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Level of Significance

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Age (approx)






Height - 17m


Common name
English Oak
Botanical name
Quercus robur
Individual Tree
Mount Barker (SA)
17 Adelaide Rd Mount Barker SA 5251
Date of measurement
18 Nov 2020
Date of classification
09 Jun 2021

Statement of Significance

English Oak is believed to have been planted in the grounds of Auchendarroch in 1841 and therefore is among the older remaining cultivated specimens in the State. Its history and dimensions are well documented since its planting.

The tree is a strong element within the garden, by both its height and bulk. It helps to provide height and shade to the landscape of the garden. It catches the eye and commands attention at the entrance to the property from Dumas Road. It has relevance, for its age, to the early years of the Colony of South Australia. It has healed itself from the lightning damage, and it embodies the reputation of Quercus robur as a tree which endures.


The planting date is uncertain (1843 or 1845) but its existence was recorded in all of the Auchendarroch tree Inventory of 1920, and Heritage Surveys of 1945 and 1990. Its very large size suggests more than 175 years of growth.

The tree has been hit by lightning, destroying several metres of its canopy. The lightning strike split the tree down the middle, but did not kill it, and over a long period of time the tree has healed itself completely.


The tree is located at the Dumas Road entrance to the Auchendarroch complex which passes along the northern boundary of the complex.


This tree was initially nominated by Mike Forward of Auchendarroch, and registered by NTSA as significant on 26/10/1989 (NR465). It’s condition was described as “fair” and measurements were: H:19.0, Circ:4.0, N/S:20.0, E/W:20.0. Image 1 was taken at this time.
It was renominated with updated details and additional photographs in January 2021.

(6000 words) 21 May 21 update
This history of the Barr Smith’s Auchendarroch House is told around its trees. The ‘original’ Auchendarroch oak tree nomination to the National Trust of South Australia’s Tree Register was dated 26 October 1989. Although no contemporary reports of its planting have been found, Robert Barr Smith’s hand-written records of his significant trees, and some other local properties, suggest it was planted in 1841(Measurements of Some Oaks of Mt Barker: Mortlock Library P.R.G. 354/74).
This tacit acknowledgement confirms that neither he, nor Lachlan McFarlane, were the planters. From the Title ownerships, this leaves William Dutton, Duncan McFarlane and Captain John Finnis to have planted one of the earliest oak trees in this colony.
The 1989 registration of this tree contained a brief history of the property. These 2020/21 notes accompany a re-nomination in 2021. Five extra trees have also been nominated, with a factual and more extensive history of the property.
The history of this place is now rewritten here, in thirteen developmental phases.
1. Mt Barker: early days (1839 -1854)
2. Oakfield Hotel (1854 -1878)
3. Robert and Joanna Barr Smith (1878 -1921)
4. Auchendarroch House (1878 -1880)
5. Mount Barker Rest Home (1921-1976)
6. Requisitioned by Government (1940 -1945)
7. Rest Home resumes work (1945 -1976)
8. Communal living experiment (1976 -1992)
9. The State Government buys in (1976 -1976)
10. Heritage Studies (1981- 2004)
11. Multi-functional Centre (1994 - 2020)
12. The garden and grounds (1880 - 2020)
13. Significant Trees (2020 - 2021)
Phase one: Mt Barker: early days (1839 -1854)
According to the 1994 Heritage Survey, by late 1838, pioneers from Adelaide were looking for good farming and grazing land in an agriculturally suitable area now known as Mount Barker. Mount Barker was named by Captain Charles Sturt, after Captain Collett Barker. Sturt surveyed the coastal area from Encounter Bay to the head of St Vincent's Gulf in 1839.
Robert Richard Torrens, who came to this colony in 1840, later established a new system of land registration, known as the Torrens Title, adopted by other Australian colonies and many other countries.
In 1839, while still in England, Robert Torrens introduced a plan of "Special Surveys" whereby a person could lodge the sum of £4,000 and acquire 15,000 acres of bushland. The first such Special Survey was around Mount Barker, and one of its initial purchasers was William Hampden Dutton. On 11th January 1839, he, Duncan McFarlane and John Finnis, bought fifty 80-acre sections dividing the land between them in September 1840. They laid out the township of Mt Barker into 69 half-acre town lots and 41 five-acre suburban lots, offered for sale in February and March 1840.
Auchendarroch is located on a portion of the 80-acre Section 4476 of this first Special Survey of 11th January, 1839, but as agreed by Dutton, McFarlane and Finnis in October 1841, the original section granted to William Hampton Dutton, and Finnis, was conveyed to Duncan McFarlane in April 1842. In May 1847, Duncan sold the section to Archibald Walker, a London merchant.
The Dutton-Finnis-McFarlane advertised plan for Mt Barker promoted a European rural landscape. They offered 80-acre sections, and large allotments - with nearly 5 acres of matching town holdings. Their vision was for a colonial 'England' of hedgerows and trees, upon which gentleman farmers on large estates leased smaller holdings to 'yeomen' type settlers.
In 1854, Walker sold approximately half of the section (then recorded as 44 acres) to Lachlan MacFarlane. Allan and Duncan, both McFarlane’s, were not related to Lachlan, a point that other researchers have missed.
In terms of deciding, on the evidence, when the original English oak was planted, in this phase, it seems reasonable to say:
1. It’s unlikely to have been planted before the 1839 Survey; there was no identifiable place to plant it; nor was there a compelling reason;
2. In 1839 Dutton, McFarlane, and Finnis bought the land;
3. In 1842 Dutton and Finnis agreed that Duncan McFarlane should have the land;
4. In 1841 the oak was planted, according to Robert Barr Smith’s notes (written after 1878)
5. Ergo, if Robert was correct, it wasn’t planted by Lachlan McFarlane or Robert;
6. Robert was a ‘keen amateur botanist’, so not ill-informed;
7. In 1842 Duncan McFarlane bought the land, after it was planted;
8. In 1847 Duncan sold to Archibald Walker;
9. In 1854 Archibald Walker sold to Lachlan MacFarlane;
10. In 1860 Archibald Walker loaned Lachlan £1000;
11. In 1878 Lachlan MacFarlane sold to Robert Barr Smith;

