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Strathalbyn, SA

Arguably South Australia's prettiest historic town

There is something truly charming about Strathalbyn. It makes a reasonable claim to being the most beautiful town in South Australia and one of the prettiest towns in the country. Not surprisingly it is a classified Heritage Town. Its appeal lies primarily in the way the centre of the town runs along the River Angas and is characterised by a large area of parkland, known as the Soldiers Memorial Gardens. A feature of the park is the delightful Children's Bridge which was completed in 1919. The park gives the town a uniquely European feel. It is more like a very unusual village green than anything else in Australia. The park is edged by historic buildings and provides the village/town with a unique and quaint centre.

Location

Strathalbyn is located 55 km south-east of Adelaide via National Highway 1.

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Origin of Name

Strath Albyn comes from two Gaelic words - 'strath' meaning "broad valley" or "a valley with a river running through it" and "Albion" meaning 'hilly land". "Albion", which was also a term used to describe Great Britain, was the name of a steel mill which Dr. William Rankine had a large shareholding in. It is widely accepted that Dr. Rankine contracted the two words and created "Strathalbyn".

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Things to See and Do

A Walk Around The Town
Strathalbyn has 44 buildings of historic interest. There is a Strathalbyn - A Walk Around The Town brochure, available at the Visitor Information Centre, which provides an exccllent map and detailed information for the visitor.
Of particular interest are historic buildings and locations including:

1. Railway Station
Built in 1884 when the railway from Mount Barker arrived in the town. Originally it was drawn by horses but by 1885 steam had arrived and the line had been strengthened. It continued to operate until it closed in 1984.

6. Victoria Hotel
Located at 16 Albyn Terrace, the Victoria Hotel is a vital part of the historic townscape.  It was built from local bluestone in 1865 and retains its historic charm. For more information check out http://www.vichotelstrath.com.au.

8. Terminus Hotel
The Terminus Hotel (licensed as the Strathalbyn Hotel by Donald Gollan in 1840) was the town's first building and is located on Franklin Street. It achieved a brief moment of royal fame when it hosted a dinner to honour Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. It was renamed the Terminus Hotel when it became the ideal stopping point for passengers on the tramway which connected Goolwa with Strathalbyn in 1869.

9. Strathalbyn & District Heritage Centre
Located at 1 Rankine Street and housed in the old police station (1858) and Court House (1867) the Strathalbyn & District Heritage Centre includes, as its website explains, "several rooms set out in the style of the Victorian era, a room reflecting changes in health care over the years, and a courtyard with very high stone walls. From the courtyard, one can access the three jail cells. Displays in the recently refurbished courtroom focus upon the lives of the original inhabitants and upon the settlers who first came to the district. The Scottish influence is emphasised. In the yard is an extensive collection of farm machinery from the past, including an excellent example of a furphy, a blacksmith's shop, horse drawn vehicles and exhibits centering on the history of the local Emergency Services. Notable exhibits include an original horseworks and the world-beating high technology solar cycle, the Solar Flare." It is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday from 1.30 pm - 4.00 pm. For more details (08) 8536 2656. Check out http://www.strathmuseum.org.au for more information.

11. St Andrews Uniting Church
St Andrews Uniting Church on the banks of the River Angas was originally the local Presbyterian Church serving the predominantly Scottish community. It started as a school cum church in 1844. This was probably the second Presbyterian church in South Australia. Over the years the church has grown. The present church was started in 1848; the transepts were added in 1859; and the nave, gallery, spire and porch were added after 1865. The website on the church notes: "A prominent citizen, Edward Stirling, who had returned to Scotland, was persuaded to donate a bell for the spire.   The bell, which was cast in Sheffield (UK), weighed a tonne.   When it arrived in Strathalbyn, church officials realized at once that it was too heavy for the spire.  Several alternatives were tried but eventually the decision was made in1869 to build a bell tower. Mrs E J Tucker suggested (in 1895) that the tower needed a clock and so started a subscription list in the community enabling the project to be completed.  The clock faces came from England and the clock was installed by Wendt’s of Adelaide. The last of the buildings was completed in 1938, when the vestry and furnishings were donated by Mrs Tucker to celebrate 100 years of Presbyterianism in South Australia." See http://historicalsociety.unitingchurch.org.au/my-dream for more information.

13. Soldiers Memorial Garden and Children's Bridge
The early settlers, most of whom were Scottish, were inspired when they decided to construct the town around a large "square" with the River Angas running through it. Over the years this became the Soldiers Memorial Garden - an ideal place for a picnic with a charming Children's Bridge across the river. The bridge was given by William Richardson in 1919 in memory of his wife, Margaret.

