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Gawler Historic Main Street Walking Tour

Home > Adelaide > Architecture | Free | Historic Houses | Places of Interest | Walks | Lists
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at www.facebook.com/Down-to-Earth-Tours-1491827191071798/
Published January 8th 2022
Take a gawk around Gawler
About an hour's drive north of Adelaide lies the town of Gawler, officially documented as the oldest country town on the Australian mainland, dating from 1839.

Named after South Australia's second Governor, Gawler was the only other settlement planned by Colonel William Light, apart from Adelaide. Gawler prospered with the nearby discovery of copper at Kapunda and at Burra during the 1840s and 1850s and evidence is still viewed today, showing the legacy with some fine architectural infrastructure.

A great way to discover more about the history of Gawler and its development is to undertake a self-guided walking tour which will take you around 80 minutes/approximately 2 kms to take in all of the highlights of the town.

Gawler's Pioneer Park
Pioneer Park Gawler


Here are some of the highlights of that tour:

1. Pioneer Park

Today the park is a wonderful green space that adds much value to the town, however, it started life at the site of Gawler's first cemetery. Colonel William Light's plan provided for allocation of the land for this purpose, the first burial occurring at the site in 1847.

A total of 471 people were interred in the cemetery until it closed during the 1870s. From the 1930s, the space was reallocated as parkland.

Robert Hannaford, a well-renowned sculptor was commissioned back in 2017 to design a suitable memorial dedicated to war which would be placed within Pioneer Park. Robert described his vision for the sculpted piece as "an abstract, enigmatic form conveying the feeling of service, war, conflict and peace-keeping".

The final result was a much larger than life human hand which was unveiled in 2018, at the 100th anniversary of the end of the first World War. The idea is that the hand can be given in friendship and also it can be used to comfort and love, as well as console and to condemn and hurt. The hand can also rest and be at peace. A brilliant piece, that is very eye-catching as you wander through the park.

Human Hand Pioneer Park Gawler
Robert Hannaford's Human Hand


2. Essex House

Essex House has been associated with drapery, merchandise and fashion since the 1880s and was enlarged and enhanced in 1905 by a businessman by the name of Alfred Sheard.

The store started its life on the other side of the main street (Murray Street) in a much humbler capacity but today, it has a much grander appearance, adorned with wonderful examples of leadlighting.

When you enter the store, it is like walking into a time warp, including remains of one of those old flying fox money carriers, which were common earlier in the 20th century.

Sheard himself had emigrated from England during the 1880s immediately moving to Gawler and establishing a drapery business soon after. By 1905, Sheard's business located at Essex House was growing and at that point, he employed between 22 and 30 staff.

Alfred Sheard at one time owned several businesses in Gawler, including a boot, shoe and leather goods business on the eastern side of Murray Street opposite Essex House. Two of his three sons (one died during WW1), took over the family business after Sheard's step back from day to day operations.

You will find Essex House at 100 Murray Street, Gawler.

Essex House Gawler
Essex House Gawler


3. Gawler Institute

Situated amongst a suite of heritage buildings, including the old Bank of Adelaide, now ANZ building and the Gawler Town Hall, the Gawler Institute dates from 1870 and was made of local bluestone rubble.

The Institute itself (shortened version of Mechanic's Institute), was established much earlier in Gawler in 1857. Based upon an English concept, these Institute buildings were purposely built to provide a training facility for mechanics and other skilled workers arriving in the colony of South Australia.

Many of these imposing buildings transformed into libraries and can be found dotted around country areas as well as suburban locations. By 1860, the Gawler Institute held something like 2,000 books as well as other printed matter.

The site of what is now a civic centre containing the Public Library and awesome Reading Room has a significant historic interest as the place where the "Song of Australia" was conceived.

On its second anniversary in 1859, the Gawler Institute ran a competition as part of its celebrations for someone to come up with an original Australian song. The winner of that competition was Caroline Carleton, an English born poet, who produced a 5 verse song, one of an overall 96 entries.

Caroline, as the winner won the first prize of 10 guineas. The music relating to the song was written by Carl Linger, a Berlin-born intellectual who had settled in Gawler in the late 1840s.

The Song of Australia impressed South Australia's Premier at that time, Charles Cameron Kingston, to the degree that he proposed that public schools adopt the song and teach it to their students.

