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

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