On this chronology, and accepting that Robert Barr Smith’s botanical knowledge was sound, and that he would have seen the size (and age) of the tree, when he bought the land, the oak must have been planted when Dutton, McFarlane and Finnis owned the land.
Maybe the oak was symbolic of the Dutton, McFarlane and Finnis ‘plan’ to recreate a ‘colonial England’, so they planted one in a position which later housed the Oakfield Hotel? It’s possible that another McFarlane, Lachlan, noticed the oak on his newly acquired land, and when he was able, built the hotel of his dreams, calling it “Oakfield” after his first impression of it, an oak in a field, matching the vision of the first three developer-settlers. See other interpretations.
Phase two: The Oakfield Hotel (1854-1878)
Mt Barker was en route from Adelaide to the River Murray crossing at Wellington, the principal route to the eastern colonies, so a hotel would have been an important and a profitable coaching stop on the way.
There is no record of activity on the Oakfield Hotel land prior to Lachlan McFarlane, or of the original oak. However, an oak tree must have existed onsite, as noted above in Robert Barr Smith’s later hand written records.
Argyllshire born Lachlan McFarlane arrived in the colony in 1840 from Melbourne, droving stock to South Australia. By 1841 a serious disease called 'scab' arose within his mob of sheep.
In 1843, despite moving his 10,000 sheep to the drier Kanmantoo district, most were lost, and he had to begin again. He chose farming in Mount Barker, which he undertook for several years.
In 1845 Lachlan married German woman, Louise Laybasch (Louisa Lubasch, the daughter of one of the earliest settlers of Hahndorf). Of their eleven children, only six survived their infancy.
Between 1841 and 1847 the track from Adelaide to Mount Barker became a passable road, funded by a toll. The coach services, by Rounsevell & Co, then by Cobb & Co and finally by Hill & Co, ended at Mount Barker outside the Oakfield Hotel, once it was in operation. An article in the Mount Barker Courier in 1873 described the arrival of the coach with its five beautifully groomed horses:
"Its approach was heralded by the guard ...... arrayed in bright scarlet coat, with braided cap, and by means of a bugle as long as his arms let the whole neighbourhood know that the royal mail was approaching. "
It is evident that Lachlan fell on hard times around 1843, and it took him eleven years of farming to amass enough funds to buy the land, and another six years, plus a hefty £1000 loan from Archibald Walker, a London merchant, before, in 1860, he could afford to build the hotel that history records as the Oakfield Hotel. It opened in 1861, and Lachlan and Louise owned it until 1878.
MacFarlane transferred his licence to H. Appelkamp, from 1869 until 11th December 1870 and held by him until 1872 when J.A. Humberstone held it for four years. On 12th June 1876 John Ayston junior (also written Oyston) became licensee for five years, at an annual rent of £120. In 1877 Ayston was declared insolvent and MacFarlane transferred the licence to Martin Considine until the property was bought by Robert Barr Smith in 1878.
Although MacFarlane was then over 70 years old, the reason he sold the hotel is not recorded. Analysis of the reducing tenure of licensees suggests its viability was in decline. A parallel decline in coaching connections, followed by the arrival of the railway in 1883 perhaps made the case for sale inevitable.
A note dated 30th April 1878, by John Paltridge, Estate Agent of Mount Barker, shows the property was sold to Robert Barr Smith for £3,000. The exchange of Title took place on 11th June 1878. The Paltridge house features below, as a memorial hospital site option.
According to the 1981 Statement Significance by Peter Hignett, of Hignett and Company, architects, the Oakfield Hotel was built by Allan and Duncan McFarlane in 1861-69. Later data shows it was built by Lachlan, a McFarlane, to be sure, but not related to the brothers. It appears that Hignett’s research was sufficient to formally enter it on the Register of State Heritage Items on 27th September 1990 (Registration number 6627-13737), preceded by the “lightning oak”, as it’s now called, being placed on NTSA’s Significant Tree Register in October 1989, along with the original Golden oak.
