Adelaide Hills - Towns, People, and Things We Ought to Know

Source:  SA History Newspaper Articles

The reader is advised that these "Chronicle" articles were first published in 1932-1937 primarily as light reading / entertainment and cannot in any way be considered to be scholarly. You are advised to independently check the veracity of the content, as no sources have been cited.

Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this text may contain names and images of deceased people.  Readers should also be aware that certain words, terms or descriptions may be culturally insensitive and would almost certainly be considered inappropriate today, but may have reflected the author’s/creator’s attitude or that of the period in which they were written.

#40  - Mount Barker (part 1 of 2)

#41  -  Mount Barker (part 2 of 2)

#57  -  Meadows (part 1 of 2)

#58  -  Meadows (part 2 of 2)

#59  -  Echunga (part 1 of 2)

#60  -  Echunga (part 2 of 2)

#61  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Crafers and Mt Lofty

#62  -  Aldgate, Stirling, Mylor, Scotts Creek

#63  -  Hahndorf  (Ambleside)

#64  -  Balhannah

#65  -  Woodside

#66  -  Lobethal (Tweedvale)

Towns, People, and Things We Ought To Know  -   No 40 Mount Barker

By Our Special Representative, No. XL  -  Extract From Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954) dated 23 March 1933

In The South Australian Highlands  -  Mt. Barker's Picturesque and Important Centre

South Australia was not much more than three years old when Duncan McFarlane and his partners established the town of Mt. Barker.  In this article you not only make the acquaintance of the dour old Scotsman, but you get an insight into some of the very primitive conditions which existed when Adelaide was little more than a village, and Mt. Barker merely a scattered settlement in the Highland wilds. 

When you begin to look into the history of Mount Barker you are liable to receive several shocks.  You find your confidence shaken — if you ever had any — in your knowledge of the State, and you find out lots of things which you never knew before.  You discover, for instance, that Mount Barker as a name is older by years than Adelaide, that it figured on the early maps long before that little known but historic incident when the Royal William, exercising one of his prerogatives, vetoed the name of the conqueror of Napoleon, and, with his own Royal hand, substituted that of his queen for the capital city of South Australia.  That incident, of course, has nothing to do with Mount Barker, but having told you so much, I may as well give the full story. 

Naming Of Adelaide 

When, in 1834, the British Parliament passed the Act under which the province of South Australia was established, it was the powerful influence of the Duke of Wellington that was finally responsible for the victory — for victory it was in the face of a strong opposition.  In the beginning of the campaign to create what was then a purely experimental province, Wellington was opposed to the scheme.  But he was won over by the genius of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and after that his strenuous advocacy was appreciably, if not entirely, responsible for the measure becoming law.  In recognition of the part played by the Duke in securing the passage of the Bill, under which South Australia was founded, it was decided by those promoting the colony to give the capital city the name of Wellington.  But when the document containing this name was put before the King for his signature he struck out Wellington and substituted Adelaide, the name of his consort.  When that interesting episode occurred Mount Barker already figured on the maps of the southern portion of Australia, for it was in 1831 that Sturt named the peak after his comrade in the 39th Regiment of Foot — Captain Collet Barker

About Captain Barker 

Ask any school boy or girl in South Australia who Captain Barker was, and you will get a ready reply — "The man who explored the Murray mouth, and was murdered by the blacks."  You and I, when we were kids, rapped out that reply just as our youngsters do today.  But has it ever struck you how few of us have ever gone beyond that elementary stage of knowledge of this great Englishman?  Neither our school books nor our local histories carry us much farther.  Yet it seems to me there was a connecting link between Barker's earlier experiences and his death — and that link was his implicit trust in the natives.  Let me tell you the story of Raffles Bay, and you will see what I mean. 

