no americans, no river, no oysters

but kangaroo island does have a significant seal community, most of the world’s rare black cockatoos, a 1st class gin distillery, wineries wallabies wannabees & honey bees

american river is an enigma. a 15-star u.s. flag greets visitors to the town’s wharf, where a replica of the u.s. schooner independence is being lovingly crafted by a crew of volunteer shipbuilders. but there are no americans living here, and truth to tell, there’s no river. just a bay.

we had been drawn to the little village by mouth-watering stories of an oyster farm shop, but when we got there, no oysters. sold out. hungry, we discovered a little cafe on the wharf, but they were out of everything on the menu except cake. damn tourists, gobbling up everything.

the story of the schooner is a bit sketchy, too. as the brochure tells it, the independence was the first ship built in what is ‘arguably’* the first settlement in what later became the state of south australia.

ostensibly, a crew of seal hunters from connecticut, usa, showed up at kangaroo island in the winter of 1803, which was only 15 years after the first european settlers arrived on the continent, and when old glory only had 15 stars.

these americans stopped at the bay, which they seem to have mistaken for a river, and built themselves a two masted-schooner that was used for sealing operations. two years later, the ship was presumed lost with all hands while making her second voyage. so, for the past 218 years, there’s been no independence, either. the replica could be ready as soon as 2022, by which time they may have more oysters, and maybe americans.

hey, pssst, let me tell you the real story of the fate of the independence, based on a journalistic investigation. (believe me, i know about journalistic investigations.) according to recently unsealed documents, the americans had sailed around the island to seal bay and massacred scores of innocent seals to sell their pelts and blubber. the second time they came around, the seals were lying in wait. they ambushed the ship and lured it onto the rocks, where it broke apart and sank. the birds made short work of the sealer-sailors, and not a trace was ever found. my sources must remain anonymous. my lips are sealed.

today, thousands of seals come to the bay each year to celebrate their victory, lounge on the environmentally sustainable solar-heated rocks, and birth their young. in fact, seal bay is kangaroo island’s premier tourist attraction. (open 9-5 every day except christmas!)

kangaroo island also features a one-room schoolhouse that has, you guessed it, no students.

the old schoolhouse is well worth a visit. it’s been completely restored just as it was when it was operational in the 19th and early 20th centuries, right down to the “rules for teachers” posted on the wall, which make it abundantly clear why it closed. no teachers. who’d take that job?

if these were the rules for teachers, what were rules for students like?

one thing k.i. does have, however, is birds. some rather rare and unusual birds. there’s even a sign warning motorists to look out for penguins. i guess there’s no need to mention that we didn’t see any.

penguin crossing in penneshaw

pernille’s passion for ornithological wonders was perhaps the main reason we chose k.i. for our holiday. so i was resigned to a day of driving from place to place, looking up into trees and hoping we’d catch a glimpse of some of the rarest and most elusive birds on the planet. pernille in particular had her sights set on the glossy black cockatoo. there are only about 400 of them in existence.

the female glossy black cockatoos have yellow cheeks, like these in a painting at the american river art gallery. they usually have red eyes, but sometimes they fight over the males

we engaged the incomparable ron swan to guide us to bird hideaways. and sure enough, within the first hour ron had led us to a grove of tall eucalyptus trees where a pair of glossy blacks was perched in the highest branches. pernille was ecstatic. she couldn’t wait to get back to our b&b to tell our hosts, pierre and branka, about the sighting.

the following morning, as we were having breakfast, our next door neighbors summoned us to their back yard, where they have a casuarina tree. there, we discovered “the curious case of the casuarina congregation of cacophonous cone-cracking cockatoos’ “.

to make a long story even longer, it turns out glossy black cockatoos have a casuarina seed fetish. a group of six or eight of them were perched in the tree, noisily cracking the cones and crunching the seeds. they seemed to find it amusing to plop the broken shells on our heads. but hey, it’s not every day you get to see a glossy black cockatoo close enough to take a picture with a plain old cell phone camera. so we let them.

our friend ron also knows where the island’s reclusive ospreys have their nest. it’s not much of a secret among locals. the nest was first sighted in the 1860s in d’estree bay and is quite prominent at the tip of a rocky peninsula.

for you ornithologists, pernille saw 17 birds she hadn’t seen before, including the elusive hooded plover and a night heron asleep in his daytime hideaway. well done, ron.

our island explorations turned up a few unexpected finds, such as the k.i. brewery (meh), and the k.i. spirits gin distillery (yeah!) our favorite: the mulberry gin. over ice with a sparkling guava drink. it’s a knockout. literally. i never thought we’d be gin aficionados, but this stuff is nice.

