Old Government House Run, Belair.
Wednesday 10th April
The first part of our run to Old Government House at Belair followed the “old road to Adelaide” route as far as Stirling and what memories that brought back. Not only the road itself, but all the little shortcuts that we had to use when trying to overtake trucks and semi-trailers. How did we ever survive? But on a lovely autumn day this was a very pleasant drive despite the very dry conditions. As we got closer to our destination, the countryside did start to green up a bit and the trees started to show their autumn colours. This was more like I had envisaged.
So, having met up with the Wegeners and Chapmans at Kanmantoo and Tony Brine at Mount Barker, we all made it to the Belair National Park despite my best efforts to lose a few in the back blocks of Stirling. I was impressed that they all arrived. We proceeded to Old Government House, where we were welcomed by Ray Wilkins and his merry band of helpers. There were too many of us to do the tour in one group, so we had to split, one group doing the tour straight away, the other having tea, coffee and scones, then the groups swapping over. Weren’t the scones great? However, I did not think we would all survive when something that sounded like a small truck hit the roof. Ray calmly explained it was only a Bunya nut from the huge tree overhanging the building we were in, but we never did work out if it fell by its own accord, was dropped by the cockies or thrown by the Koala.
The guided tour started in the Old Government house itself. Built in 1860 as the Governor’s summer residence, in reality it was more of a hunting lodge. Although a lovely building, it is not large and nothing as grand as the summer house at Marble Hill that replaced it around 1880. As the Governors of the time used their own furniture, none of the items currently on display are original, however they are period correct and have their own stories to tell, generally having been previously owned by some of South Australia’s prominent citizens. The indoor plunge pool is original though, the first in the state. Fed by spring water and not heated, it would need to be a very hot day to entice me!
The servant’s quarters and kitchen were also furnished with interesting household items of the day and provoked many comments on their uses. The gardens with their stately old trees and garden beds set the house off nicely.
When the house ceased to be the Governor’s residence, it firstly, till 1885, became home to a German chemist, Max Bernbaum, who converted the servants quarters into “the Bi-Sulphide of Carbon Manufactory”, where he and 9 employees produced thousands of gallons of rabbit poison to be supplied to the pastoralists, as rabbits were in plague proportions in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Other residents followed before the building was opened in 1961 as a National Heritage Monument, with the Friends of Old Government House assisting in the restoration and maintenance of the property.
We thanked Ray Wilkins and the Friends of Old Government House for a very pleasant and interesting morning before retiring to a nearby shelter shed for lunch in the brilliant sunshine. What a pleasant setting. Eventually the group dispersed to return home, although most could not resist a visit to the nearby State Flora Nursery. I was impressed with the size of the whole setup and the variety of plants and “things” for sale. I had thought that it may be tailored to high rainfall areas, but that was not the case, as we purchased a couple of plants that may even survive in our dry garden. Others must have thought so too, as quite a few plants seemed to head off towards Murray Bridge.
And so it was time for us to head off home too. Thanks to all those who attended, hope you enjoyed the day.
John & Vicki Courtney