A prosperous service centre for a district reliant on timber and milling, agriculture and fishing industries and more recently, tourism.
Where is it?: South east. 402 km south east of Adelaide; 50 km from Mount Gambier.
Built features: Millicent Shell Garden; villages of Tantanoola, Snuggery, Hatherleigh, Mt. Burr and Randells.
Heritage features: Millicent National Trust Museum; Wyrie Swamp Aboriginal archaeological site (7 km south); 'Bowaka' homestead, Reedy Creek (1851)
Millicent National Trust Museum: The Millicent National Trust Museum, located on Mount Gambier Road, is considered one of the best rural museums in South Australia. It has excellent displays of local history, historic farm machinery, a range of horse drawn vehicles and some interesting local Aboriginal artefacts. In recent times it has been organised thematically with separate sections on the history of Millicent, artefacts from the Victorian era, Aboriginal rock engravings and so on. The centrepiece of the museum is the town's original primary school which dates from 1873.
Tantanoola Cave: located 16 km from Millicent, Tantanoola Cave may be the only cave in Australia which claims to have wheelchair access. It is a single cave which has been formed in an ancient coastal cliff. It is notable for its excellent columns, shawls and helictites. The cave was first discovered by Boyce Lane in 1930 and since then has been a popular local attraction.
Interpretive display at The Main Cormer, Mt Gambier, of deep cave engravings at Wyrie Swamp Site
Wyrie Swamp Site: Located 7 km south of Millicent, the Wyrie Swamp is an important archaeological site. About 10,000 years ago local Aborigines visited the shores of the swamp. A peat bog which has yielded a number of important early Aboriginal artefacts including a simple short spear, a digging stick, pointed stakes, two barbed spears and nine boomerangs. The wooden boomerangs found in the swamp are some of the oldest ever discovered in Australia.
Canunda National Park: Located on the coast and stretching from Carpenters Rocks to Southend (an area of 9359 hectares which stretches for 40 km), the Canunda National Park is a large coastal park characterised, as is much of the Coorong to the north, by huge sand dunes which are covered by silky tea trees and coastal wattle. There are a number of access points. Two wheel drive can enter from Southend. Other entry points require 4WD. At the Southend end of the park is Cullens Bay Blowhole and Boozy Gully Lookout both of which are excellent if the weather conditions are right. Be warned: the beaches in the Park are dangerous.
This is an important sanctuary where the endangered orange-bellied parrot, the rufous bristlebird and the olive whistler can be seen although it is more likely that you will see western grey kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, seals and white-breasted sea eagles.
Natural features: Tantanoola Tiger mystery; Tantanoola Caves Conservation Park (21 km south); Cape Buffon; Canunda National Park (Lake Bonney; Cullens Bay Blowhole; Boozy Gully Lookout); Wyrie Swamp and peat bog; Mt. Burr (241 metres); Reedy Creek Conservation Park; Wyrie Swamp
Origin of name: named after Millicent Glen (nee Short), the daughter of the first Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide. She was the eldest child of the Right Rev. Dr. Augustus Short, first Bishop of Adelaide, and was born at the vicarage, Ravensthorpe, Northamptonshire, England on 29th September 1837. She arrived at Adelaide with her parents in December 1847. She later married George Glen, of Mayurra Station and settled in Robe. With the exception of her two maids, Mrs. Glen was the only white woman in that part of the country at that time. She took great interest in the Aboriginal tribes who lived near the station. She died in Mt. Gambier in 1930, age 94.
Brief history: It is believed that the Bungandidj Aborigines occupied the area before European settlement. The first European into the district was Charles Bonney who, in 1839, overlanded cattle through the area. He was followed shortly afterwards by Samuel Davenport who established Mayurra sheep run in 1845. It was later managed by George Glen.
In 1863 a major swamp clearing project began and the previously useless land was turned into rich wheat and barley crops by the creation of an elaborate and deep drainage system. The key development occurred when a drain was blasted which allowed the swamp to drain into Lake Frome. It is said that there are 1450 km of drains and 500 bridges in the area.
A town was surveyed in 1870 and built on land previously owned by Mayurra Station. The town was named 'Millicent' after Millicent Short the daughter of the first Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide. When she died in 1930 the Adelaide Advertiser's obituary offered a fascinating insight into her life and how she came to be honoured by the town. 'The death occurred in Mount Gambier on Sunday,' it reported, 'of Mrs Millicent Glen. Mrs Glen was ninety-four years of age, was the eldest child of the Right Rev. Dr Augustus Short, first Bishop of Adelaide, and was born at the vicarage, Ravensthorpe, Northamptonshire, England on 29 September 1837. With her parents she arrived at Adelaide in December 1847. The Bishop chartered the Derwent, of 362 tons, to bring his family and several clergymen to Australia, the journey occupying 117 days.
In 1872 the first hotel, the Somerset Hotel, was constructed. It is still in operation although it is hardly the original building. At various times the hotel has served as a school and a court house. Famously it was the site of a court hearing involving many prominent citizens and the charge of looting. In 1876 a barque, the Geltwood, was wrecked on the coast nearby. The next morning saw the beach littered with bodies and cargo from the ship. The locals felt no qualms about pilfering the flotsam and jetsam and a court case followed where they were all acquitted on the dubious grounds that they didn't know that looting from a shipwreck was a crime. The Shipwreck Room in the Millicent Museum has the anchor from the Geltwood.
The railway arrived in 1879 thus ensuring Millicent's continued importance as a major regional centre. Today Millicent is a prosperous country service centre with a strong tradition of timber and milling as well as agriculture and fishing industries. It is also a popular tourist destination.