Historic town with chic cafes and an award-winning weekend market
Willunga, and Port Willunga which is 10 km west of the town, are separated by the Willunga Plain which is covered with vineyards. This delightful area, which lies to the south of Adelaide, attracts day trippers to its excellent cafes and restaurants and, on weekends, to its justifiably famous markets. The markets have won "Best Farmer's Market in Australia".
Willunga is located 47 km south of Adelaide via the M2.^ TOP
Origin of Name
Willunga probably comes from a local Aboriginal word 'willangga' meaning either "the locality of green trees" or "black duck".^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Willunga Court House & Police Station Museum
Located at 61 High Street, the Old Police Station and Court House is now a National Trust Museum. Inside the Court House Museum the court room has been accurately recreated and the cells have been preserved. It was built in 1855 on the government reserve using stone from the adjacent quarries. It was used as a female immigration depot until 1872. Major additions were completed in 1864. It was used as a depot to dispense food and blankets to the Aborigines. Its police and judicial functions operated between 1872-1929 when it became a private residence. It was leased by the Willunga District Council to the National Trust of South Australia, restored and opened as a Museum in 1970. The Court House is open every Sunday from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm and on the first Tuesday of each month from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 8556 2195. Check https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/willunga-courthouse-museum for more details.
The Old Post and Telegraph Station
Located on High Street, and over the road from the Old Police Station and Court House, is the Old Post and Telegraph Station. The single storey section on the upper end of the building dates back to 1857. The other section dates to 1864. The original single storey building was opened in 1858. It contained the Post Office, Telegraph Station and the Residential Quarters of the Postmaster. The two storey section was added in 1865. The building ceased its function as a Post and Telegraph Station in 1916 and was sold by the Government in 1935. It was restored in 1986.
Primitive Methodist Church
Located at 30 High Street, the Primitive Methodist Church has been a cafe and restaurant for 20 years. It operated as a church from the 1860s-1890s and its architectural simplicity is typical of the plain design favoured by the Primitive Methodists.
The Old Bush Inn
Located at 51 High Street, the first Old Bush Inn was established in 1839. It has been rebuilt twice. The website for the current Old Bush Inn (see https://www.oldbushinn.com/about) includes a fascinating history with information about the second and third buildings: "The second Bush Inn was a distinctive two storey inn, built in 1870 from locally-made Atkinson’s bricks. It was at the rear of the present building, but overlooked St James Street. The first licensee was Mary Ann Atkinson. The dining room, known as the Long Room, measured 50 feet by 18 feet and was often used for dinners, public meetings, Court hearings and meetings of the District Council. At least one inquest was held here, in 1853, before the Court House was built. The local Hunt Club set out from here for ‘the days hunt through the ranges after Kangaroos, Wild Dogs and Cattle’. In 1882 a servant had a lucky escape when she slipped into the well while drawing water, remaining trapped for an hour or more until rescued. This Inn was demolished to make way for the current building. Some of its red brick foundations survived at the rear of the present hotel until recently, when subdivision occurred. The third single storey Bush Inn was opened in Federation year (1901) with a frontage to High Street. Its first licensee was Catherine Broderick. The Inn was advertised as a pleasant holiday destination for coach travellers, offering good accommodation and moderate terms. Willunga sheep, cattle and horse markets were held in the Inn's large yards."
Located at 1 St Peter's Terrace, and now operating as an upmarket Bed and Breakfast, Willunga House is a handsome Georgian stone residence which was built in 1850. The plaque outside explains: "This house was built for Henry Malpas in the 1850s. It began as a single storey shop and was also a post office when Henry was postmaster. The upper storey and balconies were added in 1864."
Willunga Slate Trail
There is a very unusual walk around town which focuses on the importance of slate (which was mined in the area) as a building material. A detailed brochure can be downloaded at https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Slate-Walk-2.10.pdf. It lists 21 places (many of which are homes) around the town all of which have fine examples of slate.
