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Published July 17th 2015
The place of disappearing dreams
The Adelaide Plains were first discovered in 1840 but the combination of sweeping plains full of mulga and a mining boom elsewhere in the State saw settlement delayed until the mid 1850's. The introduction of the Gulf Road transporting copper from Burra to Port Wakefield, and then wool and wheat heightened the desire to settle on the Plains, and by 1860 the majority had been surveyed and divided in to hundreds (100 sq miles) for lease or purchase.
Deserted roads of the Adelaide Plains - Steve Hudson
Soon the Adelaide Plains was booming, and with it came businesses, schools, churches and buildings often only a few miles apart. A combination of favourable land laws and agricultural innovations saw many looking to settle amongst this forestation of natural mulga and mallee. In 1868 Charles Mullen developed a technique of knocking down and burning the mallee, but it was in 1881 that a Stump Jump Plough was first successfully developed by JW Stott, a prolific inventor from Alma, and helped kickstart the Adelaide Plains.
The Railway network was also a cause for significant concentration of development. All residents of the region were well aware of the making or breaking of towns due to the route taken by new railways, and their precise location was always the subject of intense local rivalry. Balaklava won the rights to be the major town along the Auburn to Port Wakefield Tramway, while the new rail line connecting Gawler to Balaklava saw the creation of a new town, Hamley Bridge, rather than use the existing siding of Alma a few kilometres further north.
But what happened to all those towns on the Adelaide Plains ? I took a trip out north recently, and this is what I found.
Huge population growth was expected in Alma as we saw the proclamation of four neighbouring settlements being Alma North, Alma Plains, Alma and Alma South. Alma South saw the construction of the Church of Christ Chapel (1862) and a Manse (1863) to cater for its early needs. In 1872 it became necessary to build a new Church, and the original church building was gifted to the Education Department as Alma South School. Unfortunately the church closed its doors in 1938, while the school remained in operations until 1964 with an average attendance of 33 students.
A few kilometres further north saw the township of Alma Plains grow, and the Congregational Church (1866) was an integral part of the town. However membership numbers waned during the early 20th Century and the church was relocated to Alma and continued services until 1972 when it was sold to a local resident. While still standing today, it is in need of some ongoing repairs before it could be considered as reasonably habitable.
Even further north, the settlement of Alma North necessitated the early build of a school in 1860. A combination of factors saw the school close in 1924, and be eventually demolished with nothing remaining except for a few brown patches amongst the green field.
Dalkey was named after a seaside resort in Ireland, and was settled initially in 1858 by the Bowman Brothers who promptly put cattle on their blocks. Farming soon became the way of life and in 1865 the Traeger family (of Hamley Bridge and farming fame) bought 600 acres for wheat. With that development, several others followed, and soon a township and District Council appeared.
Former Dalkey Methodist Bible Christian Chapel Site - Steve Hudson
The Dalkey Methodist Bible Christian Chapel (1870) was built on the Nine Mile, west of Owen. Like many across South Australia at the time, the building also became the school in 1879 thus preserving building resources at the time of uncertainty around the drought and recession. The church and school served the community well until their closure in 1946, and subsequent demolition a few years later.
Former Dalkey Church of Christ Site - Steve Hudson
Atop the hill is the site of the Dalkey Hill Wesleyan Church (1894). This short lived church lasted only 15 years before eventually closing in 1909, with little remaining to reflect its heritage. A bit further down the road lies the site of the former Dalkey Hill School (1883). Like the church, it was closed in 1909, and the buildings were removed over the next 5 years and transported to Avon to form part of the Avon school.
Located towards the south perhaps gave Barabba a feeling of improved sustainability and prosperity. The Barabba Methodist Church (1867) managed to survive 100 years before it was eventually closed and demolished in 1967. The Barabba School opened in 1875 and lasted until 1968 when it suffered the same fate.
Former Barabba School and Church Site - Steve Hudson
Today, there are two cairns standing on the sites of these original buildings, both reflecting better times. Meanwhile, over the road is an icon itself – a 1940's road sign that has been 'modernised' ever so slightly (in 1974) by the nailing of the kilometre markers over the top of the original mileage markers.
Located the furthest north of the abandoned towns, Salter Springs thought it was located in the best spot for a township given its closeness to the Gulf Road. The Salter Springs Wesleyan Chapel (1865) was built, but struggled with attendances and was eventually closed in 1900. The Salter Springs School (1867) had a bit better luck (despite opening and closing several times) and lasted until 1956 when it was closed. However it was during that time that the school produced two Rhodes Scholars being Dr Cecil Madigan and Dr Michael Smyth.
The lost towns of the Adelaide Plains are covered in a brochure produced by the Owen Community Centre Committee and provides a nostalgic look at the development and abandonment of the region over the last 150 years. Further information is available from the Information Board in Owen or from the Owen Community Centre itself.
My great grandparents on my SA born Dad's side of the family lived at Pt Wakefield at end of 1800's and early 1900's...name of Amos William and Susan Lower. Newspaper article of birth of one of son's lists them as at Grange Farm. can you help me with any further info please ? Jan of Brisbane.
My GG grandparents came out from England and settled in Dalkay/Hamley Bridge/Gilbert area in 1876. She went to a church/School in Dalkay I have a photo of. Too bad I cannot see it now I would have loved to have done that. Great information. Good to see other pictures, too