Beginning as a residential suburb in 1929 there’s a lot to say about how West Beach came about, both before and after then!
In 1850 Joseph Johnson had a flourishing farm of 200 hectares in West Beach which he called Frogmore. It was a mixed farm with horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and grain crops. The farmhouse had a fine thatched roof, which was made with rushes cut from the surrounding Reedbeds. The house was near the Tapleys Hill Road – West Beach Road intersection.
William Gray acquired Frogmore in 1858, eventually acquiring an estate of over 3,000 hectares covering what is now West Beach, Adelaide Airport, and North Glenelg. Later he subdivided this land amongst his four sons.
One of the sons, Franklin Gray sold most of his property in the 1920s. In its original state it was of little use for anything as it comprised two rows of sandhills covered with thick shrubby growth.
After years of planning and despite countless difficulties, a plan evolved for the land. It began to take shape in 1928 with a huge engineering project to level the sandhills. At the time it was as the largest scheme of its kind in South Australia. A labour force of 100 horses, 24 scoops and horse-drawn drays removed nearly 300,000 cubic metres of sand to convert the deep valley between the dunes into a level stretch of sand – raising the low-lying land to a height suitable for building purposes. The project also involved building an Esplanade and roads connecting it with Military Road, which was raised by over 2 metres.
The first allotments, between Military Road and the Esplanade went on sale in March 1929. That sale was a great success.
Newspapers claimed that West Beach “cannot fail to become a popular residential suburb” - yet soon after, the real estate market crashed and the effects of ‘The Great Depression’ meant no further development followed these sales. Only three houses were built and for 20 years they remained the only homes in the new seaside town.
Built in Rockingham Street these landmark properties still grace the area.
Local resident Dr Merv Allen remembers that during his childhood in the 1940s there was:
“… little building happening at West Beach, and it was still a great place to roam. With their air guns, children could shoot or trap rabbits for their mothers’ stew”.
Between 1939-1945 Defence Regulations closed all suburban beaches in Adelaide with no further development taking place during the war, though short term leases were granted for the construction of beach shacks along the sandhills.
With the post WW2 migration, Bulgarian and Italian market gardeners established gardens with glasshouses in the area, cultivating tomatoes for the local and interstate markets.
Ron Nash remembers that:
“… in 1950 there were only four houses built and the roads were barely 3 metres wide, but with encroaching sand drifts on both sides of the road.
Following the commissioning of the Adelaide Airport in 1955 and the establishment of large recreational reserve areas, more families moved to West Beach in the 1960s. The 2016 Census shows the West Beach community has over 2000 private dwellings and is home to nearly 5,000 people.
West Beach has natural boundaries on all sides. To the west is the sea, to the east, the airport, in the south are large recreational reserves and to the north the Torrens Outlet.