Some of the more interesting places include:
1. Slate Museum
Located behind the Old Court House and Police Station Museum is the Slate Museum. The Slate Museum's exhibits tell the story of the discovery of slate, the subsequent development of the industry and the influence of the Cornish Quarrymen and their families on the social and cultural life of Willunga and the district. It is open Tuesdays 11.00 am - 4.00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 1.00 pm - 5.00 pm. It is the starting point for the excellent Willunga Slate Trail.
2. St. George Street
St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Church and School in St. George Street are of particular interest. The cemetery has a number of slate headstones and the church, which dates from 1848 is the oldest continuously-used church building in Willunga.
There is a house at 16 St. George Street which was built in the early 1850s for quarrymen Nicholas Male and Frederick Martin. By the 1870s it was used by the nuns who taught at the Catholic School - many of the students were children of the Irish slate quarrymen.
The house at 22 St George Street was the home of Richard Polkinghorne whose brother Thomas was co-owner of Martin’s slate quarry.
3. Sibly House
Located at 8 St. Mary’s Street, Sibly House was the home of slate quarryman Samuel Sibly.
4. St Mary’s Street
At 15 St Mary's Street is St. Mary’s Lodge - once the home of Thomas Martin, quarry owner and operator. Slate was used extensively in the garden landscaping. On the corner of Church Street and St. Mary’s Street are a sheet slate fence and book-leaf slate shed which were once owned by Thomas Martin.
5. Spargo’s Cottage and Culvert
Located at 3 St. Judes Street, Spargo's Cottage was built by Richard Spargo in the 1850s. Opposite Spargo’s cottage is a modern slate culvert built in the traditional book-leaf style, with no mortar.
6. Wesleyan Church and Cemetery
Located in St Jude's Street, the Wesleyan Church was attended by many Cornish slate quarry workers. The cemetery has a number of slate headstones carved by George Sara. There are also two slate sarcophagi for members of the Bastian and Williams family.
7. Arthur’s Cottage
Located at 34 St Andrews Terrace, the Arthur's cottage was occupied by two generations of the Arthur family. In 1936 two Arthur men were killed in a quarry accident. Note the two slate water tanks at the side, the slate window sills and small side-panes on the windows.
Located at 20 St Andrews Terrace, Glantawe is known as the ‘house of slate’. It was built in 1925 for Basil Dunstan and was designed by his father John Dunstan, an architect who purchased the Bangor Quarry in 1917. It is built mainly of panels of sheet slate in heavy timber frames, with some red brick sections. Internal and external walls, and some ceilings, are of grey slate. Coursed slate decorates the brick walls, columns and chimneys. The garage walls and fence are built of slab slate panels.
9. Dawe’s Residence
Located at 19 St. Andrews Terrace this impressive two storey house with a high pitched slate roof was built in the late 1850s by George Sara, the leading builder of the district, for Sampson Dawe, ex-owner of the Delabole Slate Quarry.
10. 8, 9 and 13 St. Andrews Terrace
No. 9 and 13 St Andrews Terrace are examples of early book-leaf style slate buildings and over the road is St. Stephen’s Anglican Church (1884) which has an original slate roof.
12. Alma Hotel and Willunga store
Located in Hill Street, the Alma Hotel opened in 1856 and still has the slate veranda and internal floors. It is recognised as the oldest hotel in Willunga. The cafe nearby has operated since the 1890s. Note the original slate roof.
18. Oddfellows Hall
Located at 35 High Street in 1863, the Hall was the centre of community life for the quarrymen and their families. It was seriously damaged by fire in 1923. Today it is privately owned.
Located at 38 High Street in 1870 for the Church of Christ, this simple stone building still has its original slate roof and outbuildings. It has, through its life, been a POW Depot, Red Cross and CWA meeting rooms, and a Masonic Hall.
20. Bassett Boys’ Schoolroom
Located at 19 St Luke's Street, the Bassett Boys' Schoolroom is a purpose-built schoolroom which was opened in 1862 by James Bassett. It still has the original slate roof and floor.
