BAG History Group / Watiparinga Reserve

Aerial Photo of Watiparinga Reserve From Belair

Image credit - Dave Walsh

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.

"Plenty of Water"

Watiparinga is one of the few Kaurna names used in the local area. It means plenty of water or middle creek. Along the creek there are several River Red Gums with scars where kunamon and similar utensils were cut from the bark. It seems likely that the permanent springs that fed Watiparinga and Walkers Creeks had important symbolic associations for the Kaurna and certainly would have provided valued water supplies. The two creeks are the major watercourses that wind through the reserve.

Watiparinga Reserve in Eden Hills, is a woodland of grey box trees over an under storey of native grasses and wild flowers. It is approximately 32 hectares in area, comprising steeply wooded sloped land bisected by the Adelaide to Melbourne railway line. The reserve is home to a wide range of fauna including common birds such as noisy miners and honeyeaters, uncommon birds including grey currawongs and galahs, and vulnerable fauna including yellow tailed black cockatoos, cunninghams skinks and bearded dragons.

From 1922-1957, active farm management in the area increased throughout the Ashby family ownership (Edwin 1922-1923) and his daughter Alison (1923-1957), with brother Keith managing farm operations. In 1956 Alison offered the land to the National Trust of SA ‘to be clothed in Australian trees and shrubs as part of a green belt around Adelaide’. An endowment fund was established in 1958 with a sum of 100 pounds. During her lifetime she added to the fund. The terms of the gift required that the land never be built on and the endowment capital not be touched.

In 1957 the area was a degraded grey box grassy woodland with some areas of blue gum, drooping sheoaks and red gum along the creek beds. Grey box had been harvested over many years for building timber and fence posts, and golden wattle for wattle bark tannin used in the leather industry, while red gums were ring barked to increase water availability in the creeks for stock. Grazing, initially sheep and then cattle, application of fertilisers and the introduction of non native grasses suitable for grazing, and major disturbances in some areas caused during railway construction further damaged the area. When grazing ceased, weeds flourished and few native grass species remained.

In 1934 fire broke out in the old viaduct area, travelled between Blackwood and Belair on a five mile front, burnt out hundreds of acres of orchards and bush, threatened many homes and Wittunga homestead (now Wittunga Botanic Gardens). Fires occurred, some severe, many deliberately lit, such as the 1961 fire, which completely burnt out Watiparinga. Since 1973 the Management Committee has undertaken pest plant eradication and woodland regeneration to manage the fire risk and increase the native biodiversity.

In 1993 a heritage agreement was signed with the SA government, dedicating the land to the conservation of its native flora and fauna. The reserve is managed by the National Trust through the Watiparinga Management Committee which is made up of local residents.

Watiparinga Reserve is a popular area for recreation. The Dale Road entrance in Eden Hills is the site of the original National Trust Plaque. The reserve is quite different entering from Gloucester Avenue in Belair, with gently sloping walking trails following a fire track in the O’Dea Reserve down to Pasadena, or via the steep winding tracks leading to the rail tunnels at the bottom of Watiparinga Gorge.

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The first National Trust Plaque in South Australia unveiled by the then Governor of South Australia Sir Robert George