A book titled “Hotels and publicans in South Australia” by J. L. Hoad shows that the Oakfield Hotel operated between 1861 and 1878.
Phase three: Robert and Joanna Barr Smith (1855-1921)
Scotswoman Joanna Lang Elder was known to Robert Barr Smith in Scotland. She married him in Melbourne, and on later arrival in the colony of South Australia, took a deep interest in its political, social and industrial events; in social circles she was a busy hostess. Joanna supported financially her friend Sister Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) with the establishment of the Catholic Josephite Convent at Mitcham. Mary moved to New South Wales, where she died in August 1909 at the Josephite Convent in North Sydney. She was laid to rest at the Gore Hill cemetery, not far from North Sydney.
Because people continually took earth from around Mary’ s grave, her remains were transferred to the newly built memorial chapel on Mount Street, Sydney. The vault containing Mary’s remains was donated by Joanna Barr Smith, a “lifelong friend and admiring Presbyterian”, not a Church of England devotee, as noted elsewhere by others. Mary was declared a saint in 1995.
Robert arrived in Adelaide from Melbourne in 1855. He became a very successful businessman, eminent citizen, and super-generous philanthropist. He took over Elder and Co. from George Elder, also a Scot. He married George’s sister, Joanna, in 1856. They bore 13 children.
In 1875, he and Thomas Elder became the sole partners of Elder Smith & Co, with interests in the Moonta Copper Mines, the Adelaide Steamship Company, many other businesses, and a co-founder of the Bank of Adelaide.
In 1878 Robert and Joanna bought the failing Oakfield Hotel and commissioned its extension, for their rural retreat. They also began enlarging Torrens House, their city home. In 1879 they went to England while both building works were underway, returning in 1880 when both buildings had been completed. They then turned their attention to designing the garden of the retreat they named Auchendarroch House.
According to the Courier (16 Feb, 1994) the Barr Smith’s lived at Auchendarroch every year from October to April - for nearly four decades.
Robert Barr Smith was a keen amateur botanist, and one of the features of his garden was a rare golden oak, which he planted. It died in 2000, was removed, and replaced in 2005 by a golden-leaved form of English Oak which had arisen as a seedling from English Oaks growing in Main Street Mount Barker.
Robert died at his residence in Angas Street on 20 November 1915. His estate was sworn for probate at £1,799,500, then the largest personal fortune in South Australia; of this, more than £40,000 of that was left to charities.
Phase four: Auchendarroch House (1878-2021)
In 1878 Robert and Joanna Barr Smith bought the Oakfield Hotel, Mt Barker, as the makings of a summer residence, which they would name Auchendarroch (Gaelic for Oakfield, or ‘holy place of oaks’, in other references). The grounds and buildings were enlarged and beautified, and it became a centre for local and Adelaide society, including a Hunt Club.
Robert Barr Smith (1824- 1915) and his wife Joanna’s Adelaide home was Torrens Park, built in 1853 by Sir Robert Torrens, later sold to the Barr Smith’s, who moved there in 1874. In addition to that, they paid £3,000 for 42 acres of land at Mt Barker in 1878, including the Oakfield Hotel, around which they built a 30-room mansion in the ‘French Renaissance of the Modern School’ style. Elsewhere, it’s said that Auchendarroch was built using random-coursed stone with segmentally arched openings with stuccoed surrounds. It had a dominant tower, all in Italianate style with Roman arched openings and heavy string coursing. It was roofed with slate shingles.
Adelaide University’s Special Collections and Archives describes Auchendarroch as “of similar magnitude to Torrens Park but more Georgian in appearance, but also decorated throughout with William Morris furnishings.”
So far, it’s been described, in three heritage reports, as French Renaissance, Italianate, and Georgian!
