In this blog I focus on the history of the settlement of the market garden area on Findon Road, Valetta Road, on the northern side of the River Torrens using Lands Titles records,
oral history interviews, photos and research from my thesis.
The River Torrens, its wide floodplain and alluvial soil had provided a rich source of food and water for Aboriginal people in the area we now know as Kidman Park for thousands of years. Along the river, groups hunted, lived and participated in cultural practices including burials. In the second half of the 1830s, colonial settlers took up landholdings and developed large broad acre farms. Landowners like Edward Keele who owned 158 acres from the river to Grange Road, began subdividing and leasing small parcels of land from the 1890s.
Gradually the use of land changed as leaseholders developed market gardens, orchards and dairy farms. The earliest records of Chinese market gardeners in the Valetta Road area I’ve seen, date from 1893 when a Chinese man, Wing Soon, transferred his lease to three other Chinese market gardeners whose address was St James Park, Findon.
Soldier settler blocks were distributed in the St James area after the First World War. Rae Ballantyne and his sister Barbara Haynes, recall that their father, James Ballantyne was allocated seven and a half acres on the River Torrens in 1923 on Findon Road or River Road, as it was called then. He and his wife, Muriel, grew a range of vegetables but concentrated on celery in latter years.
Rae recalls his parents’ land:
The entrance point was two spots actually. There was one was up near the river where Dad had his house, and not quite to the bottom of the garden, there was another entrance into the garden itself. It was a track I suppose you call it, inside the garden within. But then there was a mound all the way around and that was to stop the water coming in. Dad told me that the first year when he moved in, he got flooded out seven times that year … I have some photos that show the river … it was very narrow and full of trees and shrubs I think that is why it got flooded all the time because it just got blocked up with rubbish …
(Rae Ballantyne OH 87221, 25 August 2012)
By the 1930s when the Veneto market gardeners started to lease land, the area was a mix of large land holdings of crops such as lucerne, dairy farms, small intensive vegetable gardens and orchards. The number of market gardens increased as the size of land holdings reduced. Various Veneto families lived along Valetta Road: the Ballestrin’s, Zampin’s, Berno’s and Griguol’s. When Barbara Haynes was growing up in the late 1930s and 1940s, she recalled that the mix of Italian, Chinese and Bulgarian neighbours got on well:
Oh, yes, very well accepted, yes. I know some of the Chinese, if they had like a letter, I suppose official letter … they didn’t understand they’d come over to Dad and he would sort it all out for them and help them, whatever it was … just further down the road there was Italians like, this is going towards Henley Beach. There were Bulgarians. We never had no trouble at all. You got on with everyone in those days. Well, I gather they did. (laughs) Never heard of any upsets at all.
(Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne, OH 872/23 15 September 2012)
Barbara speaks about a Chinese neighbour:
He was married, but his family was in China, so a lot of the Chinese, they didn’t have their families out. Yick Kee who was between our dad’s property and West’s property, he lived by himself for years, and then he finally brought his wife and children out. And I taught Alan, the youngest one, to learn English. He used to come and sit down in our kitchen and I’d teach him the English and that.
Barbara Haynes nee Ballantyne, OH 872/23, 15 September 2012
Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin remembers neighbours who were market gardeners including the Ballantyne’s, West’s, Berno’s, Recchi’s and the Mercurio’s across Findon Road.
Lina also recalls Yick Kee because she and her brother, Jimmy visited him next door: Every night, almost every night, my brother and I would have a race. And he would say: “I’ll get there first, Lina.” So we’d go, race down, because it was …. About 100 metres in from the road and it was like a shed converted to his kitchen to his living area — and he would invites us; my brother would eat everything but I just ate the fried rice which was, I think – soy sauce – but it was just wonderful sauce … and he’d have ducks at the back. And he had all his wonderful products out there and he would grow his own stuff, his own veggies.
(Lina Campagnaro nee Ballestrin, OH 872/28, 13 March 2014.)
The Veneto market gardener families were a sub-group within the larger market gardener community along Findon Road/Valetta Road from the 1930s to the late 1960s.
20 February 2022