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Mintaro, SA

Beautifully preserved State Heritage-listed historic town beyond the Clare Valley

Mintaro is a genuine timewarp town. It was, proudly, the first entire town to be listed as a State Heritage Area in South Australia. It is quaint, charming and largely untouched mainly because, lying to the east of the Clare Valley, it is removed from the main North Road and has missed the changes that made the valley and its wineries such a compelling and important tourist area. Historically Mintaro was first a stopping point for bullock teams taking copper from Burra to Port Wakefield. Later it became the centre of an internationally famous deposit of slate. Today it is a charming village with boutique accommodation and upmarket restaurants.


Mintaro is located 135 km north of Adelaide via Gawler. It is 21 km across the hills from Clare and is often included in the Clare Valley Region.


Origin of Name

There is considerable dispute as to where the word "mintaro" originates. Some sources claim it is a corruption of an Aboriginal word "mintadloo" or "Minta - Ngadlu" meaning "netted water". Some claim it comes from a Spanish word meaning "camp or resting place". This is based on the Burra Mining Company using Spanish-speaking mule drivers from Uruguay to transport copper from Burra to Port Wakefield. It is unlikely as Mintaro was in use before the Spanish arrived in the area.


Things to See and Do

Historic Mintaro Buildings
In 1984 the entire town was State Heritage Listed which means that the Historic Mintaro brochure (which can be downloaded at https://www.walkingsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Mintaro-Heritage-Walk-brochure-updated2020.pdf) contains 34 places of historic interest. This is a township which deserves to be savoured so, sensibly, park near the Magpie & Stump Hotel and start walking. Here is the best of what you can expect to see:

1. Institute and Former Council Chambers
The Council Chambers date from 1877 and the Institute was built in 1878 as the centre of the town's social and cultural life. It was extensively renovated in 1988.

3. Devonshire Arms and Stables
The Devonshire Hotel (which dates from 1856) is located Burra Street along the road from the Magpie & Stump Hotel. It was originally called the Devonshire Arms. It was the second pub in town and was built to entertain the bullockies who stopped overnight. It was so large it had a shooting gallery and a skittles alley below ground level and there was a huge open space up the top which was 70 feet by 40 feet and which was used for concerts and public meetings. It was de-licensed in 1898 and subsequently became a temperance hotel.

4. Shops opposite the Devonshire Arms
Over the road from the Devonshire Arms are a run of shops that were built in the 1850s to provide the provisions and to supply the bullock and mule drivers who passed through the town. Not surprisingly, at various times, they were occupied by a blacksmith, a stock agent, a saddler and a fodder store, amongst others.

5. General Store & Butchers
In the 1870s it was owned by the Tobin sisters, who were spinsters but who looked after their nephew who later became the famous poet, C.J. Dennis.

6. Magpie & Stump Hotel
The single storey Magpie & Stump Hotel was first licensed in 1851 when it operated primarily catering for the needs of the itinerant bullock and mule drivers who passed through the village. Its location at the centre of the village ensures it is a focal point.
Between the hotel and the old Council Chambers are the historic bullock stables where, on the wall which is adjacent to the street, there are still huge rings where the bullocks were tied up at night time. The oven in the pub dates from the late 1850s. Beyond the baker's oven is a room in the pub devoted to the Mintaro Coursing Club which started in 1884. The last live hare was used as a lure as recently as 1986. Coursing in the area continued until 1997 using a drag lure. The hotel was modernised in 2018 and enjoys a reputation as a destination with good meals, beer and wine. Check it out at http://magpieandstump.com.au.

7. O'Reilly's Boot Shop & Leather Goods 
Hugh O’Reilly built the cottage in the 1870s - he was a cobbler and harness maker.

8. Former Police Station and Lock Up
The most impressive historic building in town. It was built in 1867 and designed by the Colonial Architect's Office. Its elevated position and grand slate staircase form an imposing access on Burra Street.

9. Flour Mill
This Flour Mill was constructed in 1859 by John Smith, the owner of both Wakefield Cottage and the Magpie & Stump Hotel. He had moved into the district in 1858. It is now nothing more than a ruin but when it was working (it stopped operating in the mid-1870s) it was used for processing grain and there were four pairs of grinding stones and two sets of rollers.

