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Published October 5th 2017
It's time to see what this great town has to offer
The glossy brochure signifies something different. It could easily have been a photocopied page with a small map pointing out some items of significance like is done in most of the towns in the mid-north. Something is different here. Something is happening which justifies the extra spend. Something that demands a stop and a meander, a meander through the small Southern Flinders town of Melrose.
Located at the base of Mt Remarkable, Melrose is the oldest town in the Flinders Ranges with the first pastoralists settling in 1843. Soon thereafter some copper was found, and in light of the encouraging words from Kapunda, Burra and Moonta, the Mt Remarkable Mining Company was formed with a view to richness. However richness was not to come with copper supplies limited, and the company dissolved in 1851.
However, the rich grazing lands, natural timber plantations and a gateway to the north, saw Melrose start to grow as a town. The first Police Station was built in 1848, replaced in 1855 and then rebuilt as a Station and Courthouse during 1862 in order to ensure safety and security in the growing region. Today the Station is closed and the beautiful old building continues life as the Melrose Courthouse Heritage Centre open every afternoon.
During this time the oldest licensed hotel in the Flinders Ranges, the North Star Hotel, commenced operations. In 1876 William Jacka moved to town to take over the license, and his sons set about commencing a brewery using the high-quality spring water that was seemingly always constantly flowing through the Willochra Creek. After a slow start, the brewery took off and the brothers acquired the flour mill which had fallen on tough times, and converted it to Jacka's Brewery. The Brewery itself fell on hard times during the Great Depression and closed in 1934, and has been in private hands ever since, with a new sign appearing on the property indicating that its life as a Brewery may be about to re-start.
The Royal Exchange Hotel commenced in 1857 but didn't last too long, while the Mt Remarkable Hotel also commenced around the same time, and is still a popular destination today in the centre of the main street. Railway transport also came to the town in 1915 with the opening of the Booleroo to Wilmington rail line, notwithstanding that the location of the town at the foot of Mt Remarkable meant the railway station had to be built some 2km north of the town.
By contrast to many other regional South Australian towns, the Main Street of Melrose looks different and looks alive, with much of the credit due to its proximity to Mt Remarkable. A 6km walk from the car park to the top is popular amongst tourists and shares the same path as the long distance Heysen Trail. But it is those other trails, the mountain bike trails, which have transformed Melrose in recent years.
Earlier this century the former Searle's General Store was acquired and transformed into the Over The Edge bicycle store. Near the same time, the long distance Mawson Trail made its way to the town, and between them this resulted in a proliferation of new mountain bike trails popping up across the foot of Mt Remarkable on both public and private properties. In time these trails have become a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts who travel from afar to participate in the annual cycling events or to just experience the tranquillity of riding the trails by themselves.
And Melrose is not just for the avid cyclist with a number of family-friendly loops also signposted around the town as part of the Mawson Trail as well as the Melrose to Wilmington Rail Trail following along the former rail corridor between the two towns. It is the latter trail which takes cyclists past Goyder's Monument just north of Melrose which reflects on Goyder's Line as it progresses through the region.
Melrose is serviced by an expandable caravan park with a large overflow area for campers during the busy periods. In addition, accommodation is available at the hotels, including the quirky red and green trucks at the rear of the North Star Hotel, while several places have small units or bed and breakfast style accommodation available.
If food in your room is not what you are looking for, then there are at least 5 places selling good quality coffee and light meals, as well as the hotels for evening meals. A bit further afar, the Bartagunyah Estate and Blesing's Garden Wines both offer light food with some cellar door tastings, while for those looking for the unique, then Wozza's Vault Café in the old ANZ Bank is worthy of a visit even if it is just to see what may be possible to achieve with an old historical building.
Melrose is located 270km north of Adelaide on the Main North Road. Further details on the history and the buildings around Melrose is available from the Historical Walk, or from the Melrose website or their Facebook page.