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Anybody can get their fill of modern architecture and soulless cities in the major urban centres on the east coast. But it's my belief that people visit Adelaide precisely because it is smaller. Friendlier. Less sterile. And it possesses character.
Few places epitomise this better than small country towns, and Hamley Bridge on the edge of the Gilbert Valley is a good example.
While saddled with a somewhat boring name after its bridge and a little known soldier and acting governor, the town possesses character, life, and small town country pride and community spirit.
Its main street is also listed as a Historic Conservation Area by the Wakefield Regional Council because the area is as an intact illustration of the early and continuing development of the Town of Hamley Bridge from 1868 to 1930.
The town has strong farming connections, being situated in a fertile agricultural area of South Australia at the junction of the Gilbert and Light Rivers.
It also was a railway junction for many years, where the narrow gauge country railways met the broad gauge track used in the city. Goods were transhipped from one train to another to reach their final destination, so the South Australian Railways (SAR) must have been a steady source of employment for people in the town until 1927 when all lines were converted to broad gauge.
While the railway is long disused, there are many reminders of the role it played in the town. The railway station, signal box and water tanks are all heritage listed and the buildings are currently occupied privately.
Walking down the heritage listed main street (Light St) is quite evocative of the town's history. On the corner of Light and Anne Streets stands a former butcher shop where the butcher's name is still visible above the shop canopy.
This website tells us that the building was first used as a butcher's in 1881, and you can see an 1887 photo of carcases hanging outside here. Another photo from the 1930's can be found here. Things were very different in those days without refrigeration - many houses would have had a meat safe to store it until used.
The butcher's shop operated for over 120 years until it finally became a private residence in 2005. It is now used as a studio called The Annie Street Experience.
A little further down Light Street a cluster of locals chat comfortably outside the town's post office in much the same way as they probably have for a hundred years. There is little traffic on the road as most people are probably out at work.
Even the Hamley Bridge Hotel is quiet in the late morning. It stands just down the road from the railway station, where it picked up much of its patronage in the last century. A second pub called the Dublin Hotel once stood where the Hamley Bridge Hotel car park is now, and both would have thrived on the custom of railway workers.
A short walk further onto Railway Terrace will bring you to the former Hamley Bridge railway station, which has been carefully restored since 2005 by the current lease holder, who was friendly and happy to chat. The building now looks attractive and well cared for - an asset to the town unlike Manoora and Balhannah stations.
Back on the main street a second hand and collectibles store (appropriately topped by a faded vintage advertising sign) contains an eclectic variety of unusual goods that are most often found in country towns.
Hamley Bridge values and prides itself on its history, and local resident Sharon Norman maintains a collection of web pages which bring it to life. Her blog, Hamley Bridge Past and Present and home page have many photographs and news items relating to Hamley Bridge's place in South Australia's heritage.
Unlike some other country towns, Hamley Bridge has also embraced the benefits of the internet with a community Facebook page to help residents keep in touch with current activities. Particularly important in a place where people may be isolated by distance.
However, at the rate Adelaide is expanding, Hamley Bridge may not remain a country town much longer. Not far down the road in Freeling there has been massive residential re-development, almost making it a satellite of Gawler.
If you are visiting the Clare Valley or the little known Gilbert Valley, Hamley Bridge is well worth a stopover and a stroll along the main street. It's a good place to stretch your legs and indulge a little daydreaming in this place with a past that still welcomes the future.
When you come back to our town, let me know and I will take you on a historic tour and include the 'must see' railway bridge. It was the highest bridge in the Southern Hemisphere until the 1970's (or therebouts).
I love this article; it was kind of tragic and sad, but beautiful and wonderfully written.
The kind of article that makes you want to frame the contents before it vanishes or immediately go and hug every single citizen of that town.