Belair National Park, South Australia.

Belair National Park

Belair Entrance 1900 (SLSA)

The area now covered by the Belair National Park was originally used by the Kaurna and Peramangk Aborigines who called it Piradli. The Kaurna Aborigines in particular used the area for many of its resources such as resin and bark. Possums and bandicoots were hunted for food and skins.

The first European people to use it were the absconders of the ship Coromandel in 1837, followed by Tasmanian woodcutters. Later E. Nicholas Foott squatted in the area and dug a well in 1839. A pump was added later. He also built a stone cottage near Minno Creek and spent some £500 on the property, even though he held no title to it.

In 1839 Governor Gawler selected about 850 acres for a government Farm. In October 1840, after proclamation of the farm, Foott was paid £300 by the government for his improvements. He moved to Gawler and later Victoria where he became a member of the Legislative Assembly until his death in 1868. His cottage was later used by the Gold Escorts.

As a result of hard financial times, Governor Grey proposed to sell the farm but met with solid opposition, which resulted in the auction being cancelled. During 1848 the Farm was expanded by Governor Robe to 2100 acres. A stone cottage was also built for the Governor and for the use of the supervisor of the farm.

The first garden was planted in 1849 along the bank of the Tilti Creek. That same year tenders were called for the lease of the Farm. However by the start of the 1850s the Government Farm was used extensively by the government of the day to grow fodder, particularly hay, agisting of government horses used by the police in the gold escorts and the Survey Department.

Corporal Robert Moulton, farm supervisor, lived in the cottage built on the farm until 1857. It is now part of the old government house servants’ quarters. In 1859 a start was made with a Governor’s summer residence, complete with a spring-fed indoor pool. It soon became known as Government House. It was used by Governors MacDonnell and Daly between 1860 and 1868. Between 1870 and 1874 the building was occupied by Major J.A. Fergusson, brother of the then Governor. After completion of the Marble Hill residence in 1878, Government House was used by the Woods and Forrest Department.

Old Government House

For the expected visit of Prince Alfred, a special Vice-Regal proclamation had established a Royal Reception Committee, staffed with a host of civic and political notables. When he arrived on 29 October 1867 nobody knew about it as his ship the Galatea had anchoraged off Glenelg. His ship was not sighted until 5 am the next morning but His Royal Highness had no intention of leaving his bed or ship. When he finally set foot on Australian soil on 31 October the day was declared a public holiday.

A week later he, and his party, went to the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Government Farm for a moonlit shooting expedition. He turned out to be a good shot and killed 52 possums. Although the royal party included a surgeon, minister of religion, archivist and painter it obviously did not include a conservationist.

In January 1868 the Prince Alfred Commemorative Monument Fund was established to erect a monument on top of Mount Lofty. Among its committee members were the Hons Captain Bagot, John Morphett, Neville Blyth, and Samuel Davenport.

Between 1878-1884 the Government House was taken over by the Survey Department to manufacture rabbit poison. The house itself was used by German chemist and Supervisor Max Bernbaum. During the 1880s the Government tried to subdivide and sell, or lease, the farm but this was once again the general public strongly objected. James Page of Mitcham and Walter Gooch of Belair in particular objected to the idea. Gooch invited members of the Adelaide newspapers to the Farm in the hope of convincing them of the necessity to keep it. They, and the editor of the Advertiser, wanted it to be kept and made into a park, especially as it was thought that Adelaide would soon run out of spaces for sport, picnics and other public outings.

Members of the Field Naturalists, formed in 1883 as part of the Royal Society, favoured a National Park ‘as preserves of indigenous plants and animals, but also as recreation grounds’. Among some of the early developmental work was the Railway dam, built in 1883, to supply water for the steam engines on the line to Nairne, which had been opened in 1882.

Railway Dam

During 1886 all buildings and 202 hectares of the farm were handed over to the Woods and Forest Department as a Forest Reserve and one of the most important, and long lasting developments, was started when a Nursery, proclaimed by an Act of Parliament, was initiated on 7 July 1886. Government House now became the residence for the curators of the nursery for the next 70 years. The nursery was to raise seedlings for the State Forest Reserves and to encourage tree planting in South Australia. Young trees were distributed for free to landholders. It was not the first nursery established by the government though. South Auatralia’s first nursery was started at Wirrabara Forest in 1877.

In 1888 the Belair nursery raised more than 55,000 seedlings. After 1890 a start was made with growing grape vine cuttings and by 1920 more than 500,000 vines had been propagated and distributed. The free distribution was stopped in 1920. Propagation was later stopped at Belair and transferred to Murray Bridge during the 1970s.