If you take a map of Australia and find the Cobourg Peninsula, at the extreme north of the Northern Territory, you will see a place called Raffles Bay.  In 1828 there was a small settlement there, established by the Government with the idea of fostering trade with the neighboring archipelago.  The blacks of Raffles Bay had a particular reputation for fierceness — they were close neighbors to the notorious Melville Islanders.  It was to this place, sometime in 1828, that Barker, then 44 years of age, was appointed as commandant.  I don't suppose any Governor could be faced with a more heart-breaking set of conditions than was Barker on taking up his new post.  The small community was full of complaints, especially about the unhealthy climate and the ferocity of the blacks.  Barker set himself to overcome these obstacles.  And he did.  He planted trees and grew vegetables.  This policy cured the unhealthiness.  He cultivated friendly relations with the blacks.  He went about amongst them, won their confidence, and finally their friendship.  Fearless to an extreme, he moved about alone in country where no white man was supposed to be safe.  The colony began to prosper.  But, unfortunately, before the authorities heard of the miracle that had been wrought at Raffles Bay they decided to abandon the settlement, with one or, two others that had proved failures.  So all Barker's work went for naught. 

From Raffles Bay he was transferred as commandant to King George's Sound (W.A.).  It was while he was serving in this position that he was ordered by Governor Darling, then exercising jurisdiction over the whole continent, to proceed to Lake Alexandrina, and from there to trace the Murray to its outlet.  That portion of the country was terra incognita.  Sturt had come down the Murray as far as the lake, but had not ascertained where it emptied into the sea. 

So Barker, Kent, and a few soldiers took ship for Yankalilla.  They worked to Mount Lofty, which they climbed.  There was, of course, no South Australia then — just a vast expanse of unknown, virgin country, teeming with equally unknown dangers.  Then, striking out for the river, they followed it to the sea.  Your schoolboy can supply the rest of the tragic tale.  Barker wanted some observations taken from a sandhill on the other side of the river.  None of the others in the party could swim, so he went across himself.  He was last seen as he disappeared over the rise. 

It was 'Fireball' Bates, of whom I told you a week or two ago who cleared up the mystery of Barker's death.  Barker was speared by the blacks, and the body hidden in the bush.  Some accounts, I know, say it was thrown into the river.  But the point is immaterial.  What does emerge is that Barker trusted the blacks as he had trusted them at Raffles Bay.  But he had made no allowance for the black men's resentment of the wrongs they had suffered at the hands of the Kangaroo Island sealing gangs.  Barker paid for them with his life — another murder due to the pirates across Backstairs Passage. 

Battle Of Windmill Hill

Hundreds of travellers on the Mount Barker road pass the old mill on Windmill Hill every day.  Thousands more know it well. It is close to the road, about midway between Mount Barker and Ambleside.  But how many know that it marks the site of a terrific battle some time in the forties between the Mount Barker and Encounter Bay tribes I will tell you the story of the mill presently.  Just now I want to say something about the fight. 

It occured while Walter Patterson was the owner of the old-fashioned tower.  For a long time the blacks of Encounter Bay had been nursing a grudge against the Mount Barker tribe.  Eventually the yearn to spill their rivals' blood became so overpowering that they sallied forth, armed with spears and waddies, and a copious supply of native profanity, to "take it out of the hides" of the dusky gentlemen of the mount.  But the warriors of the heights heard them coming, and they, too, went forth in the latest fashion of warpaint, and without the latest edition of Marquis of Queensberry rules.  The rivals met on the hill where the old mill, at that time in its early in fancy, worked away oblivious of such trifling matters as life and death and dusky warfare.  There was such shouting of defiant epithets one morning early that Patterson peered out of the window of his hut to see what it was all about.  He saw large bodies of whirling black activity engaged in the playful game of trying to pin each other to gum trees like a collector pins butterflies in a specimen case.  Getting his wife and children together, he hurried them over to the mill, where he locked them in, bidding them stay there quietly until he came to release them.  Then, with a couple of other men, he walked over to the battlefield to inform the combatants that it was "bad form" to use his property for the purpose of sending each other to Kingdom Come.  He might have saved himself the trouble.  Those ebony sons of the soil were too intent on breaking the sixth commandment (Anglican version, please) to pay much attention to a couple of unarmed whites.  So Patterson and Co. had to sit about idly while the colored disputants continued the argument.  But not for long.  Rumors of the impending trouble had reached the long ears of authority.  While Biljim of Encounter Bay was telling Biljim, of Mount Barker, exactly the disgraceful sort of thing his ancestry was, a squad of troopers, with drawn swords, dashed over the rise, and the niggers scattered for cover like a flock of mice for their holes when puss puts in an appearance.  The troopers got hold of the ringleaders, made them swear friendship for the rest of their lives, and told them what would happen to them if they forgot it.  So the Great War ended.  That was nearly 90 years ago. 

