Our Early Beginnings

Boltons historic pic1.jpg

Aboriginal Settlement

When the first settlers arrived from Great Britain and began the colonisation of South Australia in 1836 they found the Adelaide Plains occupied throughout by Aborigines. The main local group, estimated to number about 300 individuals, was called the Kaurna (pron. "Ghana") Tribe, and their territory was found to extend from near Crystal Brook in the north to Cape Jervis in the south and inland to the Mount Lofty Ranges. Archaeologists believe the Kaurna Tribe occupied this region for many thousands of years.

The Kaurna people lived in family groups or clans and led a hunter-gatherer existence, moving about their strictly defined tribal lands in a never-ending quest for food. The collapse of traditional culture in the wake of colonisation, and the rapid extinction of many groups due mainly to the introduction of fatal diseases, gave little opportunity for records to be made of the traditions of these people. (Extract from "The Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains", by Robert Edwards)

Early Impressions

For a few years the Adelaide Kaurnas and tribes from the Murray River were present in considerable numbers: "At every creek and gully you would see their wurlies and their fires at night", wrote James Milne Young, who grew up near Beaumont and later kept a nursery-garden in the Burnside Village. "Often as many as 500 to 600 would be camped in various places ... some behind the Botanic Gardens on the banks of the river; some toward the Ranges; some on the Waterfall Gully."

Edward Stephens, son of an early farmer living near modern Erindale, recollected "one memorable Christmas afternoon" about 1840 when a "large number of settlers had met to spend a merry hour or two" on a piece of cleared land just south of the grog shanty in Kensington. They baked in ashes small Johnny Cakes (damper) six to eight inches in diameter and set them up on sticks. Woomeras in hand, Aboriginal spearmen waited for the trial to begin: then, aiming from as far off as a hundred yards, they were nearly always on target.

Witnessing a 'War-Dance'

Shipster's Paddock (southern Kensington Park) was a favourite arena for Aboriginal celebrations. Bishop Short in the late 1840s saw 300 tribesmen "in their wild state" and his servants "used to go out and witness what was going on". He himself saw the painted warriors practising war-dances, the women sitting round "crying out and clapping their hands" in time with the movements. Harry Perry, born in 1847 across the road at Leabrook, also saw "quite 200 blacks" on Shipster's paddock:

"We boys used to think them wonderful to watch. The blacks didn't paint themselves as elaborately as those in the interior do, they just did themselves up a bit and went through a lot of shouting and antics. The women sat by drumming on rolled-up possum skins. They seemed to be acting a kind of warfare. Sometimes they would come towards where the women were drumming, crouching and threatening with their weapons, when they would retire again and go through more stamping and gesticulating and shouting."

A Large Corroboree

Edward Stephens:

"By special invitation of a large tribe of Aboriginals, we met to witness the first and largest corroboree that ever I saw. It was an entertainment in honour of the new moon and was both comprehensive and imposing: it was a serio-comico-ludicro play in four acts, intended to portray the leading events in human life. It embraced a representation of the amusing games of childhood, the seriousness and absurdities often seen in courtship, the excitements of hunting and the fiery passions of a fierce tribal conflict. Unlike the plays of civilization death was not mimicked - that was with them no subject for jest nor even for serious conversation, it was for the contemplation of the mind in mournful silence. The whole affair was highly instructive and was kept up with interest from shortly after dark until near midnight."

Burial fit for a Queen

An ancient native burying ground - one of the oldest and most sacred of the Adelaide tribe - was on an acre of land off Kensington Road, bounded by Brigalow Avenue and Stonyfell Creek.

Edward Stephens:

"The Queen had died away down by the Torrens and her remains carried on a sort of litter for four miles to her grave. The grave was dug by a few men, who used their spears and hands to remove the earth. Messengers, seemingly weighed down with grief, often went to and fro between the grave-diggers and the slowly approaching funeral procession.

