Gawler, about 40 km north of Adelaide, was proposed as a place of settlement by Colonel William Light in 1837 when travelling through the area with members of the South Australian Company. While the company did not act on the proposal, a number of other settlers applied for a Special Survey of 1618 ha. A town – 40 ha. commercial and 60 ha. public and civic – was surveyed in 1839, and named after the Governor of South Australia, George Gawler. Only Adelaide and Port Adelaide preceded Gawler.

Gawler is situated on the junction of the North Para, South Para and Gawler Rivers, and the Barrier and Sturt Highways converge at Gawler.

The discovery of copper at Kapunda caused the movement of goods between there and Adelaide. Gawler became a stopping place. Traffic grew more when copper was discovered at Burra in 1846. Local government by a district council came in 1854, and Gawler was separately incorporated as a town on 9th July, 1857. The district’s agricultural expansion was stimulated by the growth of mining. The railway from Adelaide reached Gawler in 1857 and was extended to Kapunda in 1869. In the 1870s small farms became available for selection, and Gawler’s industrial infrastructure was added to: flour mills (1845-64), foundries (1860s-1875) and chaff-cutting (1879). Adjoining suburban townships were surveyed. Until the turn of the century Gawler enjoyed high prosperity, a keystone being contracts for railway rolling stock. Water from the Barossa Water Scheme was reticulated in 1901. The 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook described Gawler as –


The first three decades of the twentieth century brought mixed results to Gawler. The building industry stimulated sand quarrying – bringing transport, employment and licence fees to the local Council. But work for the foundries lessened, and strikes increased. By 1929 unemployment was rising. Economic independence waned, more of the workforce found employment outside Gawler, and the town began its transformation to a dormitory suburb. However, enlargement of the town resulted in re-unification of the town and district councils on 22nd June, 1933. The post-war period brought more urban settlers, attracted by lower land prices. In 1949 The Australian Blue Book described Gawler as –


Post-war suburban growth included developments by the South Australian Housing Trust and the influx of new populations. The focus of community and cultural activities on the Gawler Institute shifted to Government-funded schools and institutions; long-standing shops and businesses were overtaken by metropolitan firms.

By the 1970s Gawler emerged as a major regional centre, with both residential and commercial growth. The municipal boundaries of 1933 were enlarged by taking parts from three surrounding district councils on 13th March, 1985. Gawler’s suburbs comprise Gawler West, South Evanston, Evanston Gardens and Evanston Heights (southwards and westwards) and Willaston (eastwards).

The 1970s also saw considerable redevelopment of the old town centre, with an emphasis on conservation. A four mill which closed in 1970 was converted to offices. Several other historic buildings are preserved. Although Gawler is relatively close to Adelaide its position on the route to the Barossa Valley enables it to include tourism in its local economy.

Further Reading:

  • Phillips, Susan and Pickington, Michael, “Gawler’s Industrial Buildings 1839-1939”, University of Adelaide, Department of Architecture, 1980.
  • Treloar, Wendy; “History of Gawler The first 50 years

One thought on “Gawler”

  1. My Father Herbert Mc Ewen was born in Gawler in 1904 his parents were Dominic and Ethel (Nee’ Freeman) Mc Ewen. They had a farm outside Gawler. He primary school education was at Kangaroo Flats School, and secondary education at the Gawler High School, where he passed his Leaving School and won the Country Schoolboys Scholarship to the School of Mines in Adelaide and later the Adelaide University.
    He graduated with a degree in electrical and civil engineering. He worked at the Adelaide Electric Supply Company which later became the South Australian Electricity Commission. In 1938 he was chosen to represent South Australia at the World Fair in New York (in 1939),showcasing Australian Electric consumer goods, he then travelled to London on the Queen Mary as Australian representative to London to a world conference organised by British General Electric.
    World War 11 was declared while he was in London and all Merchant ships were commissioned for the war effort, in the meantime,because he was in the militia (Saturday afternoon Soldiers), he was sent to Sandhurst by the British Army,,By some stroke of luck he was able to get back to Australia on a convoy that was sending out ships to bring Australian soldiers back to the war in Europe. My father was only 35 years old at the time and he obtained the rank of Colonel before he was 40. He was Chief Ordinance Officer of the Australian Army, He went to New Guinea in 1944 and set up engineering workshops in Lae and Port Moresby. He was a big man and well liked , he was very tall and excelled in sports,especially, tennis and cricket. He scored a century in a special fundraising cricket match in Melbourne in 1943, called Officers versus the Men…a record amount was raised for what was called ‘The War Effort’ .
    After the War he moved to Sydney with his wife and six children. He was offered the position of chief engineer of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, but sadly was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was able to recommend a New Zealand friend who was an engineer on the Hydroelectric scheme in that country, That man – Sir William Hudson, was hugely successful in completing the scheme under budget and under-time and gave many young and new Australians a great start in life.
    I am sure you will find there are many great Australians who had their start in lIfe in Gawler.
    Helen Wyborn (nee’ Mc Ewen)

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