Housed in the stables of the old courthouse and police station complex, Willunga Slate Museum tells the story of slate mining in the hills behind the township as well as the Cornish miners who did this dangerous work. An outcrop of slate was discovered in 1840 and quarries were opened soon after. A village was also established to accommodate the quarrymen.
Slate rainwater tank
By 1870, the slate industry had well and truly developed with more than a hundred workers shipping out tens of thousands of roofing slates each week. Slate was adapted and ingeniously used for all sorts of purposes including roofs, floors, paves, fences, water tanks, garden walls, mantelpieces and gravestones. Examples of these varied uses can still be seen in multiple spots around town today. Just download the map and follow the trail to see them.
Slate trimming machine
The first point of interest is the slate museum itself, located at the top end of High Street. A slate rainwater tank stands proudly outside while a collection of slate working tools are on display inside. The slate trimming machine was used to trim slate roofing tiles. The wheelbarrow was used in transportation, with slates packed upright to prevent breakage. Various types of tools were also used by the quarry blacksmith to make and repair equipment.
The slate industry is not without its tragedies though. Sadly, in 1936, two men were killed while working on a 15-metre high cracked rock face. Six hundred tonnes of rock slid and overwhelmed both father and son. Although the accident occurred before they had lunch, the men's bodies were only discovered later that evening by their son/brother.
In all my years living in Adelaide, I was not aware of this part of South Australia's history. I definitely learned a fair bit that day when I visited the National Trust site. Willunga Slate Museum is open from 1pm to 4pm monthly on Tuesdays and Sundays. More information can be found on their website.
The stables of the old courthouse and police station complex
An very interesting and informative article Audrey. Visiting a slate museum may not be on everyone's bucket list, perhaps just on a pail list. It is nice to see museums like the slate museum recording local history.