Kanmantoo and the economic boom

Peter Leith has seen a lot of the world and a lot of Australia. The 90-year-old is writing several series of stories, including Vanishing Australia. Kanmantoo and the economic boom is in that category.


The well-worn LandCruiser pulled up outside the six-unit City Motel in Kanmantoo. Two men in bush gear got out, entered the office and introduced themselves to Shirley, the owner.

They were scientists from the University of Adelaide investigating reports of a fossil find near Kanmantoo. If the report was real, they would stay for a few days and handed Shirley a $100 note as a deposit to hold two rooms for them. If the report proved to be a fizzer, they said they would be back later in the day to collect their deposit and return to Adelaide.

After they had driven off, Shirley headed for the motel letterbox on the main road. Charlie, the owner of the general store, pulled up in his van for a chat. Looking at the $100 note, he said, “Is that for me?” Looking down at her hand, Shirley replied: “Why not. Take it off the motel’s account will you love?” and handed over the note. Charlie stuffed it into his shirt pocket and drove off.

On his way back to his store, Charlie stopped at the service station to fill up the van with diesel. As he was doing so, Grace, the owner’s partner came out to chat with him. Seeing the $100 note half out of his pocket, she said: “You’ll lose that.”  Glancing down, Charlie said: “Oh, forgot I’d put that there. Hey, how about you take it and pay it off the store account.” “Thanks,” said Grace and walked back into the service station office.

Jim, Grace’s partner, walked in from the workshop wiping his hands. Smiling at her, he said: “What have you been up to with a $100 note in your hand and a smile on your face?” Punching him affectionately on the shoulder, Grace explained. Pretending to cower, Jim said: “Hang on to it. Gavin the stock agent will be coming by to pick up the $100 we owe him for the two drums of weedkiller we bought from him.”

Sure enough, Gavin did ‘come by’ and collected the $100 for the weedkiller and drove off.  As he did so he remembered that the week before he and his partner had celebrated their wedding anniversary with a ‘slap-up’ dinner at the City Motel, only to find that he had left his wallet at home. Gavin drove past the motel and gave Shirl the $100 note.

Later that afternoon, the two disappointed scientists pulled up in front of the City Motel, reported that the ‘fossil find’ was indeed a fizzer, collected their $100 deposit and set off on the drive back to Adelaide.

Peter Leith says: In 1949, I first drove through Kanmantoo south-east of Adelaide on my way to Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend and Mount Gambier. Then, and on several occasions thereafter, the only sign of life that I saw in Kanmantoo was a dog asleep on a porch. The freeway from Adelaide to Murray Bridge bypassed Kanmantoo many years ago.

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Written by Peter Leith

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