The Vibrant History of Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge

Kangaroo Island Tourism

Boasting 509km of coastline and pristine beaches, natural bushland and some quaint local wineries, Kangaroo Island is unsurprisingly a popular tourist destination for not only South Australians but visitors from worldwide. Primarily a nature-based destination, people flock to KI to see native wildlife, thick forests, spectacular geology and coastal views that will blow the socks off even the most seasoned traveller. Koalas, kangaroos, sea lions and seals are some of the most easy-to-spot creatures on the island but many more call it home.

Today, over 140,000 tourists visit Kangaroo Island each year! However, at one time the island was not known for its travel potential and had very little in the way of a tourism industry. Below, we share not only the brief history of Kangaroo Island but dive into the beginnings of a tourism industry on KI, with a good look into the history of what is now Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge.

A short history of Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island was first visited by Europeans in 1802 by Matthew Flinders. Whilst there is evidence that a small Aboriginal group lived on the island at some point, they disappeared 2,000 – 4,000 years ago. It was at the time of European exploration that the island was given its name and within months, more explorers arrived, mapping out the island and naming its coves, beaches and regions. Some of these initial explorers were French and some English, giving the various locations on Kangaroo Island names from different languages.

From this time, sealing and whaling became the central industries and a in 1836 a free colony was established on Kangaroo Island. A few years later, this group relocated to the mainland, leaving only a few settlers who established small holdings, fared sheep and cattle and exploited wool. Growing wheat and barley as well as fishing were also commonly practiced. After World War II, the government provided returned servicemen with large areas of land on Kangaroo Island. It was at this point that the population almost doubled!

From the early 1900s, tourism began to play an increasing part in the economy and reputation of Kangaroo Island. In the remainder of this article, we unveil the story of the Linnett family and the Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge, both of which have in many ways shaped the tourism industry within this beautiful part of South Australia.

Pic credit: Cape Willoughby Lighthouse // SATC

The History of Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge

Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge has a surprising local history and has been an integral player in the establishment of tourism on Kangaroo Island. It all started with one entrepreneurial man, Jack Linnett and his wife Valerie, who in 1913 took over a small corrugated iron dwelling. This dwelling, initially intended to cater to visiting fisherman would grow over time to become a tourism icon in South Australia. 

Travelling during the 20th century to Kangaroo Island was not only difficult – with no ferries operating but with Ansett Airlines or freight vessels the only option – it was also highly expensive. Guests to the island were usually of financial means and the resort was sought after by honeymoon couples from the mainland. In catering towards these groups, what was initially named Linnett’s Guest House grew to become “Linnett’s Pleasure Resort”. Vibrant and certainly the only one of its kind on Kangaroo Island, Linnett’s Pleasure Resort slowly became renowned as a ‘legendary’ local hero. 

Over the next 100 years, not only would Jack and Valerie’s Leon and his wife take over the resort but a number of expansions would be made. A salt water swimming pool – an extremely rare and luxurious addition a the time – was added alongside two accommodation wings which overlooked the pool. Later in 1985 another building with 12 units, of which some boasted spas, was added and offered guests spectacular ocean views. 

Linnett’s Pleasure Resort catered to the elite of South Australia. Professionals, scholars and parliamentarians frequented the establishment. Fishing was one of the most popular attractions for these wealthy groups as was the on-site fine-dining experience. Music and dancing was commonplace at Linnett’s and guests dressed in cocktail attire in the evenings. Sightings of whales from the property resulted in a rather fitting slogan for the property; “Have a Whale of a Holiday at Linnett’s”.

Outside of the resort, fishing trips as well as bus tours took visitors out to landmarks and to Flinders Chase National Park. It was this experiential element of the business which would place Linnett’s Pleasure Resort as a forerunner in Kangaroo Island tourism.

There have been a number of expansions and changes to the now Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge. However, with such a rich and compelling history to share, guests to this iconic property are sure to enjoy its celebration of the past and a sense of local Kangaroo Island pride.

For more information about Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge or to book a room, click here.