Four honeymoon couples return to American River 50 years later

HONEYMOON COUPLES: Jack and Jan Bailey, Ron and Chris Giblin, Brian and Chris Pratt, John and Mary Murray celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, where they all came to honeymoon together.
HONEYMOON COUPLES: Jack and Jan Bailey, Ron and Chris Giblin, Brian and Chris Pratt, John and Mary Murray celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, where they all came to honeymoon together.

Four couples from Adelaide returned to American River to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this month.

The couples met each other 50 years ago while on honeymoon at what was then Linnetts Pleasure Resort.

Jack and Jan Bailey, Ron and Chris Giblin, Brian and Chris Pratt, John and Mary Murray have stayed in touch over the years, meeting up three times a year in Adelaide, including on their wedding anniversary.

This year they decided to return to Kangaroo Island for their special wedding anniversary on Friday, December 6 and had a great time revisiting Kangaroo Island together.

Back in 1969, the staff at Linnetts decided to seat the four couples together for dinner after realising they were all newlyweds fresh from their respective weddings

All eight of them ended up enjoying each others' company, spending much of their three-day honeymoon together and have gone on to become life-long friends.

In another coincidence, each of the couples have had two children.

And while they have revisited the Island by themselves over the years, this is the first time they returned all together.

The Islander caught up with them at the anniversary dinner at what is now the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge.

They noted how remarkable it was that they had all stayed together, were all still alive and living in Adelaide and had remained good friends.

Kangaroo Island itself had not changed that much either and still had the natural beauty they first enjoyed 50 years ago. One thing that had changed was Seal Bay and its new visitor centre.

Highlights of their recent visit were enjoying the view at Dudley Winery, meeting Tony Blight at KI Tru Thai and also touring Island Beehive at Kingscote.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

Linnetts Pleasure Resort was legendary in its day and a forerunner of tourism on Kangaroo Island.

When the couples visited in 1969, it was an all-inclusive package with tours and fishing, and the couples remember catching double headers of whiting.

"The locals back then were very friendly and still are. People are so nice on the Island," Mr Murray said. "We promise to be back in another 50 years, or maybe sooner."

They really enjoyed staying at the resort again, now called Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, which still had the excellent pool and great facilities, and they thanked the Mercure staff for their hospitality.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

The American River history project now has 109 records in its online catalogue now, displaying over 120 historic photos, some from the Linnett family connection, since being assisted by a $1670 grant in October 2018 from the History Trust of SA.

You can see the progress so far on the eHive website by clicking here.

The project's Anne A'Herran's mother Phyl Turner wrote about the Linnett tourism dynasty in 1998 after interviews with the family.

"My mother admired the Linnetts' achievements greatly and so enjoyed writing their story," she said.

Here is the Linnett's story as told by Phyl Turner:

The Linnett Story - A brief history of an historical island enterprise

There is a hero in this story: an entrepreneurial genius, a man of faith and strong character; someone who didn't know the meaning of "It can't be done". Such a man was Jack Linnett.

We first catch up with him, around the turn of the century, on board a masted sailing vessel after months at sea, now crossing from the South Australian mainland to the reputed 'island of paradise' over nine miles of the bluest of oceans.

Shortage of land in England allied with a certain sense of adventure was one reason that ambitious young men, some with families, came to this beautiful but isolated colonial outpost of Kangaroo Island.

Ecstatic reports in the British press extolling the beauties and the opportunities of this solitary gem encouraged and attracted settlers to this 'Land of Promise'.

Earlier the British Government had commissioned a Capt. Sutherland to survey the possibilities of the island. He pronounced it an excellent place for settlement, adding there was ample water.

Sadly however, Capt. Sutherland's confidence in the availability of water was not to be realised. As well, he could not know then what would be discovered many years later: that there was a trace element missing from the soil.

For almost 50 years the problem would not be solved and until then all would-be farmers on Kangaroo Island would be doomed to failure. One of the earliest was Jack Linnett.

When we take up the story again in 1909 we find him at American River, a settlement of four families. Now in reduced circumstances he met and married the love of his life, Valerie Jane, the beautiful daughter of Gary Buick and grand-daughter of John Buick, the acknowledged pioneer of American River.

Together, and starting with nothing, they would build the most prestigious tourism project, the social Mecca of mainland and Island society for the best part of 100 years.

They eventually dominated the tourism industry of Kangaroo Island, attracting and serving a clientele of the most prominent of the social elite of the mainland and beyond; professional people, well known scholars and parliamentarians such as Sir Thomas and Lady Playford among guests who returned again and again.

The Linnett family value examples of the exquisite china painting which Lady Playford created and left as mementos of their visits.

Like many large and successful undertakings the beginning was extremely simple.

