Melrose, SA

Historic town in the Flinders Ranges and known for its exceptional mountain bike trails.

Melrose, because it was officially proclaimed in 1853, can proudly claim that it is the 'oldest town in the Flinders Ranges'.  This quiet and attractive town, which is nestled below Mount Remarkable, has had a colourful history characterised by farming on very marginal land and mining poor deposits of copper. Today it has a number of interesting historic buildings and there are pleasant bush walking tracks in the surrounding countryside.


Melrose is located 273 km north of Adelaide via the Princes Highway.


Origin of Name

There are two plausible explanations for the naming of the town. One claims that the town was named by a surveyor (unnamed) after a man named George Melrose. Melrose claimed that he had looked after a sick surveyor who had promised him that the next town he surveyed would be named after his benefactor. There is another explanation which claims that one of the earliest purchasers of land was Alexander Campbell who, with his father, mother and three brothers, settled near Mount Remarkable in 1844 and named his holding after Melrose in Scotland.


Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
North Star Hotel
The most prominent building in town is the North Star Hotel which stands tall and proud at the top of the main street. Originally nothing more than a simple log cabin it was first licensed in 1854. The present building dates from 1881. For more information check out

Mount Remarkable Hotel
The town's second hotel was the Mount Remarkable Hotel in the main street. It was first licensed in 1857 by Thomas Moran who had previously been a member of the mounted police. Over the years it has changed little from the original 1857 design with its decorated balcony and simple corrugated iron roof.

Jacka's Brewery
This was originally the local flour mill and was completed in 1878 in local stone. It was converted to a brewery in 1893 and continued to operate in the town until the 1930s. The SA 175 website explains, in great detail, that: "On 3 January 1877 Joseph Jacka brewed the first beer at the family's brewery in Melrose. A few months earlier, in August 1876, brothers Joseph and William Jacka leased some land from Joseph's father-in-law Josiah Slee. Their father, William, had the licence of the North Star Hotel and while he conducted his business, Joseph began to establish the brewery. The brothers had been brewers in Auburn and moved to Melrose in 1876 where there was an almost permanent supply of good water, from the Mount Remarkable Creek, essential for brewing. in 1887 William sold his interest to his brother and moved to Burra to start a brewery there. Joseph carried on and was very successful. By 1893 he needed to extend his premises and purchased a flour mill nearby which he converted to the requirements of a brewery. By the turn of the century beer was being distributed to the northern areas. Specially constructed wagons to carry heavy loads of wooden casks, drawn by teams of eight horses, wound through the gorges of the Flinders Ranges to Port Pirie and Port Augusta. With the extension of the railway to Broken Hill beer was sent there. At the height of his success Joseph died, in June 1901. His son William J.S. Jacka, at the young age of 21 years, took over the brewing and his uncle, William, returned from Burra to join him. After World War I business began to decline for a number of reasons and the depression of the 1930s was the final blow. The brewery closed down in 1934." Check out for more details.

Post Office and School
Among the town's other historic buildings are an attractive small post office (it has been replaced by a modern one and now stands opposite the Mount Remarkable Hotel) which dates from 1865 and a local Public School which was built in 1878. The Post Office, which remains an impressive rural building, is now a private residence.

Melrose Heritage Museum
This attractive complex was built in 1862 and comprises the Police Station, Old Court House, cells and stables. At one time it was one of the largest police stations in Australia looking after all the land to the north which, at that time, meant northern South Australia, Central Australia and everywhere to the north coast of the country. The Melrose Heritage Museum is located at 13 Stuart Street and includes exhibitions of the history of the area that tell the story of opening the north of South Australia. There are also important exhibitions on Goyder’s Line, which runs through this area, and determined the limit of agriculture in the district. There are exhibits on all aspects or rural settlement, mining, workmen’s blocks, village settlement, and a returned soldier training farm. The story of the European pioneers and the Nukunu Aboriginal people is also well demonstrated. The museum is open daily from 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm. There are guided tours on request tel: (08) 8666 2141. Check out for more details.

