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Wilmington - The Town that Stands Still

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by Steve Hudson (subscribe)
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Published May 25th 2017
Time passes by, ever so slowly
It doesn't take long as you wander down the main street of Wilmington to form an impression, an impression built upon images of beautiful stoned buildings, a wide street, the odd caravan and an occasional tourist. Unlike some former railway towns that lose their identity and become ghost towns, Wilmington is probably best referred to as the town that stands still.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Wilmington Entrance Mural - Steve Hudson


Built on the cross roads of the main east-west and north-south roads, Wilmington was founded in the 1850's after a few years of particularly good rains when the countryside was green, and the view was beautiful. In fact the early European settlers named the area the Beautiful Valley, and were aghast when Governor Musgrave officially named the town Wilmington in 1876.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Main Street - Steve Hudson


Like most towns the early buildings were hotels with the Roundwood Hotel being built in the early 1860's to service the passing Cobb and Co coaches. A few years later the Globe Hotel (now known as the Wilmington Hotel) was built complete with stables at the rear for passing horses.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Wilmington Hotel - Steve Hudson


At the turn of the century, railways were being extended throughout the state to provide alternative and more economic transport options, and in 1915 the northern narrow guage line was extended through Melrose to Wilmington thus opening up the town for passenger and freight. However this was not to last as the standardisation of rail lines in the 1960s saw the relevance of this narrow gauge line disappear and it closed in 1969.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Information Shelter - Steve Hudson


The 1960s was also the time that the people of Wilmington had an idea for an annual event, the Wilmington Night Rodeo. Held at the oval just north of the town, the rodeo is now one of the most popular events on the Wilmington events calendar and sees visitors arrive from across Australia to participate in and watch this unique event.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Historical Rodeo Signs - Steve Hudson


The Wilmington Heritage Trail is a short and interesting walk around the town where the aged signs provide background material to the history of the town including the old flour mill, the billiards room, the butchers, the churches and the numerous small shops that were once busy destinations for locals, some of which are now empty store fronts.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Catholic Church - Steve Hudson


Two shops which have adopted new lives are the Sansouci Puppet Museum, and the Wilmington Toy Museum. The Puppet Museum is Australia's largest with over 1,000 puppets on display, while the Toy Museum which, aside from displaying many toys from yesteryear, also has a number of rare and unique Land Rovers, Jeeps and Range Rovers in various stages of restoration.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Wilmington Toy Museum - Steve Hudson


Walking trails near the town include the short Mt Maria walking trail, starting from the near the centre of town, where views of the town and surrounding districts are attained. Meanwhile a bit further south the beautiful Alligator Gorge and the Mt Remarkable National Park are key attractors to hikers on the Heysen Trail, and various tourists seeking a glimpse of these ranges within the Southern Flinders.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Mt Maria - Steve Hudson


Cyclists are also welcome in the town with the Mawson Trail passing through on its long and winding route north, while the former rail line south to Melrose has been converted into a Rail Trail suitable for cyclists of all ages.

Wilmington Heritage Trail, Mawson Trail, Heysen Trail, Mt Maria Trail, Horrocks Pass, Alligator Gorge, Wilmington Rodeo, Wilmington Hotel, Stony Creek Bush Camp, Beautiful Valley
Street Art - Steve Hudson


Wilmington is 290km north of Adelaide and is serviced by two caravan parks and the Wilmington Hotel, and remains a stopover point for travellers heading east-west or those travelling to or from the Flinders Ranges. Meals are available at the hotel or at the newly opened cafe / opportunity shop while groceries and other supplies are available at the hardware store. Further information is available from the information shelter in the Main Street or from the Southern Flinders Ranges Tourism website.
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Why? A town standing still
When: Anytime
Where: Wilmington, South Australia
Cost: Free
Your Comment
I've never come across a stoned building before :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|10883) 387 days ago
Great article. The Wilmington Hotel was originally where Hitch's Auto Garage is, and name transferred to the globe when the Wilmington disappeared.
On the corner Horrocks Pass and Gunyah road was the Beautiful Valley Hotel and sale yards which also disappeared. Dav Wingrove. Wilmington.
by wingr (score: 0|2) 386 days ago
Lived there as a child loved every moment
by john. (score: 0|6) 386 days ago
I lived there as a child as well and some wonderful memories. I now need to go up there and have a look! I remember Hitches Auto Garage and Spaeths butchers?
by mborl (score: 0|2) 384 days ago
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