Auchendarroch House was designed by Adelaide architect, John Harry Grainger (1854-1917). John left his home in London in 1877 when he was 23 years old. He came to Adelaide to work in the SA Public Works Department, which he did until 1878. So, he was a very ‘new chum’ when invited to design “Auchendarroch”, and relatively inexperienced, because part of his training had been in the civil engineering discipline of bridge design, not architecture. He was the father of well-known musician Percy Grainger.
Another critique of its architectural style says the resulting building was a fine Victorian mansion, particularly noted for its fine interior features and Morris & Co. furnishings. Surviving internal decoration includes original William Morris ‘spring thicket’ wallpaper, several original tiled fireplaces with oak surrounds, a giant panelled door, and a grand staircase. (Pope and Booth, 2004).
Finally, it’s French Renaissance, Italianate, Georgian, and Victorian. It’s not Scottish baronial.
As for the grounds, according to Peter Hignett, in 1983:
“Of the original parklike gardens established by Robert Barr Smith, only the major trees, a small portion of the rose garden, and remnants of the formerly extensive hedge rows remain. Several of the surviving oak trees pre-date the Barr Smith ownership, and two trees on the site are individually heritage listed*. They were the source of the property's name (Auchendarroch is Scottish-Gaelic for "holy place of the Oaks", while the meaning of Oakfield is self-evident).”
*The two trees mentioned, and entered in the National Trust of South Australia’s Register of Significant Trees, by its criteria, are the English oak planted in 1841, and the Golden oak planted by Robert Barr Smith, after 1878. However, it’s incorrect to say that they ‘are individually heritage listed’. They are not on the State Heritage Register nor on a local heritage list (Pers. com. Chris Lawry, city of Mt Barker). They both appear in NTSA’s Significant Tree Register, but this does not offer any form of protection, as might be implied by the reference to heritage listing.
The acceptance of the nomination of Auchendarroch on the State Heritage Register is confirmed as a State Heritage Place in the SA Heritage Register, dated 27 September, 1990.
A more or less contemporary account appeared in the Mt Barker and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser, on 1st April, 1892, from an unnamed correspondent. In edited form, it said:
“The largest oak trees in the colony were planted between 1840 and 1853. The three largest were:
1. on the estate of Mr Buckley, near Charleston. Planted in 1840. In 1892 it is 70ft tall and 89ft across;
2. on the estate of Mr Barr Smith. Planted in 1842. In 1892 it is the best-grown in South Australia. It is 60ft tall and 75ft across;
3. on the estate of Mr Randall in Gumeracha. Planted in 1842. In 1892 it is 78ft tall and 68ft across.
This correspondent clearly knew his oaks, but he didn’t mention the Stangate House oak in Aldgate which, in 2020, was recognised by the National Register of Big Trees as the equal-largest, of three, in Australia.
After Robert died in November 1915, and Joanna in 1919, the house and garden were sold, at auction in 1921, by his son, Tom Elder Barr Smith, to the Methodist Memorial Hospital, which operated from Avenue Rd, North Adelaide, renamed around 1921 as Sir Edwin Smith Avenue. A suitably modified Auchendarroch opened in 1922 as the Methodist Rest and Convalescent Home.
Phase five: Mount Barker Rest and Convalescent Home (1921-1976)
In 1922, Auchendarroch was bought by the Methodist Church and used as a convalescent home. It became a branch of North Adelaide’s Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in 1935, and was also used during WW2 for military convalescence.
The Title shows that on 28th June 1922 the new owners were:
• William James Mortimer
• William Thomas Shapley (Methodist Minister)
• William George McKay
• John Shirley Clent
• Frederick Clifford Catt
• Lucas de Gurin, and
• Shirley William Jeffries
The Title states that the property was part Section 4476; “42 acres one rood and fifteen perches or thereabouts” in area. It was originally granted on 3rd July 1840, as signed by George Gawler, Governor, on 22nd August, 1878.