It happened like this: Jack and Valerie had a neighbour, a fisherman, Nils Ryberg, who sometimes had 2-3 fishermen friends as paying guests. One day Jack (entrepreneurial from the beginning) suggested to Valerie they also go into the "accommodation business". Valerie, already with the nucleus of a family of eight small Linnetts and little else said, "Well, we have a large table!"

So, with the supreme confidence of youth and the priceless attribute of a will to work hard was born the great edifice of tourism that became first "Linnett's Guest House", then, as it grew, Linnett's Pleasure Resort" and finally as now, "Linnett's Island Club".

It was surely the most humble beginning of what would prove to be, almost one hundred years later, the most impressive tourism industry on the Island, bringing holiday makers in their hundreds right up to the present day.

It is a matter of history that Jack and Valerie in 1913 took over Nils Ryberg's small corrugated iron dwelling and business commenced.

To expand, they shortly obtained an old homestead 'up the hill', dismantled it and floated the timber down the River, re-building it in the Resort's resent position.

The project was prospering! As the business grew Jack dismantled the original Ryberg cottage and replaced it with a large stone house using local stone dug by hand. The steps of the original cottage are still intact under the floor of the present dining room.

Jack obviously saw success ahead! This stone house was now able to accommodate 10 more guests. There was a large kitchen and dining room, and a very large lounge with a huge open fireplace.

The kitchen was also equipped with a large wood oven which cooked all guests' meals until 1963. This was the era when guests enjoyed 'the hearty breakfast,' the 'in- betweens', the three course luncheons and full course dinners: not forgetting the afternoon teas of sponge cakes and cream or scones and honey, all cooked by the fabulous cooks which country regions of Australia seem always to produce.

In any case for years and years the dinner dances were invariably booked out, enjoyed not only by the Island community but also by the guests.

It may be asked how these very early guests got to this isolated haven. Transport in very early days relied on the steamship Karatta out of Adelaide: a seven-hour trip often quite rough, all endured in expectation of what was to come.

Even earlier when the Karatta went into Penneshaw, a small town on the eastern end of the Island, the guests and their luggage were unloaded into a dinghy and rowed to the shore until the water became too shallow and they were again unloaded onto a wheeled dray drawn by cattle into the beach.

They were then (when motor vehicles became available) first driven by a Model T Ford car to American River. Later a Studebaker charabanc was purchased. When the load was too great for the coach to climb the steep hill leading out of Penneshaw the coach would reverse up the hill, the guests walking alongside. Never were there any complaints!

Eventually as the business prospered Jack was pleasantly surprised to find himself financially able to purchase a boat, so he called his boat "Surprise". Eventually the Linnett fleet consisted of three vessels, one called after Valerie Jane.

Jack had dreamt of taking guests fishing and now he was able to add this to what the establishment offered. Guests went out fishing in idyllic weather, amazed as they watched the profusion of marine life through the crystal clear depths, fantastic sponges and fish of all types, and shellfish crawling over the pure white sand by the rocky coast of the bottom.

Sometimes an inquisitive seal or a playful porpoise studied them from the water. The boat accommodated 40 passengers. Guests fished and the catch went into the sea water well beneath the boat. Lunch time arriving, the fish were taken from the well and cooked to perfection in the ship's galley on board, served with salads, lots of fresh bread and butter, jams and cheeses with homemade cakes washed down with huge mugs of hot tea.

On quiet balmy evenings with only the soft strains of after dinner music drifting across from the Resort, and the cool lap lap of the water blending with the cries of nightbirds the same boat would double for moonlight cruises up the River: quiet relaxing occasions, especially popular with honeymoon couples.

Business continued to prosper. As more vehicles were added to the Resort an alternative to fishing was offered. Coach trips were taken to places of great interest and beauty. Included were incredible geological outcrops some millions of years old. Flinders Chase - just newly declared a National Park and a sanctuary for the native animals was a special place, as was Kelly Hill Caves also newly opened and a favourite picnic spot for the usual superb lunch. These attractions exist today and are visited by hundreds of holiday makers.

As the Resort grew and the guest list increased phenomenally; almost without warning in the late 20s early 30s the whole world was plunged into the Great Depression. To Jack and Valerie it made a great difference: even with hard work and ingenuity it was impossible to keep the Resort a viable proposition.

Jack, resourceful as ever, leased out the business, found a small cottage part of which had a dirt floor, and left Valerie and the family while he went off to the mainland and successfully sought work to support the family.

Valerie - resourceful too although more fortunate perhaps that city women at that time - made use of the resources on offer: fresh fish, fresh eggs, garden-grown vegetables and milk and butter from her own cow.

After Jack's return they were abie to take over the Guest House once again. Their older children were now becoming responsible young people and able to contribute substantially to the day to day running of the establishment.

