Rapid Bay features in the creation myths of both the Kaurna and Ramindjeri people, most notably as the burial site of creation ancestor Tjilbruke’s nephew.
South Australia Colonial Surveyor General Colonel William Light made his first landfall on mainland South Australia at Rapid Bay on 8 September 1836. The site was named after Light’s ship, the 162 ton brig Rapid. To mark this historic landfall the Colonel’s initials, “W.L.”, were carved into a large boulder – a replica is visible in the township, while the original is stored in the South Australian Museum, in Adelaide. The first European child born on mainland South Australia was delivered at Rapid Bay on 7 November 1836. His name was John Rapid Hoare.
For a short time Rapid Bay was considered a potential site for the new state capital, but with the discovery of the Adelaide Plains it faded into quiet obscurity.
The Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) constructed the town, an ore-loading jetty and a high voltage power line from Willunga during the period 1938 to 1942 as part of the works undertaken to establish the limestone quarry. Mining commenced in 1942. The limestone was used as a flux in the company’s steelworks at Whyalla in South Australia, and Newcastle and Port Kembla in New South Wales.
On 1 January 1982, ownership of the jetty was transferred to the Government of South Australia from BHP at no cost. The quarry was purchased by Adelaide Brighton Cement.
RAPID BAY ATTRACTIONS
Rapid Bay is known for its imposing cliffs, caves, beach, two jetties and artificial reefs. A resident leafy sea-dragon population inhabits the bay and weedy sea-dragons are also sometimes seen. It is considered to be one of Australia’s premiere scuba diving sites, and has been listed featured on SportDiver as one of the world’s top 9 dives. The ecological communities on the jetty pylons are well established and attract large schools of fish including Old Wives and Zebra Fish. At least 49 species of fish have been recorded in the vicinity of the Rapid Bay jetties. Giant Australian Cuttlefish and Blue-ringed octopus can also be found on the sea floor.
It is also a popular recreational fishing site, though the longer historic jetty is closed to fishermen due to its state of natural decay.
The BHP Jetty was originally 490 metres (1,600 ft) long, with a ‘T’ section of 200 metres (650 ft) length for ship-loading. The jetty terminated in 9.1 metres (30 ft) of water (at lowest tide). Originally built by BHP and later operated by Adelaide Brighton Cement, the jetty ceased commercial operations in 1991. It suffered storm damage in 2004, after which it was progressively closed in stages for the purpose of ensuring public safety. Above the water, the jetty is slowly decaying and is off-limits to the general public. Below the water, the jetty provides habitat for a wide variety of temperate marine species. Since its closure, the above-water structure has also become an increasingly valuable roost for seabirds.