Echunga is a small but vibrant community with a wonderful golf course, football, netball, tennis and cricket clubs, scouts, a large, community owned hall. A variety of animals graze, chicken farms abound and orchards and vineyards are plentiful.
Stroll or drive down the main street to find some original buildings and relics of Echunga’s coaching days, don’t miss seeing the W11 Leopard Tank in the RSL park. Visit the Chapel Hill Diggings and Jupiter Creek Goldfields where fossicking is still allowed.
Echunga – from the Peramangk Eechungga meaning close or nearby
The first Europeans came to the area after wealthy English Quaker, John Barton Hack, purchased the Three Brothers Survey on 23rd January 1839. This Special Survey was named for a range of three hills in the vicinity. Hack established an English style estate, Echunga Gardens, with dairy herds, wheat fields, orchards and a vineyard. The first wine exported from South Australia was made from grapes grown on Hack’s property.
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Though Hack’s property was a showplace, it proved to be expensive to improve and he overextended himself financially. Hack was bankrupted during the depression of 1843 and his estate was taken over by Jacob Hagen who had retained a mortgage on part of the property.
Despite the financial harships suffered by some, the area had been described as containing enterprising settlers, some of whom were in possession of ‘beautiful farms, luxuriant gardens and orchards’. Hagen’s own property, Echunga Springs, was recorded as having seven acres of gardens and orchards ‘producing in abundance, all British fruits and vegetables….the spot is enriched with the best fruits of the south of Europe and the choicest forest trees and garden flowers’.
In 1847 Hagen bought two further sections of land and subdivided them into township allotments the following year. The first building, the Echunga Hotel, was built that year. The Echunga Hotel was replaced by the current building, the Hagen Arms, c1858. A second hotel, the Bridge Hotel, was also built at this time.
The first church, St Mary’s, was built on land conveyed by Jacob Hagen to Bishop Short in 1850 and services commenced in January 1851. A Wesleyan chapel followed c1857.
The Echunga Hotel was replaced by the current building, the Hagen Arms, c1858. A second hotel, the Bridge Hotel, was also built at this time.
By 1866 the population of the district had grown to 1,119, there were 226 houses and 1,772 acres of land under cultivation.
Business Directories from 1851-1871 recorded a variety of occupations including storekeepers, postmen, licensed victuallers, carpenters, joiners, builders, shoemakers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, nurserymen and seedsmen, butchers, a police corporal, teachers, a catechist, potter, bakers, a ranger, carrier, cabinet maker, saddler and fishmonger.
1880 saw the opening of the Institute and the Methodist Church (now Uniting) was built in 1884.
The Coaching Days
As early as 1842 a weekly mail service was in operation. In 1844 Donald Gollan ran a spring cart to Strathalbyn via Echunga Springs, Watergate and Macclesfield and in 1848 R. Jones ran a weekly service between Adelaide and Echunga.
During the 1850s Echunga became a staging post on the south-eastern route. By the end of the 1860s two coaching companies – Hill & Co. and Cobb & Co. – had stations in Echunga but the advent of rail services heralded the end for the coaching industry. Echunga’s coaching days ended in 1919 when, after more than 50 years in business, John Hill sold to a motorised company.
The Golden Years
The discovery of payable gold, the first in the colony, at Chapman’s Gully (Chapel Hill Diggings) in 1852 and later at Jupiter Creek in 1868 brought major changes to the area. The goldfields became the State’s most productive and by 1871 gold to the value of £300,000 had been mined. Stores, schools, rough huts, wine shanties and ‘smithies’ sprang up near the Diggings and a population of over 1,000 ranged from Bigg’s Flat to Jupiter Creek.
With the discovery of gold at Teetulpa many diggers left the area, gold production diminished and Echunga reverted to a service town.
Living Off The Land
Depite the gold rush, many residents still relied on the land with timber and wattle barking becoming the mainstays for many. A report dated 1891 reads:
‘Mr. J.H. Maiden, curator of Technological Museum Sydney in his book on Wattles and Wattle Barks states that there are over 300 kinds of wattles (acacias) in Australia, good, bad and indifferent – and that the broad-leafed wattle of S.A. (acacia pyeanantha) has one of the richest tanning barks in the world. The district of Echunga is in the very heart of country producing this wonderful tanning material, and so many colonists are making, and intending to make, a livelihood by wattle growing.’
After the devastating 1939 bushfires destroyed the bark mills and much of the wattle plantations, many farmers turned to dairying and mixed farming.
Today Echunga is a small but vibrant community with golf, football, netball, tennis and cricket clubs, scouts, a large, community owned hall, a monthly market and dance. A variety of animals graze, chicken farms abound and orchards and vineyards are making a comeback.
Stroll or drive down the main street to find some original buildings and relics of Echunga’s coaching days or visit the Chapel Hill Diggings and Jupiter Creek Goldfields where fossicking is still allowed.
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