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Published September 7th 2017
Inspired by Thomas Hardy
We all know that McLaren Vale is famous for its wines, with vineyards and brands that extend back years. But as life would have it, that was not always to be the destiny of McLaren Vale, a town whose humble beginnings were more at home with the production of crops rather than the vines. A short walk on the McLaren Vale Heritage Trail and all is explained.
The McLaren Vale District was initially surveyed in 1839 by Surveyor John McLaren, and soon thereafter a few farms popped up predominantly growing cereal crops. The distance to anywhere was significant when the means transport was via bullocks and carts, and the population remained small for some time. However in 1850 a village to the eastern end of the district (near the Kangariila Road) named Gloucester, and in 1854 a village to the west (near the Hotel McLaren) named Bellevue were surveyed and settlements commenced.
The cereal cropping gave rise to a number of flour mills and associated buildings, of which the Mortlock Mill within the grounds of the Hardy Tintara Winery is the only remaining building of substance from that era, an era that had suffered a number of setbacks with over-favourable weather conditions and labour shortages as a result of settlers chasing gold throughout Victoria or settling moving elsewhere as South Australia was gradually opening up.
In the early 1860's Dr Alexander Kelly planted some of the first vines in the McLaren Vale region, a courageous decision against the backdrop of cereal farming and employee shortages, but one that would ultimately lead to the establishment of McLaren Vale as one of the premier wine making districts in the world today. Kelly acquired the struggling flour mills in Bellevue and renamed them as the Tintara Wine Company, a company that did well until the mid-1870's when financial difficulties befell it.
Meanwhile, in 1850 a young Thomas Hardy arrived in Adelaide and set about setting up his life. A short stint working with John Reynell at Reynella, followed by a stint in the Victorian goldfields, and his destiny was near determined. The purchase of land in Underdale and Marion, and the planting of various fruits and vines, and the Thomas Hardy business was away. The struggling Tintara Wine Company became one of Hardy's acquisitions and commenced a dynasty that saw Thomas referred to as the father of the South Australian wine industry.
By the 1870's the villages of Bellevue and Gloucester had expanded with the introduction of churches, schools, stores, hotels, blacksmiths and saddleries as transport became less of a challenge. A dried fruit industry also popped up as many locals sought to alternatives to vines including apricots, apples and almonds. But it was to be the vines and wines that were best able to withstand all weather conditions and would eventually prevail above all others in a district that was spreading from the foothills to the north, south and east through to the coast.
The growing population of the villages saw them eventually emerge as one township called McLaren Vale, and the turn-of-the-century introduction of railways saw the creation of the Hallett Cove to Willunga rail line passing through McLaren Vale in 1915. The rail line was a popular weekend line for tourists, but rarely saw enough weekday movements to ensure sustainability, and eventually the line was closed and most of the infrastructure removed. Today the rail corridor is home to Coast to Vines Trail, and the Shiraz Trail, both of whom pass through the old McLaren Vale Railway Station site.
And through to today, the cellar doors and tourism have firmly entrenched themselves within the town and district. Adaptive re-use has been adopted in a number of buildings, and the heritage trail highlights the old and new uses of these buildings. However for a number of others, the passing of time has seen them deteriorate beyond repair, and has ultimately led to their demolition, with an information sign remaining on the site to describe what was originally there.
The McLaren Vale Heritage Trail commences at the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Information Centre, and heads east through the former villages of Bellevue and Gloucester, before returning to the centre of town via the Coast to Vines Trail. The Trail is around 5km long, and would take an hour or so to walk, albeit the cafes and bakeries enroute may cause that to be slightly longer. Brochures are available at the Information Centre or online.