10. Wakefield Cottage
A slate house with timber shingle roof, Wakefield Cottage was originally a four-room dwelling dating from the 1860s. The projecting gable front was added later. The original owner was John Smith who also owned the Magpie and Stump Hotel and the adjacent flour mill.

11. Thompson Priest House & Quarry Paymasters Office
These two houses were owned by Thompson Priest who was the manager of the Mintaro Slate Quarry. Look carefully and you will see a slate chimney and slate gate posts. The house next door was used as the pay office when Priest lived in the house.

12. Lilac Cottage
A stone cottage which was occupied by Jimmy Ryan, who was a slate cutter.

13. St Peter's Anglican Church 
This building started life as a Primitive Methodist Chapel but, in 1905, it was bought by the wife of the owner of Martindale Hall with help from the local Anglican community.

14. Wesleyan Methodist Group 
Built in 1854 the Wesleyan Methodist Church was the first church built in Mintaro. The larger church next door was built in 1867 and was Australia’s first United Methodist Church.

15. Wesleyan Manse
Built in 1859 it was originally a very simple rectangular house. The Victorian wing was added to in 1891 with an additional three rooms.

18. Mintaro Public School
Constructed in 1872 the school cost £445 to build and was capable of holding 76 pupils. It was enlarged in the 1890s and in 1922 the residential area was converted into classrooms. Enrolment peaked in 1923 when 106 pupils attended the school. It closed in 2006.

19. Miller’s House
The land was purchased by Thompson Miller, a local farmer, in 1853. It is typical of domestic housing at the time although it has a distinctive, and unusual, pyramidal roof on the northern wing.

20. Blacksmith Shop
Constructed between 1858-1861 and known originally as Rowe's Blacksmith Shop, this was one of two blacksmiths in the town. It was owned and operated by William Rowe who was known for his fine farm equipment.

23. Carpenter Shop Complex
This is a complex of three attached buildings. They were all owned by Richard Lathlean, a carpenter and, by the 1870s, they were known as Lathlean's Post Office and Store. The house and the shop were built in the late 1850s and in 1867 the complex was described as a house, garden, shop, warehouse, shed and stone cellar.

24. Catholic Church and Cemetery
Built in 1856, the Church of the Immaculate Conception was the first Jesuit Church in Australia.

25. Mintaro Public Cemetery
The Mintaro Public Cemetery has graves dating back to 1858 and an olive tree hedgerow which dates from the 1870s. It is located to the west of the town and has some fine examples of local slate headstones.

26. Mintaro Slate Quarries
Mintaro Slate, created during the Cambrian geological era, is famous around Australia and around the world. It has been used in many of the country's historic buildings. As early as 1861 it was described as superior to any slate previously known. It quickly became recognised as a superb material for steps, veranda edging and paving. Over the years it has also been used for halls, post offices, churches, banks and cathedrals.
Mintaro Slate also has a world reputation for production of billiard tables. Such was the fame and quality of the slate that Walter Lindrum, the world-beating Australian billiards champion, wrote to the quarry to congratulate them on the quality of their slate. It is possible to view the quarry from Kadlunga and State Quarry Road Road. It is 2 km west of the town. Tel: 0419 777 097 for more information or check out http://www.mintaroslate.com. 

27. Martindale Hall
Located 3 km south of Mintaro at 1 Manoora Road, Martindale Hall is a superbly preserved Georgian style mansion with Italian influences which was built in 1879-1880 for Edmund Bowman Jr. who lived in the house until 1891. When it was built it cost £30,000, had 32 rooms and a huge cellar. Bowman surrounded the house with a racecourse, a lake, a cricket pitch and a polo ground. He employed 14 servants.  It was purchased in 1891 by William Tennant Mortlock. It was used in the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock. For more information contact (08) 8843 9088 or 0417 838 897. Check https://martindalehall.com.au for further details. It is open for inspection six days a week (closed Tuesdays) from 11.00 am - 4.00 pm.


