History and Heritage
The Adelaide Hills are traditional lands and waters of the Peramangk and Kaurna peoples. Council is committed to ensuring that Peramangk and Kaurna culture and traditions are sustained, valued and continuing for future generations to treasure.
Peramangk and Kaurna peoples are the Traditional Custodians of the Adelaide Hills
Council acknowledges that we undertake our business on the traditional lands and waters of the Peramangk and Kaurna peoples. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging as the Custodians of this ancient and beautiful land for they hold the memories, traditions, spiritual relationships, culture and hopes of the First Nations of Australia. We are committed to working together to ensure that Peramangk and Kaurna culture and traditions are sustained, valued and continuing. Together we will care for this country for the generations to come and in this context the decisions we make should be guided by the principle that nothing we do should decrease our children's ability to live on this land.
History of the Adelaide Hills' first nations peoples
For millennia Aboriginal peoples have called the area we now know as the Adelaide Hills home. Generations of people have lived in the area and made a life for themselves and their families. The hills provided shelter and sustenance to Aboriginal people and the land, and the resources it provided people, were carefully managed to ensure that the area could provide a living for generations to come.
The Aboriginal peoples we now know as Peramangk and Kaurna called the Hills their home and their stories that have survived tell of the creation of the Hills and some of the geological features we are familiar with. There are numerous campsites, ceremonial sites, and burial sites throughout the hills. The Yurebulla story has the Peramangk as Border Watchers and Peacekeepers, although they were also known to be fierce warriors and possessed of strong magic.
The Aboriginal custodians welcomed people from other Aboriginal groups to ceremonies and afforded them safe passage through the area, especially as people travelled from the lakes and river areas to the plains and the sea for purposes of trade or ceremony.
Warki, Portalaun, and Jarildekalde peoples from the Lake Alexandrina area maintained contact with the Peramangk peoples and traded large redgum bark sheets for their canoes. As these were in short supply along the Lower Murray, these groups needed to get them from their neighbours. They would trade mallee spears for the bark.
The Peramangk peoples also traded fire making 'kits' with the Kaurna people, as well as others as far away as Lake Victoria in New South Wales. Peramangk peoples have shared stories of their interactions with the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales, and shared songlines and trading routes between Country have been recorded.
In the Hills there are Aboriginal place names that still survive, including Brukunga, Uraidla, Gumeracha, Onkaparinga, Echunga, and Cudlee Creek although they are often different to the original names recorded by the early European settlers. With no written Aboriginal language, the names were recorded by Europeans who would have been writing them in a way that fitted with their own linguistic knowledge. The Peramangk and Kaurna languages are very similar, however there are some differences in pronunciation. Given the trade routes and interaction with other groups including those of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, it is clear that some people were bilingual, allowing them safe passage to other Country for ceremonial and trading purposes.
Peramangk children learned to swim at Bokati-illa in the permanent waterhole on the Onkaparinga River near Hahndorf. Mount Barker Summit is important to both Peramangk and Ngarrindjeri people and features in stories; it is likely that both groups would have used the nearby semi-permanent campsite at Lartingga parri.
Early European settlers documented stories of large Aboriginal camps throughout the Ranges and it is thought that several thousand Aboriginal people were living in semi-permanent camps at European settlement. People were known to camp near where the RSL Hall in Aldgate is and, in the evenings of the warmer months, they would sometimes perform ceremonies which early white settlers documented. Other camps were located at Stanley Bridge on the Onkaparinga River, Mylor, the site of the Bridgewater Oval, and Days Road at Uraidla. People still visited these areas on their way to Adelaide at times when the Europeans distributed rations.
Many of these people were displaced by the mid 1850s as agriculture started to expand in the district and there was competition for water as well as free passage across the hills, because many areas were fenced for stock, especially sheep. With the coming of Europeans, many of the trees were cut down for building in Adelaide and other areas and land was settled, with fences and stock displacing the original peoples.
Confrontations were recorded as Aboriginal people availed themselves of these new food sources, especially because the traditional routes of some of their usual foods had been disrupted by fences and the competition for food.