The business was now set to enter the most flourishing stage of its career, interrupted only in the early forties by the tragedy and limitations of the Second World War. During this time many fund raising functions were held at the Resort and the Linnett family made donations of free holidays adding up to thousands of pounds.

One of the problems the war presented was the limit on petrol. Gas producers were used and charcoal burning took place in certain pits near the River.

But the war difficulties were faced and usually overcome by co-operation. An instance of this was borne out by guests during this period. A favorite day's picnic was an outing to the magnificent Pennington Bay. There they would find a safe rock pool for the children and adults, beach walks, finds of the beautiful Nautilus shell and other marine curiosities, and also rod fishing from the beach for the large salmon in most incredibly beautiful, but very dangerous surf!

So, not to be deprived of this popular outing through the war, guests happily walked the six miles to the beach, taking turns carrying the 'Tucker Box' by its rope handles, marching and singing - wonderful, simple joys of a time now gone.

At this time a special Recreation Room was built at the Guest House for evening entertainment before the advent of television in guests' rooms. Later, 'wireless' had been installed and Leon showed Cinemascope movies. These were both extremely popular with guests and also with the now growing local community.

Guests would also play cards, games, table tennis, and those who wished would sing around the piano. A pianist was employed permanently by Linnett's for a number of years. This lady played for dinner, dinner dances and other special events of which there were many.

Some of the very old locals still speak nostalgically of the loveliness of the ladies' long and beautiful sweeping evening gowns as they danced the graceful old time dances to the music of the period.

By about this time, circa 1959, Jack Linnett had died. Valerie and the family now ran the place, which had now become a huge establishment covering over 30 acres.

They now found it necessary to establish a large farm to supply the Guest House with its own meat and produce. There was also a small butcher's shop. As the farm developed they built a house on the property and appointed a manager. It was sold in 1970 when a huge updating of the then 'Resort' began.

As each son married his wife became fully involved with the Guest House. Each in her particular field added immeasurably to its successful development.

Jack's son Leon later married the East Coast model Dorothy Sharp. Destined eventually to become joint owner with Leon, Dorothy also made a significant contribution.

Today she reminisces on how she and Leon would work on the farm so late with the sheep, "racing home just in time to shower and dress", appearing in almost no time as usual, ready and apparently quite unruffled!

It was at this stage that some of the boys decided to go their own way, and one by one, Leon and Dorothy bought them out. They now became the proud owners of "Linnett's Pleasure Resort".

Occasional sightings of a whale off the adjacent Kangaroo Head gave rise to their logo, "Have a Whale of a Holiday at Linnett's".

Every year Dorothy and Leon traveled extensively overseas, staying at prestigious hotels in London and Europe. New York and other countries, checking that the resort accommodations back home were up to world standards.

They were also the caring parents of two small children who accompanied them on these fact-finding tours. This was the period when the upgrading of the entire complex began. Business was booming.

Airlines South Australia had established a service close to the River and the Resort purchased a small bus to ferry guests back and forth.

When fashions in sightseeing changed later, this bus also did wilderness safaris that were very popular with environmentalists.

Some of the old accommodation was turned into self-contained flats. The beloved Recreation Room, which now was virtually unused, was knocked down along with some of the older buildings. The Dance Floor and Dining Room were greatly extended - new bars were added and the space became a conference and games area to suit changing needs.

Some of the most important amenities added at this time were the ocean swimming pool and the wading pool for children. Jack Linnett had had a long-term dream of pumping the ocean water by means of pipes and drains into a large landscaped pool.

After he died this pool became a reality and is to this day a premier attraction. At a grand opening ceremony, champion swimmer Dawn Fraser declared the pool open by diving in, to the cheers and applause of an appreciative crowd who commented on the foresight of Jack in envisioning such an advanced project.

Later, two wings of further accommodation were built which overlooked the landscaped pool, and were appropriately named "Poolside".

A major and costly construction in 1985 was the building of a complex of twelve rammed earth units: very modern and stylish still today. Some were equipped with spas and saunas in the twin and double bedrooms.

Self-contained kitchens and private bathrooms were added to some later. This accommodation overlooking the ocean is still the most sought after in 1998. These units were named "Terra Villa".

Earlier a complex of 16 self-contained units had been built overlooking and within footsteps of the ocean frontage. These were appropriately named "Bayview".

At this time the 50-foot launch Valerie Jane ferried guests from Adelaide to American River but later the service was discontinued as the large ferries entered the transport business and carried huge numbers of holidaymakers each day.

It was ironic that, even in this frenzy of renewing, replacing and modernizing, sinister forces for Linnett's future were in train.

These forces of social change and social mores over which they had little control would finally come close to bringing this great undertaking down.

Although the farm had been sold in 1980 to assist with the costly update, the general national economic situation went into a downturn. Rising costs all round meant that more money was needed.