Story Of The Mill 

The Old Mill on Windmill Hill, around which a native battle was fought in the early days.With the exception of Dunn's mill at Hay Valley (Nairne) this old structure on Windmill Hill is the oldest of its kind in the State.  To save the snorts of indignation which I can sense arising within what ever portion of the mental anatomy of our local historians is given to sporting, let me explain.  I said the oldest mill of its kind.  I am aware that Ridley's mill at Hindmarsh was the first mill in the State, and that Dr. Kent established the next in Rundle street.  But both those ventures were steam mills.  The Hay Valley mill, which preceded the Windmill Hill grindery, was the first wind mill.  Also, it was the first mill of any sort outside the metropolitan area.  Hay Valley mill was built in 1841, and the one on Windmill Hill in 1842.  This article deals with Windmill Hill.

The man who built the mill was F. R. Nixon.  Ninety years have almost obliterated records of this man.  I can tell you very little about him, and that little may or may not be correct.  I don't know.  I was told he was a surveyor and came out with Colonel Light.  But his name does not appear in the incomplete records of the Rapid.  It seems certain that he surveyed the section on which the mill stands, and later purchased it from the Government.  That was in '41, and in '42 he built the mill.  Whether he worked it or leased it to someone else I cannot say.  All that I know is that Walter Patterson purchased it, with twelve acres of land, outbuildings, machinery, gear, "rights, members, and appurtenances thereto" for £220 in 1844.  Here is its history in microscopic form: — 

  • 1842 — Built by Nixon.
  • 1844 — Sold to Patterson.
  • 1853 — Bought by F. W. Whittwer.
  • 1864 — Ceased operations.
  • 1928 — Presented to the public by Mr. A. E. Braendler, and placed under the control of the Mount Barker District Council. 

Hay Valley 

Having referred to the Hay Valley mill as the first windmill in the State, I suppose I ought to say a word or two about it. though I understand it is now simply a ruin.  The erection of a mill today might seem a trifling affair.  In the forties, however, it was a national event.  The circumstance was thus recorded in the "South Australia" in 1842:— 

"Mr. John Dunn, near Nairne (who has been building a mill), has at length accomplished his object.  Now those who cleared the land, and sowed and reaped the wheat, are for the first time enjoying the produce of their labor ground into flour, perhaps within a mile of their own doors." 

The closing lines of the paragraph are significant.  They refer to the difficulties of the pioneers in obtaining flour at a time when they had to carry the wheat on their backs for miles over "impracticable mountainous tracks" to the city, and, after it had been turned into flour, carry it back to their homes.  The same paper refers to the valley (25 miles from town) is a "most remote district."  Today we cover the distance over a smooth bituminous road under an hour.  What would the people of 90 years ago have said if someone had told them that would happen? 

Commissioner Is Annoyed 

Talking of bituminous roads — They didn't know what they were in 1840.  In fact, these "outback" settlers of Mount Barker visited each other by following ill-defined tracks winding in and out between trees.  As for main roads — well, they existed, but only on plans.  They looked nice and easy, and straight, and level, just like those far northern — and not always too far north — arteries figuring on the Highway Commissioner's maps today, which raise your optimism above par when you sit down in the security of your den to study them, and submerge it below zero when you encounter them on intimate terms.  The main thoroughfares they had in the forties were covered with thick timber.  There were no electric head lights to warn you of unseen dangers as you moved about the country at night in your 1840 model bullock dray.  You just bumped into a handy stump or missed it — as Providence dictated.  And matters were not helped by the playful habit of the settlers in cutting down the trees for firewood, and leaving the stumps and litter on the highway for you to break your neck over. 

