Respects paid to pioneer of Kangaroo Island tourism, Leon Linnett

Leon Linnett as a young man with one of the family tour buses. Photo from American River History Collection

Leon Linnett as a young man with one of the family tour buses. Photo from American River History Collection

Pioneer of tourism on Kangaroo Island, Leon Linnett died aged 94 on Monday, May 11.

The son of Jack Linnett, founder of the original holiday resort at American River, Leon was born on the family property on January 4, 1927.

Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman made a lengthy speech in State Parliament about the Island legend the day after his death.

"I rise to remember and pay tribute to the life of Mr Leon Linnett," she said in Parliament.

"Today, I send our condolences to Mrs Linnett and two of their children, Adam and Kate, who still live on Kangaroo Island.

"Mr Linnett was not only a giant in the development of tourism in South Australia and in particular on Kangaroo Island, but also in his contribution to the hospitality industry generally.

"He was a pioneer in luxury accommodation at American River on Kangaroo Island with the Linnett's luxury resort. It has had various titles, but it was an enduring accommodation institution in this State."

A native of Kangaroo Island, Ms Chapman spoke about her experiences at Linnett's Resort at American River. The full copy of the speech can be read below.

KI mayor Michael Pengilly also paid respects to Mr Linnett at Tuesday's KI Council meeting noting that he was a giant of tourism in the State and particularly on KI.

"He was an institution here," Mr Pengilly said. "He really lifted tourism from a low base and with Kings Travel and Airlines of South Australia set a benchmark."

Leon and and his wife Dorothy Linnett last year provided a treasure trove of family photographs to the American River History Collection, being compiled by local resident Anne A'Herran.

The American River collection now has more than 100 records in its online catalogue now, displaying over 150 historic photos, some from the Linnett family connection.

You can see the progress so far on the eHive website by clicking here.

"It preserves a pictorial history of this place for the future, no matter what may come, fire or flood," she said. "Leon, with Dorothy and the family, gave so much to the River. "I will try to track down more photos of Leon himself, in an earlier, possibly happier time, when the River was young and the Linnett family created a vibrant tourist hub for the world. As it will be, one day, again."

Anne A'Herran's mother Phyl Turner wrote about the Linnett tourism dynasty in 1998 after interviews with the family. Excerpts from her work about Leon can be read further down this story.

Former Kangaroo Island newspaper publisher and author Neville Cordes also wrote extensively about the Linnett family, including Leon.

He described him as "one of the hardest working men I have ever encountered. Tough as nails, and as strong as a bull, he can turn his hand to anything, be it repairing a diesel engine, fixing a broken washing machine, or welding a cracked chassis."

Leon Linnett featured in Neville Cordes' book about the Linnett family's Kangaroo Island exploits.

Leon Linnett featured in Neville Cordes' book about the Linnett family's Kangaroo Island exploits.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

A brochure for Linnetts Pleasure Resort from the 1950s for sale on eBay.

Deputy Premier's speech in Parliament

It is important to remember over several decades of the Linnett's contribution to tourism and the advance of Kangaroo Island that in an era when travel to Kangaroo Island was expensive-it usually required travelling on Ansett Airlines of South Australia and there were freight vessels but not ferries as we know today-the attendees were usually people of some financial means or honeymoon couples.

Fishing was the greatest attraction for the wealthy. I can recall famous people as a child, such as Bob and Dolly Dyer of BP Pick a Box, if you can remember that era, as well as Ron Forster and others, who had expeditions to Kangaroo Island. Of course, there was an appreciation of unique fauna and flora. Fine dining at Linnett's was available, which was fairly exclusive to Kangaroo Island in those days. Guests would arrive on a Fokker Friendship aircraft. They were entertained with music and dancing and were dressed in cocktail attire.

They had the benefit of a saltwater swimming pool, which I think in circa 1960 was opened by Dawn Fraser, who attended on Kangaroo Island to do a lap of the pool. This was a very, very high luxury item, I can tell you, for Kangaroo Island. Fine food was enjoyed at Leon's restaurant. Drinks were in the Friendship Bar, which was named after the Fokker Friendship aircraft that used to transport people there, and the bus tours, later with Kings Travel, took their guests out to remote areas and landmarks.

Sometimes they would venture out our way at Western River and have afternoon tea on the verandah at the Western River homestead. They really did make an integrated tourism adventure for people who came to Kangaroo Island. Of course, this was in an era when you would stop to take photographs. In those days you had a camera with a reel, it took a couple of weeks to have it developed and then you got your pictures back. Occasionally, I can remember Linnett's buses stopping on the side of the road as they were on their way to Western River. Sometimes they would all get out with their cameras, take a photograph of me and my brother as we were skinny-dipping in the dam or whatever, but usually of wildlife, and sometimes they would stop and pick mushrooms.

