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The Hundred of Willunga was surveyed in 1839 and purchased by Edward Moore. The town was surveyed the following year although it is true that there was already a police station in the district. By 1840 the town's first Inn called the 'Bush Inn‘, a slab hut was built (the current structure is the third).
It was around this time that a slate quarry was established in the district. This immediately established the area as the slate was of such quality it was shipped around Australia from Port Willunga. After the success of slate the area became an important wheat growing district. The early settlers named the streets in town after saints which gives the town, which has large numbers of charming old buildings, a quaint European feel. The slate declined in the 1890s and part of the town's charm is that it has largely remained untouched since its glory days in the 1850s and 1860s.
Where is Willunga
Willunga is in the City of Onkaparinga local government area. It is 5 km away from the wine growing region of McLaren Vale and is approx. 47 km from the Adelaide CBD. Willunga is on the Fleurieu Peninsula and is connected to the town of McLaren Vale by a cycle path running along a former railway line and is only a short distance from the clean, swimming beaches of Aldinga. The beach which in summer often has 300 cars parked on it, beach shelters and barbecues set up with all generations engaged in a sensational family outing.
It is an historic township which was established only three years after the settlement of South Australia, many of its buildings are Heritage listed.
Willunga is home to many festivals, including the start and finish of the 4th leg of the Tour Down Under, the Fleurieu Folk Festival and the historic Almond Blossom Festival. July/August 2009 saw the 40th Willunga Almond Blossom Festival with outstanding celebrations for the entire family.
Slate was first discovered in South Australia in 1840 by Edward Loud on his property near Willunga. In June of that same year it was reported that the quarry was exhaustless and would become a valuable article of export. By August, when another quarry had also started production, Loud was able to employ about a dozen families. In November 1841 a contract was secured for the supply of 20,000 slates for Sydney. By the middle of 1842 the demand from New South Wales and Victoria for slate was increasing rapidly.
During the latter part of 1844 demand for slate was enough for a quarry to be opened at Brown Hill Creek, near Adelaide, which had very strong slate, fit for flooring or durable street flagging. Since that time slate has been produced to be used for shingles, mantle pieces, fencing, fence posts, paving, roofing tiles, floors, tables, work benches, sills, kerbs, steps, tombstones, blackboards, slates, troughs, vats, pavements, table tops, water and fermenting tanks, cricket pitches, bridges, hearths, posts and pillars. Even sidewalks in Adelaide and Melbourne were made from slate. When powdered slate is mixed with limestone (1:3) it makes a good cement.
Martin's quarry was opened up by Thomas Williams and Thomas Polkinghorne. It too changed ownership on several occasions and finally stopped production in 1912. With most of the quarries a few kilometres from the town of Willunga, many of the workers and their families lived around the quarries.
At Delabole, started in the early 1840s, nearly a hundred people lived on site and even built their own church. The majority of them, as in the other quarries, came from Cornwall
The severe and prolonged depression of the 1890's resulted in the decline of the slate industry and only a few men were employed at Willunga and at Mintaro.
Shortage of building materials after the First World War caused a renewal of the industry. A new plant was opened by Australian Slate Quarries, at the old Bangor quarry, in 1921. The official opening was to be performed by the Governor of South Australia, but as it was too cold he declined. The new works comprised a new dressing mill forty metres long and fifteen metres wide, a hundred horsepower boiler to provided steam and many other engines and machines. The slate was obtained from seventy metres (roughly 210 feet) below ground level needing a five ton steam crane to lift the slate from the quarry. The new company also installed an air compressor to operate the drilling and cutting machines. However, a hand operated slate cutting machine, built in 1881, is still in use today.
During the late 1960s a Victorian company opened up new quarries, while the Bangor quarry was managed by B.G. Dunstan. Once again Willunga slate was exported to Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.
Today Willunga's famous slate industry is once again in operation.
Things to see and do in Willunga
Old Courthouse & Police Station Museum
The Old Police Station and Court House is now a National Trust Museum located in the High Street. Inside the Court House Museum the Court has been accurately recreated and the cells, which date from more recent times have been preserved. It is open on weekends in the afternoon. On the side of the building is written 'Court House and Police Station. It was built in 1855 on the government reserve using stone from the adjacent quarries. Major additions were completed in 1864. It was used as a depot to dispense food and blankets to the Aborigines and was for a time a female immigrant depot. Its police and judicial functions continued until 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 heritage-listed Courthouse Museum is an authentic 19th Century courtroom with jury and prisoner boxes, cells and exercise yard - ideal for courtroom re-enactments.
See displays of memorabilia from the old police station and court cases. Browse through family and district archives or enjoy the picturesque picnic areas and self-guided walking trail through the nature reserve across the creek.
The Old Post and Telegraph Station
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 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 and is now a private residence.
The Old Bush Inn
The first Old Bush Inn was established in 1839. It was subsequently rebuilt twice but the modern Old Bush Inn is still a place of considerable charm and historic interest.
Mount Magnificent Conservation Park
Located 12 km south east of the town this attractive Conservation area is part of the Heysen Trail. It is an ideal place to visit if you are hoping to see western grey kangaroos in their native habitat.
Located 14 km south east of Willunga, Mount Compass is a very small settlement named after the occasion, in 1840, when Governor Gawler lost his compass near this site. Maybe it should have been called Mount Lost Compass. The town serves an agricultural district typified by dairy farms and market gardens.
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