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Published July 24th 2015
Will the real City of Churches please stand up ?
It was 1839 and Colonel Light was in Gawler setting out the town plan. The hill at the northern end of town was an ideal spot and became core to the Gawler Town Plan. Many years later this hill became known as Church Hill, and was subsequently declared a State Heritage Area (1985). Today the Church Hill Walking Tour allows visitors to experience the true heritage of Gawler with a wide collection of buildings and architecture reflecting those grand and humble beginnings of this significant area.
After picking up a brochure from the Gawler Visitor Information Centre, it is a short walk over the road to Light Square, which although not quite the same size as Adelaide's Light Square, it nonetheless retains the same significance by recognising the important role that Colonel Light made with the town of Gawler.
The other significant square within the centre of the Church Hill district is Orleana Square. This square was named after the sailing ship that landed at Holdfast Bay in 1839. Similar to Torrens Square at Glenelg, it hosts an enormous church in the centre, namely the St George's Anglican Church (1864). Built from local bluestone, sandstone quoins and slate tiled roof, this church took almost 60 years to complete with the bells finally installed in 1921.
Not surprisingly churches are popular on Church Hill, with all denominations owning a building at one stage. On Porter Street is the magnificent St Peter and St Paul's Roman Catholic Church (1897) featuring local blue stone and red brick, an arcade of gothic arches and twin towers, while the Zion Lutheran Church (1921) and associated Church Hall (1954), kindergarten and study centre is around the corner.
Not so grand, but no less important were the Congregational Church complex of a smaller church (1851) next door to the larger church (1861), and the Presbyterian Church (1854). Like most good church buildings across Australia, alternative uses are found for them once economics forces their closure, with the latter now being the Salvation Army Support Centre.
For a church to function there needs to be a number of ancillary buildings and along Porter Street, there are several buildings associated with the Catholic Church including the former home of the Sisters of St Joseph (1870) and the Convent which was built in 1910 for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Meanwhile St George's Hall (1866) continues in existence today as a church hall supporting the large Anglican Church.
Most churches also have associated schools nearby, and Gawler is no different albeit St George's school closed in 1891 with a plaque remaining as the only indication that a school existed on the site. St Josephs school has been a bit luckier with the tall building remaining, however all classes are now conducted in the neighbouring Gawler Primary School.
One of the original Masters at St George's School built a large residence on King Street known as Hemingby. This residence became home to a private school in its own right in the later life before falling in to disrepair. A site demolition order in the 70's was enough to encourage a local effort to restore the site, and today the house stands proud and wide (3 blocks) on King Street.
Further along King Street is the former Eagle Foundry (1870), which is now a local bed and breakfast establishment, while 27 King Street was established as a private maternity hospital in 1904 by Sister Greenslade. King Street is part of the Gawler Town Drive and runs in to Queen Street, which plays host to more historic buildings, including the traditional villa residence (1864) of Reverend John Jones, the first Methodist Minister based in Gawler.
Nearby the Refectory for the Anglican Church, and the law and order establishments of the Gawler Court House (1881) and the recently totally renovated Police Station sit alongside Light Square. Renovated houses, while keeping the original architecture in place, are common throughout this area and the walk from Moore Street to Dundas Street is a fine example of this.
Many different dwellings, numerous sheds, old horse stables, stone walls and fence styles reflecting the late 19th century era have been lovingly restored and maintained by the current owners and add to the grandeur of the walk. Cameron Street, named after the Captain of the Orleana, features some more fine homes as well as some unusual bluestone kerbing and cobblestone guttering.
The Shopping Centre sits on the site of the former Albion Flour Mill which went in to liquidation in 1893. A large mill stone is the only piece of the mill remaining today. Meanwhile Finniss Street bears the home of a number of the pioneers associated with the Flour Mill including Stephen King and Walter Duffield, a local MP. Many of the houses in Finniss Street were built in the 1850's for workers, while the lovingly restored cottage at 41 Finniss Street was Mrs Broderick's tuckshop serving children for many years.
The tour ends at the McKinlay Memorial in Pioneer Park. McKinlay was Gawler's most famous explorer having set out in 1861 to look for lost members of the Burke and Wills expedition, amongst other trips that he took to the Northern Territory. Across the road from the Memorial is the aptly named Bushman Hotel (1840). Still operating today with a great menu, it is a relaxing way to complete the walk and reflect on the achievements of our pioneers many years ago.
The Gawler Church Hill Walking Tour is around 2.5km long and should take one hour to see all 19 historic sites. The tour is suitable for children, and is free. Further details are available from the Visitor Centre, and maps are also available from the website.