"On they came and away they went, mad-like in their movements ... they halted for a moment, started again, walked backwards, sideways, forward, around one tree, backward, around another, sideways around a third ... keeping up all the time a mournful chant. A few pieces of bark and some leaves were placed on the bottom of the grave; the body was then gently lowered, leaves and bark were placed gently on it and then the grave was filled with earth. With bark and boughs they built a little wurley over the newly-made grave, with its open side towards the east. I learnt afterwards that the object of their eccentric journeys was to puzzle the evil one, and so prevent him from following their footsteps and catching the queen before she had time to reach the eastern and sunny land of the good."

When the Europeans arrived

Even as Colonel Light's survey team laid out the City of Adelaide in the beginning, and the country sections around its parklands, the Aboriginal presence had been doomed. Just as the Kaurnas themselves had made the banks of the Torrens their main tribal base, so did the Europeans; and the creeks that came down from the hills were similarly valued. (Extract from "The Paddocks Beneath", by Elizabeth Warburton.)

European Settlement since 1836

The City of Burnside is located in the South Eastern inner metropolitan area of Adelaide. It is bordered by the cities of Unley, Mitcham, Adelaide, Norwood Payneham and St Peters, Campbelltown and the Adelaide Hills Council. Over an eighth of its area of 25.7 sq km is devoted to Parks and Reserves, making it one of the most beautiful residential areas in Adelaide.

The area now delineated as Burnside was first officially settled by Europeans in 1839. In that year Peter Anderson, a Scot, leased land from the SA Co. near Second Creek on Section 320. He built three stone cottages (one of which is still standing) and grew barley and wheat and raised cattle, pigs and poultry. Because his farm was alongside the creek and because the Scottish word for creek is 'Burn' Anderson called his farm Burnside.

By 1850 the name was in common usage in the area and was formally adopted in August 1856 when the District Council of Burnside was removed from the 100 square mile East Torrens Council and proclaimed as a separate District Council. Burnside's boundaries have been altered several times since then. Late in 1856 the suburb of Kent Town was transferred to Kensington and Norwood. In 1876 the sections at the head of Waterfall Gully (1286, 920 and 1006) were transferred from the District Council of Crafers, and in 1999 the suburbs of Skye and that part of Auldana not already in Burnside were transferred from the Adelaide Hills Council. Burnside was proclaimed a Municipality in 1935 and a City in 1943.

Burnside remained largely rural and sparsely settled until the early 20th Century. The villages of Magill, Burnside, Beaumont and Glen Osmond were established by the 1870s, providing some of the services and labour necessary for a rural economy. Mining and some secondary industry were also established: Australia's first metalliferous mine - the silver-lead Wheal Gawler - was operated at Glen Osmond from 1841 to 1851, as were a number of other mines in the Glen Osmond area and in Waterfall Gully. The chimney of a smelter built by the Glen Osmond Mining Company in the 1840s still stands on a hill at Glen Osmond, a reminder of the area's mining heritage. With the move of Cooper's Brewery from Leabrook at the end of 2001, almost all of the secondary industry in Burnside has now gone.

A significant number of historic buildings remain, a few of which have national importance, including the aforementioned smelting chimney: the Toll Bar House on the Mount Barker road (one of Burnside's oldest buildings and probably the only one of its type in Australia); the Clayton-Wesley Uniting Church at Beulah Park; Beaumont House; and some of the buildings at Glenside Hospital. About 50 important structures and sites in Burnside are recorded on South Australia's Heritage Register; 11 of these are on the National Trust's Classified List.

With the passage of time Burnside changed from a rural area (dairying, grain, grapes and olives) with just a few pockets of settlement to a largely suburban area, with patches of commercial development. By 1941, only 501 acres were under cultivation, most of these vineyards and orchards.

Today Burnside is a highly sought after eastern residential area, with a mixture of open space and housing. There is a full range of community facilities, including a library, swimming pool, community centres, sporting facilities and art gallery. It is one of Adelaide's most pleasant places to live.

Interested in learning more about Burnside's history?

The Burnside Historical Society meets in the Burnside Community Centre at 8 pm on the 3rd Monday of the month.
Please contact Isabel Williams on 8379 4090 for more information.