The iconic song was proposed to become the national anthem for Australia following Federation, and was preferred by South Australians, however, the Commonwealth government preferred Advance Australia Fair, composed in Sydney in 1878 and it was the song adopted.

Once Song of Australia had been published, controversy reared its ugly head, when critics initially said the poem was "too tame" with other comments, including a lament that there was no mention of "sheep".

A plaque still stands outside of the Gawler Institute signifying this important event.

Gawler Institute Gawler
Gawler Institute Gawler


4. Gawler Town Hall

The Gawler Town Hall was built in 1878 following the drive and enthusiasm of James Martin, an industrialist and one time Mayor of Gawler, also said to be the "Father of Gawler". Martin saw the need following the establishment of the town, that a hall was essential for Gawler to be seen as an important player in the region.

The increasing cost of maintaining both the Institute as well as the Town Hall saw a call in 1968 for them to be replaced with a civic centre. Local historians and lobbyists fought to keep the Institute and its historic collections intact and finally in 2012, moves were made to obtain federal funding to restore both the Institute and the Town Hall, so as to properly house the nationally significant Gawler heritage collection.

As part of the Gawler Connect Project in 2019 with $5.6 million Federal funding to incorporate these heritage buildings as an overall part of making Murray Street an arts, cultural and community hub.

Spaces created have included a smart library, a youth lounge, a multi-media performance space, a cultural heritage gallery and research centre, a community arts space, a business and street-front information centre as well as a cafe.

Today the result is an eye-catching diverse mixture of revived heritage which locals and visitors can enjoy.

Gawler Town Hall, Gawler
Gawler Town Hall, Gawler


5. Golden Fleece Hotel

The Golden Fleece Hotel on the main street of Gawler has the historic distinction of being the very first building constructed along Murray Street and the very first hotel in Gawler, established back in 1840.

Being the only hotel back then, it was an obvious stopping place for travellers passing through the town, and at one time served also as the town's mortuary, post office and meeting place.

The hotel at various times throughout its history was also known as the Old Spot Hotel, Old Spot Inn, and Calton's Hotel. Today the hotel still survives, albeit altered since those early times.

If you fancy a stop for a drink and a food intake, then this historic pub could be just the place for you. Apart from the traditional pub fare, Golden Fleece also offers some specialties including Signature Ribs Half Rack Beef or Pork for $32 or Full Rack for $49. Their ribs are slow-cooked and basted in a flavoursome sauce, finished on a flaming hot chargrill.

Also, Tapas are on offer, varying in price from $8 to $12, including Fried Baby Shrimp with Chipotle and Crumbed Bocconcini Balls with Tomato Relish.

They also do a mean Pizza included a Pulled Pepper Pig one for $21 comprising Mozzarella, Pulled Pork, Thyme and Camembert Cheese finished with fresh Rocket and Pork Crackling.

If salad is more your preference, then a Grilled Chicken and Guacamole Salad will set you back $18.50.

The menu is on offer daily from 12 pm until 9 pm 7 days a week.

You will find Golden Fleece at 77 Murray Street, Gawler.

Golden Fleece Hotel Gawler
Golden Fleece Hotel Gawler


6. Dead Man's Pass

A really enticing name for an area close to Gawler's Town Centre, which was named allegedly based upon a story of a man's body being buried inside a hollow gum tree.

Until 1849, the shallow ford across the river was the only southern access to Gawler. Today it is all part of the linear walk along the river which lends itself to family picnics.

The pass was traditionally originally a natural north-south trade route for both Aboriginal people as well as early European settlers.

During Colonel William Light's 1837 survey trip, he camped on on his way to the Barossa Hills in his attempt to locate a route to connect Adelaide to the River Murray. Light soon realised that this area was an ideal site for a town as it had water, fertile land as well as a place to cross the River Para. He, therefore, returned two years later in 1839, with his team to do a 4,000-acre special survey around what became known as Gawler. (originally Gawler Town)

Part of Light's special survey incorporated plans to have Parklands along the rivers similar to what he had achieved in Adelaide.

After visiting the area in February 1839, John Reid and Henry Murray quickly paid a deposit to secure the 4,000-acre survey land for about 2,500 pounds.

To think that sadly Light died later that year, as a Pauper, of tuberculosis.

