A FASCINATION with Port Victoria's grain shipping industry began at an early age for Stuart Moody, and his interest in the elegant sailing vessels increased through the years.
"I always had an interest in shipping from when I was a little kid apparently," he said.
"I can recall my grandfather and father telling me how they could see the bay full of ships from the farm and my grandfather said they could see the masts of some of the shipwrecks out at Wardang Island.
"Living relatively near the sea, I've always had an interest in it."
Port Victoria was one of South Australia's most important grain export centres between 1879 and 1949, when ships would sail around the world to transport SA grain to Europe - most frequently England or Ireland - through the treacherous Cape Horn at the bottom of South America.
Stuart's extensive research on the industry that shaped the coastal town on the western Yorke Peninsula formed the basis of his book.
"Over my 40 years of interest in ships and the sea, I'd collected a lot of material - newspaper copies, letters that people had given me, letters that I'd written that people had replied to," he said.
"Even back in the '60s I'd done a bit of research in the State archives. I had files full of information, and I started to sort them out seven or eight years ago and put the information onto the computer."
It was only after assisting local author Leon Roesler that he began formulating the idea of writing a book.
"He was saying that he wished he'd started 10 years ago because he'd hit a dead end," Stuart said.
"I came away thinking there's still five or six people around Port Victoria from that era, so I made a point then to go and interview these people, and that's when the book was formed.
"The old agents and the lumpers who were involved with the shipping are still there, and that's where a lot of my information came from."
From there, Stuart divided his time for his researching, writing and farming commitments.
"I lease my cropping ground out and I run sheep seasonally on my cropping ground," he said.
"I do a bit of off-farm work, driving someone's harvester for them at harvest time and do the crop spraying.
"That helped give me more time to put the book together. I was working on it for seven or eight years but the last two years got pretty intense. I would've found it pretty hard to get it out when I wanted to if I was still farming full-time."
When working on the book, Stuart was amazed by the importance of Port Victoria to the local graingrowers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"Port Victoria being an export port was very important for the immediate and surrounding district," he said.
"Without it they would've had to pay a lot more freight to get their grain to Wallaroo or Ardrossan.
"This was back in the early days when it was horse and cart, and the logistics of moving grain by horse and wagon was pretty horrendous. If they didn't take them to another exporting point, they had to go to a little outport and have it shipped across to Port Lincoln, Wallaroo or Port Adelaide, and of course, that's all added expense."
Ships first loaded wheat at Port Victoria in 1876, with the first overseas vessel arriving in 1879.
"In the early days a lot of the ships came to Australia carrying general cargo - it could be merchandise for the stores or timber - and to be economical they'd look for return cargo, and so they'd be chartered to one of these ports around Australia to load wheat," Stuart said.
"In the latter years a lot of them couldn't find outbound cargo so they'd come with ballast just to load wheat."
Wheat was shipped on small sailing ships from across the Spencer Gulf and as far away as the western coast of Eyre Peninsula to Port Victoria for export. The bags of grain were added to local supplies and stored in high stacks above the beach near the present-day jetty.
*Full report in Stock Journal, March 21 issue, 2013.