Gawler Thematic History - Settlements to Serve Rural Australia

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Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Making Settlements to Serve Rural Australia

The population of Gawler had reached more than 300 by December 1847 compared with the 33 recorded at the census of January 1841. Rapid extension of settlement became possible from the late 1840s with the sale of large areas from sections of the Special Survey initially belonging to the speculative purchasers in England including Moore, Jerningham and Wright, and increasing traffic in town allotments as the prospects of industry and commerce within the township became more attractive.

By 1848, the township contained some sixty buildings including the commercial and industrial establishments and workshops 86. Most were built on or immediately adjacent to the main traffic route (Murray Street), with the exception of St. George's and a few houses on the "Church Hill" of the original township plan. The structural materials were varied, with brick, pine and even mud featuring as well as local harvested calcrete, and probably only a minority were intended as permanent buildings.

Few of these structures remain, most having been demolished and been replaced with more substantial buildings. The original St. George's (1847- 48) was demolished to make way for a new church of the same name in 1867. King's Victoria Flour Mill (1845), originally in Jacob Street and later expanded, was destroyed by fire in 1867 and a new mill was built at Gawler West; the Gawler Arms Hotel (1848) was largely rebuilt in 1903; the schoolhouse (1848) site now houses an electrical substation; the original police station buildings (1842) were replaced in 1862/3 (and again rebuilt in 1962/3); the Old Bushman (1840) was largely rebuilt in the 1870s; and even the original "long, low, straggling buildings" comprising the Old Spot (1839) were demolished in 1855 and replaced with a single stone structure. Nothing of the original buildings can be found on the sites where cottages were known to have been built in this first decade of the township's existence, although it is possible that some original walls were incorporated into later buildings or extensions.

In the 1850s and 60s, within the original township, the available lots on Church Hill were rapidly taken up for residences and the heaviest concentration of cottages and residences was recorded in the North Ward at the 1870/71 assessment. The principal extension of settlement beyond the original township boundaries in this period was to the Gawler East ward where a large number of cottages and larger residences were built along High Street. Many new stores and shops were established along Murray Street and Martin & Co. set up a saw mill in High Street, on land subsequently used for the Phoenix Foundry 87

At the census of 1871, the population of the Corporation of Gawler had reached 1652 (799 males, 853 females) and the number of dwellings was recorded at 383. Much of this growth had occurred in the previous decade; at the 1861 census the population was already 1201 and the number of dwellings 358. However, 95 of these dwellings were uninhabited and it would seem probable that they were originally make-shift structures abandoned in favour of more substantial dwellings.

The local newpaper, the Bunyip reported that there were many buildings under construction in 1866 and 1888, and many of the hotels, churches and grand private dwellings still standing are known to have been built in the 1860s.

The Corporation assessment records for 1870/71 show a prosperous residency and varied land use. A multitude of cottages, houses and "residences", shops, offices and industries (including seven wheat stores, two foundries, two mills, a brewery, a malt house, a brick kiln and a saw mill), substantial public buildings, many hotels and churches, two banks and a school. Considerable land remained vacant within the Corporation, but little was used as paddock or agricultural land.

Initially the buildings in Gawler were erected with little concern for beauty or homogeneity. Many of the cottages were thrown up hurriedly by land owners to be leased to new arrivals and labourers and tenancy rather than ownership was most common throughout this period.

The buildings erected in the next decade changed this picture substantially, many of the shops, churches and hotels being rebuilt or renovated, much vacant land being filled up and the large number of two room pine cottages declining as they were replaced with larger stone houses. There was still little homogeneity by 1870, but with the establishment of lime and brick kilns in Gawler and Willaston and the permanent settlement of builders and tradesmen, a local source of building workers and materials was created and the basis for a distinctive architecture was laid.

