History & Heritage of Belair National Park

Belair National Park has important natural, cultural, historical and recreational values and is the birthplace of the national parks system in South Australia.

Indigenous culture and history

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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge and respect the Traditional Custodians whose ancestral lands we live and work upon and we pay our respects to their Elders past and present. We acknowledge and respect the deep spiritual connection and the relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to Country.

We also pay our respects to the cultural authority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their nations in South Australia, as well as those across Australia.

Seven sisters and the Coloured Stone by Dorcas Miller, a Mirning Woman from Koonibba, South Australia

The Kaurna Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants of the area now known as Belair National Park. The Kaurna people referred to the area now known as Belair as 'Piradli' meaning 'baldness'. This was in reference to the area's appearance when looking south from the Adelaide Plains - 'bald like the moon'. The description provides an insight into the fire stick farming activities of the Kaurna people. Aboriginal peoples have occupied, enjoyed and managed the lands and waters of this State for thousands of generations. For Aboriginal first nations, creation ancestors laid down the laws of the Country and bestowed a range of customary rights and obligations to the many Aboriginal Nations across our state. There are many places across the State that have great spiritual significance to Aboriginal first nations. At some of these places Aboriginal cultural protocols, such as restricted access, are promoted and visitors are asked to respect the wishes of Traditional Owners. Aboriginal peoples continue to play an active role in caring for their Country, including in parks across South Australia.

Belair National Park State Heritage Area

Belair National Park was declared a State Heritage Area on 19 September 1985.

Many individual places contribute to the heritage significance of Belair National Park. Besides constructions such as ovals, picnic grounds, sheds and an arbour, noteworthy historic structures include the State heritage-listed Old Government House (1860), as well as the Commissioner's House (1852), the Ranger's Residence (1895) and the Karka (1911) and Main Oval (1900) Pavilions. Other historic buildings, including Blue Cottage (c1865, Western Lodge (1893), Belair Lodge (1893) and Melville House (1901) are now leased as private residences.

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National Park entrance from Belair Station

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Old Government House (1860)

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Commissioner's Hut (1852)

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Karka Pavillion (1911)

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Western Lodge (1893) (At main entrance)

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Waverley Lodge

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Long Gully Pavilion

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Main Oval Pavilion (1900)

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Joseph Fisher Pavillion (1903)

Many short and longer walking trails have been established and are well-signposted within the Park. Notably the internationally acclaimed Yurrebilla Trail, which winds through 54 kilometres of the Adelaide Hills, starts (or finishes - depending on your direction of travel!) in the Belair National Park.

In the decade between 1871 and 1881, the population of Adelaide almost doubled, placing a heavy demand on existing areas used for public outings and sport. With this increased need for venues reasonably close to the city, came a heightened awareness that the attractive Adelaide Hills areas were disappearing into private ownership.

One example of this public concern for the environment was the formation, in October 1883, of a section of the Royal Society known as the Field Naturalists. The following extract, from a talk given by member Arthur F. Robin, is indicative of the (prophetic) sentiments expressed by this group and others:

"National Parks will be useful, not only as preservers for indigenous plants and animals, but also as recreation grounds for the people. It is well to consider how comparatively few and small are the areas of this description which will be permanently available for the residents of the Adelaide Plains … there must come a time when these plains will be thickly populated from hills to sea, and then, if not now, the need for more breathing space will be recognised. The Mount Lofty Range is gradually passing more and more into private hands, and before many years have elapsed it will be difficult to find a place where one may enjoy the beauties of nature without fear of trespassing. The same results must follow sooner or later in all settled districts of the province. Hence there arises a necessity for large reserves which shall be vested in trustees in perpetuity." (cited in Harris, C. National Parks and Reserves of South Australia MA Thesis, Adelaide, 1974)

At the same time, high unemployment levels by the early 1880s were an ominous sign of the coming Depression. One government strategy to ease unemployment problems was the sub-division, into working men's blocks, of an area laid aside by Governor Gawler in 1840 as a Government Farm.

Part of the history of this Farm concerns its use for agisting government horses, including those in the Gold Escort Routes during 1852-3. It was also the site for the Governor's summer residence, built in 1859 and used in a limited capacity until the building of Marble Hill in 1880.