Aboriginal people did work for some of the early settlers, including John Bull of Mount Barker who used Peramangk people as labourers and paid them in wheat and potatoes for their work. However, with access to water and food becoming more difficult by the late 19th Century there were few of the original inhabitants still living on their traditional lands, although they would still visit at certain times of the year to fulfil traditional obligations. Some Peramangk peoples moved closer to the Murray River, others were taken to Mission Stations including Raukkan, Swan Reach and Poonindie.
By the early 1900s it was erroneously believed that there were no Peramangk people still alive, however this was not the case and a number of people now know that they have Peramangk ancestry, as well as other Aboriginal ancestry, and can identify as living descendants of the original Hills people.
Many Kaurna people were also relocated to Mission Stations including Raukkan, Point Pearce and Poonindie. As many people are now able to access Government records on their families they are discovering that their ancestors were Kaurna people who were displaced in the early days of European settlement. Kaurna language is being revitalized, with many people learning to speak the language, whilst some areas have adopted either dual names for a place, a building or an area (i.e. Kaurna/English) and other places have reverted to their documented Kaurna names exclusively.
In 2018, after 18 years of legal proceedings, the Kaurna people were recognised as native title holders of the lands around Adelaide (including a large area of the Adelaide Hills), hence we now recognize both Peramangk and Kaurna ancestors in our Welcomes to, and Acknowledgments of Country.
The Adelaide Hills have inherited a rich legacy from the original inhabitants, and we should be proud of that history and heritage and preserve it for generations to come. A Reconciliation Action Plan is a first step in a shared journey to care for this special area that so many now call home.
History summarised by Deanne Hanchant-Nichols
Tanganekald/Ramindjeri (Ngarrindjeri Nation); Barkindji Nation
Ass.Dip., BA, MA (Aboriginal Studies/Archaeology/SA History)
Member of the Adelaide Hills Reconciliation Working Group 2020–21
Adelaide Hills Council Townships
The Adelaide Hills region features many historical townships, each with their own character and history. After reading some key features, below, you might like to visit the Adelaide Hills Tourism website for some history and heritage experiences on offer.
The beautiful township of Aldgate features stately character homes, distinctive shops and eateries, as well as the famous Aldgate Pump Hotel. Built in 1859 by Londoner Richard Hawkins, the hotel is named for the Aldgate Pump in London. Originally not much more than the hotel and pump, the town of Aldgate was officially established by the Hills Land and Investment Company in 1882, and grew over the years into a thriving township.
Today, visitors to Aldgate can browse in the town's collectable, gift, and craft boutiques, grab a coffee at one of the cafes, or enjoy a meal at the historic Aldgate Pump Hotel.
Among the highlights of the area is Stangate House, including its magnificent garden, which is open to the public during spring. The garden, partially looked after by the Camellia Research Society in conjunction with the National Trust, contains an oak tree reportedly planted by a goldseeker in 1868.
Established in 1868 by George Hunt, Ashton is a tiny hamlet surrounded by fruit orchards, including cherries, apples, lemons, and pears.
Ashton's early population was sparse, and most probably centred on the South Australian Company, judging from the area's early name of Company's Tiers. By the early 1980s there was a store, post office, church, Rechabite hall and scattering of homes.
While the town's livelihood centres on fruit production, the district features other industries, including Weald View Gardens nursery, Munn's Auldwood Cider Factory and a spring water business. Also of interest to visitors is Ashton Hills Vineyard, a small cool-climate winery.
Ashton's visual heritage is well scattered. The most obvious item, on Monomeith Road, is the almost church-like structure (now a private dwelling) of the former Rechabite Hall (1880s). The old Methodist Church, on the main road, and the former store (1880s) are also now residences.
Established in 1839, Balhannah is a quaint historic township with a long history. An important farming centre for the region, by the mid-1890s, Balhannah had a dairy factory producing butter and cheese. The dairy factory closed in the 1920s and the house built for the complex is now privately occupied, while the adjacent factory buildings serve as a garage.
In 1883, the arrival of the railway gave the town a boost, connecting it with Adelaide. In 1914, one of Australia's first fruit cold stores was established by H N Wicks and August Filsell. The store is still operational today.
Today, visitors to Balhannah can visit the historic Golden Cross Hotel of 1850, which was the town's second hotel. The Anglican church of St Thomas, dating from the 1860s, is another attractive historical building.