Melrose War Memorial and the Mount Remarkable Copper Mine
Located on Joe's Road on the hill (Mount Remarkable) overlooking the town the Melrose War Monument was constructed to commemorate those killed in action during World War I. It was paid for by public subscription. The World War II gates in the main street of Melrose adjacent to the Memorial Gardens were erected because it was considered that elderly citizens would have difficulty accessing the monument on the hill. From the monument you can walk on the Melrose Nature Hike to Mount Remarkable Copper Mine which is located 3.5 km south of the monument. Beyond the mine site there is a walk to Bald Hill Lookout. The sign to the mines notes: "Mining operations commenced in 1846. The Melrose Mine, which is located along the Nature Walk, was first worked in 1848. No lode of any consequence was discovered in either mine. Wages were high and transporting the ore was costly. Both mines closed in 1851, with the dissolution of the Mount Remarkable Mining Company. The Melrose Mine was again worked in 1873, 1907 and 1916-1917. Although the early copper mines were financial failures, they did create interest in the Mount Remarkable district. When Melrose was eventually surveyed, it was in country which was already well known, and this undoubtedly helped to get the remote township off to a good start."


Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Remarkable and Mount Remarkable National Park
It is possible to walk to Mount Remarkable, and to walk to the top (960 m), from Melrose. The walk starts from the Melrose Caravan Park at the bottom of the hill and, if you are fit, you can reach the top of the hill tin around two hours. It is 12.2 km and takes around 4-5 hours return. The effort is rewarded but this is not an easy walk. An easier walk is the Melrose Nature Hike which is 4.7 km, 3 hours return and a pleasant hike through the foothills below Mount Remarkable. The main appeals of the National Park (and it is primarily a park for walking and trekking) include spotting a yellow-footed rock wallaby; admiring the ancient geology of the area which, in the case of Melrose, is Cathedral Rock; and keeping alert to the fauna in the park which includes 117 native bird species (including Australian Ringneck Parrots and Wedge-tailed eagles) as well as goannas and echidnas. There is a useful map of the Summit Trail and the Nature Hike which can be downloaded by going to the Brochures and Maps section of

Bicycle Trails in the District
It has been estimated that there are 75-100 km of mountain bicycle tracks in the area around Melrose. This has made the area a magnet for mountain biking enthusiasts. The bicycling loops have such romantic names as Greener Pastures, Hellrose, Weaving Camels, Throwing Copper, the Big Rhua, A Bit Sheepish and Dodging Bullets. They are all accessible from the centre of town. For detailed information check out which includes a number of videos of the routes as well as useful maps.

Melrose to Wilmington Rail Trail
This pleasant 22 km cycle and walking trail was built in 1884 but not completed to Wilmington until 20 July, 1915. The last train to use the line carried grain from Wilmington in 1988. After that it was turned into a cycle track which heads north from Melrose through Terka, past Mount Remarkable, and eventually arrives in Wilmington. There is a map and a downloadable brochure available at There is a very comprehensive description of the journey at  Weekend Notes ( - it observes: "The bike trail is sign posted as Intermediate (IMBA Easy- Green). The trail is unsealed, suited to mountain bikes with some sections a little rough. The trail is not suitable for road bikes. The trail is basically flat to gently undulating with a few rough red gum creek crossings. The riding itself is not technically challenging and suitable for beginners. If you are going to ride out and back you should have a moderate level of fitness as it is about a 50 km round trip.

Goyder's Line of Rainfall
There is a monument to Goyder located about 3 km north of Melrose on the road to Wilmington. An article published in the Adelaide Mail in 1927 spelt out this remarkable and hugely important discovery. Here is an abridged version: "How by following the fringe of the saltbush zig-zag across South Australia from the Victorian border just below Peebinga, north to Melrose, south to Moonta, across Spencer's Gulf, and from Franklin Harbor to the Gawler Ranges, the late G. W.Goyder unerringly separated the land where the rainfall is good from that where it is poor is one of the romances of agricultural development in this State.
Today, though much of the country outside the line has been brought into productivity owing to modern methods of cultivation, the imaginary boundary delineated by Goyder as long ago as 1865 is still recognised by the Lands and Survey office, and as regarded as an infallible guide by pastoralists.
The son of David Goyder, a minister of the gospel, the late G. W. Goyder must be given a foremost place in that gallery of South Australian pioneers ... During the 32 years he was Surveyor-General— from 1861 to 1893— Goyder adopted a bold, progressive policy, which has left an indelible mark on the agricultural history of South Australia ... A harassed Commissioner of Crown Lands asked Goyder, following the great drought of 1865, to make the necessary examination of the country lying to the north of Adelaide to enable him to determine and lay down on the map, as nearly as practicable, the line of demarcation between that portion of the country where the rainfall had extended and that where the drought prevailed.
With characteristic promptitude Goyder set about the task, and by December 6 of the same year presented a comprehensive report to the commissioner in which he observed: — "Had the drought, which unfortunately still prevails, been of an ordinary nature there had been no necessity for my leaving town upon this duty, as the line of demarcation might have been shown from information previously in my possession and specially referred to in my report on the valuation of some of the northern runs. The drought, however, being of an unusually severe nature and extending more generally than any previously known, it became indispensable to add to my previous experience the knowledge of the state of the country as it now exists.''
The result of his investigations, Goyder stated, showed the line of demarcation extended considerably farther south than he had anticipated — the change from the country that had suffered from excessive drought to that where its effect had been only slightly experienced being palpable to the eye from the nature of the country itself. It might be described as bare ground, destitute of grass and herbage, the surface soil dried by the intense heat, in places broken and pulverised by the passage of stock, and formed by the action of the wind into miniature hummocks which surrounded the closely cropped stumps of salt, blue, and other dwarf bushes. Those of a greater elevation were denuded of their leaves and smaller branches as far as the stock could reach. This description, Goyder stated, generally held good of all country upon which stock had been depastured ... Whatever agriculturalists may say about Goyder's line the fact remains that pastoralists still stand by it. It is famous far beyond Australia. A visitor to London in recent years [and remember this was written in 1927] discovered in scientific circles that while not much was known about South Australia the scientists had heard of Goyder."