Many of the buildings considered of primary heritage significance in the present Town of Gawler date from this period. The professional chambers of Rudell & Rudell (formerly the S.A. Banking Co.) 1859; Baptist Church (part) 1870; Congregational Church and Hall (the original church) 1851 and 1861; Eagle Foundry 1870; Exchange Hotel 1868; Institute 1870; Globe (later Kingsford) Hotel c.1851; Post Office 1866-67; the re-built Old Spot Hotel 1855 (with extensive additions and renovations in 1879 or 1880); Presbyterian Church 1855-1856 (now a restaurant); St. George's Church of England (the second) Church 1858-64; Commercial (later Southend) Hotel 1859; Telegraph Station 1860; Criterion c.1858, Railway c.1857 and Victoria 1866 Hotels; Gawler (formerly Union) Mill c.1853; Mill Inn c.1858; Methodist (Uniting) Church (the first 1850, the second 1869) and original manse 1858-59; Hemingby residential group (villa and cottages) c;1865; Oaklands (the home of James Pile) 1866; Oddfellows.Hall 1859; Willaston Methodist Church (part) 1867; Willaston Schoolhouse (Memorial Hall) 1865; Gas Works c.1869; Gawler West Methodist Church (the original Bible Christian Church section) 1858; 'Para Para' homestead 1862 (District Council of Mudla Wirra); and the Gawler Stores (now· Eudunda Farmers) as enlarged progressively by James Harris from the 1850s.· These buildings provided a focus of activities and a variety of services to the Gawler township and the surrounding district for more than 100 years. 88

From the 1870s extension of residential settlement was marked in Gawler South, Gawler West and Bassett Town (until 1899 still within the District Councils of Munno Para West and Munno Para East) with Gawler South, which was systematically settled from the mid-1860s, showing the largest growth. Some settlement was attracted to these areas by the establishment of industry, particularly the Victoria Mill (1867), May Bros. Engineering Works (1885) and the Britannia Foundry (1885), but the principal draw-card was cheaper land in small building allotments 89

These areas did not evolve as separate townships but remained closely attached to Gawler by ties of commerce and employment. At the 1901 census Gawler South boasted a population of 1287 and 257 houses, but contained only five shops. It did, however, support two private schools and in 1895 the Anglican Church of the Transfiguration was built on Adelaide Road to cater to the religious needs of the large community. Gawler West and Bassett Town together had a population of 485 with 102 houses, but the proximity to the main township and the scattered settlement precluded any extensive development of local shops and services.

Willaston and Bertha also grew within this period and at the census of 1901 recorded together a population of 488 with 103 houses. Willaston alone had a population of 381, making it the largest of the suburban townships. Unlike the other townships south and west of Gawler, Willaston and Bertha preserved a separate identity. In 1877/78 they supported ten shops including the blacksmiths Jas. Wood and John Lamb, the large butchers establishment of Edwin Gartrell (run by Hodgson and Clement 1878-1883), the general store and confectionery of E. Coombe & Son, the lime kilns of James Davies and the brickyards of Bright & Weaver. All were suppliers of materials and services to Gawler and Adelaide, rather than recipients of their materials and services.

Within the Gawler Corporation the South Ward remained remarkably stable in the number of shops and houses supported. The 1870/71 assessment recorded 56 houses and 47 shops, workshops and industrial premises, while the 1901 assessment recorded 62 houses and 41 commercial and industrial premises.

The number of shops in the North ward, principally along the north-west side of Murray Street, more than doubled in this period and a number of new houses were built, particularly along Finniss Street, although the total number of houses did not increase significantly as many of the new buildings replaced a former cottage or cottages. The main activity in building was in the East ward where, with the subdivision of former 'Clonlea' land in 1873 and of 'Gulf View' in 1876, the number of houses increased from 85 to 127 in this period and many substantial buildings on large allotments replaced former cottages 90.

By 1900 the population of Gawler had reached 1996, but few of the original generation of settlers remained. Many of the leading figures in local commerce and industry, business and public service had died in the 1890s, among them James Martin, William Barnet (founder and proprietor of the Bunyip, Thomas Fotheringham (proprietor of Fotheringham I s Brewery and Cordial Manufactory), Frederick May (of May Bros. Engineering Works), John McEwen (proprietor of the Prince Alfred Hotel), Carl Gustav Roediger (store keeper and chaff merchant), John Rudall (solicitor), George Warren (surveyor), J.C. Wilkinson (auctioneer) and W.F. Wincey (timber merchant).