14. Mill Bridge
The Mill Bridge crosses Dawson Creek. The local weir, once the town's main swimming pool, is nearby. Nearby are the Bandstand (built in 1912) and the War Memorial with its unusual bronze relief panels created by sculptor Douglas Richardson.

17. Argus House
Argus House, the one time home of the local paper and South Australia's first rural newspaper, the Southern Argus, which is located at 33 Commercial Road and forms a vital part of the streetscape which surrounds the Soldiers Memorial Garden.

18. The Mill House
The Mill House and the store are a picturesque complex. The original Mill Cottage is the centre part of “Watervilla”, the large bay windows and extra rooms being added by Richard Hooper in 1879. The old part of the flour mill was built by Donald Gollan in 1849 and sold to William Colman in 1851. He enlarged it over the years and it was run by the Johnston family from 1883 until 1928 when it was sold to the Laucke family. A new mill was built in Callington Road in 1961.

20. Grain Store
William Colman built the large Grain Store in the 1860s, and a small tram line crossed the road to the mill. The store was used for concerts before the Institute (Town Hall) was built and was sold to the Agricultural Society when the land to the north was the showgrounds and football oval.

25 & 26. Bell's Corner
The large store on Bell’s Corner was built in the 1860s by Edward Sunter, first mayor of the Corporation. When he died in 1869 it was bought by David Bell and greatly enlarged over the years. On the opposite corner the two-storey building of 1926 was once the Commercial Bank, while in Swale Street is the old carpenter’s shop of Alexander Caldwell, built in the 1850s. Twin workmen’s cottages are next door.

31. London House
London House in the High Street was built by Thomas Stephens in 1867 and has been restored as an antique shop. There are stables at the rear.

32. The Robin Hood Hotel
Located on the corner of Grey and High Streets, the Robin Hood Hotel which was first opened in 1855. It is one of the town's four hotels. For more information check out http://www.robinhoodhotelstrathalbyn.com.au. When first opened it including Auction Rooms and the rear of the hotel was saleyards and a showground.

40. Glenbarr
Located on the Paris Creek Road north of the town, the two storey dwelling, Glenbarr, was built by William Rankine in 1842 and is now the centre of Scottish activity in the district. It has a small chapel and is used each year for the town's Scottish Festival, the Glenbarr Highland Gathering. It is now part of the Glenbarr Camp and Conference Centre. For more information check out http://www.glenbarr.com.au.

River Angas Walkway
The Visitor Information Centre has a brochure titled River Angas Walkway - A self guided walk through Strathalbyn following the Angas River which explains that the river was named in December, 1837 after George Fife Angas (as was Angaston) who, at the time, was the chairman of the South Australian Company. There are two walks - one up the river and one down the river. The walk down the river starts at the Children's Bridge (it was first built in 1919 and a replica replaced the original in 1978) which was constructed by William Richardson who was concerned about children crossing the river by stepping stones. It then moves on past the weir, passes the National Australia Bank (1867) and an old gum tree which has been scarred by Aborigines making a canoe. The walk then continues on beyond St Andrews Cathedral, under the railway bridge and past the Gasworks cottage. The walk upstream passes the band rotunda, the war memorial, the old swimming pool, the town's first cemetery and up to the North Parade wetland.

Strathalbyn Antiques
Over the past three decades the town has built a reputation as a home of exceptional antique shops, antiques markets and places where collectables and impressive pieces to enhance interior design can be purchased. Every August the town attracts thousands to the Strathalbyn Antiques, Collectables & Interior Design Fair. Check out the details at http://strathalbynsa.com.au/about/antique-interior-design-fair.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Langhorne Creek
The tiny settlement of Langhorne Creek, with its beautiful old Bridge Hotel (established 1850) and its attractive sandstone buildings, lies at the heart of an important South Australian district which is known internationally for the Langhorne Creek premium red grape growing region. Check out http://www.langhornecreek.com for information about the cellar doors and the twenty six wine makers who operate in the area.

