In the early days of white settlement, whaling was expected to become a major industry in South Australia. One of those who expected to make a good deal of money from whaling was George Hepenstal, after whom Hepenstal Road is named.
The son of Rev. Charles W. Hepenstal of County Wicklow in Ireland, George bought land at Port Noarlunga and established the very first European permanent dwelling in Port Noarlunga around 1840. In time he established a whaling station at the mouth of the Onkaparinga River, which commanded ‘the whole of the navigation of the river Onkaparinga’.
Quite a feat for a minister’s son. But whaling did not prove very successful; the only whale seen around Port Noarlunga was a dead one, washed up on the shore. The smuggling of tobacco and spirits, common around the Onkaparinga River and supplying Adelaide proved a good deal more lucrative than looking for whales.
The Golden Pheasant Hotel in Hackham, which was still standing in the 1920 is said to have been a haven for ‘whalers and smugglers’.
With the Onkaparinga River at his command, George would probably have found some of its nooks and crannies upstream from Old Noarlunga an ideal place for keeping out of the watchful eye of the authorities, who were constantly roaming this region looking for smugglers. In fact it’s quite likely no coincidence that George’s knowledge of the river probably extended upstream to the ‘place of safety’ that Aboriginal women had used for generations before.
Today, Hepenstal Road is blocked between Main South Road and Gates Road to the west, and it ends at Piggott Range Road to the east on the corner of Braydun Hill property.
However, there is a small walking track down to the river from the top of Hepenstal Road, and sometimes on a moonlight night when all is still and quiet, you can hear the muffled sound of ponies’ hooves as they walk up the track from the river. If you are very lucky, you may even catch a glimmer of moonlight reflected from the barrels they are carrying – brandy and other spirits bound for Adelaide.