Gawler Thematic History - Land and Settlement

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Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Land and Settlement

The first Inhabitants and Contact

Gawler’s rich history begins with the local indigenous population, the Kaurna people, who are recognised as the traditional custodians of Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains, an area which takes in the Gawler township. Amongst many traditional, culturally significant sites in Gawler for the Kaurna people are the three rivers – the North and South Para Rivers and the Gawler River – which provided many resources. The Parridla Taikondi Park, sited at the junction of the three rivers was also a traditional meeting place.

The Kaurna language is the original language of Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains however the Kaurna people from the Gawler district spoke a different dialect from those in other districts. The Kaurna language was sophisticated and complex and reflected the extensive knowledge of the environment that the Kaurna people possess.

When Gawler was first settled by Europeans in 1839, some early settlers apparently went out of their way to learn the Kaurna language and South Australia’s second Governor, George Gawler (after whom the town of Gawler is named), encouraged the colonists to record Aboriginal names so that these might be placed on early settlement maps. The word ‘Para’ is derived from the Kaurna word ‘Pari’ meaning a stream of flowing water.1


Gawler’s first white settlers arrived at Glenelg in South Australia from Liverpool on Jan 15, 1 839 onboard the tall-ship ‘Orleana’. By the end of that month, John Reid, Stephen King and Henry Murray travelled to Gawler to inspect the land they had acquired through the Special Survey and by February, John Reid had established his residence at ‘Clonlea’.2

Murray was the youngest son of a minor Scottish noble, King was a prosperous farmer from Lincolnshire in England and Reid was a wealthy merchant from Newry in Northern Ireland. The ownership of the acreages in the survey was divided among nine other British families in addition to Reid, Murray and King; these being Johnston, Porter, Tod Brothers, Patterson, Fotheringham, Stubbs, Sutton and Rev Howard. All of these settlers hailed from various parts of Great Britain.

Following the mapping and initial settlement by the British, the area became the backdrop for migration and through travel by European settlers. Overlanders from New South Wales herded their stock through Light’s Pass down the Barossa to the Adelaide plains to feed the rapidly growing population.3

Pastoralists and miners both moved through and settled. A significant proportion of the European settlers, were from German states. In early Colonial times, Germany was not a nation, but rather a collection of small states and principalitie.4 The state religion in northern Germany was Lutheranism.

Like Anglicanism it was controlled by the crown, but subject to chronic dissent and breakaway groups. Many non-conformists from both religions emigrated overseas to find religious freedom. In South Australia this migration from various parts of Europe led to the State becoming a ‘paradise of dissent’ with no official State church.5

Lutheran immigrants who came to SA were all termed ‘Germans’ by British colonists, but in reality they were of much more diverse ethnic composition. Indeed, many of the Barossan ‘Germans’ in fact had more similarity to Slavonic tribes than Teutonic origins.

Nonetheless, virtually all the early pioneers had been Prussian subjects who saw themselves as suffering religious persecution and who were seeking their ‘promised land’. An early pioneer from Germany was Pastor August Kavel who led around 200 followers to set up home in the region near Gawler.

By the mid-1840s, the religious motivation for much German immigration had become less marked. However, considerable migration to the region continued with well-educated groups from Berlin and the hinterland settling in Buchsfelde (near Gawler) including the illustrious Dr Schombergk who was instrumental in the development of the Gawler Institute in the 1860s.6

Another significant wave of immigration came after the Second World War. The Dept. of Immigration settled about 1000 displaced migrants in the Gawler area, mostly from the Baltic states and Poland. The post war immigration program also brought thousands of British people to the new residential areas of Salisbury and Elizabeth where car manufacturing plants were being established. At the same time, settlers from southern Europe were creating market gardening ventures nearby on the flats of the Gawler River. 7

Promoting Settlement

Gawler was identified by Light in his search for extensive sheepwalks as part of a wider remit to explore and survey the fertile parts of South Australia. He recognised the potential of the hill where the North and South Para rivers converged to form the Gawler river, surveyed the area and sketched the plan for Gawler Town, naming after its second Governor George Gawler who steered the town through difficult times as successor to the ‘somewhat disastrous’ Captain John Hindmarsh.8

The foundation of the township of Gawler was characterised by far-sighted planning unique among South Australia’s country towns…there was ample scope for natural evolution and development of a harmonious mixed commercial and residential complex.9

The initial phases of settlement of Gawler township in the 19th century can be described as pioneering (1839-1948); settlement (1849-1870) and industrial (1871 -1900).10

Beyond this the phases of development are more complex and rather than by chronology are more usefully delineated by the themes identified by the National Australian Historic Theme Framework highlighted previously. These themes are developed throughout the subsequent sections of this report.


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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