we also visited some of the island’s wineries, one of which is set on a cliff overlooking a spectacular vista of a valley plunging down to the sea. it did seems a bit peculiar, though, that among the vast expanse of acreage, there were, yep, no vineyards. we left scratching our heads, wondering where they get the wine. on the other hand, it seemed a sin to plow up such a gorgeous valley to grow grapes. so we’ll give them a pass. no journalistic investigation. after all, they must have some vineyards somewhere.

photos from the dudley wines facebook page. we could have taken our own but, um, we forgot.

and one last thing before we go. ants. k.i.’s got ants. “ants with attitude” as one website called them. our man ron swan showed us an actual ant highway adjacent to his yard. thousands of ants were marching along, just like in the dave matthews song.

k.i. has several species of ants, including mildly venomous jack jumper ants and sugar ants. an internet search turned up some interesting facts about k.i. ants. for instance, did you know that sugar ants have a ‘penchant for pee’?

according to a university of south australia research team, sugar ants prefer urine to sugar. the team concluded that the sugar ants’ taste for urine could play a role in reducing greenhouse gasses. so beware, next time you step on an ant, you could inadvertently be contributing to global warming.

wallabies are shy, except this guy

and one more last thing. wallabies. we hadn’t seen a wallaby, but we discovered our host, branka has a friendly wallaby that she feeds. he seemed unconcerned as we crept to with a few feet for a photo session as he munched on a cabbage leaf.

and one final last thing. bees. there is a place called island beehive that has quite a story. they produce something called ligurian bee honey. we didn’t go. maybe next time. this sign has nothing to do with the beehive. i think i saw it hanging over a urinal somewhere.

so farewell kangaroo island. you showed us a lot more than you didn’t. and you’ve got soul. a year on from disaster, you are thriving. and unforgettable.

we love your signs.

* “arguably” is one of my favorite weasel words, words that allow journalists and fraudsters to allege something without any evidence, and when it turns out to be false, they can “argue” that it was only speculation.


  1. Dennis C Stein says:

    Great essay on KI…very much enjoyed it. I’ve been to Australia 6 or 8 times and never made it there. Closest I got was Adelade…but then I was always there on business.


    1. please come back, dennis. i’d love to see you after all these decades and share a few aussie experiences.


  2. David Morman says:

    great travel log, Pete. Enjoyed. Want to visit.


    1. please visit. it would be a great honor to host you


    2. vchakar says:

      Great travel blog, Pete! Thanks for brightening my morning with stories and scenes from down under. I very much enjoyed it!


      1. nice to hear from you vivian. hope all is well on the home front. looks like voa is going through a rough patch. but then when wasn’t it. stay well. and thanks for reading these silly blog posts.


  3. Harpreet Singh says:

    Many thanks Peter and Pernille. Very interesting place, this Kings Island. Maybe one day …..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ginny Thomas says:

    Thanks, Pete, Do so enjoy reading your posts. Makes me wish I were a few years younger. Don’t know when all the stay at home orders will end. There is so much of this world I haven’t seen! Had trips planned to Newfoundland, the copper canyon, and home to the mine for 2020. Didn’t happen and it seems unlikely that it will happen in 2021. Do enjoy and keep letting us share Hugs and prayers, Ginny

    On Tue, Jan 26, 2021 at 6:34 AM not that heinlein wrote:

    > notthatheinlein posted: ” but kangaroo island does have a significant seal > community, most of the world’s rare black cockatoos, a first class gin > distillery, wineries, wallabies, wannabees and bees the stars and stripes > fly over american river, where a replica of the u.s. scho” >


    1. thanks for the kind words, ginny. and hope springs eternal. i took my mom to see her family roots in newfoundland a few years ago. we had a ball. her mother was born in st. johns. all best. pete


  5. Scott Saarlas says:

    So what’s wrong with getting a shave at a barber shop? Not that I would ever do such a thing. I’ve seen too many westerns to know what happens when you turn your back on a barber with a razor in his hands. Oooh and I know a few (thousand) places where that “no squatting” sign could be hung. Keep on sending this good stuff!


  6. Patsy Palafox says:

    I really liked your story. How wonderful to travel and see so much


  7. Andrée Harper says:

    No squatting? Wait, how would anyone know? Security cameras? That’s creepy! 🤣🤣🤣. Great blog, thanks!


    1. thanks for taking a moment to read these silly posts.


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