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.
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).
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 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.
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.