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Original wilderness Homestead, prior to 1900
Original wilderness Homestead, prior to 1900
Wilderness 1928
 Wilderness | Looking Back : 

Hugo Leggatt

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THE WILDERNESS COMMON

The area now known as the Wilderness Common has a long history as a public amenity. Writing of the period prior to the purchase of the property by George Bennett in 1877, the late Donald McIntyre said “ The Wilderness was then a favourite picnic spot, much used by campers from George.” Of course there were no houses, shops or other amenities at that time. As much of the land was thickly bushed, it is likely that the camping was mainly on the sloping ground to the west of the river – the area mainly covered by the Common.

The photo, probably taken in the 1890s, shows the old farm house taken after Bennett’s early death. He had used the land for farming but it was clearly lying fallow by the time of the photo.

In the early years of the 20th century Montagu White’s Wilderness Estate Co. surveyed a number of plots and reserved the area between the farm house, now a “hotel”, and the river for a Park.

As far back as 1921 the new Wilderness (1921) company planned a new hotel and golf course, as well as other amenities. In February 1922 Pascual, the government surveyor, surveyed and beaconed “the Park” which was transferred to the Wilderness (1921) company, subject to certain conditions. One of these was that “ ... the Park shall be an open space or common .... for recreational purposes. It shall not be built upon, nor shall camping be permitted thereon. ...”

In 1984 this land was transferred to the Divisional Council of George and its successors in title, subject to the same conditions.

Golf Course

In the period between 1921 and 1928, some of these plans had remained on the shelf while the hotel and its immediate surroundings were owned and run by Mrs. Ferguson and her family. However, by the end of 1928, some 86 years ago, Mrs. Ferguson had sold to Wilderness ( 1921 ) and they had opened the hotel “ glorified out of all recognition”. Now was the time to get on with the golf course.

In the 1928 photo the newly opened railway can be seen at the top left and the new hotel on the right.
The first official aerial survey photographs of the area go back, perhaps surprisingly, to 1936.

In this the hotel’s two tennis courts and the bowling green are clearly shown, all where they still are today. Also shown is the new golf course with its bunkers and, less easily seen, its tees and greens. It was on this course that the author learnt to play golf, though never to challenge the likes of Bobby Locke, Gary Player or Ernie Els.

As so often happens on golf courses, the first tee was in the most public spot of all – roughly where the present covered parking stands at the hotel’s front entrance. From here, with luck, one drove across the road and straight down the village green with Waterside Road on the left. With still more luck one avoided the two bunkers opposite the entrance to Krantz Lane and sank a putt in front of the village shop, shown in last week’s edition on p.7.

The tee for the second hole stood next to the road opposite where “Seodin” stands and above the jetty which ran into the lagoon – and presumably still lies under the sand to the west of the end of the boardwalk. The green for this hole now lies under the mound which covers the public toilets near the bridge.

This was followed by the third which lay parallel to the railway, with its green now under the “ Lagoon Beach “ development; then the fourth took one back along the line of bush. From here one walked through the bush next to the shop and played the fifth hole up towards the hotel, with the green just round the corner of “ Palms “ ( then “ Greenways ”).

For a competent golfer, these first five holes were not very

demanding but for an unskilled beginner, there were many hazards. First and foremost was the very public nature of the whole exercise – open to the scrutiny of hotel guests, shoppers, sunbathers on the lagoon beach and casual walkers. Another factor was that all these fairways had nothing that divided them – the first and fifth played in opposite directions on the central village green, nos. 2, 3 and 4 lay in a triangle on what was then the flat lower green.

Ultimately it was probably these factors that led to the end of golf on the course. As the village, and tourism, grew so did the chance that someone would be injured by a stray ball.

The back four had a very different atmosphere. This part of the course is now difficult to describe as the area has altered so much over the years. In the thirties and forties the valley to the west of St. Aidan’s chapel was mostly open grassland with a few trees. The streambed lay at the bottom of the hill on the west of this grassland and crossed Heights Road with quite a bit of land lying between it and the hotel. There was also no road linking what is now Leila’s Lane to Heights Road and there were no houses in that area.

The sixth hole lay in the valley below the church, while the seventh followed round the corner. Of the seventh, the SA Golf Digest of 20th March, 1933 had this to say :
Here the course begins to show its teeth. The green lies across a deep and devilish donga, with a small stream at the bottom of it.

If the drive is short, the ball rolls down into the donga. If nearly right, but not quite long enough, it hesitates on the far lip of the slope and rolls backward into the donga. If too much to the right, impenetrable bush is encountered. Too much to the left, more bush.. Bogey 3, and difficult to get – hardly surprisingly.

No. 8 played southwards between the stream and what is now the Milkwood Village development. This used to be known as the forest hole, guarded as it was by a gnarled old giant.
The Golf Digest again : This hole is one of the beauty spots of the course, and honeymoon couples have been known to abandon their game and sit entranced under the trees.
The final fairway lay roughly where the present shopping centre is, crossing Leila’s Lane and finishing with a green near the present hotel parking lot – conveniently close to the hotel bar !

These last four holes were the first to go, swallowed up by the expansion of the hotel, by the sale of plots and by the general development of the area west of the hotel when the national road was built in the middle of the last century.
The Wilderness golf course was never envisaged as a challenging layout – for that there was always the ever-beautiful George Golf Club – but for twenty years or so, it provided an extra dimension of fun and relaxation.


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