Gawler was never to recover the spirit of enterprise of these pioneers who had made so much of the opportunities offered in the first fifty years of settlement. Even in the thirty years after 1871, in spite of the successful expansion of a number of industrial and commercial ventures, the lasting evidence of prosperity was not as great as in the preceding two decades. Most of the profits of the industries were ploughed back into plant and premises, rather than being diverted into public buildings, although a number of elegant private dwellings were erected in this period. Most church building at this time, for example, was in the form of additions and alterations rather than in new structures, and the funds were raised largely by the congregation. Significant exceptions were the Anglican Church of the Transfiguration at Gawler South (1895) and the Roman Catholic church, the second St. Peter's and St. Paul's, built in 1897/98, The principal public buildings erected were government owned and funded: the Gawler Primary School (1878), the new Railway Station (1879), the Courthouse (1881) and the Waterworks Building (1882); and the Town Hall, built by the Corporation in 1878. The memorial to John McKinlay, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1874, and the foundation arch of which was placed the following year, represented the only public undertaking of this period.

The Forester's Hall, built in 1899, was the only building to be erected by a Society, most groups having established homes before 1871 or being content to operate from the Institute. The active commercial life of the period was evident in the transfers and enlargement of shops and offices rather than in new building, for traders preferred to remain within the largely built-upon Murray Street. This trend was to continue throughout the 20th Century, so that the premises erected by the Bank of Adelaide (now the A.N.Z. Bank) in 1873 and the National Bank in 1881, Pile's Buildings at the north end of Murray Street (west) built in 1878, the shops (originally known as Wilcox Buildings) extending north from the Jacob Street corner and the extensions to a previously very modest drapers shop by Alfred Sheard in Murray Street (part of the present Essex House) in 1897, are the few remaining significant business premises from this period.

Murray Street was described in 1880 as "generally of a substantial character; occasionally one meets with a few dilapidated structures which merely stand as land ­ marks of the past, and which the daily marked progress of Modern Athens will soon sweep away to replace -them with new edifices worthy of the town” 91

Over the next twenty years most of the temporary structures were replaced and the commercial centre achieved a high degree of harmony in architecture, evident in contemporary photo graphs and still suggested by a view of Murray Street buildings from the rear vantage point of High Street.

The most numerous new structures during this period were private houses, particularly in the East and North wards.In the North ward, most vacant allotments were used up by 1900 in the building of new houses, particularly along Finniss Street, and more substantial houses often replaced an existing cottage or cottages. In the East ward a number of residential dwellings had been demolished (lots 226 - 233) to make way for the new Phoenix Foundry premises, but new areas of residential settlement had opened up north of Lyndoch Road (along the present Warren, Edith and Blanche Streets), following subdivision of former 'Clonlea' land in 1873, and further east of the original extension, to the present Daly Street and East Terrace, with the 'Gulf-View' subdivision of 1876.

Murray Street (all wards) was radically altered along its length by the replacement of cottages and houses by more shops and by the extension of one business into adjoining premises. It is rarely possible now to state with certainty the architect or builder of these . privately commissioned buildings. In many cases the owner was the 'architect' and various contractors undertook the masonry, carpentry and painting. Most building was, however, in locally quarried stone and locally made brick and by local workmen, and this gave a homogeneity and harmony to buildings in this period and ultimately to Gawler in general as earlier timber and iron buildings were replaced 92.

The population of both the Gawler Corporation and the Gawler South District Council declined in the period between 1911 and 1921 and then remained stationary in the 1920s. Industrial, commercial and building activity suffered from an uncertain economic climate and the widespread unemployment and depression that was soon to affect the whole country had become apparent in Gawler by mid 1928.

