BAG History Group / Belair National Park

Men playing cricket at Long Gully in Belair National Park - Approximately 1938

Image credit - State Library of South Australia - [PRG 287/1/5/3]

In 2020 the focus of the Blackwood Action Group History Subcommittee’s regular articles will be on the reserves and parks of the Mitcham Hills district.

"Picnic in the Park"

The Belair National Park was a popular escape from the plains in the summer heat. In 1910 The Register commented that the Park was accessed “by drag or trap, or by train, eight pence return on excursion days” but “in the evening people often have to wait till several trains have passed before they can get a seat.”

The National Park became the place to go for the annual outing by companies, government departments, associations, and for school picnics, Sunday School picnics, as well as family groups. The picnic outing often preceded the annual close-down of the business over summer in a time before air-conditioning; taking place pre-Christmas to Australia Day. Many workplaces had sports teams and an annual picnic was usually accompanied by a cricket match, a tug-of-war and races for the children.

The ‘new’ technique of photography for large groups was used at many of these events. The Photographs Collection of the State Library of South Australia puts an interesting perspective on the users of the National Park and its importance in the social history of South Australia. Company picnics and sports days included: A. Simpson & Sons (1893), Marine Board (1909), Taxation Department Cricket matches (1904, 1910, 1920, Association for the Advancement of Science (1912). After WW1, visiting sailors enjoyed a picnic in Belair National Park (1920), a Royal Navy sailors picnic in 1922, and Men of the Royal Naval Reserve in 1923. The Federal Master Bakers’ Association held their 9th Annual Conference in Adelaide and “on the afternoon of Monday 27 October 1913 members . . and their families . . travelled to Long Gully, Belair National Park, where a reception was held by the Adelaide branch of the association”.

The National Park remained an important social venue, with the St Bede’s Semaphore church picnic (1933), the Ozone Theatres Annual picnic and filming of a Golden Wedding picnic (1937) and the Henley Beach Council picnic and tug-of-war in 1950.

“The circumstances under which the idea of a Government Farm materialised, and subsequently expanded into the National Park as a heritage of the people, are of sufficient importance to be chronicled” claimed the Blackwood Magazine of July 1914. The National Park had come from land the provincial government acquired in 1840, for a Government Farm to grow fodder for horses and bullocks transporting gold from Victoria. By 1844 financial stringency resulted in the sale of the western Sections, north and south of what is now Laffers Road. With access provided by the railway in the 1880s, demand for land gave further incentive for the cash-strapped colony to “cut up the Government farm into small holdings”.

“Fortunately a storm of public opinion prevented this being done. Among the opponents were Messrs. W. Gooch, S. Dixon, A. McDonald, M.P., Sir Edwin Smith, . . . the Australian Natives’ Association and the Field Naturalists’ Section of the Royal Society’ who realised the vast importance of preserving the spot as a national recreation ground”. In 1891 Parliament set up a National Park, only the second to be so declared in Australia.

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References.

19th Century Land Use in Belair South Australia. [Belair, S.A.] Baker, D, 1998.

‘Past and Present: No. 7 - Belair (Continued)’, Blackwood Magazine, July 1914, pp146-149

Public Library of South Australia. Archives Department. Research Note 321. State Library of South Australia. Photographs. https://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/photographs

Notes on South Australian Viceregal Residences by G.H. Pitt. [1945-1952]

Image Credit - Sate Library of South Australia - [B 68542]