The Road to Gumeracha

Anyone who is familiar with the Adelaide Hills knows what a beautiful drive up from the city and suburbs it is. For those who aren’t think rolling green hills everywhere, except in Summer when they’re brown, with plenty of big beautiful gum trees around. There are crops and vineyards, sheep, and cattle. It’s the country, and it’s what I grew up with!

I found an article in South Australia’s Register newspaper, from 20 January 1920, where the writer takes a trip from Athelstone through the hills to Gumeracha, and describes the journey. So I wanted to share a portion of that with you. To read the full article, click here.


An Entrancing Corridor

If an unlabelled moving picture of the Gorge road were thrown on the screen people would ask where it was. The route is an eye-opener in rugged beauty. For most of the 17 miles, from the time the gateway is entered at Athelstone, the track runs between massive, rock-ribbed, tree-spread cliffs which climb hundreds of feet, and seem to meet the blue sky. From the moment you get into contact with the great panorama, it is a wonderland of wild, decorative effects, carried out by Nature to big scale. The road has the appearance of a bold, tiny interloper, twisting in and out among the boulders with flimsy, and almost precarious, audacity. Looking up on one side you see the hills, mottled by shadows on a sunny afternoon, lean their grey bulk against a radiant back ground. On the other the jagged, broken rock offers, at times, a rather uncomfortable proximity, supplying a striking colour contrast with their red and dark blue and brown faces. Running along this 24-ft. thoroughfare, amid some of the most impressive open-air sculpture to be seen in Australia, you involuntarily duck now and then, in expectation of being hit by one of these giant fists. Then, right underneath, flows with placid grace, the little creek, framed in brilliant green rushes or tender fern. When the towering avenues disappear, as it were, into the wings of this magnificent stage, there come through the scattered gums glimpses of fruit gardens, designed as symmetrically as a draughtboard, or arranged in marvellous rows of potato and tomato plants, suggesting the faultless elegance of the top lines in a copy book. So you get on this excursion up the Gorge road, the blend of dainty, man-made utilities and the moving grandeur of God-made scenery.

the majestic gum trees

—An Exhilarating Experience—
The picturesqueness of this 17-mile journey has a unique balance. The approach through the graceful porch of Athelstone is by a road which is like a long key unlocking the hidden treasures. Once inside the traversing of the long corridor is a thrilling experience. The bends are easy to negotiate, with here and there just sufficient swerve to impart an exhilarating feeling. The hills mount in a precipitous stairway, to six or seven hundred feet, but the creek below is within 20 and 30 feet. The whole situation has features calculated to make the driver of a motor or other vehicle keep his wits awake – and judgment on the alert, but ordinary skill and common-sense are all that is needed for a safe passage. There were places which we skirted, at rather a giddy angle – a matter of some inches between a dry ride and a good ducking. This is easily the biggest thing in roads ever undertaken by the department.

more amazing hills on the way to Gumeracha

—Two Official Triumphs—
Millbrook and the Gorge road are two official triumphs. In a sense, each made the other, and this accomplishment of interdependence seems to be sustained in the fact that the track is carrying about seven miles of the pipes. The finest and longest scenic road in South Australia, and the greatest and most elegant reservoir are sister undertakings. It is a singularly happy circumstance. Each picturesque and utilitarian. The people of the metropolitan area want the water, and the producers of the hills need the road. This link with Gumeracha is almost better than a railway, or it will do for the present, at any rate. The market gardeners, Mr. Fleming told me, do not have to guide their horses when they use the gorge highway — they just drop the reins, and the horses and the grade do the rest. It is merely a case of round and round, and through the everlasting hills to the city.

— Long and Costly —
Of course, they have been six years building this road. The long war and short money are the explanations. There might have been still further delay, when things got better if Millbrook had not pushed the business on. Adelaide wanted the water. It meant that, for about seven miles, the laying of the pipes and the construction of the track, which was blasted out of the solid rock, had to go hand in hand. It will be 13 months or two years before the road is completed for its full length. The original estimate was £75.000, but the actual expenditure will be nearer £200.000. Everything is dearer. When the Gorge road was started, wages were 8/-a day; now they are 13/3, with a shilling camp allowance. The outlay on materials has also advanced considerably, but the work had to go on. So many as 400 men have been engaged at one time. The road is 3 ft. wider than intended in the first place, and five reinforced concrete bridges have had to be erected: These alone have cost more than £30,000. Each has been given a local name, by which they will be familiarly known. The structures combine beauty of line with unchallengeable strength.

construction of Gorge Road at Cudlee Creek, South Australia

construction of Gorge Road at Cudlee Creek, South Australia

— Rugged Corridor —
We motored over the entire distance, entering the rugged corridor at Athelstone, and finishing at the old Gumeracha Bridge after a journey which was a feast for the eye and a tonic for the body. We saw gums, red, and blue, and white, in all the glory of their own stately grouping, and passed masses of the young stuff the colour of saltbush. Alternating the heavy beauty of the towering cliffs was the ordered grace of nestling gardens, tucked shyly in the gullies, or scaling the lower slopes. The sun glistened on the young leaves, and painted birds sang and danced in their own fairyland. Then, on the homeward journey we skirted sparkling Millbrook whose waters played hide and seek among the hills, and spread about with the careless symmetry of a miniature harbour.

the rolling green hills on the way to Gumeracha

Sounds idyllic? It is.

In that last paragraph it says the trip to Gumeracha is “a feast for the eye and a tonic for the body”. And in my words I would say “good for the soul”. 


One Response to “The Road to Gumeracha”

  1. GenieJen says:

    What a great article, you found. I hadn’t given any thought to the building of those roads thru the hills.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *