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Published October 22nd 2017
The Slate Capital of South Australia
The weekly Farmers Market is an icon in the southern town of Willunga, and people come from near and far to attend. After parking my car towards the top of High Street, I hopped out and marvelled at the beauty of some newly laid slate kerbing, somewhat of a surprise. A glance to the left and I noticed the Slate Museum and some signs. A quick Google on the smartphone, and up pops the Willunga Slate Trail. I didn't need much encouragement and I was off on this slight detour through the town of Willunga en-route to the Farmers Market.
I quickly learned that Edward Loud was wondering around some Willunga lands in 1840 when he discovered an outcrop of slate. It was early days in South Australia and natural resources / building materials were in much demand, and this discovery became significant. A village ensued, quarries and businesses were formed, workers and their families flocked to the area, and the town of Willunga was on its way.
The demand for slate was national and sea transport was the only economic way for it to be moved, a mode which required the construction of a new jetty at Port Willunga. At one point in the 1870's, the jetty had 20,000 roofing slates passing over it each week, a phenomenal number for such a specialised material. However like most jetties, their use declined with the introduction of road and rail, and for some like Port Willunga, continual storm damage have seen them become a skeleton of what they once were.
But back to the township of Willunga, a town that itself was desirous of building materials, and with an enormous supply within reach it made sense for the slate to be used in many ways. The Slate Museum was the former Courthouse and Police Station, buildings which show two of the more traditional uses of slate as a roofing material and part of a retaining wall. Just behind the buildings and outside the former stables are two square rain water tanks made entirely from slate, both highlighting its ability to hold water.
The unique features of sheeted slate make it ideal for shaping, often a requirement when manufacturing and carving headstones. And with the supply nearby it is not surprising to note the presence of slate headstones within the St Joseph's Catholic Church Cemetery and the Cemetery alongside the Wesleyan Church.
By far the most common use of slate within the town was on the rooves, particularly the rooves of the local quarry workers or the quarry owners. St Mary's Street at the southern end of town features a number of slate rooves that once belonged to quarry workers, while St Andrews Terrace saw some larger homes built including the 'House of Slate' that was built in 1925 for the Manager of the Australia Slate Quarry Company.
The versatility, flexibility and adaptability of slate as a building resource is further enhanced by its use as window sills, side panes, pavers, garage walls, fences, columns, chimneys, floors, mantelpieces and fireplaces amongst many of the homes and businesses in the town. Slate also makes an appearance as part of the roadside gutter on Old Willunga Hill, while also newly appearing as kerbing along High Street.
The Willunga Slate Trail is a 4km loop around the township of Willunga highlighting the use of slate within the town. Brochures for the Trail are available online, or from the Slate Museum or from the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Visitor Information Centre.
Interesting article with great information and photos. I love slate to next time I'm at the market I'll look more closely.
The editor in me wants to point out that the plural of roof is roofs (I know it doesn't follow the rules).