent.
The main dray route to the north passed by Kanyaka, and many called in at the homestead. Phillips got so sick of this that he built an eating house for travellers and teamsters, 5 km away from his home. By 1864 this had become a fine two storey hotel, the Great Northern. It had twenty four rooms, stables and a coaching house.
Both Coonatto and Kanyaka were hit hard by droughts in the 1860s. About 20,000 sheep died there. But they recovered in the good seasons and were doing well until these great pastoral leases were resumed for wheat farming in the mid 1870s. Kanyaka passed from Phillips to a company as a result of the 1860s drought.
The hotel closed in 1881, soon after a new railway station 10km away at Wilson meant that carriers stopped there, not at Kanyaka. The hotel stood as a roofless ruin for decades, then its stones were crushed and spread as metal on the road that had passed it by.
There is a little cemetery across the creek from Kanyaka. Most of the people there died before they were 50. One little boy, James Bole, was probably taken by dingoes.
Kanyaka is a state heritage site.
- Mincham, Hans 1980. Hawker, Hub of the Flinders. Hawker Centenary Committee. Adelaide.
- Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.
- Flinders Ranges Research – http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/kanyaka.htm