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Published September 16th 2015
Exploring Light's vision of a grand main street
It was 1839 and Colonel William Light's vision for Gawler was slowly becoming apparent, the vision of a settlement that could prosper on the banks of the North and South Para Rivers bounded by rolling hills and within close proximity to Adelaide. At the centre of this vision was a Main Street that would prosper and thrive on the agricultural, mining and industrial booms that would arise during the 19th century and beyond.
It is now 175 years on and Light's vision is largely intact with Gawler's Main Street fast becoming a cosmopolitan centre in this nearby regional town while retaining the heritage and history that made the town what it is. To reflect and celebrate, the Gawler Council have pulled together a tour of the Main Street and the buildings which have helped contribute to its being.
The tour starts adjacent at Pioneer Park adjacent the Gawler Visitor Information Centre, where you can pick up brochures for this tour, the Church Hill Walking Tour and the Gawler Town Drive 10. Pioneer Park was originally planned to be the town cemetery but the growth of the town saw that plan scuttled in favour of a pleasant park where the community can gather and reflect on major achievements of the town's folk.
One such achievement was that of John McKinlay, whose memorial outside the Park notes that he led the expedition in 1861 to search for the ill-fated Burke and Wills. Meanwhile across the road is a memorial to Charles Sturt who passed through Gawler in 1844 en-route to explore Central Australia.
The Bunyip building is home to the Bunyip newspaper, a local paper that has been in continuous production since 1863. Next door is Essex House, a building that has been synonymous with drapery, general merchandise and fashion since the 1880's. A quick look inside and you can see one of the last examples of a flying fox money carrier, the only other such one I have seen is at Emily's Bistro in Quorn.
Further down the street, the Italianate villa style ANZ Bank building stands tall alongside the Gawler Institute, Gawler Town Hall and NAB Building. Perhaps it was the nearby Golden Fleece Hotel or the Kingsford Hotel that has helped, but it is a credit to the town that each of the buildings remains in existence today, and in operations in some form.
At the end of the Main Street is Dead Man's Pass. Many theories exist in respect of the naming of this pass, but the most common one is that Light and his survey team stumbled across a dead man's body lying near a tree when they began surveying this area. There are no dead bodies there today, but rather a bitumenised walking trail that runs the length of the rivers through the town, and joins up to the Jack Bobridge Track heading towards the Barossa Valley.
Following the river back towards town we pass the former Waterworks Building, the Gas Works and the Union Mill Complex before entering the popular Apex Park. With playgrounds, bathroom and cooking facilities scattered amongst some magnificent Moreton Bay Fig trees, this is the place to be when picnicking in Gawler.
Continuing along the river trail and we pass a statue of John Martin, the father figure of Gawler who founded the largest engineering and agricultural implement manufacturing establishment in SA. At the height of the industrial revolution Martin was manufacturing trains, tractors and also anything else that moved.
Beyond the statue and a short detour along Tod Street sees the magnificent Methodist Hall, Tortola House with its exquisite iron lace work fence, the Uniting Church and the former Undertaker's premises at 1 Tod Street on the corner of the Main Street. The tour ends back on the Main Street opposite a number of cafes and bakeries where good coffee is a key ingredient of a good day out, and where the Java Hut always attracts a strong crowd.