Mount Barker - Our Hills History (By P. W.)

Extract from The Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser - Thursday 4 October 1951

It was not until 1839 that activities and interest developed and the Mount Barker area widened as it were, the people becoming involved in some of the industries possible in the Mount Barker township and in those of nearby districts when roadways linked up one settlement with another.  Bullocks as a means of transport were slow but strong, and until about a quarter of a century ago Mr. Tom Milligan still hauled logs of wood from the other side of the Mount with a bullock team and waggon.  It took about four days in the old times to transport by such means a load from Mount Barker to Adelaide.

The township of Mount Barker was surveyed and cut up into acre and half-acre allotments with reserves for schools and churches.  At first there were only two people in Mount Barker: they were Mr. John Gloag and Mr. Warner.  The latter afterwards had a farm and kept cows and horses.  The population gradually increased until, in ten years there were 819 people in the district who had to be fed and clothed.  The ladies wore long dresses with bustles, crinolines and panniers: the men bowler hats, moleskin trousers and boyangs and swallow-tail coats: the boys, shorts, three quarter trousers till they left school.  Such were the garbs of these pioneers who paved the way and provided those who moulded the infant nation of Australia when the gateway of the Southern Hemisphere had opened.

One of the first industries started was the flour mill, food being the main problem.  A mill was erected about a mile and a half from the town on Windmill Hill, but it did not work very well so they started another.  The mill was built in 1842 by a Mr. Nixen.  Over a period of 86 years it was sold to different people, and in 1928 was donated to the public by a Mr. Braendler and is now an historical land mark of great interest and sentiment to many a passer-by and is pointed out to tourists as they pass in the modern means of transport of the present times.

The other flour mill was built by Mr. Dunn in 1845, and known as Dunn's Flourmill.  It was worked by wind and steam.  Up to that time there were no bakers.  The women baked the bread into shape with a fire top and bottom.   After a time there came the old brick oven, and there is still one in Hender's old house which is still in use and well over 100 years old.  Then came the camp oven, an iron one with three legs and a lid.  These are still in use and one there is that baked the best bread ever.  The old mill is not used for milling wheat now, but gives service in the Tannery for drying glue.  Mr. Dunn lived in a wattle and daub hut when he first came to the township.  He lived to an old age and died in 1894.  The mill is situated in Cameron road.  It has a great wooden wheel to mark its historical and sentimental value to the town.

The Tannery is also situated in Cameron road, opposite the mill.  It was about the third industry in Mount Barker and was established in 1864, being then owned by Messrs. Sam and Tom Paltridge.  At that time there were but three men working there, viz, Messrs Harry Bugg, Ellis and Harrop.  In those early days plenty of wattle trees were available for use in the tannery.  About two years ago it was burnt down and at present is being rebuilt as one of the most up-to-date factories of the type.  It is situated on two or three acres of land and electricity is generated on the site where glue is manufactured and the hides tanned into leather.  There are now some seventy men engaged and the trade is large, but wattle bark is not so plentiful as it used to be and the bark has to be purchased elsewhere at present.

In the old days, as has been stated, the transport was by bullock waggon and a journey to Adelaide and back occupied about six days, but today, with the motor lorries the time has been cut to five hours with a load of leather.  So here's to the emblem of South Australia — the golden wattle, for the wattle tree is fast dying out owing to the sheep and cattle killing the young trees and no one cultivating them.

The foundry was the next industry and it was started in Commercial road in about 1851 by a Mr. Ramsay, who made ploughs and harrows and all kinds of farm Implements and household irons.  Some of the irons he made are built in McMahon's place across the railway line and there are Ramsay shields at the back of the fireplaces.  There are those who state that in the old days there might be seen ploughs, harrows, binders and rakes half way down Commercial road.  Part of the wall of the old foundry still stands on Mr. J. Walsh's place where it was used for manufacturing tyres for the wheels of the now ancient equipment.  The foundry employed, about sixty men, some of whom started foundaries of their own.

A Mr. Salmon had one by the station.  In those days there were few reapers and strippers and every inch of the land had to be cleared before any method of farming could be engaged in and the work was all done by hand.  In about 1875 Mr. Champion produced a mower to cut the hay for the farmers.  In 1884 the stripper which John Wrathal Bull had invented and Ridley put into practice had made everything connected with such labor easier, but not as perfect as it is today.