Conflict, over the future use of Government Farm, developed between the politicians and members of the public who had increasing expectations for the provision of parks. The proposal drew particular opposition from two citizens, James Page of Mitcham and Walter Gooch of Belair, whose efforts helped to prevent the sub-division scheme from being carried out. One supporting argument was that the Adelaide to Nairne railway, which opened in 1883 and ran through the proposed park, would enable large numbers of people to visit the area.

Although a Bill to prohibit the sale of the Farm was originally defeated in the Legislative Council, Parliament later reversed its decision, following public pressure, and a law was subsequently passed to prohibit the sale of the Farm without Parliamentary sanction.

Between October 1888 and December 1890 the Government was further pressured to declare the area a National Park. A total of three deputations, comprised largely of learned societies and bodies such as the Trades and Labour Council and The United Friendly Societies, met with representatives of the Government. Arthur Robin also prepared a Private Member's Bill seeking to vest the whole of Government Farm in trust as a National Park.

Unfortunately the Bill was thrown out by the President of the Legislative Council. However, when the Premier met with the third deputation at the end of 1890, he indicated that a large portion of the Government Farm could be set aside as a public park, with a small section reserved for working men's blocks. The National Park Act, assented to by the Governor on 19 December 1891, vested in perpetuity 796 hectares of the Farm to a Board of 12 Commissioners.

The Board was responsible for developing the Park and determining its future use. Until the 1920s the area was cleared of scrub and timber, wattle bark was sold and stock was agisted, in order to make the Park financially viable. Plantings of exotic tree species were carried out, culminating in the planting of Japanese cherries in Sparkes Gully in 1922, in memory of allied victory in World War One. Facilities such as ovals, tennis courts, pavilions, kiosks and arbours were gradually established. Revenue from the hire of these facilities grew to exceed the income from timber felling and bark stripping. The eastern section of the Park was not developed and has been retained in a relatively natural state.

The social use of the Park was determined by changes in affluence and transportation. A characteristic of the first two or three decades was the large groups of picnickers who expected to eat in a shelter, thus leading to the provision of large pavilions near the Main Oval and at Long Gully. Following the rise of private car ownership after World War Two, an emphasis on outdoor picnics came from an increasing number of family groups who travelled in private cars. Smaller groups gradually equalled and then outnumbered the large firm or church picnics.

History Trivia

  • - For most of its history Belair National Park has been known simply as 'National Park'.
  • - The Main Oval was prepared in 1894, and two wells sunk nearby to provide drinking water.
  • - The first two tennis courts, prepared and dressed with tar, opened near the Main Oval in 1896.
  • - The first kiosk was built in 1896, with a second one at Long Gully in 1904 and extended in 1909.
  • - The first pavilion, seating 200 people, was built adjacent to the Main Oval in 1900. A second pavilion at Long Gully was built in 1904, but demolished in 1928 and replaced by one seating 550 people.
  • - In 1911 Commissioner Gooch prohibited all picnics and bands in the Park on Sundays.
  • - In 1936 Boy Scouts held their Jamboree in the Park.
  • - Sheep grazed in the Park between 1936-46.
  • - During World War Two the Park was used for military camps, which occupied Main, Gums and Tea-Tree Ovals plus all nearby pavilions, arbours and tennis courts.
  • - Para Wirra Recreation Park was acquired by the State to partly relieve the pressure of overcrowding and over-use of facilities at Belair.
  • - Between 1972-1991 Belair National Park was known as Belair Recreation Park.

Further Information For further information please contact the State Heritage Unit, Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources Telephone (08) 8124 4960 Email: DEWNRHeritage@sa.gov.au

European history

The first European people known to have visited the Belair area were crewmen from the ship Coromandel in 1837.
Governor Gawler, was later set this land aside as a government farm in 1840 on which sick horses and bullocks could be agisted. A few years later the government gained legal title to the farm and proceeded to grow hay and take care of stock belonging to the survey and police departments.
Between 1849 and 1852 the Commissioner of Police took charge of the farm and used it for horses employed in the Gold Escort and other police services.

In the early 1880s an attempt to subdivide the land was rejected and a bill was passed stating the farm could not be sold. While the farm could not be sold there were no restrictions on what the land could be used for, so in 1886 202 hectares we handed over to the Woods and Forest Department as a forest reserve.
Dedicated in 1891, Belair became the second national park that was established in Australia and in 1892 the first board of commissioners was appointed.

