Gawler Civic Centre

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Also known as: Gawler Town Hall - 89 Murray Street and Gawler Institute - 91 Murray Street
Address: 89 Murray Street
Town or Locality: Gawler
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Mayoral Speech – Gawler Civic Centre Official Launch Sunday 7 April 2019

"Kaurna Acknowledgement - We would like to acknowledge this land that we meet on today is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the greater Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna people today.


I’d like to thank Jack Buckskin for once again providing such a powerful welcome to country and being so generous with your culture, Aunty Lynette Crocker and Uncle Freddie Agius

Good morning everyone and welcome to this official launch of the Gawler Civic Centre. I also formally acknowledge:

Senator Lucy Gichuhi, Senator for South Australia Hon Nick Champion MP, Federal Member for Wakefield Hon John Dawkins, Member of the Legislative Council Tony Piccolo MP, Member for Light Paula Luethen MP Member for King Mayor Kevin Knight mayor of Tea Tree Gully Board director of the Local Government Association of SA Town of Gawler Council Members both current and past serving Previous Mayors. Dr Bruce Eastick AM and Acknowledge Mr Gil Harnet and Mrs Mary Harnett who weren’t able to be with us today

Former members of the Gawler Institute Committee Members of our local aboriginal community. Ladies and gentlemen

I’d like to take you back to 1857 because I think this was the start of a long and arduous journey culminating in what we now see before us as the Gawler Civic Centre. Back in 1857, a group of interested and passionate local people, both business and community minded, met in James Martin’s cottage in Murray Street to discuss the merits of an Institute for Gawler. 1857 was also the year the Municipality of the Town of Gawler was declared.The Institute Committee was off and running.

There had been an attempt to start a mechanics institute in 1848 by Walter Duffield but it didn’t get much traction.In 1870 after much fundraising and lobbying, the foundation stone was laid for this magnificent institute building that I’m standing in front of today. James Martin was a mover and shaker at this time and encouraged people to invest in our future. It was a big vision.

The importance of ‘service above self’ was a foundation principle of our town. The entrepreneurial spirit was also dominant. Gawler was strategically placed, and capitalised on mining and exploration in South Australia at that time. Many explorers travelled through the township, John McInlay, amongst others, a notable influencer.

1857 was the year that saw the arrival of the magnetic telegraph connecting Gawler to the outside world, the railway that linked us to Adelaide and of course it was the year William Barnet started The Bunyip printing office.

The Gawler Institute would play a critical role in the literary and cultural life of South Australia. The Institute drove educational pursuit and encouraged scientific endeavour and debate. Importantly, cultural items, books, ephemera and artefacts started to be collected, including one of the earliest known collections of aboriginal artefacts. This was the beginning of what we now know as the Gawler Heritage Collection. The Institute’s prominence led to the establishment of the first public museum in South Australia, upstairs in the James Martin Room.

A major competition was held in October 1859, to celebrate the Institute’s second anniversary with a patriotic song. This culminated in the ‘Song of Australia’, a work forever linked to the Gawler Institute.

In 1878 the Town Hall became a reality. The discussions started in 1868 however …..never let it be said that we rush things in Gawler. There was lots of talking and no confidence motions, offers of land and then withdrawals. There were polls. And more polls. Eventually James Martin, by then Mayor of Gawler, laid the foundation stone with this commemorative trowel and seal presented to him to mark the occasion.

South Australia’s economy was buoyant during the next few decades however drought and the Great Depression of the 1890’s were soon to come.

Together we celebrated Federation and the change from colonies to a nation. 1907 saw the jubilee of both the Institute and Local Government and there’s a wonderful photo in our new chamber that captured that event. However it was not long before WW1, took a heavy toll on all communities, including Gawler. Our walk of honour in the Town Hall powerfully demonstrates what this community sacrificed during that time.

Throughout all of these times the Institute committee continued its work. With a passion for Gawler, the committee kept providing education and entertainment as well as acting as custodians of a growing collection that documented our rich history. Times change and with it come different priorities and struggles.

By the late 1970’s, the South Australian Government had decided to not continue its program of support for the South Australian Institutes. This led to a series of events, including transfer of ownership of the Institute building to the Town of Gawler in the 1980’s, with negotiations about the collection lasting more than 15 years. What resulted was a complex transfer of the ownership and custody of the valuable 19th century heritage collection to the Council in 2001. To say these were very difficult times is an understatement.

