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Published August 6th 2013
Find tranquility on the freeway
The Tranquil Railway Dam in Totness Recreation Park
Google it and you're just as likely to get Totnes in Devon (UK) as the Totness in Adelaide. And if you drive nearby, about the only evidence of its existence you will find is Totness Road, although somehow Totness managed to scrape a Wikipedia page from some proud inhabitant.
It's hardly surprising then that the Totness Recreation Park is almost as illusory as the town it is named for. It doesn't even seem to get a web page from the Department of Environment (and whatever else they are called today), but luckily it does have a management plan - presumably they haven't completed lost the park.
A Hollowed Gum Tree Stands Sentinel in the Recreation Park
Luckily I had done some groundwork before setting out to see it, as there were no signs on the Mount Barker Road to advertise its location. Wikipedia saved the day with a good description of the Park, and I turned onto Milne Street adjacent to prominent signage for Frank Walsh Drilling (no relation!).
The narrow road was barely wide enough for two vehicles, and soon ended at the entrance to Totness Recreation Park. There is no room to turn an the end on the road, and the turning loop is so boggy that a 4 wheel drive is needed to get through. It's best to park about 50 metres before the park entrance where the road is wider.
From the gate the park looked quite heavily wooded and there were no signs, so I followed the widest trail walking down the hill. It was clay soil and a little slippery, but not difficult going. It wasn't long before I glimpsed water through the trees, and had my first sight of the old South Australian Railways railway dam.
A Glimpse of the Railway Dam that Once Serviced Steam Engines in Mount Barker
Built in 1884, the dam was used to provide the water essential to steam engines travelling to Victor Harbour, with the water being piped to the Mount Barker station. It also provided water for the town's inhabitants until the Mannum-Adelaide pipeline was commissioned. Apparently these days it is used for fishing for Redfin Perch, although there were no anglers or other visitors while I was there.
SteamRanger Steam Engine 621 at Mount Barker Recently
While steam engines from SteamRanger still operate from Mount Barker, I don't think water from the railway dam is used by them any longer.
Near the bottom of the hill the sound of frogs croaking eclipsed the background rumble of freeway traffic - presumably a good sign that the water is fairly clean and unpolluted. It's quite rare to find frogs in the metropolitan area now, so pleasing that they have some refuge.
A boardwalk lets visitors avoid walking through boggy areas at the edge of the lake as you come close to the freeway, where traffic noise is fairly loud. A stormwater pipe here is the sole connection between the north and south sections of the park. There is a locked gate which presumably allows entry to the park in case of fire.
Walking further around the lake reveals a concrete structure rising from the lake, which is where water would have been drawn off the be piped to Mount Barker.
While there was birdlife around, they were clever enough to fly under my camera's radar, but I was content to enjoy the reflections in the still water of the railway dam. My dog found plenty to smell, but koalas and other animals remained elusive as ever.
I imagine this place would be particularly nice on a hot summer day - the heavily wooded areas provide plenty of shade, and there would be a cooling effect from the water.
Unfortunately there are no facilities at all in the park, no seats, barbeques or toilets, not even directional signs. Probably people who come here for fishing are not bothered, but it is not really a place for a picnic with children.
The Return Path Around the Railway Dam Was More Narrow
It is a pleasant place for a walk if you are in the area, and dog friendly as long as you keep the dog on leash. A place to escape from Mount Barker now that it has become a bustling regional centre, and see some nature. Just don't expect to lose the traffic noise!
We love Totness Park. There are fallen trees that provide seats while we enjoy our picnic by the lakeside. Haven’t seen any animals but there are birds. We like it rough ; no facilities means less people. Thanks for the history lesson in your article.