Other Attractions in the Area
Star of Greece
Located at 1 The Esplanade, Port Willunga, and boasting unforgettable views across Port Willunga beach, the Star of Greece is a classy restaurant which has become a magnet for people travelling to Port Willunga.
The Story of the Star of Greece
The Star of Greece was one of a number of ships coming out of Belfast and was, along with the rest of the ‘Star’ fleet, famed for its speed and elegance. She spent most of her time engaged in the Calcutta jute trade, but did occasionally journey to Mauritius for sugar. During the ship's 20-year life it had made journeys to New Zealand and New York and then came to Australia to collect a load of wheat bound for London.
1888 was a particularly bad year from shipwrecks around the South Australian coast. 18 vessels were involved in collisions and other disasters.
In the grip of a Depression the South Australian government decided it could save £4000 by reducing the number of lighthouse keepers, laying up steamers and dispensing with trained and well practiced crews on the coast service.
So it is hardly surprising that on 13th July 1888, as it made its way down the coast, the Star of Greece got into trouble and there was little or no assistance available.
On the particular day the wind was hauling, the rain was thick and the barometer had fallen to an unprecedented low. The strong SW wind was pounding the coast with such ferocity that it pushed the Star of Greece 46 km off course. By 2.00 am the ship hit what at first was thought to be a reef. It was soon realised that it had run aground on the main coast only 200m from shore. Shortly after it was wrecked the ship broke in two amidship. The 16,002 bags of wheat heading for London were lost and, because of the reduction of services, it took 14 hours for a rescue crew to reach the scene. Of the 28 crew, 17 were drowned. Today the vessel is a popular dive site
Star of Greece Dive Site
An underwater plaque records the sad history of the Star of Greece (1868-1888). "a three masted iron ship of 1227 tons built at Belfast, Ireland in 1868. One of the fastest and finest ships in the Star Line. On 13th July 1888 while bound for Great Britain with a cargo of 16,000 bags of wheat aboard the vessel was wrecked during a severe storm. Inadequate lifesaving facilities and the severity of the storm contributed to the death of eighteen members of the crew." For detailed diving instructions check out http://divingadelaide.com.au/guided-dives/shore-diving/star-of-greece-wreck/ which has a map and lots of useful information.
Coast to Vines Rail Trail
The Coast to Vines Rail Trail is a shared path for cyclists and pedestrians that follows the route of the original railway from Marino to Willunga. It is approximately 37 km and traverses the coastal cliffs at Marino, the suburbs of Hallett Cove, Reynella, Morphett Vale, Hackham, Seaford Rise and then passes through McLaren Vale and on to Willunga. There is a downloadable map at https://cdn.marion.sa.gov.au/sp/Coast_to_Vines_Brochure_Map.pdf?mtime=20180403161742. There is detailed information about each section of the route at https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=199.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by Kaurna Aboriginal people.
* Willunga was surveyed in 1839, only three years after the settlement of South Australia.
* The Hundred of Willunga was purchased by Edward Moore in 1839. That year saw the opening of a post office in the town.
* The townsite was surveyed in 1840. A government hut was erected in that year.
* By 1840 the town's first 'Bush Inn', a slab hut was built. That same year a slate quarry was established in the district.
* The early settlers named the streets in town after saints.
* The Port Willunga jetty was built in the 1850s to ship slate from the district.
* In 1855 the Court House, used at the time as a female immigration depot, was built.
* By 1870 the slate industry was central to the economic health of the town. Over 20,000 slate tiles were being shipped out each week.
* In 1872 the Court House began being used as a Court House.
* The slate declined in the 1890s.
* A railway reached the town in 1915
* The Court House was closed in 1929.
* The railway was closed in 1969.
* The Court House Museum was opened in 1970.^ TOP
There is no Visitor Information Centre in Willunga. The closest is the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Visitor Information Centre, 796 Main Road, McLaren Vale, tel: (08) 8323 9944. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Saturday and Sunday.^ TOP
There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.willunga.com.^ TOP