By the 1920s, after pressure from groups such as the Native Fauna and Flora Protection Committee, policies changed in regards to the conservation of native plants and animals in the park. As a result, the last large scale planting in the park of non-Australian species occurred in 1922 - 700 Japanese cherries were planted on six hectares of land in Sparkes Gully - and in 1923 it was decided all future plantings were to be native to the state.
By 1929, the now well-established Belair National Park had developed 42 tennis courts, several pavilions and ovals and a well-developed road network. This was to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and play an important social function during and after the years of the Great Depression. The park's facilities were also used for military camps during the Second World War.

In 1934 trees were cleared to make way for a nine hole golf course which was built as a means to raise revenue for the park. This course was later extended to an 18 hole golf course in 1941. In 1972 the National Parks Commission was terminated and control of the park was passed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Belair Recreation Park was gazetted in 1972 and was re-dedicated to Belair National Park in 1991, its centenary year.

(Extract from National Parks of SA website)

The Importance of Walter Gooch (10th Nov 1842- 10th Oct 1918)

Walter Gooch

Following government moves to subdivide the area, in 1877 a strong and persistent campaign was launched to preserve the land as a national park for the people of South Australia. Walter Gooch, an Adelaide businessman and Belair resident, led the campaign and funded a petition to the South Australian parliament. He secured the support of the Adelaide Register, the City of Adelaide Council, the Field Naturalists section of the Royal Society of South Australia, and numerous prominent citizens. One of Gooch’s master achievements was a large picnic in the bushland valleys of Government Farm, where he addressed potential supporters and took them on a guided walk, expounding the area’s recreational values and natural beauty. His efforts received a boost in 1883 when the government legislated to prevent subdivision. The first chairman of the Board of Commissioners, appointed after the passing of the National Park Bill by the South Australian parliament in 1891, was Edwin Smith. The voluntary commissioners oversaw the development of the park into a combination of revenue-earning public facilities and wilderness areas.(A link to Walter Gooch's biography is given on the left column.)
(By Dene Cordes)


Walter Gooch EventMark Pedlar and Dene CordesMKemorial Plaque

On the 6th October 2018 the Friends of Belair National Park invited Dene Cordes to speak on the massive contribution that Walter Gooch made in creating Australia's 2nd National Park and the unveiling of a plaque commemorating 100 years since his death.

Old Government House

OGHOld Government House is a historic building (see link on the left) located in Belair National Park, South Australia. It was the summer residence of the Governor of South Australia from 1860-1880, and was used by governors Richard Graves MacDonnell (1855–62), Dominick Daly (1862-68) and William Jervois (1877–80). Old Government House was South Australia’s first official vice-regal summer residence. It was constructed from local sandstone, with the red-brick for the quoins sourced from the Blackwood brickworks, and a native timber shingle roof. The residence's indoor plunge-pool was reportedly the first in the colony. It was superseded by a larger summer residence at Marble Hill, completed in 1880. It was then used by the curator of the Department of Woods and Forests Nursery (also located in Belair National Park) until it was transferred to the National Parks and Wildlife Reserves in 1961. Minor renovation work was carried out and the building was opened as a museum. More extensive renovations in the 1970s and again in 2002-03 restored the building to its original grandeur. Old Government House is now cared for by the Friends of Old Government House, a member group of Friends of Parks Inc. (Extract from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Activity Reminders

Old Government House Garden - Working Bees

Volunteers who would like to assist in maintaining the house and gardens can meet at the Old Government House prior to starting time. Third Saturday morning of each month (except January) 8:30 am to 10:30am

For information phone Tina on 0417 870 596

Old Government House - Garden Open Days

The complex is open to the public on the first and third Sunday of every month and Public Holidays (closed Good Friday and Christmas Day) from 1pm to 4pm.

The entry fee for OGH is $5 a head for adults (children under 12 years free). If you are driving into the park you get free entry - mention to the gate staff that you are visiting Old Government House and they will wave you through.Every single cent of money collected goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of the garden, and the conservation and restoration of the contents of the House and Servants' Quarters.

Credit cards accepted. (An extensive range of souvenirs are also available for purchase.}

Weekday tours and special interest groups are welcome by appointment. Guide from the Friends of Old Government House, conduct tours.