* Prior to European settlement the Doora Aboriginal group living in the lower Flinders Ranges around Melrose. It was estimated that there were around 900 people in the group.

* In 1840 Edward John Eyre discovered, and named, Mount Remarkable (960 metres) during his ourney into northern South Australia.

* On 27 June 1840 Eyre wrote in his journal: "From our present encampment a very high and pointed hill was visible to the NNW. From the lofty way in which it towered above the surrounding hills I named it Mount Remarkable."

* Farmers moved into the area in 1844 but the land was borderline desert and the rewards were small.

* In 1846 copper was found and mining operations commenced.

* The Melrose Mine was first worked in 1848 but it was not really profitable. In that same year the Police Paddock was established. It was reputedly the largest Police area in the world at the time.

* The copper mines closed in 1851 with the dissolution of the Mount Remarkable Mining Company.

* Old Melrose was surveyed in 1853 as part of a subdivision obligation by the Mount Remarkable Mining Company.

* In 1856 New Melrose was established as a town which became known as the 'Emporium of the North'. It supplied properties and mining camps to the north.

* In 1865 George Goyder, Surveyor-General of South Australia, drew a line across the country delineating drought-affected country from areas suitable for agriculture. It was just north of Melrose.

* The Melrose mine was again worked in 1873.

* By 1880 the local Aboriginal community had been reduced to three men and five women. It had been decimated by disease, dispossession and killings.

* The Melrose mine was again worked in 1907.

* The railway was extended to Wilmington in 1915.

* The Melrose mine was again worked in 1916-1917.

* The railway line closed down in 1969.


Visitor Information

There is no official visitor information centre in the town but the Melrose Caravan Park can help with brochures and expert information. Tel: (08) 8666 2060.


Useful Websites

There is a dedicated local website. Check out

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

6 suggestions
  • Hi The Doora people of the area need to be represented on this site in a meaningful way. The quick reference to them is another insult to their custodianship and connection with place. Can you please ensure that the first nation’s peoples from each area are involved in the writing of the information

    Julie Stoneman
    • Great idea, Julie. There are a total of 1,327 towns on this site and it is edited and curated by one person – me – so how can I do that? I am happy to add local First Nation history but the information is not readily available and it would take years for me to contact every relevant organisation. Also: it is a travel guide not a history site.

      Bruce Elder
  • Agreed. More research needs to be done and information made available about the Indigenous people of this country. NUKUNU, ADNYAMATHANA or other clan groups unrecognised in this area. Pastoralists in this area are a law unto themselves. and maintain racist views, let alone attitudes to other people who might wish to settle in the area. They sit in pubs all day making derogatory conversation to confirm their judgment on those who may not be like them or conform to their idea of what they consider is ‘normal’.
    Former resident of Melrose.

    Ms Helga Tatrik
  • Fantastic & very helpful summary. Perfect length and useful links. Many, many thanks for your efforts.

    Michael M
  • If you contact Jared Thomas at the South Australian Museum, he will be able to assist or point you in the right direction. He is both a Nukunu man and custodian and the Curator of the Indigenous collection at the Museum.
    I totally agree, Aboriginal history and culture is under represented on this, and many sites.

    Claire Kennett
  • What crops surround Melrose other than wheat please?