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The Historic Salisbury Waterwheel

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by Kat May (subscribe)
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Published September 27th 2015
This town was built on dust, sweat and oranges
Within the city of Salisbury in Adelaide's northern suburbs there are parklands along the banks of the Little Para River. These are Carisbrooke Park, Pioneer Park and Pitman Park. These three parks extend for some distance and are linked with walking and bicycle tracks, making this area a peaceful place to get some exercise or simply relax. These parks look very modern with barbeque areas, playgrounds and bitumen paths and indeed they have seen much development since the 1960s. Many people would be unaware of the history of these parks, from when the area was first populated by European settlers in the 1840s.

water wheel salisbury adelaide
The water wheel is housed in this stone building for protection. Image by the writer.

In 1847 John Harvey, a young Scotsman who had newly immigrated and worked hard in the area at the Old Spot Hotel. I imagine him taking a "smoko break" and looking out at the land from the pub, or walking along the river and perhaps even checking the quality of the soil. He was an enterprising young man, so he decided upon purchasing 80 acres of land along the river and where the town centre of Salisbury stands today. You can read more about John Harvey in my article here.

After selling off half acre allotments in the new township of Salisbury, the river area soon became more populated. Farms and a thriving citrus industry developed with many farms producing mainly oranges on the rich alluvial river soil. Further back on the river flats other orchards were planted such as lemons, stone fruit and grapevines. The district also had a wheat, hay and dairy industry, however it was oranges that was the main product in Salisbury for around 100 years. You need to remember that this was all before the dam in the Williamstown area we have today for additional water supply. The river would have had a good supply of water back then, and was not the creek as it looks like today.

Little Para River, Water Wheel Museum
The Little Para River as it looks at present day. Image by

Salisbury orange industry
Adelaide once had a thriving orange industry.

Agriculture sustained the district for well over 100 years but then after after the second world war the citrus industry declined and most farms were gone by the mid 1950s and into the 1960s. As this area is a natural flood plain it cannot be built upon ,so the whole stretch of land has been turned into parklands. The last big flood was in 2010. During the redevelopment of this area the old water wheel was found and it was decided to save the mangled wreck of metal as it was a historic link to the farms of the olden days.

Salisbury Water Wheel, Adelaide
Visitors viewing the historic information on the wall inside the building. Image copyright by the writer.

The water wheel was commissioned by Frederick Heinrich Kuhlmann, owner of the Old Spot Inn in 1899, some 50 years after Harvey worked there. He had a 30 acre orange grove and market garden nearby. He contracted a local blacksmith, Mr Lee to build the water wheel which pumped water to Kuhlman's private dam. The wheel stopped being used in the 1940s. The wheel had buckets that collected the water as it spun around.

It now has a home in a small museum which features the restored wheel. The wheel has been placed in a stone surrounding and when the operator turns it on you can see the water spinning around. The walls have information of the history of the orange industry and historic photographs. The project was a joint effort between the City of Salisbury, Rotary International, Salisbury & District Historical Society and local businesses. It opened in its new home in the stone hut in 1986. The water wheel is opened to the public on two Sundays per month, and operated by the Salisbury Historical Society. They also run heritage walking tours for groups.

You will find the water wheel in Pioneer Park on Commercial Road past the hotel. There is plenty of parking out front and not far to walk from train station and the Parabanks shopping precinct.

Water Wheel Salisbury Adelaide
The water wheel in full motion spinning water around thanks to restoration by volunteers. Image by the writer.

Salisbury Water Wheel, Adelaide
On the information boards inside the water wheel building you can see photos of how the wheel looked when it was rescued from the banks of the river in a dilapidated state many years ago. Image by the writer.

You can see the wheel from the window on the outside but it would be best to visit here on the opening day once a fortnight on a Sunday. Watching the wheel spinning around would be fun for kids to see as the water splashes all about the place. It would make an ideal stop on a cycle ride along the bike tracks or a picnic by the river. Pack some oranges in your picnic basket and tell the kids about the story of the days children played among the orange groves along the Little Para River.

Salisbury Water Wheel, Adelaide
Saved from the ravages of time and possibly the scrap heap to show us how water was pumped in the old days. Image by the writer.

Wouldn't it be nice if Salisbury had plantings of attractive orange trees around the suburb in respect to the past citrus industry of the early pioneers. Image by PD Pics on
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Why? Fascinating and free fun.
When: Open on the first and third Sundays 2-4pm, but not open on long weekends.
Phone: Enquiries to Terry Sloan on 82583154 may need to leave a message.
Where: Pioneer Park, Salisbury.
Cost: Free
Your Comment
I never knew about this, thanks.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 2175 days ago
I wish I'd known about these parks when I was last in Adelaide.

For thise who'd like to visit, more precise addresses are:
Pioneeer and Pitman Parks are located on Commercial Road, Salisbury, (The Parabanks Shopping Centre is nearby.) The parks are dissected by Commercial Road.
Carisbrook Reserve is Main North Road, Salisbury (near Coppleridge Drive)
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|8261) 2174 days ago
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