The industrial activity that had made Gawler so prosperous and independent had virtually ceased by 1928 and the improvement and extension of railway services and changing export demands had eroded the value of Gawler's services to the surrounding agricultural district. By the end of the 1920s, workers were increasingly forced to seek employment outside Gawler, while metropolitan.businesses and services were further intruding into the still profitable commercial arena of Gawler.

The agreement' of 1920 between the Gawler Corporation and the Mudla Wirra South District Council and the Adelaide business firm of C.C. Deland, giving the latter a virtual monopoly on sand and gravel extraction from the North Para in return for royalties to sustain the falling rates, and the purchase and demolition of the Victoria Mill by the Railways Department and the use of the site for a sand dumping and trucking ground in 1928, were symbolic of the changes that had come to Gawler and its new dependence on outside interests and activity by the end of this period.

The general decline in local prosperity and optimism was rapidly felt in the building industry. Very few houses or other private buildings of any type were built between 1900 and 1928 within the Gawler Corporation. That there was a need for new houses was evident from the high rentals and house values prevailing by 1928, but those needing housing had no funds to pay for building or materials.

Between the censuses of 1901 and 1933 the number of dwellings within the Gawler Corporation actually fell slightly (443 to 429) in spite of the expansion of settlement in East Gawler. Building continued south and west of Gawler, within the boundaries of the Gawler South District Council and the number of residential properties increased by some 60% between 1901 and 1921 (257 to 394) but again there was stagnation in the 1920s.

Public building in this period was also much reduced and reflected largely extension of church facilities to a more widely spread population and the provision of new educational and other facilities for the residential population of the whole district. This was evident in the erection of the Roman Catholic Convent in Porter Street, the new Methodist Manse at Gawler West and the new Fire Brigade Station in Jacob Street (all 1910), the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Bassett Town (1910/1911), St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Hall (1910/1911), the Congregational Church Kindergarten Hall (1912/1913), Hutchinson Hospital (1912/1913), the Gawler South Church Hall (1913/ 1914), Gawler School of Mines and Gawler High School on Lyndoch Road (1915), the first McKinlay Cottage Homes on Tod Street in 1915, North Gawler Lutheran Church (1921), Zion Lutheran Church in Cowan Street (1922),·Gawler South Church of Christ) (1924), the Roman Catholic School on Porter Street in 1925, the·Willaston Methodist Kindergarten Hall (1927), the new Maternity Block of Hutchinson Hospital (1926) and enlargement of the original Gawler West Methodist Church (1925/1926). 93

Commercial building was minimal in the early 20th century; the only new premises being constructed were those of the clothing factory in Union Street in 1914. Essex House was extended in 1905 and again in 1911 (in the process of which one of Gawler's oldest remaining shops was demolished) so that by 1928 it occupied an area previously housing up to six shops and workshops. Most commercial building activity was of this nature, involving the modification, alteration or extension of existing premises to meet new needs rather than demolition and total reconstruction. Industrial activity was the same, with the old cordial factory becoming a butter factory, the Victoria Mill being used for a fodder compression industry and the Albion Mill for a chaff cutting business in the first years of the twentieth century and subsequently as a chaff and grain store, while the tramway goods shed became, in a significant transformation, a motor garage.

The style of building showed no major changes in this period, and the new houses in Gawler South stood harmoniously with their nineteenth century neighbours. The extension of the Building Act to Gawler in 1926 was too late to affect building activity in this period, although it was to be significant in the local building revival of the later 1940s and 1950s.

Most of the building to 1920 was by the same local contractors and tradesmen who had evolved the distinctive Gawler architecture of the later nineteenth century namely Taylor and Forgie; Thomas White (of Deland and Tardiff); Edwin Mould; Arthur Rebbeck and the Gawler South builders John Dieckmann and Jame Peek using the bricks of Busbridge and Bright and William Weaver (later William Gouger) and lime from the Willaston kilns of George Eyers, the Federal Lime Company, William Rendell and Ayling and Dwyer 94.

The growth of residential settlements south and west of the original township (Gawler South, Gawler West and Bassett Town) was the most significant extension during the early decades of the 20th century. This development was recognised by the creation of a separate Gawler South District Council in September 1899, comprising areas formerly within the larger Munno Para West District Council, with council offices built in 1905 in Adelaide Road.