Only the other day I came across a letter written by Charles Sturt when he was acting Resident Commissioner, protesting against these idiosyncracies of the Mount Barker pioneers.  Dated November 20, 1840, it was addressed to ''Captain Francis Davison, J.P., Mount Barker."  This is what the great explorer and virtual creator of South Australia had to say on the subject: — 

"Sir - It having been reported to the Resident Commissioner that the settlers in the Mount Barker district are in the habit of cutting down the trees in the public roads for their use, and are leaving the stumps in the ground, thereby endangering the travelling of vehicles.  I am directed to request that you will cause it to be intimated to the inhabitants of the district that, unless they root out such trees as they may want for any domestic purpose, they will not be permitted to cut them down, and you will prevent them accordingly; but the Resident Commissioner has no objection to the settlers cutting down any timber they may want, provided they clear away the roots also." 

Ascent Of The Mount 

On Christmas Day, 1837, almost a year after the State was proclaimed, four pioneers — Robert Cock, William Finlayson, A. Wyatt, and G. Barton — set out to explore the country from Adelaide to the Murray, and thence to Lake Alexandrina.  These men climbed Mount Barker.  In the light of our knowledge of the country these days their experiences are worth sketching.  They took provisions for eight days, which they loaded on a packhorse.  The first day out they encountered "a curious spring, which had attained an elevation of about 4 ft. above the ground."  Here their troubles began. 

Crossing a "marshy ravine" - their horse stuck fast.  It took them four hours to get him out.  On Boxing Day they were making for Mount Barker through heavily timbered country.  Here they encountered a tree that had been struck by lightning.  That must have been some bolt.  Trees for many yards around showed evidence of the ill-treatment.  But the monarch which received the full force of the devastating "wireless" was "broken into thousands of pieces."  Some of these huge splinters, had been so deeply driven into the ground some 30 ft. away that the united strength of the explorers was unable to extract them.  But what mostly impressed the travellers was the fertility of the country, in which the kangaroo grass grew high, thick, and strong. 

On the third day they reached the foot of Mount Barker.  'The kangaroo grass," they reported, "grew almost to the very summit, and in many places it was breast high."  The timber was all blue gum of very large  size.  They saw many flocks of birds, but they wouldn't come low enough to be shot.  This is recorded as a grievance.  For my part, I am inclined to agree with the birds.  I know in my own case I prefer to be posted as missing when there is trouble brewing.  At 9 a.m. they began the climb.  They do not tell how long it took, but the ascent was "difficult, owing to the stony nature of its formation.  We climbed to the summit, and, had the day been clearer, we should have had an extensive view in all directions.  As it was, we saw Mount Lofty W. by N. 20 miles; Lake Alexandrina, S.E. by E., 30 miles; and sandhills (which we supposed to be the beach at Encounter Bay), 50 miles."   "Mount Barker consists of two parts, one of which is much higher than the other.  It was the highest one we ascended ...  We now descended Mount Barker, and travelled through a country which might justly be called the highlands of this part of the province." 

Race For A Station 

Fundamentally the history of Mount Barker differs little from the history of most South Australian towns; that is to say, it was a sheep station before it acquired urban status.  But what a sheep station!  Thousands of acres of some of the choicest land in the world!  It was in 1838 that two parties almost simultaneously cast eyes on this Land of Promise, and decided that it should be their own.  The first was John Barton Hack; the second, Duncan McFarlane and his partners (Captain John Finnis and William Hampton Dutton).  Then began a race to secure the special survey of 29,000 acres.  McFarlane won.  He beat Hack by about two hours Hack was beside himself with chagrin. 

Osmond Gilles, then Colonial Treasurer, taunted Hack with having lost his chance.  It was a cruel thing to do to a bitterly disappointed man.  Hack's chagrin turned to anger.  He accused Gilles of maladministration — of giving a receipt for the property before the total purchase money had been paid, and of himself being inte rested in the venture.  There was an angry scene.  Hack complained about the Treasurer to Governor Gawler.  But the Governor upheld his adviser.  Anyhow, McFarlane got the station.  It was said the money to purchase it was loaned to him by Thomas Walker, a wealthy resident of Sydney. 