Other Attractions in the Area

Wineries in the Area
In areas like the Clare Valley, where there are 35 cellar doors, it is best to refer to the specific knowledge provided by the local tourist information sites. The Clare Valley Cellar Door site (https://www.clarevalley.com.au/wine/cellar-doors) provides a map and all the details of opening hours, phone numbers and contact points.

Mintaro Maze
Located on the corner of Jacka and Min Man Roads, 500 metres south of the centre of Mintaro, the Mintaro Maze is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Wednesday to Monday. It is a well constructed maze which the website describes as "consisting of over 800 conifers, features fountains, twists and turns to trick even the most committed explorer. And when you do find your way out, there’s plenty more to enjoy, with a range of giant sized games featuring local Mintaro slate." For more information check out http://mintaromaze.com.au or tel: (08) 8843 9012. 

The Story of the Bullock Teams and Copper from Burra
Bullock teams took copper from Burra to Port Wakefield from 1849-1870. The bullockies were larger than life with one traveler, William Cawthorne, noting in 1851, that when they arrived in a village they became “... a drunken mob of bullock drivers, playing cards, drinking, swearing, fighting.  So little are they trusted, that the landlord or landlady hold the nobbler in one hand while they take money with the other! ... So much is the publican in the hands of these ruffians that they insist upon his rising at any hour of the night and satisfying their insatiable desire for drink."
At their peak there were over 400 bullock teams carrying copper to Port Wakefield and taking coal (much of it from Newcastle-on-Tyne) back to the smelter in Burra. Their route was slow and extraordinary. They literally could travel no more than 1 mile an hour (less was common) and there were no roads - and the tracks were terrible.
The journey, and the ferocious thirst of the bullockies, meant that towns (“settlements” more like it) grew up every 9 miles (15 km) along the way. They would leave Burra and head for Hanson. Then they would move on to Farrell Flat and on the evening of the third day they would reach Mintaro. From Mintaro they would move on the Leasingham, then Halbury and then Devil’s Garden outside the town now known as Balaklava.
The Devil’s Garden offers a rare insight into the difficulty of the route. It was located on one of the most hazardous sections of the journey. Once the bullock teams made it to the top of the sandhills, signalling the end of the “Devil’s Garden”, it was a relatively simple run to the coast. The outlook was bright, so the hillock became known as “Bright Outlook.”
The stretch across sand dunes became known as the Corduroy Road. To overcome the problem of the bullock drays becoming bogged on the sand ridges (mud in winter and deep sand in summer), native pine trees were cut down and the logs laid side by side along the affected sections of the track.  This meant that the drays, which would traverse the dunes on the timber road, could make their journey all year round, no matter what the weather.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Ngadjuri First Nation people.

* In 1841 James Stein took up a pastoral holding about 3 km north of the site of Mintaro.

* Copper was discovered in Burra in 1845.

* In 1848 the Gulf Road between Burra and Port Wakefield was established.

* Land in the region was advertised for sale in 1849. The district was called 'Mintara' in the advertisements and it was promoted as being ideal for carters because there was plenty of feed and water. 

* The Magpie & Stump Inn was first licensed in 1850.

* By 1853 mule teams were carting copper from Burra through the town. They were driven by Spanish-speaking muleteers.

* The town site was laid out in 1854 by Joseph and Henry Gilbert and divided into eight allotments. That same year the slate mine was opened by Peter Brady.

* By 1860 the town was producing most of the slate in South Australia.

* The town's economy collapsed when the copper from Burra started being moved by railway in 1870. The result was that Mintaro was held in aspic.

* By 1876 the town had a population of over 400.

* The Burra mines closed in 1877.

* Martindale Hall was built in 1879-1880.

* By 1880 the slate mines were employing over 50 men.

* In 1931 Walter Lindrum wrote to the Mintaro Slate company congratulating them on their billiard tables. 

* In 1984 Mintaro became the first entire township in South Australia to be classified as a 'State Heritage Area'.


Visitor Information

There is no specific Visitor Centre in Mintaro. The closest is the Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre on the corner of Spring Gully Road and Horrocks Highway, Clare, tel: 1800 242 131, (08) 8842 2131. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.


Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out http://www.mintaro.sa.au.

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