The number of dwellings within the original portion of Gawler (North and South wards) changed very little during this period. The Gawler East ward saw some development during these years, with the establishment of a clothing factory in Union Street in 1914 which, with the egg packing business of W.M. Brown provided the only industries established within the Gawler Corporation boundary in this period.

A new township, Barrett Town, was laid out north-east of Gulf View in 1910. Scattered houses began to appear on allotments along the north side of Lyndoch Road and along the present Bella Street, but not in numbers sufficient to add significantly to the total number of dwellings in east Gawler. The spread of residential settlement within the Gawler South District Council was also less rapid in this period and followed no particular pattern, tending to fill up gaps within Gawler West and the southern end of Gawler South. Significant developments were the increase in the number of shops serving the local population (from 11 in 1900 to 22 in 1928) the establishment of new churches and the Gawler South Mission Hall, which became a focus of local social activity.

The population of the northern township of Willaston grew considerably (from 381 to 555) and the number of dwellings increased from 84 to 121 in the period between the 1901 and 1911 censuses and to 151 by 1928. The population around Willaston was by 1928 more scattered, but within Willaston was also more concentrated as a number of allotments were further subdivided.

Industry in Willaston remained centered around the brick yards of William Weaver (later William Gouger) and the nearby lime kilns operated by George Eyers (later Luxon and Dracker), William Rendell, A.C. Edson and Ayling and Dwyer and there was little new commercial activity, Coombe's general store continuing to predominate and only two new shops and a blacksmiths shop being established between 1900 and 1928, all along Main Street 95

The period of stagnation and economic difficulties of the twenties and early thirties prompted revival of interest in extension of the boundaries of the Gawler Corporation. The creation of "Greater Gawler" had been envisaged for many years. Before the separate Gawler South District Council was established in 1899, there had been moves by local residents (then within the Munno Para District Council) to amalgamate with the Gawler Corporation. The northern townships of Willaston and Bertha, although not sharing the dependence of Gawler South and Gawler West on central Gawler's shops, services and industries in the nineteenth century, had failed to develop any special relationship with the largely agricultural portion of the Mudla Wirra South District Council and had come increasingly to identify with Gawler's interests in the twentieth century 96.

Official representations made before the Royal Commission on local government areas in 1933 reflected this status quo, with Gawler South preferring to remain separate and Willaston prepared to unite with the Corporation, but the Commission recommended a united municipality and Greater Gawler was proclaimed on the 1st July, 1933, its boundaries extending to include the former Willaston ward of the Mudla Wirra South District Council and portions of the Barossa (East Gawler), Munno Para East and Munno Para West (South and West Gawler) District Councils. The enlarged Corporation thus encompassed large vacant areas to the south, north and east that were to become the focus of new residential settlement and ensure the revitalisation of the town centre as new population was attracted to them.

After the depression the population of the Gawler Corporation grew rapidly from a little over 3,000 in 1933 to 4,436 in 1947 and 5,703 in 1966. After 1966 the rate of population increase declined and a significant feature in the population distribution of the 1970s was the increase in the proportion of older residents (over 60 years).

The population increase of the 1940s to 1960s created a great demand for housing, services and education, while the trend to an older population in the 1970s required more attention to the provision of community and private recreational and care facilities for retired and elderly citizens. The response to these changing demands was reflected in both the private building activity within the Corporation as well as Corporation and Government undertakings.

The location of the range of new community facilities built in this period reflected the particular growth of settlement in the southern portion of the enlarged Corporation, the new government High School (1964) and Roman Catholic School (St. Brigid's, 1963) being located at Evanston, Immanuel Lutheran Church (1962) being built at Gawler' South and the Church of the Nazarine at Gawler West. With the construction of the Adult Education Centre on Jacob and Finniss Streets (1967) and the new Post Office in Tod Street (1973) the town centre gained its first substantial new public facilities for more than fifty years.