Forest Range was originally settled by goldseekers in 1854. Over the years, the Forest Range goldfields yielded some 6000 ounces - including one nugget of 48 ounces. Other early industries included timber cutting, fruit and vegetable growing.
Among the earliest settlers was Caleb Biggs who, with his brother Joseph, began timber cutting in the 1850s. Biggs was responsible for the most substantial building along the main road, a large single-storey building that was built around 1870, and was probably Biggs' home and wine shop. By the early 1880s it had been extended and operated as the Forest Range Hotel, until it was sold to Pike's Brewery at Oakbank. The building is now a private home.
Forest Range and Lenswood, only some 3km from each other, now focus on fruit growing. The region is now the State's leading apple growing district, with apples as the prime product, along with pears, cherries and wine-grapes.
Forreston was established in 1850 by a blacksmith, Alexander Forrest. Originally known as North Gumeracha, Forreston is one of the region's more curious settlements, growing up only 3km from Gumeracha, yet developing its own store, wine shop, wheelwright, blacksmith, butcher, school and more.
The community reached its peak in the 1880s, when it was the closest township to the Watts Gully goldfield. The goldfield was an 1884 discovery which yielded nuggets weighing up to 30 ounces.
Today, the community straddles the main road and is quite extensive, though scattered. Alexander Forrest's original blacksmith shop was converted into a gable-ended house with rendered stone walls and is situated on the main road. Another local home began life in the 1860s as a post office and there are more 19th century structures in the district.
Gumeracha is a thriving township with a vibrant history. Today, visitors can enjoy Gumeracha's major tourist attraction - the Toy Factory and Big Rocking Horse, with wooden toys, souvenirs, Australian art, coffee house, picnic gardens and a native flora and fauna park with more than 4000 Australian trees and shrubs.
The settlements of Gumeracha and Kenton Valley were set out in 1839 by The South Australian Company. Early settler William Beavis Randell was a pivotal figure in the town's development, building a home which he named Kenton Park, after his home town in Devon. This estate later gave its name to the small community of Kenton Valley, along the Gumeracha-Lobethal road.
The township of Gumeracha was formally established in 1860. The name Gumeracha derives from the Aboriginal name 'Umeracha' for the Torrens waterhole around which the district centred. The busy main street reflects the town's heritage, and features Randell's Mill (now a private residence), the mill manager's house and mill workers' cottages, Salem Baptist Church and the Ring of Oaks, as well as Gumeracha's first police station and courthouse.
Also still standing are the two homesteads which so influenced Gumeracha's development, Randell's Kenton Park, and the South Australian Company's original home, Ludlow House.
Established in 1917, Lenswood is the youngest township in the Adelaide hills. The name was derived from the French coal mining town of Lens and marks the contribution of the region to the WWI battlefields of France, although Australians are not known to have fought in the Battle of Lens.
Despite its youth, Lenswood's settlement hails back to South Australia's colonial settlement. The area was then known simply as a part of Stringybark Forest, or The New Tiers. The region's Stringybark timbers and goldfields, attracted many settlers to the district.
The area was settled gradually over the 1850s, when sections of land were offered for sale from £1 an acre. Thomas Neilson Mitchell made the first land purchase in the district in June 1850, naming the land Mitchell's Flat. This name was superseded by others, and by 1866, the area that is the hub of the township today was referred to as Jerry's Flat.
During the 1860s, eucalypt forests were felled and the hilly and undulating tracts of land transformed into vegetable gardens and orchards by forebears of many of today's townsfolk. A school was opened at Jerry's Flat in 1869. An early settler, John Brock Fry, was appointed as school teacher in 1871 and made a significant contribution to education over the next 30 years. He has a large number of descendents still living in the region.
The Lenswood Co-operative Cold Store is the largest apple storage facility in South Australia. Founded in 1933, the co-operative operates some of the most modern and technically advanced purpose-built apple handling facilities in Australia. It sits in the heart of Lenswood's geography and history and is the heart of the local industry.
The pretty town of Lobethal was settled in 1842 by German migrants from the sailing vessel Skjold, along with their guide and mentor, Pastor Fritzsche. The village was laid out in the hufendorf style, elements of which still remain today. The name 'Lobethal', from the Old Testament, translates as 'Valley of Praise'.
