Belair National Park (the 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

The land now known as ‘South Australia’ was home to at least 41 different Aboriginal Clans, with more than 50 Language Groups, before European settlement.


The Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges region would have been host to a diverse mix of cultures. Boundaries were not arbitrary lines like we know them today – trade, moieties, resources, and ceremony blurred the lines between territories.


The area known as ‘Belair National Park’ was an important place for travel, trade, shelter and ceremony by the Kaurna and Peramangk People of the Adelaide Plains and Hills and likely others. Some places in Belair still retain Kaurna names – the 3 ridges (Willa willa, Yulti wirra and Warri parri) and some creeks (Minno, Workanda, Tarnma, Kurru, Karka and Tapurroo).


The Friends of Belair  National Park are proud of this, and we aim to work and educate using a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner in all we do.


Acknowledgment of Country

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 the Park. As well as ovals, picnic grounds, sheds, and an arbour, noteworthy historic structures include:

• the State Heritage listed Old Government House 1860
• the Commissioner’s Hut 1852
• the Ranger’s Residence 1895
• the Karka 1911 and Main Oval 1900 pavilions
• buildings now leased as private residences – Blue Cottage c1865, Western Lodge 1893, Belair Lodge 1893,  Melville House (1901).

The Park entrance from Belair railway station
Old Government House 1860
Commissioner's Hut 1852
Karka Pavillion 1911
Western Lodge 1893 at the Park main entrance
Waverley Lodge (no longer exists)
Long Gully Pavillion
Main Oval Pavillion 1900
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 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.


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.

– 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.


The above information is copied from the Belair National Park State Area factsheet produced by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

European history

The first Euro­pean peo­ple known to have vis­it­ed the Belair area were crew­men from the ship Coro­man­del in 1837. Gov­er­nor Gawler lat­er set this land aside as a gov­ern­ment farm in 1840 upon 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 were hand­ed over to the Woods and For­est Depart­ment as a for­est reserve.

Ded­i­cat­ed in 1891, Belair became the first nation­al park to be estab­lished in South Aus­tralia and the sec­ond nation­al park in Aus­tralia. 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 of non-Aus­tralian species in the park 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.

The above information is copied from the Belair National Park website.

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 10 November 1844 to 10 October 1918, 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 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.



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


Further information – Australian Dictionary of Biography – Walter Gooch

Old Government House

The Old Government House buildings reflect how the wealthy of the Victorian era lived, with the Main House displaying the style and accoutrements of the well-to-do and the Servant’s Quarters are the more modest furnishings of a working family.


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), James Fergusson (1869-1872) Anthony Musgrave (1873-1877) 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 brick-works, and a native timber shingle roof.  The residence’s indoor plunge-pool was reportedly the first in the colony.


Old Government House was superseded by a larger summer residence at Marble Hill, completed in 1880. OGH 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.


The buildings are surrounded by a garden of approximately one acre. At the time of the Governors, the garden was natural bushland surrounded by a post and rail fence. Today it has been re-designed as a mid-Victorian garden of Anglo-Italian style to complement the restored complex.


The above information is copied from the Friends of Old Government House website.

Old postcards

Long Gully postcard
Back of the Long Gully postcard
Road to Long Gully postcard

Related information