Many of the early settlers in South Australia cherished memories of their home country and tried to recreate familiar surroundings. They planted oaks, poplars, cork oaks, pines, chestnuts, candle pines, ashes, willows and many other trees. Many of these exotic trees were planted by Jack Kirkwood during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1922 Japanese cherries were planted in Sparkes Gully but in 1923 it was decided that all future plantings should be indigenous to South Australia.

From the start of the nursery A. Neimann was in charge followed by Frank Peterswald in 1892. From 1900 until 1914 the nursery was looked after by Bill Canny. After his retirement his son Jack was in charge until 1957. A saw mill built in the early years produced 5,000 railway sleepers and poles for fencing.

After years of agitation and deputations for a National Park, the National Park Bill was passed on 19 December 1891 creating the Belair National Park of 796 hectares ‘for the sole purpose of a public national recreation and pleasure ground’, regardless of the opposition of Surveyor General George W. Goyder. It was South Australia’s first National Park and the second in Australia.

Although South Australia now had a National Park there was no real policy or plan what to do with it. Many different ideas and developments were encouraged, with the environment seen as a resource rather than something to be conserved for future generations. In 1892 the first Board of 12 Commissioners was appointed, who saw their task as one of conservation and recreation. Its Foundation Chairman was Sir Edwin T. Smith. One of its first Commissioners was Walter Gooch. In 1877 Gooch had moved to Belair with his family. He bought a nine roomed house on four acres but later demolished it to make room for a new one in 1890 which he named Too Roo. Gooch Crescent was named after him.

Samuel Dixon, another of the original members of the Board of Commissioners and a member of the Field Naturalists, was responsible for the Tree Planting Committee that operated for ten years. Many Californian Redwoods were planted between 1895 and 1900. He resigned from the Board in 1905. During its early history the park commissioners stuck to a policy of development of the park as a financially viable recreation ground with little regard for the protection of its fauna and flora. This did not change until the early 1920s. During this same time the park was also subjected to the removal of its native flora and the killing of its native animals by the public.

After becoming a National Park, a major building programme was started. During 1893 a start was made with the building of the Western Lodge, by Henry Halstead, and the Belair Lodge, which was later that year occupied by George William Holderness, gardener, when a bridge was built over the railway line to give safe access for vehicles into the park. The next year a start was made with the Main and Pines Ovals and in 1895 a Ranger’s residence was completed. During 1896 a kiosk and the first two tennis courts were opened. Within twenty years this number had increased to more than forty courts.

To pay for all this development the Commissioners relied upon a Government grant and the revenue from bark stripping, firewood sales and the income from hiring out its facilities, especially for Trade Picnics. During the depression, and for many years after, additional income was derived from the grazing of sheep and the sale of wool.

In 1900 the first pavilion was built near the Main Oval. The next year Melville House and Tea Tree Oval were completed. In 1903 the Joseph Fisher Pavilion and Picnic Ground was named after Fisher who had donated £100 for its construction. During 1904 a second pavilion and oval were built at Long Gully.

Fisher Pavilion

By 1911, and after the completion of the Karka Pavilion, Commissioner Gooch prohibited all picnics and bands in the park on Sundays as several sections of the community complained that they became too noisy and disapproved of the consumption of alcohol at these picnics. In an attempt to solve these problems a Gaol was built in 1923 and used until 1949, mainly for drunks and those behaving in a disorderly manner. One of its officers stationed at the gaol was A.J.M. Huxley in 1929.

To raise additional income for the maintenance and further development of the park, it was decided in 1934 to remove a large number of trees to make way for a golf course. This turned out an excellent idea and the course was extended to 18 holes in 1941.

After the Second World War, development, which had seriously declined since the depression, was once again commenced. One reason being to attract more income which had declined alarmingly during these years. However as a result of an increasing number of car ownership facilities soon were overtaxed and the commissioners now looked for additional parks. In 1961 Government House was opened to the public after partial restoration. More work was done, both inside and out, during the next 40 years.

Most of the major restoration was done between 1975 and 1982. The man responsible for the restoration of Old Government House, the servants' quarters and the gardens around it was Curator Hugh Bennett Campbell. A farmer originally of Tarcowie Campbell had worked his way up through many years of bricklaying and taking general care of the park. He then became involved, with the rebuilding of the Joseph Fisher Pavilion and the restoration of the cottage at the Government Farm. When the main work at the Old Government House was completed the house was reopened in December 1978 to the public.

The Belair National Park had become his all consuming interest and even after his retirement Old Government House continued to organise his life. When running the house became the responsibility of volunteers, the Friends of Old Goverment House, both Campbell and his wife Evelyn became active members. Their son Malcolm was in charge of the Nursery between 1976-1978 and from 1980-1981.

In 1972 the National Park Commission was abandoned and the park gazetted as a Recreation Park. However in 1991 it was rededicated as a National Park and in 1993 the nursery was renamed State Flora Nursery.


Belair Cemetery

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