Gawler Thematic History - Transport

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Fast Facts
Type of thing Government
Date made or found 2020

Transport and Transport Infrastructure

Its location, established approximately forty kilometres from Adelaide on Main North Road on the main historic route northwards to the Mid North region of South Australia, meant that Gawler prospered early in its history. The discovery of copper nearby at Kapunda and Burra shortly after settlement resulted in Gawler becoming an important stopping point between Adelaide and the mines.

Throughout the 1840s, transport was primarily by horse, bullock dray and on foot. The weekly public mail conveyance between Gawler and Adelaide was also used for transportation and in July 1841 this became a bi-weekly service. By September 1846 a daily service had been instituted. 33 In the early 1850’s the railway from Adelaide was completed to Gawler with the line officially opened in October 1857.

The contribution of the railway to the development of local industry and commerce was quickly realised and thus the location of the station a mile distant from the Town Centre (for engineering reasons) necessitated the provision of a bus service. The railway line also replaced the mail cart and, together with the bus, operated between Gawler and the station for the delivery of the mail from January 1864, ensuring a more rapid and reliable mail delivery service to and from Gawler.34.

By 1876, community pressure had required the bus to be replaced with a tramline which opened the same year (1879) as a newly rebuilt railway station. Operating for both goods and passengers from the railway station along what is now named Nineteenth Street and Murray Street to a terminus near where the Gawler Central Station is now located. As it passed the James Martin & Co engineering works and had sidings at May Brothers Roedigers and Dowson’s Mill, it provided a convenient way to transport heavy equipment and materials through town. The engine shed built in 1869, the train shed built by James Martin in 1870 and the goods shed built by Jones & Mattinson in 1877-78 were retained.

Gawler Railway Station was the terminus of the main northern railway from Adelaide from 1857, although it was quickly extended to Kapunda in 1860. In May 1911 the long-awaited extension of the railway to Angaston was opened to traffic with the North Gawler railway station, the first new station on the line, being completed at the same time. The new railway did not, however, make the Murray Street tramway and its terminus on the market allotment redundant. It was still the service preferred by most passengers and was not closed until 1931 , when it was replaced by a bus service for passengers; as a result the tracks were lifted soon thereafter.

The great volume of railway traffic (goods) despatched from Gawler from the mid-1890s was sustained until 1928 in spite of the loss of Gawler's role as railhead for Barossa Valley goods and merchandise with the opening of the Angaston railway. In addition, Gawler North rapidly developed a heavy forwarding tonnage, largely because of the traffic in sand. 35 Between 1928 and 1929, however, the tonnage despatched from both North Gawler and Gawler stations fell dramatically to one third of that of the previous year. Gawler station was particularly affected by the local industrial closures, while in the case of North Gawler the onset of depression hit the building industry particularly hard and with the recession in building the orders for building sand dropped rapidly.

Significantly, there was an increase in railway and road passenger traffic. In November 1913 a 6.00 a.m. train for the convenience of those working in Adelaide was initiated and in 1925 a passenger road bus service with Adelaide was begun by the Railways Commissioner's Department. This proved so popular, carrying 66,113 passengers in the year 1927-28, that the service was increased to twice daily later in 192836. Today, largely due to the significant commuter base to and from Salisbury, Elizabeth and Smithfield, in addition to the continued urban sprawl around the north of the city, the line to Gawler remains popular with commuter traffic.

Initially after settlement, the only means of crossing the Para rivers was by fords and during floods by ferry-boat. A bridge was built by the Government over the North Para river in 1842, in recognition of the traffic to and from the north to the Kapunda mine. This bridge was built of wood with sandstone abutments and spanned the river almost in line with the north end of Murray Street. This first bridge was swept away by floods in 1847, an immediately afterwards a bridge connecting Gawler and Willaston was completed in 1848. The first bridge was not opened over the South Para until 1849, in spite of the dangerous nature of the existing pass (a ford) and the extensive use made of it by travellers and stock.37

Over the next decades, a large number of improvements were made to local transport communications, particularly notable were the re-building of the South Para bridge (1869-70), the construction of a new Willaston Bridge (1869) upstream of the original bridge and the establishment of various foot bridges over the two rivers.

In 1864 access created between Murray Street and High Street enabled the Council to provide a more convenient access to the growing eastern portion of the township38. In April 1889 severe floods destroyed the footbridges at the north end of Murray Street, Gawler Park, Goose Island and Gawler West and washed away the Willaston road bridge. The four foot bridges and a new ford and approaches were constructed near the site of the Willaston Bridge (1889-90) and in September 1890 the new Willaston bridge was opened by the member for Barossa Sir John Downer. 39

In 1907 plans were adopted for the construction of a new bridge over the South Para, replacing the second bridge on the site completed in 1870. The bridge was opened by the then Governor, Sir George Le Hunte and Mrs. E.H. Coombe in January 1908. 40 The most significant development in the field of transport during the first half of the 20th century was the increased use of the private motor car. By 1928, sales and service outlets had been set up in Gawler itself and thus Gawler residents were increasingly able to commute for work as well as shopping and leisure activities.

By the mid-1950s it was estimated that there was a daily traffic through Gawler of more than 5000 vehicles. Improved road systems followed the development of motor transportation and the Main North Road was progressively upgraded in response to both increases in through traffic and increased residential settlement with Housing Trust development of Salisbury and the subsequent creation of the City of Elizabeth and further development of suburbs north and south of it.

The Gawler bypass and highway development was planned as early as 1950 although not complete until 1963. Traffic congestion in Murray Street, particularly the Calton Road 'bottleneck', continued to be problematic throughout the 1970s and an eastern by-pass was frequently proposed. In March 1968 licences were issued to two companies to operate bus services within the township, but both services ceased operation in September 1970. Up to the 1970s use of rail transport had also increased markedly with the growing commuting population, greater prosperity and the improved services in response to increased demand from development spread to the north of Salisbury and Elizabeth.

Goods traffic, however, continued to decline and the spur lines to Perry Engineering Works, May Bros. and the Albion Mill were all taken up between 1930 and 1933. In 1977 proposals for widening Reid Street by 2.5 metres were approved by Council. 41


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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  • 33 Hignett & Co. p. 27.
  • 34 Loyau p.18-19.
  • 35 Whitelock D. p. 205
  • 36 Whitelock D. p.228
  • 37 Coombe p. 16.
  • 38 Coombe p.377.
  • 39 Coombe p. 163 p. 404-406.
  • 40 Coombe p. 426
  • 41 Hignett & Co. p. 29

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