The Snake Park and Koala Farm
I’m sure that most of you recognise this piece of the north parklands, behind me is the Womens and Childrens Hospital. Officially its park 12 but for thirty years this park was jumping with Kangaroos, Koalas and Snakes!
The park was the brainchild of Alfred Keith Minchin. Keith Minchin had a strong family connection with exotic animals, his grandfather, father, and brother were all directors of the Adelaide Zoo, and he would often go overseas to collect animals for them.
This is how the site looked back in the mid 1920’s, notice there’s a lot more foliage and a lot less structure and order than there is in those parklands now. Keith Minchin created the park as a double barrel money maker, by filling it with exotic and lethal snakes, he’d lure people through the gates and he’d the milk the snakes to create antivenin to sell to hospitals. Brilliant!
Minchin was a larger-than life character with powerful allies, and his approval for the park created a precedent, making him the first person to be given a piece of public parkland for personal gain.
Three thousand people turned up to the opening of the Snake Park and Minchin knew he was on a winner, so he enlisted the help of a South African schoolteacher friend to give him a hand. Now we don’t know how much experience Cyril had with snakes but every day he’d jump into the pit and allow all sorts of snakes to slither all over his body but four months down the track one of those snakes gave him a venomous bite, the end of the act and sadly the end of Cyril.
Proving there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the park thrived, and by the mid 1930’s there was plenty to keep the crowds entertained. There was Sally the seal, if you look carefully you can see she’s balancing a ball on her nose part of the attraction of the park was the hands-on nature of some of the exhibits.
Neptune the seal goings through its routine for a very appreciative audience, and here, getting the star treatment from famous English playwright and actor, Noel Coward, who was just one of the many celebrities who dropped in for a visit.
There was even an albino Kangaroo, at the time it was thought to be the only one of its type in captivity. But it was the introduction of koalas, and the eventual renaming of the park as the Koala Farm, that was the masterstroke.
During the second World War, the Koala Park was a must see experience for many of the American servicemen who found themselves in Adelaide on ‘R and R’.
As the Koala Park grew in popularity a mini locomotive was used to move people amongst the exhibits…or you could choose the camel cart as your means of transport.
But, by the early 1950’s there was talk of closing the park as numbers started to dwindle and costs started to rise. Minchin managed to keep going for a few more years, but, in 1960, the Koala Park was closed and the area returned to parklands.
Keith Minchin died about three years later, in August 1963.