In 1850, FW Kleinschmidt's brewery opened, closing after two decades. The vacated brewery building then housed the Lobethal Tweed Factory, which eventually became the renowned Onkaparinga Woollen Company. Onkaparinga textile products became widely known around Australia. A factory producing cricket bats from locally grown willow also operated from 1894 until 1950.
In the 1930s, Lobethal staged an Australian Grand Prix race, half a century before the Grand Prix came to Adelaide. The town also boasts the oldest Lutheran church in Australia, St John's, built in 1845.
The town is especially famous for its annual display of Christmas lights, which brings Adelaide people in droves during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Bushland Park is a joint venture between St John Ambulance Auxiliary and Adelaide Hills Council. Visitors can enjoy the natural surrounds with stringybark, blue gums and wildlife. There is also a camping area and canoeing, and the park's two reservoirs contain redfin and yabbies.
Today, the town of Mount Torrens is is much as it was early in the century. Developed largely at the hands of the Dunn family, by the early 1840s a complex of buildings existed just west of the present main street - farmhouse, smithy, stables and the Cornish Arms Inn. Designed to serve the traffic to the Reedy Creek Mine near Palmer, it was augmented by traffic from a nearby copper mine.
Mount Torrens proper was laid-out in 1853. This was the year steam navigation began on the Murray. The town's heyday was the late 19th century, and by World War I its importance was diminishing.
There are many 19th century structures still standing on the main street of the town. There are 19th century homes, an old stone warehouse, an old cobblers shop (now a private residence) and a range of business premises - a former smithy, shop, wheel-wright, coach house and more. The historic vision of Mount Torrens extends beyond the main street and rewards a quiet stroll.
Established in 1891, Mylor was laid out as a town site when service centres were needed to support the new working men's blocks in the area. South Australia's Acting Governor Sir James Boucaut, named the town after his Cornish birthplace.
Mylor effectively replaced a little community which had informally developed on a property named Rockford. Established businesses transferred to the new location and it quickly provided supplies and services. Some settlers formed a co-operative store, while others handled anything from bread to bootmaking. The town soon featured churches and a school, but no hotel. Much heritage from Mylor's early development still stands.
The town is surrounded by parklands and reserves, and close to the Onkaparinga River is the Mylor Oval grounds. This wedge of land, bigger than the town itself, had its origins in an 1898 initiative by the Government to provide an experimental orchard to research the best fruits for the area.
Norton Summit was settled during the 1840s. The town's name derives from Robert Norton, who was recorded as the first person to drive a team of bullocks up the horrendous final portion of Giles' Hill to Norton Summit.
Norton Summit's start as a village was modest. Landowner Charles Giles divided some areas into smaller sections during the late 1840s and early 1850s; another report lists only a couple of homes and a store in 1868.
Settlement became more established in the 1870s. William Sutton had several buildings constructed, the most enduring of which was the still-dominant Scenic Hotel. Another landmark took shape at this time - St John's Church of England. With its octagonal bell tower, the church enjoys a commanding position on a knoll above the hotel. Gradually the town developed to include stores, a blacksmith, baker, butcher and a school or two. The timing of the town's major development matched the growth of Richard Vaughan's East End Market, which provided a boost for fruit and vegetable growers.
John Baker, a dauntless pioneer pastoralist and politician built a fine 17-room home 'Morialta' above Morialta Gorge. In Morialta's grand days, guests included the Duke of Edinburgh and the future King George V. Baker made a hilltop racetrack, and one of the horses trained there - Don Juan - won the 1873 Melbourne Cup in the fastest time recorded in the first 16 years of the race. Morialta's days as a gracious home ended with its sale to the Protestant Federation during the 1920s, to be used as a boys' home.
The Playfords, a leading fruitgrowing family from the early days, still resides in the area. Sir Thomas Playford was the longest-serving Premier of South Australia and a statue of him was unveiled at Norton Summit in 1996.
Apart from the fine country, Norton Summit's principal interest is the historic Scenic Hotel, with its long years as the district's centre of social life. Also of heritage interest is St John's Church, and the local museum.