Gawler Thematic History - Recreation

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Fast Facts
Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020


During the first decade after settlement, the population of the new township of Gawler grew to about three hundred, but the trappings of a civilised society had hardly begun to emerge. The first mark of a rising township in most country regions has been the arrival of the Public House. Gawler was no exception with the erection in late 1839 of ‘The Old Spot’ (known initially as the Golden Fleece and from 1842 as Calton’s) in Murray Street opposite Whitelaw Place. For several years this attractive building was the most noticeable portion of the new town with ‘its long low straggling buildings with gable ends presenting themselves in every direction, its spacious verandahs built of pine, pise and shingle’ somewhat reminiscent of home117 It was first built by Mr Scheibener and afterwards occupied by Mr Tooth, but it was under the guardianship of Mr Henry Calton that it enjoyed its most prosperous days taking on the name Old Spot from 1848.

Other public houses emerged with the Bushman Inn in 1840 and the Gawler Arms in 1848, but these were prompted largely by the passing trade of carters and settlers. In 1855, under the new ownership of Mr G C Wyld, the Old Spot was demolished and replaced with a row of shops which were not successful. An ‘unsightly edifice at one end of the street now bears the name (Old Spot) but was seen as a faint shadow of what was once the Pride of Gawler’.

An Agricultural and Horticultural Society was formed in 1856 and promoted agricultural and horticultural initiatives and improvements during this period by annual shows and exhibitions and, in the 1860s, by the holding of reaping and ploughing matches.

The early colonists relaxed by engaging in outdoor pastimes brought from Europe and enjoyed community fetes with sack races for the children and bare-knuckle fights for the men. Hunting and shooting were extremely popular, given the English passion for fox-hunting, and they quickly formed the Adelaide Hunt Club which hunted in the hills not far from Gawler. Fishing declined drastically with the pollution of the river systems as a result of settlement, but the upper reaches of the South Para remained relatively clean and were stocked with fish upstream for the sporting angler. Enthusiasm for horse racing was widespread and gained hold very early after settlement with the principal races of the State taking place at Gawler in the second half of the 1840s 118.

The Gawler Racing Club included races over two miles from 1910 and the Trotting Club was formed in 1938. Night trotting started in 1952 with a crowd of 10,000 spectators. Greyhound racing which also started in the mid-20th century remains very popular. Other popular sports include tennis, swimming and golf, with a course opening in 1905, making it one of the oldest clubs in South Australia.

Gawler has also had strong links to gliding since the Adelaide Soaring Club started to use the facilities of the Gawler aerodrome in 1944.

Cricket and football matches, which had begun to be played in Gawler in the 1860s, were formalised with the formation of the Union Cricket Club in 1880 and the Gawler (1870) Football Club and the creation of the Gawler Cricket Association in 1880 and the Gawler Football Association in 1889.

The cinematograph had been introduced into Gawler in 1897 and two separate companies ran regular weekly pictures at the Gawler Institute by 1911. Gawler South Cinema Pictures were opened in the Gawler South Mission Hall in 1921.

A roller-skating rink was opened in the Exhibition Building in 1909, a bowling club was formed in 1907 and greens opened in Jacob Street in 1908, a motor cycle club was formed in 1908 and bicycling again became popular following the formation of the Gawler Cycling Club in 1917.

The Institute Literary Society's Union, founded in 1898 by the amalgamation of the Baptist, Congregational and Methodist Literary Societies, boasted a membership of 600 in 1908.

With the increase in local prosperity and population within the Gawler Corporation Council area from the late 1930s there was an upsurge in recreational and educational activities and facilities. A variety of sporting bodies and music societies were formed or reformed. A picture palais was begun by Strand Pictures Ltd., in the Gawler Institute in 1932 and a new picture theatre, the Regal, was opened in Murray Street in January, 1935 119, continuing (as the Hoyts in later years) until 1967.

A new park was opened on the banks of the South Para, after the land was transferred to the Corporation by the Housing Trust in 1956, and land was subsequently purchased by the Corporation for an oval and cricket pitch at Willaston. Sixty two acres north of Gawler (part of the former "Clonlea"·property of John Reid) was also purchased for parklands in 1966.

Kindergartens were opened in Gawler South, Church Hill, Willaston and Gawler (at the southern end of Murray Street) in the 1940s and 1950s. Community action for a swimming pool, recommenced in 1957 after initial efforts between 1950 and 1953, finally resulted in the construction of an Olympic pool in 1962 and the Gawler Bowling Club acquired large new greens on the parklands in 1961, replacing the Jacob Street green leased since 1908.


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.

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  • 117 Coombe G.E. p.43-47
  • 118 Whitelock D. p.241
  • 119 Whitelock D. p.161

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