Gawler Thematic History - Utilising Natural Resources

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Fast Facts
Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Utilising Natural Resources

During the first decade, most of the buildings erected on Murray Street and Church Hill were makeshift structures, built of cypress pine, mud bricks, stone and locally harvested limestone (calcrete). “The houses…(are) nothing but the ground floor and no cellars…Some (are) posts stuck in the ground and mud plastered between. There are not half dozen houses alike the whole length of the street” 23.

As such many were later improved or demolished to make way for more substantial structures. During the late 1850’s and throughout the 1860’s many of Gawler’s finest buildings were created using the plentiful building supplies at hand. Lime and brick kilns had been established in Willaston and Gawler with the local limestone being extracted from quarries in Willaston and Bertha. Bluestone was obtained from the hills-face south of Gawler and used for several buildings such as the Institute, the New St George’s church and the railway station. Both plain and corrugated iron were supplied by Padman & Co and cedar timber came from a Victorian sawmill.

At the end of the 20th century, quarrying still formed a large part of local industry. About 800,000 tonnes of sand, clay and gravel are quarried each year providing 7% of the State’s annual requirements of these materials in the 1980’s. 24

3.4 Stone

The earliest stone buildings in Gawler would have made use of the most readily available material; the calcrete, or paddock limestone, that is widespread as a thin surface deposit in South Australia. Local calcrete deposits were harvested from the Willaston area as well as west of Gawler towards Ward Belt. Used primarily as rubble walling, calcrete was unsuited to dressing due to its rough character. As such, it was commonly used for walling of smaller cottages, but it was most often used as internal partition walling, where a more imposing stone of higher value was used externally or on frontages.

Local calcrete was also burnt in lime kilns in Gawler and Willaston to produce lime for mortar.25 Many Gawler buildings, particularly cottages, were built with external walls of calcrete. Many more had internal walls of calcrete with external walls in a more "imposing" stone. A good example is a boundary wall opposite the police station and court house in Cowan Street. Calcrete is prone to salt damp attack and most Gawler examples illustrate the old, unsightly and ineffective cure of cement rendering the lower part of the wall. Lime for mortar for local buildings was produced in Gawler and Willaston by burning the calcrete in kilns.

‘Gawler Bluestone’ was a significant, quality stone which was quarried from a handful of small excavations in the hills face, south of the town. Geologically, the local bluestone is slaty and characterised by yellow-brown iron oxide coatings which line regular joint or fracture planes which divide the stone into pieces. The stone was generally laid to expose these coated surfaces as the face. Some Gawler buildings show extensive chiselled dressing of the stone with a coarse, combed effect. Most Gawler bluestone buildings are jointed with mortar that has been mixed with a quantity of cinders (sourced from the railway steam engines) to add a dark tone to the mortar joint.

Some of the more prominent buildings constructed of bluestone also include dressings of high-quality ‘Gawler Sandstone’ for quoins, banding, plinth and string courses. Used in buildings constructed between 1858-1908, the stone appears very durable, however the source is unknown. A second sandstone to be used in Gawler, ‘Smithfield Sandstone’ is from further afield and not as commonly in use. There were other sandstone buildings erected in Gawler prior to 1928, however the origin of that stone is unknown. Many other stone types have been used in Gawler buildings, particularly dwellings, after 1928. Given the ease of transport from this time onwards, they are less likely to be local. 26

Roofing slate was extensively used on early Gawler buildings. A surviving example is St. Georges Church of England, where the nave is roofed in purple imported slate, with some "courses" in light grey slate from Willunga, S.A. The transepts were also re-roofed in imported slate. Slate roofing also survives on a number of small stone outbuildings located on Station Lane to the rear of dwellings fronting Twelfth Street, Gawler South.

The McKinlay Memorial (1874-75) is of interest as it consists of four different stone types. The main structure is the high quality Gawler Sandstone of unknown location, while the carved stonework forming the arches is limestone, imported from Bath, U.K. at a time when readily carved stone suitable for capitals and similar details had not yet been discovered in South Australia. The dark stone carrying the inscription is basalt from Melbourne, Victoria (usually referred to as bluestone in that State).


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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  • 23 Whitelock D. p.189.
  • 4 Whitelock D. p.206.
  • 25 Hignett & Co. p.146.
  • 26 Hignett & Co. p.146

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