Dead Man's Pass Gawler
Dead Man's Pass Gawler


7. James Martin Statue

Along Julian Terrace lies a marble monument to James Martin, seen as the founder of the largest engineering and agricultural implement manufacturing establishment in South Australia. The statue was originally unveiled in another location in 1903, being moved to its current spot in 1969, near the South Para River.

Near this area are linear tracks that meander past massive 1870's Moreton Bay Fig trees which provide relief from the strong rays of the sun. This is all part of Apex Park.

Martin himself had initially migrated to South Australia from England during the 1840s, setting himself up in Gawler as a Blacksmith and Wheelwright. He soon became a manufacturer, making bullock drays, agricultural implements and other ironwork.

Mining machinery, railway rolling stock were soon added to the mix of production successes and in the late 1880s won a government contract for constructing 47 railway locomotives.

James Martin also served as a Mayor of Gawler several times as well as his stint in colony politics as representing Barossa in the House of Assembly and North-eastern province in the Legislative Council. Martin's greatest parliamentary achievement was to secure the construction of the Barossa Reservoir, which supplied Gawler with water from 1902.

James Martin Statue Gawler
James Martin Statue Gawler


8. Tortola House

One of the more impressive looking private residences in Gawler is Tortola House, which is situated on Tod Street. The two-storey section of the house was built during the early 1870s by a successful businessman and ex-Mayor of Gawler, William Wincey.

The original cottage dating from the 1860s adjoins the later addition. The architecture can be described as Venetian Gothic Revival style along with French Byzantine influences. Not a style you would expect to find in the back streets of Gawler.

The eye-catching iron lacework on the front fence was added by Alfred May when he occupied the premises at the turn of the twentieth century. Ironically the lacework was manufactured in the May Brothers Foundry at Gawler West.

The building was later bought up by the Tod Street Methodist Church for use as a Manse, for a tidy sum of 1,000 pounds. It is believed that the bricks used for the front of this house were imported from Florence in Italy. Today the property is privately owned but evidence of the style of the grander lifestyle still stands as testament.

Tortola House Gawler
Tortola House Gawler


9. Kingsford Hotel

Another of the historic hotels on Murray Street is the Kingsford Hotel, dating back to 1851. It is evident that additions have been made over the years, however, the original distinctive architectural style with its distinctive cast ironwork on the balcony still exists.

This building, in the days it was originally known as the Globe Inn, was an early gathering place for many societies during the nineteenth century including the Humbug Society (which was a satirical reaction to the pompous early colonial public and social life). The Humbug Society Chronicle transformed into "The Bunyip" newspaper which still operates today. The society itself did not survive beyond the nineteenth century.

Other societies which met there included the Freemasons as well as the Oddfellows. The telegraph operated from the building between 1857 and 1860.

The menu within the pub these days is worth exploring and tasting including their renowned Stonegrilled meals, prepared uncooked on a volcanic stone heated to 400 degrees C. If you are a meat lover, their Stonegrilled Scotch Fillet will set you back $33, including your choice of sauce topping. Also included are Vegetables as well as a choice of either Chips or Potato Bake.

Mains are priced between $22 and $44.

Along the same stone themed menu, ice cream is served upon an ice-cold stone, with side serves of chocolate, berries and chocolate sauce for $12.

Kids meals are offered for also $12.

Happy Hours are offered all week between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm with tap beer and house wine available. If you prefer something a little more exotic, such as a cocktail, they will generally cost you between $13 and $17 dependent upon your selection.

You will find the Kingsford at 32 Murray Street in Gawler and trading hours are for the Bistro - Sunday - Thursday 11.30 am - 2 pm and then 5.30 pm - 8 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays the hours are 11.30 am - 2 pm and then 5.30 pm - 8.30 pm.

The bar area is open from 9 am until late.

Kingsford Hotel Gawler
Kingsford Hotel Gawler


These walking trails around places like Gawler really give you an insight into the development of the town over the years as well as give you an added appreciation of the size and layout. The self-guided walking trail map of Gawler can be downloaded via the Gawler Council websitehttps://www.gawler.sa.gov.au

One of over 700 walking trails around South Australia!
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Why? An opportunity to learn more about Gawler
When: Any time of the year
Phone: 08 8522 9211
Where: Gawler, South Australia
Cost: Free
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