The discovery of Kangaroo Island and the way it earned its name is a fascinating tale embedded in modern Australian history. Referred to as the Ultima Thule – the farthest reach from European civilisation – Kangaroo Island played an important role in the earliest phase of European contact with South Australia.
It is believed Aboriginal inhabitants once occupied Kangaroo Island a few thousand years before its discovery by Europeans, but the demise of Aboriginals on the island remains a mystery today. When Captain Matthew Flinders first landed on Kangaroo Island on March 23, 1802, there was no sign of human inhabitants. Flinders was a British explorer commanding HMS Investigator on the second circumnavigation of New Holland, a land he would ultimately name ‘Australia or Terra Australis’. Flinders was 28 years old and it is said he had a commanding presence, was sensitive to the welfare of his crew and intensely competitive.
On landing near Kangaroo Head on the north coast of the island, Flinders and his hungry crew were delighted at the discovery of fresh food in the form of kangaroo, which would then be his inspiration for the naming of the island. According to his journal; ‘The whole ship’s company was employed this afternoon in the skinning and cleaning of kangaroos. After four months’ privation they stewed half a hundredweight of heads, forequarters and tails down into soup … and as much steaks given … to both officers and men as they could consume by day and night. In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this south land KANGAROO ISLAND’. Flinders and his crew of 94 ate a recorded 31 kangaroos over three days!