Interest rates began to soar to the high teens retrospectively, bringing about a severe financial burden. In addition to the crippling financial situation, gradually an even more serious situation developed. The airline cancelled its service to American River.

With this calamity, "group" travel of elderly citizens, those without cars, school and club groups ceased. This was a severe blow to Linnett's.

But there was more to come. With the inauguration of the fleet of ride-on-ride-off ferries to serve the Island and the increased mobility of thousands of family holiday makers with their cars this became the preferred mode of travel.

Taking short package tours, large numbers of holidaymakers came, spending, perhaps, only one night and day at a particular venue in an effort to maximize sightseeing in the available time.

They often bought picnic food and breakfast was usually Continental in their rooms for an early start. In many cases dinner was al fresco or even take-away, facilities for which now abounded on the Island.

To meet these changes, new emphasis was placed on camping, farm stays and Bed and Breakfast categories of accommodation. These have become very popular, and still are for short stay accommodation.

However, sadly for Linnett's, which had originally been structured for a different type of holiday, even with all the modernizing, their full facilities were not now fully utilized.

Linnett's had always enjoyed very high occupancy rates. Now with changing accommodation needs these tended to decline. Before the days of fast travel, Linnett's guests had spent from two to three weeks holidaying.

The ship's bell calling them to gourmet meals in the five-star restaurant was a highlight of the day. The beach picnics, the hay ride fun, the lazy days fishing and the pleasures of the chef cooking the catch for dinner, the wildflower walks, the possums running up and down the verandah posts, meeting a kangaroo on an evening walk, the bird songs - these all belonged to a more leisurely age now gone.

It was inevitable that a new paradigm was needed for the new millennium. However Dorothy and Leon saw, with their retirement on the horizon and a life of work behind them, that this was not an option for them.

Sadly they have decided to put Linnett's Island Club on the market. Shortly this family treasure, this historical gem, will go under the hammer, bringing to an end a most successful enterprise which began simply in a small cottage 85 years ago! The time for farewell cannot be far away - there is much interest already.

Leon was born on the property and Dorothy says it has been his whole life. She pays tribute to him in the following quote:

"Leon kept the place together. He never stopped working. He fixed everything that stopped working: he drove the coaches and the boats. He worked in the bar (when times got bad). He cooked breakfast and did all maintenance".

Shades of Jack Linnett... Like his father, Leon didn't know the meaning of "it can't be done". It is interesting to cogitate on what the future may hold for Linnett's Island Club. Will the Linnett saga end, never to be the same again? Might a phoenix rise from the ashes, restoring the glory that has been the last 85 years?

Perhaps the almost new Terra Villa group of apartments could become time-share units: a popular option for small real estate owners on the East Coast. Perhaps a fully equipped gym and squash court with masseur could be built adjacent to the magnificent Ocean Pool, and open to the general public? This seems to be quite a necessary amenity these days!

A convention centre is also feasible, including a stage for business and seminar presentations. Perhaps series of mini-lectures could be held on the very interesting bird life, flora and fauna, history and unique geological wonders of the Island by knowledgeable Islanders.

Adjacent to the Convention Complex could be a self-serve buffet which could be quite popular. It could serve a smorgasbord of Island delicacies such as crayfish portions, large mussels, oysters and marron, the creamy sheep milk yoghurt and gourmet cheeses.

For dessert, it could serve the wild Island fruits such as mulberries and cranberries with the superb Island cream, or perhaps the beautiful honey ice cream produced by the purest strains of Ligurian bees in the world, bees indigenous to Kangaroo Island.

And this all washed down with the excellent Kangaroo Island wines which, it is said, get their distinctive flavors from the ancient volcanic soil!

On 30 acres of ground there could be room for a helicopter pad or small airstrip for the small private aircraft that are used at present on island properties, and that have been for at least the last 30 years: ideal for the stressed executive to commute the 20-minute trip to the mainland on urgent business. There is also room for jogging tracks: another need these days: along with fishing grounds, swimming, tennis, and scuba diving, yachting and sailing.

In short, might it not return as it was in the past: a Mecca for the stressed executive, the wealthy overseas traveler, or the environmentalist? As a haven for all those who would appreciate the unparalleled beauty of the wild seacoast, the clean, unpolluted air and water, and the absence of factories? As a vehicle to experience the simple joys of nature in its virgin state? Indeed, why not?

The things that have brought so many thousands of people to the Island over almost a century, and which made Linnett's Island Club the outstanding success that it was, are still there, just waiting for another Jack Linnett. It cannot be long before this family treasure, this historical gem, goes under the hammer. But will it be lost forever - or transformed into a new Island paradise? Quo vadis Linnett's! Whither goest thou! - C. Phyl Turner, 1998.