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Urrbrae House, Waite Arboretum, Waite Conservation Reserve

Home > Adelaide > Family | Free | Gardens | Historic Houses
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published September 18th 2015
Don't wait to be invited - you are always welcome
Urrbrae Precinct

Within a short drive of the city of Adelaide (around 5.6 kms south-east) lies the leafy suburb of Urrbrae, which was originally established in the early 1850's and named by Robert Forsyth MacGeorge, after the village of Urr in Scotland.

The "brae" part of the name is a Scottish word meaning hillside, especially near a creek or river.

A visit to Urrbrae House and surrounding gardens is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon and at the same time learn about the Waite family and the legacy handed on to the University of Adelaide.

The first thing you notice as you drive in off Fullarton Road is the massive expansive of land allocated as part of the Urrbrae Precinct.

Apart from the house, the land which has remained unsubdivided since 1839, comprises the Waite Arboretum, which occupies 30 hectares and the Waite Conservation Reserve, located in the Adelaide Hills face area, comprising an additional 147 hectares.

Urrbrae House
Urrbrae House from Rose Garden

History and Background

Robert MacGeorge had originally built an estate on the land, which was then bought by Peter Waite in the 1870's after assistance from Thomas Elder.

A "new" house was then built by the Waites on the current site in 1891 and was occupied by them right up until Peter Waite and his wife Matilda's death in 1922.

The following year, the house was handed over to the University of Adelaide by Waite's two daughters and since that time, the land has been utilised as a campus for the Uni, where the Waite Agricultural Research Institute was established and with it, experimental gardens and reserves.

The house itself today is an accredited museum with both History SA and the University of Adelaide and has been well preserved.

Urrbrae House
Urrbrae House c 1890 Source: State Library of South Australia 14454

Tours of the House

There are several options for tours, one of which is a self-guided tour around the house, which gives visitors the opportunity to experience what life would have been like in a grand house such as this one back in the 1890's.

Each room visited has laminated interpretation sheets which give you a great summary of the use of the room and additional information about the family and associated history.

Did you know that it is believed that Urrbrae House was the first house in Adelaide to have electricity installed as well as containing the first domestic refrigeration plant in Australia in 1895?

From the upstairs area containing the Main Hall, the Drawing Room, the beautiful Dining Room and two exhibition rooms right through to the downstairs area comprising the Ballroom, the Library, Billiard Room, School Room and Refrigeration Plant, you can't help but be almost over-whelmed by the grandeur of the house.

The house also features an elaborate bell system for summoning the servants back in the 1800's and early 1900's.

The great thing about the self-guided tours is that they are free to the public and the house is open from 10 am to 4 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, subject to other University activities at the site.

The other options for tours include a guided tour by an experienced trained professional and these occur on the first Sunday of the month at 2 pm and usually the tour takes just over an hour.

For this year, there are two remaining Sunday tours available, one on 4th October and the other on 1st November 2015.

In addition during the School Holidays, the good news is there are free tours also running at 11 am on Monday 28 September, Thursday 1 October and Thursday 8 October.

Urrbrae House
Dining Room

School Groups Tours

The other valuable program which is run at Urrbrae House is tours for school groups, which provides an excellent backdrop and resource for the students to learn about history and re-live South Australian life in the nineteenth century.

Staff dress up in period costume and play a role in the house, anything from servants through to the master and lady of the house, whilst the students are being hosted, and tell the story of the Waite family.

Time is spent during one part of the tour in the school-room complete with slates and writing implements, hosted by a school mistress.

Complete with morning and afternoon teas, by the time the student leaves the house, their experience is described as having stepped back in time and gained some insight into how a child their age would have lived around the 1890's.

Group Tours

The final option for tours are group tours which cater for around 15 people or more and need to be booked in advance at a cost of around $8.80 per person.

Urrbrae House
Floral Display in House

Urrbrae House Gardens

Access is also available to the magnificent gardens surrounding the house which today features the Twentieth Century Rose Garden, the Sensory Garden, the Garden of Discovery as well as the Outdoor Sculpture area.

For example the rose garden features around 2,000 species and varieties of roses representing each decade of the twentieth century. With Spring now upon us, the flowers should be in bloom very shortly which will provide a spectacular show of colour.

Waite Arboretum

With over 2,300 specimens on display within a 30 hectare area, there are representatives from many species and genuses of plants including eucalypts, palms, pears and oaks.

You can also almost immerse yourself in a never ending sea of flora examples on display.

Guided tours are also available of this area on the first Sunday of each month in which the tour goes for around 90 minutes.

Experimental vineyards have also been planted overlooking the skyline of the city of Adelaide and make an excellent backdrop.

Urrbrae House
Urrbrae House from Arboretum

Waite Conservation Reserve

The 147 hectare site in the Adelaide Hills face zone is purely designed for conservation purposes as well as the furthering of scientific knowledge by the University.

Hundreds of species of native plants are grown in the reserve and the reserve is also home to many native animal species, including Kangaroos, Koalas and Echidnas.

The conservation reserve is open every day from dawn to dusk apart from fire ban days designated in the metropolitan area.

Urrbrae House
Part of Gardens surrounding House


Amazing to think all of this is available at such a short distance away from the city for the public to enjoy.

Further details can be obtained from the excellent website pertaining to the Waite Historic Precinct -

Urrbrae House
Experimental Vineyards in Waite Historical Precinct
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Why? An opportunity to see an historic precinct close to the city of Adelaide
When: Days and times detailed in website
Phone: Urrbrae House 08 8313 7497
Where: Walter Young Avenue, Urrbrae SA
Cost: Free for all tours apart from group tours of 15 people or more
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