The Strathlink
There is a delightful steam train which runs from Victor Harbor and Port Elliot to Strathalbyn on selected dates and during school holidays. Check the website (http://www.steamrangerheritagerailway.org) for more information - prices, timetables etc. The website includes the following information: "The StrathLink operates on a small number of selected dates in school holidays, running northwards from Victor Harbor, Pt Elliot and Goolwa to Strathalbyn and return, usually featuring our locally restored heritage "Brill" railcar. Passengers from Victor Harbor and Port Elliot travel on the first Cockle Train of the day and then join the Brill railcar at Goolwa. On the return journey the Brill car returns right through to Victor Harbor in the evening. Between Victor Harbor and Goolwa the train follows the coastline ... stopping at Pt Elliot en route. At Goolwa, Strathalbyn bound passengers transfer to our railcar. Leaving Goolwa at 11.35 am the railcar passes our loco depot just out of the town and then crosses the towering Currency Creek viaduct. Then its across the plains and well away from the main road where native bushland unfolds from your carriage window and kangaroos and other animals might be seen trying to keep pace with the locomotive! At around 12.30 pm the train arrives at the historic township of Strathalbyn where many Scottish migrants settled in the early 1800s, influencing the early architecture which is still evident today ... The Brill departs southwards again mid afternoon giving passengers nearly two hours to explore this interesting town."

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Strathalbyn was inhabited by people from the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal language group.

* The River Angas was named after George Fife Angas. Chairman of the South Australian Company, by the Cock and Finlayson expedition in December, 1837.

* The Angas River district, at the southern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges, was settled in 1839 when Dr John Rankine from Ayrshire, one of a 105 Scottish immigrants who had arrived at Holdfast Bay near Adelaide on the ship Fairfield, took up land along with eight other beneficiaries.

* In 1841 William Rankine (Dr Rankine's brother) and Colonel James Dawson took up land in the district. This land would eventually become the site of the township.

* The town's founders decided, once the town site had been chosen, that the banks of the river remain parkland thus creating the town's delightful centre.

* By 1842 Glenbarr, a substantial stone house, had been built by Dr Rankine.

* In 1844 the foundation stone for St Andrews Church was laid.

* The town's first Police Station was opened in 1858.

* The Corporation of Strathalbyn was founded in 1868. This same year Cobb & Co reached the village and established a regular service to Adelaide.

* In 1869 a broad gauge tramway was constructed between Goolwa and Strathalbyn. At the tramway terminus the Terminus Hotel was built to provide refreshments for passengers.

* As recently as 1873 local Aborigines were still gathering beside the river in the town's central park.

* The railway from Adelaide reached the town in 1884.

* By 1889 the town had its own cheese factory.

* In 1919 the first Children's Bridge was constructed across the River Angas.

* In 1975 a number of street scenes for Picnic at Hanging Rock were filmed in the town.

* Today Strathalbyn, apart from enjoying the benefits of tourism, is a rural service centre in an area dominated by mixed farming, vineyards, cereal crops, cattle, sheep, orchards and alpacas.

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Visitor Information

Strathalbyn Visitor Information Centre, 20 South Terrace, tel: 1300 007 842. It is open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://strathalbynsa.com.au. There is a useful, downloadable brochure with information about accommodation, food and wine, antiques, arts and crafts and events and attractions. Check out http://strathalbynsa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/SLTA-2014-brochure.pdf.

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Got something to add?

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

7 suggestions
  • I hope you don’t mind me using this way of contacting you, but I am researching a family member who died during WW1. He was born in Strathalbyn in 1895, and died in France in 1916. His name is Thomas Sadler, and I am wondering if Thomas is remembered on your War Memorial. I would appreciate it if you would be kind enough to let me know.

    Janet Graves
  • No name is not there.

    BAZ
  • The town also unusually had its own Gasworks supplying the town with gas produced from coal in the 1860’s. It closed in 1917 due to Electricity being favoured. The heritage listed buildings have been repurposed as a residence with three cottages let as charming period self contained bed and breakfast accommodation.

    Heather Dean
  • Excellent review. I was born in Strath. I now reside Encounter Bay. Yhe reason for leaving was because of a love for golf. Unfortunately the Strath golf course did not satisfy my wanting for a good course.

    Neville
  • My grandfather was an engine driver, we believe the first to drive train over viaduct. My father finished up as foreman at Gilbert Motors before starting his own business L(Norm) Clough on South Terrace.

    Neville Clough
  • Well I was given a special packet of biscuits along with a bouquet of flowers from a florist while in a BRISBANE hospital & was interested to find out where the biscuits were made. Had never heard of your town so I googled it. Sounds an interesting place but there is no mention of your biscuit factory, and yet that is what caused me to find out about your area. Why not mention some of the industries you have there ?

    Sally Mattocks
    • Simple answer – we can’t mention everything and, in the case of industries, there are many small towns that have literally hundreds of great cottage industries making jams, biscuits and other goodies. It would be far too complex.

      Bruce Elder