Historical Walk 1

Historical Walks (Reference Map)

This guide is both a short walking tour - Historical Walk 1 (item numbers 1-34) or a long walking tour - Historical Walk 2 (1-54), each starting at the same place and using the same map.

Historical Walk 1

  1. Start at the "village green" at the intersection of Mundy Terrace (seafront) and Smillie Street, in front of the Institute Building. This was built near the end of Robe's boom period as the main South Eastern port, in 1868, and has been the town's cultural and social centre ever since. The Public Library opened there in 1983 and the sympathetic addition of a new room was made to house the Historical Interpretation Centre. Here on display is an illustrated history of Robe, including many of the buildings you will see during the walk.

    Nearby are memorials to the two world wars: a typical Soldier's Memorial (First World War, 1914-1918) and a German naval mine which was found planted offshore and was towed to Long Beach by a Robe fisherman for deactivation in 1941 (Second World War, 1939-1945).
  2. Smillie Street was the original "High Street" of Robe Town, and it is lined with the commercial and public buildings of that short boom era of the 1950s and 1960s. The main room at "Greymasts" was built for George Ormerod in 1953 to store wool salvaged from the shipwreck. The rear cottage is of the same date. Local historian Kathleen Bermingham lived here from 1951 until her death in 1974.
  3. Davison's shop, conducted by Thomas Davison from 1923 to 1949, is an excellent example of a traditional European shop, which was built by storekeeper August Beyer in about 1955.
  4. George Lord, a blacksmith, arrived within a year of Robe's foundation. The modest George Lord's Horseshoe Forge was built in about 1956 at the same time as Lord constructed an inn, "The Frankfort", next door.
  5. This was known as "The Criterion" from 1859 until its closed in 1909. It is a classic early Australian Inn.
  6. Across Bagot Street another pioneer, Alexander Campbell, built the shop and cottages, originally as a single storey in 1957. Possibly the first bank in the South East was conducted here, from 1859, which was when the second storey and the cottages were added.
  7. In contrast to the simple designs of most of Robe's old buildings, Bank House is an imposing Italianate structure which was one of the earliest large commissions of that remarkable Adelaide architect, Edmund Wright. This was built in about 1859, sold to the South Australian Banking Company, and occupied as residence and bank by a succession of other banks' managers until the Australia-wide depression of the 1890's.
  8. Past the old garden, turn right into Morphett Street and note the limestone walling and outbuildings of the Robe Hotel
  9. , which probably dates from "The Bonnie Owl" era. This was Robe's first hotel, built in 1847. Turn left into Mundy Terrace, observing the care taken to re-establish the character of the Robe Hotel, which replaced "The Bonnie Owl".
  10. Next to Royal Circus is the old Robe Electric Telegraph Station and Post Office which is of national significance as the station (the section on the left) was built in 1858 to serve Australia's first Intercolonial Telegraph Line, completed in that year between Adelaide and Melbourne.
  11. The flagstaff on the sand hill at the centre of Royal Circus, was planted to mark the spot where Governor Frederick Holt Robe and Surveyor Thomas Burr took the first theodolite bearings for the town in 1846. The memorial seat commemorates the first English survey of the southern Australian coast by Captain Matthew Flinders in 1802. Just before Flinders, a French naval expedition, led by Captain Nicolas Baudin, carried out the first survey of the South East coast, naming many features, including this bay, Guichen Bay, which was at first well named Ance Des Albatross. Baudin Rocks ....
  12. visible to the north, was named by Flinders.
  13. The cannon is reputed to be from the barque "Koenig Wilhelm 11", wrecked in Guichen Bay during a screaming gale in 1857. There were some terrible shipwrecks in the bay and along the treacherous coastline of the South East.
  14. By the seafront is a memorial to the Chinese, more than 16,000 of whom took ship to Robe between 1857 and 1863 to avoid a Victorian poll tax. Their presence boosted development at Robe but they were soon gone, trekking overland to the gold diggings in Victoria. Some few signs of Robe's shipping heyday may be seen on the seashore itself, at the seawall and jetty site (14). Three jetties were built between 1842 and 1866. Before that, lighters ferried cargoes of wool, skins and wattlebark to the waiting ships, and there is one last mooring post still embedded on the beach.
  15. Lake Butler, named after the first Government Resident, has become a crowded and picturesque boat harbour, especially since construction of the channel to the sea in 1964, and the post-war development of cray fishing.
  16. Royal Circus was always the focus of official and commercial shipping functions: great lines of wool drays pulled heavily about the roundabout; Ormerod's shipping store stood where the Council Chambers was built and the Customs House/Harbourmaster's office was built in 1863. This was saved by the National Trust from demolition and houses Robe's Nautical Museum.
  17. Further inland at the corner of Cooper and Smillie Streets are Ormerod Cottages. George Ormerod used the attached cottages to house his shipping office staff from about 1863.
  18. Look further left to the former butcher's store, which was built by the Dawson family of "Bellevue" in 1926.
  19. Then turn right into Smillie Street, passing the Court House, built in about 1848, a much-embellished well .....
  20. , which was once a simple well serving the town's needs in the nineteenth century, and then turn left into Hagen Street.
  21. There is the first church built in Robe (1858) and one of the oldest Roman Catholic chapels in South Australia, Our Lady Star of the Sea. The plain structure reflects the poverty of Catholic worshippers, many of whom were Irish servants and labourers, and its use as a schoolroom by the Sisters of St. Joseph, from the 1860s to 1880s.
  22. Opposite is the former Government Residency, the town's first substantial stone house and one of its most important. Captain Gerald Villiers Butler lived here from about 1847. This became the centre for South Eastern administration.
  23. Turning left into Frome Street, pass the police stables, built in the early 1860s and turn right into Cooper Street. On your walk you will see several typical cottages dating from the 1850s to the 1860s; ....
  24. at the corner of Sturt Street is one of them.
  25. Further down Sturt Street is another unassuming building, erected in 1858 as the Free Presbyterian Kirk or "Independent" Chapel.
  26. By comparison, the district's "gentry" contributed to the construction of the far more dominating and elaborate St. Peter's Church which was completed alongside in 1859. A visit inside yields much of interest about local families.
  27. Below St. Peter's is Granny Banks cottage reputed to be the second house in Robe, the oldest section (on the west) being erected in about 1850 as a temporary dwelling for government staff. Arthur Banks, a teamster, and his wife Sarah ("Granny") bought the cottage in 1855 and she lived there until after 1900.

(28-32) Continue across Morphett Street past further houses of the same period and across Bagot Street). All are built of the same local limestone with massive chimneys and later embellishments of verandahs or skillion-roofed extensions.

*(33) If you want to complete the short walk, at this point turn left from Sturt Street into Davenport Street, where yet another cottage stands. Built by Charles Gell in 1853, this was used during the 1860s as "The School in Rotten Row".

(34) Then climb the hill to the Uniting Church, opened in 1869 as the Bible Christian Chapel. Robe's first State School was conducted here from 1875 until the present school was opened in 1885 - ten years of complaints about poor lighting, a leaking roof and a very hilly playground. This was one of the last major buildings erected in Robe and is the last item in the short walk. Look out over the dunes and buildings of the old town, then descend to your starting point, left at the next corner.