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Published April 4th 2016
More than just a Rocking Horse
When people think of Gumeracha, the mind wanders to that tourist icon known as the Big Rocking Horse. With over 100,000 visitors per year, it is not hard to think that this quiet town was built around the Rocking Horse. Well, in truth, you are close. A quick climb to the top of the Rocking Horse reveals all.
Across the road from the Rocking Horse, hidden amongst a multitude of English Heritage trees is Kenyon Park Estate, the original home and sweeping gardens of William Beavis Randell who arrived in South Australia in 1837 and purchased 1000 acres in this area which was known as Umer-acha, the aboriginal word for lovely waterhole.
To add some context, Randell observed a group of Peramangk Aboriginal people sitting by a spring surrounded by 14 oak trees. The ring of oaks was a popular meeting place due to the combination of shade, shelter and water, and would remain that way for many years.
Near the Ring of Oaks, Randell and his sons built the Salem Baptist Church in 1845 and the spring was used as a natural baptismal place. But this ended in 1899 when a minor earthquake struck the town, and the spring suddenly stopped flowing. Not to be dismayed, and with a few less oak trees, the area was converted in to a pleasant park for locals to enjoy after nearby church services.
Randell was known as a generous man and often donated land and monies to help build the growing town. He was also an astute businessman and he built Randell's Mill on the banks of Kenton Creek. Initially starting as a flour mill in 1847, the mill became a butter factory, slaughterhouse, butchery, Amscol factory before finally becoming a classy looking bed and breakfast.
Randell's sons were managing the flour mill for a number of years, or at least until William junior decided to leave home and head to Mannum to follow an interest that he had in paddlesteamers and the river trade. William junior built the Mary Anne (named after his mother) and suddenly had the first paddlesteamer to operate on the Murray in 1853, ironically carrying the flour from the family's flour mill.
The conservatism and influence of Randell meant it was some years before a public house was built. The Kenton Inn, on the top of the hill, was established in 1855 and served the town for 90 years before being converted to a private residence. Today the town is serviced by the Gumeracha Hotel, which was built in 1867 alongside the old coachhouse and stables which catered for overnight traffic to and from Adelaide.
Randell passed away in 1876 and it was soon thereafter that the Gumeracha Institute obtained a lease from the Randell family across the area now known as Federation Park. The Park was completely redesigned in 2001 with the introduction of picnic facilities, playgrounds, shelters and bathroom facilities.
Federation Park also features two monuments of importance. The Memorial Arch is a memorial to a local tragedy that happened at a well in the town, while the Trooper Moore Memorial commemorates the death of a local young man in the Boer War.
The Gumeracha Community Association has kindly pulled together a Heritage Walking Trail complete with brochures and information boards at each of the major sites around the town. Brochures are available at all the local shops, as well as at the Big Rocking Horse, where the view across the road gives context to half of the story.