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Published June 2nd 2014
See the Adelaide Hill’s hidden gem before it's lost
The main street of Mt Barker is Gawler st, which contains most of the significant buildings. The stunning trees add to the appeal of this street, which is only topped by nearby Druids street. Image by writer.
I recently did a walking tour of Mount Barker as part of SA's history festival 'About Time', and was surprised by the beauty of this underrated Adelaide Hills town. In fact, Mount Barker is the largest town in the Adelaide Hills, and one of the fastest growing areas in the state. Just 33kms up the freeway from Adelaide but still with a 'country feel', many people are choosing Mount Barker as a place to live.
Built in 1860, the imposing Auchendarroch was the summer residence of Robert Barr Smith and his family. The house features William Morris design textiles. Image by writer.
Captain Charles Sturt named Mount Barker in 1834 after Captain Collet Barker, who discovered the Mount Barker Summit in 1830. Mt Barker was traditionally a farming area and in 1890 the benefits of clover seed was discovered for use as fodder and in superphosphate. Later, wheat became the mainstay until the dairy industry took over turning Mt Barker into the "cream bowl" of Adelaide. The south eastern freeway was built in 1977 making the town much more accessible from Adelaide.
Local farmer AW Howard discovered that subterranean clover was a valuable fodder plant in some temperate climate areas. This revolutionized farming practices in Australia and around the world, and today the clover adorns the Mt Barker district council's coat of arms.
There has been a big public outcry and a lot of controversy over the rezoning of farmland around Mount Barker for residential development. In March 2014, a new $650M, 1800 home development was announced. Many believe this will put a strain on the existing infrastructure, whilst others bemoan the loss of the surrounding productive and picturesque farmland and hills. A $27M freeway ramp has also been planned to service the new development, which has no direct access to a main road. A direct rail link to the city may alleviate any increased traffic congestion.
The new Aston Hills housing project features a village hub, parks, a school and civic plaza. Image courtesy news.com.au
In March 2013 an Ombudsman's report revealed that the State Government took advice on land rezoning from consultants who were lobbying at the same time on behalf of developers. This has been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), but is unlikely to halt the urban sprawl.
The ANZ bank in Gawler st was built in 1880. This building and the NAB bank were slated for demolition in the 80's. Fortunately the unions were able to save them. Image by writer.
What else to do in Mount Barker? You can walk or ride the trails around the Laratinga wetlands which link to the Mount Barker Linear Trail, an award winning seven kilometre shared walkway which continues to Keith Stephenson Park, along the local creek. Or why not climb the nearby Mount Barker summit, with spectacular views over the surrounding district. You can also take a leisurely ride on the historic Steam Ranger train ($71 per adult, return) from Mount Barker to Victor Harbour through the picturesque towns of Strathalbyn, Goolwa and Port Elliot.
The imposing Mt. Barker Uniting church in Mann st was built in 1884 for just 4000 pounds, including an impressive pipe organ, which is still in use today. Image by writer.
So why not visit Mount Barker today, before it becomes overrun! What is your favourite town in the Adelaide hills? What do you think of the new development in Mount Barker? Would you live there? Feel free to leave a comment.
The Court house at 37 Hutchinson st dates back to 1865 and reflects the importance of Mt. Barker as a centre of early policing in the area. Renovations were completed in 1984 after the Magistrates refused to work in the existing conditions. Image by writer.
I love the "old bits of Mt Barker lovely old buildings , not keen on the housing development , they don't need KFC or HJ they have Mc Donald's that's enough for one area . Strathalbyn is a beautiful little town I hope they don't ruin that one also . I do realise suburbia is spreading and the population growing .
I absolutely agree that Mt Barker was a glorious little town, the high street could be stunning, certainly could rival Stirling. Unfortunately Mt Barker is also home to a lot of bogans, so I can't see this ever happening. The new housing is cheap and won't attract quality residents, so the downward slide will continue unless the council can find a way to attract a broader demographic to the area. The commercial development is a mess. On the plus side, it's probably a great place for a KFC/HJ franchise. A large Westfield would probably help, although how to find developers willing to invest in the high street is a challenge. Perhaps Nairne is the dark horse? it's also a sweet one-horse town than could do with a refurb.
We lived in the area for 35 years. Because of the development and its effects on the community we left. We are now at Doonan partly because of the wonderful local council who have dis-amalgamated from a council with similar aspirations to Mt Barker's council.
Love Mt. Barker, and yes population is growing, but the housing 'development' is an outdated concept - the govt. & council should have required the design of them to to be more than straight lines,with the houses looking all the same (there's the line of a song in there....little houses on the hillside.....) with more housing for the wildlife, a more
'natural'look. Who wants to tour the hills and see the same 'burbs as on the plains? Sad.