Different views abounded on the future of these large and increasingly burdensome buildings. In 1968 there was a call for a new Civic Centre. Local historians and Institute committee members such as Laurie Ronan, Margaret Leak, and John Clift ( happy birthday 90 on Thursday last week ) had stubbornly and valiantly kept the Institute building and the collection going. A word about Laurie Ronan; he safeguarded the collection for 50 years. I can’t fathom, only admire that kind of commitment. John Clift who is here today, was also a passionate advocate for the buildings and the collection. At one point, in response to a threat to demolish the institute, ...he said “Over my dead body”. And there was good reason for this tough stance.

Fast forward to June 2012. A workshop was held with elected members, staff, and expert consultant Denise Schumann about the heritage collection and its future. Some of the participants of that workshop are here today. An idea was floated that maybe with a federal election coming up we might source some money to fix up the buildings and properly house the nationally significant Gawler Heritage Collection. From there began a new journey to see if we could restore the institute and town hall. And boy what a journey it’s been. Meetings, reports, plans, more reports, nightmares, a visit to Norwood, St Peters & Payneham that freaked us all out, more reports, grant applications, disappointment, worry…

In 2014, Council submitted an application to the Australian Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund for what was then called “Gawler Connect”. This submission stated that the Gawler Connect project would, and I quote, “transform the iconic and culturally significant Gawler Town Hall and adjacent Gawler Institute to create an architecturally significant hub for government, economic and social enterprise that will act as the renaissance catalyst for the Gawler CBD to take its place as the business and cultural centre for the greater Region.” The aim was that Gawler Connect would deliver: Regional Digital Business Hub Regional Gawler Heritage Collection Gallery Regional multi-purpose function venue Aboriginal Café Regional Smart Library A youth space Most importantly, Jobs

And then … a phone call during a Council meeting in May 2015, from Sean Edwards advised me that we had the money... to the tune of 5.6 million dollars... What a watershed moment - we had a project!

Why Gawler Connect? Well, it was a reference to the challenges we faced with our growth and connecting our existing town with the new areas that were coming... and we hit the ground running. The level of dilapidation was profound and it really was a case of saving these 2 buildings. John, we came close to that dead body reference.. Four and a half years later, we have delivered exactly what we promised in our funding application and more. Just over 2 years of demolition, extensive remediation and construction, final commissioning and moving-in have resulted in what we believe is a spectacular result for Gawler and the wider community

So here we are today. And if I may let me give you two pertinent quotes “We are continually faced with great opportunities which are brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.” Margaret Mead "Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase". Martin Luther King Jr

Finally, some acknowledgements: Firstly to all members of the magnificent Institute Committee, I dips me lid to you all To the elected members both past and present who had the vision to back the project To all the consultants involved, MPH architects and your staff and contractors, many compliments are coming in on your innovative design, Elevation Design, State Heritage, Catalyst, Chris Sale consulting, Katnich Dodd, WGA, Bestec, Badge constructions, the amazing trades people, thank you. To the Australian Government for rewarding our vision. Sean Edwards. To Denise Schumann who inspired us to think ahead and be bold and continues to guide and advise, you are irreplaceable. To Dwaine Bickerdike who project managed effortlessly and with class, thank you To the members of the Town of Gawler Cultural Heritage Committee, thank you for keeping us focused on the community’s expectations And to the Administration beautifully led by Henry Inat.

CEO, we did it. Well done to you all. These beautiful buildings have been waiting so patiently to shine once again. I think you will agree that we have done them justice.

Thank you, Kind regards,"

Karen Redman

Mayor - Town of Gawler

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Gawler Civic Centre Progress Report that was presented at the 28 November 2017 Council Meeting – it starts on page 64.

Click here to view photos of the Civic Centre opening; as well as photographs taken before and during the restoration of the 2 buildings, and now the final magnificent end result.


You are urged to take a guided tour commencing from the Library entrance inside the Centre and lasting about one hour on

Tuesdays at 10am

Thursdays at 3pm and

Saturdays at 10am.

click here to view the video of Denise Schumann addressing the Gawler History Team on the establishment of the new Gawler Civic Centre .


Sunday 7th April 2019 - Kaurna welcome for the official opening of the Gawler Civic Center with Mayor Karen Redman alongside.
Sunday 7th April 2019 - Kaurna welcome for the official opening of the Gawler Civic Center with Mayor Karen Redman alongside.
Historic Map of Australia c1839
Historic Map of Australia c1839


Memories of Gawler Civic Centre

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