Women As Shearers 

There are one or two features about that station which are worth recording.  One is that the first religious services in the district were held there under a large gum-tree by the Rev. Robert Haining, before a congregation which came in bullock drays from miles around.  This would be some time in the early forties.  Mr. Haining was a Presbyterian minister who had charge of that denomination's activities in Adelaide, and who preached his first sermon in South Australia in Trinity Church on North terrace, before he took charge of St. Andrew's, in Wakefield street.  He and his horse Badger were well-known to the settlers in and around Adelaide, as they picked their way over the rough bush tracks which, in the absence of roads, formed the means of communication between the capital and Mount Barker.  When winter made these open air services impossible they were continued in a barn on Mr. McFarlane's property. 

But perhaps the strangest and most picturesque thing about McFarlane's station was the shearing.  This was chiefly done by women.  Imagine, then, a troop of young German frauleins from the neighboring village of Hahndorf (Ambleside), which itself stood on a corner of the Mount Barker estate.  Accompanied by their brothers, men friends, and parents, they arrived at the shearing place with much good-natured banter, shouting, and laughing.  The girls took up their shears, called for a sheep which was carried to them, by a man, and started operations.  The girls were without shoes or stockings.  Each had a piece of thick, soft string, one end of which she tied to her big toe.  The other end was tied to a hind leg of the sheep.  The girl pushed her leg out and so extended the animal ready for the shears, keeping her knee or left hand on its neck or shoulder.  Then the clipping began.  Thirty sheep per day was reckoned a good tally for each operator.  It was not fast work, but it was sure and delicate.  The sheep were never cut, and they were gently handled. 

Duncan McFarlane 

Those of you who know Mount Barker will surmise correctly that McFarlane terrace, Dutton place (now Druid's avenue) and Finnis terrace commemorate the names of the owners of Mount Barker station.  It was these men who laid out the town in 1840.  That is how Mount Barker came into existence.  One would have imagined that, in view of the importance of McFarlane as a sheep-owner — one of the biggest of his day — it would be easy to glean some details of his early life.  Yet very little has been left on record about the man.  He is supposed to have come to South Australia from New South Wales, where he was a sheep-farmer.  What was he like?  Who were his antecedents?  Those were points I went to particular pains to clear up — without success.  He was for a time the only J.P. in the south in the days when those letters were magical — as much an insignia of knighthood as a K.CM.G.  Yet the only facts about him which emerged from, my investigations were that he took up the special survey in 1838; that he laid out the township of Mount Barker in 1840; that he sold the land on which Hanndorf is built to the German settlers; that Thomas Walker (who is supposed to have advanced McFarlane the money to purchase the Mount Barker survey) foreclosed on the land eventually; that McFarlane then left the locality for the Tatiara, where he established another station; that he was the first man to use Ridley's reaper (this was at Mount Barker); that after retiring from pastoral pursuits he lived first at the old York Hotel in Adelaide, and afterwards at Glen Osmond, where he died in October, 1856, at the age of 63, and that he is buried in West terrace cemetery.  Not a great deal of information about the founder of such an important town. 

Two Mount Barkers 

A scrap of information about the founding of Mount Barker which is not widely known is that an attempt was made to found a town to be called Mount Barker a few months before McFarlane and his partners announced their project.  In the "Register" of November 23, 1839, and for several weeks afterwards an advertisement appeared referring to a projected "new town ship and inn near Mount Barker "which was to be located" at the well known station first selected in the Mount Barker district by Mr. Coghill, from New South Wales."  There is a long description of the site, which is described as central, within two miles of the mount, and "nearly the last well-watered spot on the road between Adelaide and the Murray."  Then, towards the end, the inducement is held out that "this would be a good opening for a storekeeper, carrier, blacksmith and joiner, to whom particular encouragement would be given."  I have not traced the fate of this proposition.  But four months later, on March 7, 1840, McFarlane and his partners announced in thesame paper that they were throwing open portion of their station as a site for a town, and it is on this site that Mount Barker as we know it stands today.


  • The Old Mill on Winidmill Hill, around which a native battle was fought in the early days. The interesting story of this well-known landmark is told on this page. —Courtesy of the Archives.
  • Monument to Captain Barker, killed by the blacks in April, 1831.