Gawler Thematic History - Planning Urban Settlement

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Fast Facts
Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Planning Urban Settlement

The development of Gawler in the 19th century could be described in several distinct phases which have previously been conveniently labelled by others as ‘Pioneering’ (1839-1848); ‘Settlement’ (1849- 1870) and ‘Industrial’ (1871-1900).74

In summary the Pioneering, or Foundation, phase was marked by settlement of the Gawler Special Survey by its purchasers and the beginnings of commercial ventures and services catering largely to northern traffic and farmers in the district. At this stage, no permanent settlement pattern was fixed.

The first decade (1839-1848) saw the settlement of the district comprising the Special Survey and the development of the township created by the Special Survey’s owners. The township was given real impetus during this period by the discovery of copper at Kapunda and the Burra. These discoveries, along with increased agricultural settlement of the mid north resulted in rapid growth of services and facilities and the establishment of a permanent community in Gawler town rather than as a brief resting place on the northern route. Facilities established included hotels, blacksmiths, general stores and police barracks. The provision of a bridge over the North Para River was government recognition of the importance of the traffic route through Gawler.

The Settlement, or Consolidation, Phase was characterised by the establishment of a distinct township community with its own identity and of commercial activity to service the local community as well as the larger district. Social, cultural, religious and educational services were developed for a stable population. Residential and commercial settlement occurred along the pattern devised in the original township plan.

Over the next two decades (1850s and 60s), the growth of the township was substantial. The return of men from the Victorian Gold Rush throughout 1852 and the increasing settlement of the adjacent west and south-west agricultural areas led to the growth of local manufacturing. This, along with increasing traffic to the Murray, led to Gawler becoming a vital part of the Colony's commercial, industrial and agricultural activities and an integral part of its communication network.

New suburban townships were surveyed and allotments sold, expanding the original settlement. In 1854 the District Councils of Mudla Wirra, Barossa West, Munno Para East, and Munno Para West were created under the District Councils Act of 1852. This established Gawler as a part of the large Barossa West district and divided Gawler South between the District Councils of Munno Para East and Munno Para West.

Evidence of a sense of community and autonomy in Gawler was apparent in the agitation by residents for a single local government administration of Gawler. Thus resulted in proclamation of the Corporation of Gawler in 1857, formally establishing an identity to the district contained within its boundaries.

In the same year the Adelaide to Gawler railway was completed, telegraphic communication between Gawler and Adelaide was installed, the Bunyip printing office opened and the Gawler Institute was formally established.

In the next ten years more industries were opened and existing industries expanded, particularly those supplying agricultural machinery. In 1863 new hundreds to the north were declared open for agriculture and in 1865 gold was discovered at the Barossa, increasing the potential of Gawler for service to the northern districts and for participation in the increasing traffic and communications to and from Adelaide and Port Adelaide 75.

Passage of the Strangways Land Act in 1869, allowing selection of agricultural land on credit and in small blocks, had a significant impact on the economy and distribution and deployment of population of the whole Colony. Its impact on Gawler, a township already geared to servicing an agricultural population, increased growth and prosperity and established Gawler's position as a major commercial and industrial centre by 1870.

The Industrial Phase of the last three decades of the 19th century witnessed the growth of local industry catering to colonial and often inter-colonial demands as well as to local needs in addition to increased commercial activity and social consolidation. This phase was also known by many as “The Colonial Athens” phase 76 when residential settlement spread east, south and west and isolated industrial enterprises intruded into residential districts and west to the railway station as the original commercial area of Murray Street was saturated.

At this time, almost all of the streets, terraces and squares bore the names of first residents, including: Murray, Todd, Jacob, Cowan, Dundas, Finniss, Duffield, Reid, Ayers, Rudall, Gozzard, Ford, Stubbs, Schriebner, Whitlaw, Paterson and Calton.

The first three decades of the 20th century, ‘the Uncertainty and Change’ Phase were a period of unpredictability with declining local industry and labour unrest but also of healthy commercial life and of new building activity initiated by government, churches and individuals. There was little change in the pattern of settlement, new building being largely upon vacant lots between existing buildings or as extensions.

The following 50 years saw a period of stagnation followed by renewed growth with new population and the resulting building and commercial revitalisation. There was little industrial activity and local autonomy was increasingly replaced by dependence upon Adelaide and metropolitan based firms for employment, goods and services. Extensive new development of residential settlement to the south and radical modification of the existing commercial accommodation along and adjoining Murray Street occurred.

The newly developed Gawler Development Plan of 2019 77 provides the following advice for development: The character of the heart of the township revolves around the Gawler town centre and adjoining Church Hill, which is of particular significance. That character is largely derived from its setting, framed by the North Para River and South Para River and flanked to the east by the elevated ridge running parallel with the main street, Murray Street. Generous parkland spaces, flanked by wide terraces, encompass the river valleys. The dominating traditional grid road pattern is realigned in response to topographic conditions to create significant entrance points and important vistas. Several landmarks, including the Church Hill town squares are created as significant focal points. Native riverine eucalyptus on the North Para River and South Para River parklands are complemented within the town centre area by Moreton Bay Fig trees, pinus species, palms and exotic European trees.

Buildings of historic interest, although containing a diversity of architectural styles from modest, simple colonial cottages to grand villas, and elaborate residences, display a rare cohesiveness, with few disparate new structures. The building form generally consists of:

(a) shape - orthogonal load-bearing building forms with hip, gable and hip-gable combination roofs. Verandahs are commonly found.

(b) scale - generally single-storey, but with lofty, high-pitched roofs.

(c) materials - local building stone (bluestone, limestone) and sandstone, or red brick walls with corrugated iron roofs.

(d) advertising or advertising displays - integrated with the building’s architecture so that details which provide interest (such as arches, columns, decorative panels and lacework) are not obscured or disturbed.


This report has been prepared by the following people:

• Nancy Cromar (Flightpath Architects)

• Deborah Morgan (Flightpath Architects)

• Kate Paterson (Flightpath Architects)

• Douglas Alexander (Flightpath Architects)

The study team would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following people:

• David Petruzzella (Strategic Planner; Town of Gawler)

• Jacinta Weiss (Cultural Heritage Centre Coordinator; Town of Gawler)

• Jane Strange (Senior Development and Strategic Policy Officer; Town of Gawler)

Gawler History Team thanks: Flightpath Architects, Ryan Viney and the Town of Gawler for allowing us access to this important document of Gawler History.


Related Articles


  • 74 Whitelock D. p. 185.
  • 75 Hignett & Co. p.27-29
  • 76 Whitelock D. p. 186
  • 77 City of Gawler Development Plan DPTI p. 25

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