Commercial buildings changed radically in appearance in this period. The picture theatre, built on Murray Street, of locally quarried limestone for Regal Amusements Ltd. in 1934 was the last major new structure in the old style. The new supermarket of Coles Ltd., opened on 24 October 1947, pressaged a new development in commercial practice and construction, and the facade of much of Murray Street was altered as buildings were modernised, advertising extended and parking facilities provided for the ever growing number of private vehicles. New commercial and industrial enterprises took over existing premises or constructed timber and iron and concrete block facilities for their activities, particularly in Willaston and Gawler South 97.

Large new buildings appeared in the streets immediately west of Murray Street as booming commercial activity overflowed the traditional ribbon development along the main street. Much of the new development was unrelentingly "modern", making no concessions to the character of adjacent or preceeding structures.

Increased awareness of Gawler's heritage and of the importance of long-term planning was evident' in community activity (by the Gawler National Trust, other groups and individuals) aimed at the preservation of structures and by the measures taken by Council including the appointment of Mr. R.G. Walter as Town Planner (from 1973) to control the scope and direction of building development.

A Town Centre Development Plan prepared by Bruer, Vogt & Hignett was approved by Council in 1975. Interim development control under the Planning and Development Act was also achieved in 1975. During the same period controversy attended the proposals to demolish the pioneer place wall and the original fire station and "Corporation Cottage" on Lyndoch Road (1970) and to build a Woolworth's supermarket on the corner of High Street and Lyndoch Road, the site of the former house and surgery of Dr. Dawes (1974), the design of a Coles supermarket on part of the former Albion Mills site (1977) and the form of expansion of various Murray Street premises. In some instances local agitation prevented unsympathetic new commercial development 98.

In private home building, the changes in this period were dramatic. From the 1940s there was developed a new range of locally produced materials of a character quite new in Gawler and their extensive use in subsequent housing development created structures comparable with those in the Adelaide metropolitan areas but quite alien to the earlier traditional sandstone and bluestone houses with their galvanised iron roofs and verandahs and brick and timber ornamentation. Between 1933 and 1947 the number of houses within 'Greater Gawler' increased by over 150, and already new trends in architecture were reflected, notably the use of plastered or painted cement finished brickwork (known in the trade as "Spanish work"). Between 1947 and 1961, however, more than 500 new dwellings were built and the range of new materials (mass produced red brick initially, with later use of cream and coloured bricks and concrete blocks and of many-hued roofing tiles) was greater, so that the physical appearance of Gawler was much altered. 99

Most of the private home building between 1933 and 1947 was scattered, appearing without any pattern (though largely to the east and south) as existing allotments were sold. There were no new formal subdivisions until those by the Housing Trust on land west of Barnet Road (part section 3221, the present Birkett Street, Ey Grove and May Terrace) in the late forties. A much larger subdivision followed in the early fifties on land south of the South Para known as Duck Flat (the present Lawrence Street, Marsh Avenue, Crosby Avenue triangular area). By mid-1952 124 houses had been built or were under construction in Gawler for the Housing Trust (44 in Ey Grove and May Terrace, 40 in Marsh and Richards Avenues and 40 in Rice and Lawrence Streets) and this building continued at an average rate of 20 per year until the mid-1950s. 100

Most subsequent new home building by the Trust was further west and south of the original Gawler township and fell within the province of the District Councils of Mudla Wirra and Munno Para.

Private home building was on a smaller scale throughout the 1950s, but gathered impetus with the improved general prosperity of the 1960s and new homes privately contracted appeared scattered throughout the Gawler Corporation, although again concentrated upon the southern approaches and, later, towards the extreme eastern boundaries of the Corporation.

Approval was given for subdivision in Gawler East (off East Terrace) and Willaston (Brown and Bright Streets) in January 1972 in response to a growing demand for housing. In 1973 a number of flats were built in Evanston and the South Australian Housing Trust announced plans to build new home units at Gawler West. The rapid pace of development continued right up to the end of this period, placing further pressures on the limited area available for expansion within the Corporation boundaries.


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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