Linnett's fishing charters also operated. Sir Thomas Playford, then Tom Playford, who is in the portrait here behind me, during his time of premiership would spend 10 days every January on Kangaroo Island and he would stay at the Linnett's luxury hotel, and he would come out to the west.

It truly was. As a child, I was promised at about age 11 to be taken to Leon's restaurant when I turned 18, and I duly honoured that and flew from Adelaide back to Kangaroo Island. I had started university but was taken out to dinner at Leon's restaurant. This was a really big, special place, and it was an experience to remember for those who travelled there Hundreds of honeymoon couples, who still live in South Australia, will tell you that they had honeymooned on Kangaroo Island at this place. It was pioneering. It was innovative in its day. It made a huge contribution to the international tourism market that we have. There are different products now to provide for this, but in its day it was truly magnificent.

The other thing that I think would be important to remember for Mr Linnett is that he understood the integration of the different services that came with tourism-transport, tours, high class accommodation, good food, obviously refreshment. In those days it was probably beer and cocktails and spirits, although they have come back in fashion, and wine is still a major aspect in relation to that. This integration of these services, the support to each other in that community, was magnificent then, and I know that he would be looking down now to say, 'Don't give up, Kangaroo Island. You will be good again.'

The Linnett Story by Phyl Turner

Phyl Turner's work "The Linnett Story - A brief history of an historical island enterprise" does include references to Leon and his work ethic.

Her first reference to Leon was him showing Cinemascope movies at the resort.

"By about this time, circa 1959, Jack Linnett had died. Valerie and the family now ran the place, which had now become a huge establishment covering over 30 acres.

"They now found it necessary to establish a large farm to supply the guest house with its own meat and produce. There was also a small butcher's shop. As the farm developed they built a house on the property and appointed a manager. It was sold in 1970 when a huge updating of the then 'Resort' began.

"As each son married his wife became fully involved with the Guest House. Each in her particular field added immeasurably to its successful development.

"Jack's son Leon later married the East Coast model Dorothy Sharp. Destined eventually to become joint owner with Leon, Dorothy also made a significant contribution.

"Today she reminisces on how she and Leon would work on the farm so late with the sheep, 'racing home just in time to shower and dress', appearing in almost no time as usual, ready and apparently quite unruffled!

"It was at this stage that some of the boys decided to go their own way, and one by one, Leon and Dorothy bought them out. They now became the proud owners of 'Linnett's Pleasure Resort'.

"Occasional sightings of a whale off the adjacent Kangaroo Head gave rise to their logo, "Have a Whale of a Holiday at Linnett's".

"Every year Dorothy and Leon traveled extensively overseas, staying at prestigious hotels in London and Europe. New York and other countries, checking that the resort accommodations back home were up to world standards.

"They were also the caring parents of two small children who accompanied them on these fact-finding tours. This was the period when the upgrading of the entire complex began. Business was booming."

After going through how the business changed over the years, Phyl Turner then goes onto elaborate more about Leon Linnett.

"Leon was born on the property and Dorothy says it has been his whole life. She pays tribute to him in the following quote:

'Leon kept the place together. He never stopped working. He fixed everything that stopped working: he drove the coaches and the boats. He worked in the bar (when times got bad). He cooked breakfast and did all maintenance'.

Shades of Jack Linnett... Like his father, Leon didn't know the meaning of "it can't be done". It is interesting to cogitate on what the future may hold for Linnett's Island Club. Will the Linnett saga end, never to be the same again? Might a phoenix rise from the ashes, restoring the glory that has been the last 85 years?"

You can read the whole work by Phyl Turner at the end of our recent American River honeymooners story here

HONEYMOON COUPLES: Jack and Jan Bailey, Ron and Chris Giblin, Brian and Chris Pratt, John and Mary Murray celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, where they all came to honeymoon together.

HONEYMOON COUPLES: Jack and Jan Bailey, Ron and Chris Giblin, Brian and Chris Pratt, John and Mary Murray celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, where they all came to honeymoon together.

The Islander wrote about the history of the Linnett family when four couples from Adelaide returned to American River to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in December 2019.

The couples met each other 50 years ago while on honeymoon at what was then Linnetts Pleasure Resort.

This story Respects paid to pioneer of Kangaroo Island tourism, Leon Linnett first appeared on The Islander.

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