Notes from the publicity brochure a “Souvenir of the Memorial Hospital and “Auchendarroch” Mount Barker Rest Home, dated 1922, explain the promoters’ intentions:
The aim of the Hospital Board was to:
• Serve the broadest purpose
• Be a convalescent Home
• At a reasonable cost
• Be a training school for boys aged 12 to 18
• Be a Convention Centre
• Serve the Christian community of Mt Barker
• Be available to all alike irrespective of creed and circumstances is implied).
The estimated cost is £10,000, and financial support is invited from our supporters. The Board stated that the Home was not a hospital, not for contagious diseases, ‘not for profit’ as we would say in 2021, but “It must pay expenses.”
In the process of conversion to a convalescence home, Auchendarroch House lost some of its architectural detail, in order to meet the practical needs of its patients, and reopened its doors as the Mount Barker Rest and Convalescent Home in October 1922.
A public notice said:
“It is an ideal home. Beautifully Situated and Furnished, affording every convenience and comfort. Trained Nurse in charge with well-selected staff. Tariff reasonable. Much of the food supply is produced on the ground, including splendid milk supply, vegetables, &c. Tubercular or medical cases are not admitted.” All information from the Matron or Secretary, Memorial Hospital. Source: The Register, Adelaide, Tuesday, November 28, 1922.
The Memorial Hospital in North Adelaide was established as a memorial to veterans of World War 1, sometimes referred to as the North Adelaide Soldiers Memorial Hospital. It was also a WW2 convalescent hospital. It was during this phase that ‘it became sadly neglected’.
In 2021 there is a separate Mount Barker District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (See: “More than a hospital: the history of the Mount Barker District Soldiers' Memorial Hospital and the Adelaide Hills Community Health Service”, by Moya Stevens. She wrote that:
“A public meeting was called in late 1918 to consider the establishment of a Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, but it was too big a project to garner support by local funding. Local funds had been committed to planting an avenue of trees in memory of the fallen soldiers. By 1919 financial help was sought from Joanna, widow of Robert Barr Smith, and a vacant house, the “Paltridge House”, had been acquired for isolation purposes, and opened in November 1919. In 1922 the Board engaged Mr Eric McMichael, who was later to design Stangate House in Aldgate. He quoted £1,600 to design the hospital, which, with extensions, was completed in 1923. Because the Board struggled to find funds, government support was provided in 1926. In 1950 its name was changed to the Hills District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. In 1974 the South Eastern Freeway began operation, and Mt Barker became a sought-after residential area for people working in Adelaide. In 1978 more work was done to the hospital, and a Domiciliary and Day Care Centre opened in 1979. In 1986 an extensive government project was approved. As with all government facilities, change continues; as does the hospital and its work.”
As an aside, Moya noted that “Local funds had been committed to planting an avenue of oak trees, now known as Druids Avenue, in memory of the fallen soldiers.” This avenue is registered as ‘significant’ by the National Trust.
The convalescent Home once at Auchendarroch House, should not be confused with the Mount Barker District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, which is still operated by SA Health.
Phase six: Requisitioned by the State Government (1940-1945)
For five years during WW2 the Rest Home was requisitioned for use by the Red Cross, as a Rest Home and convalescent Military Hospital for the RAAF.
• 1940 - 42 the Red Cross managed the Rest Home for convalescent servicemen;
• 1942 – 45 the R.A.A.F. requisitioned it for the recuperation of Air Force personnel;
• 1945 the R.A.A.F. relinquished its occupation; the Rest Home resumed work.

Although the farm remained fully staffed because of its role in essential food production during the Red Cross and the R.A.A.F. occupation, the ornamental garden was uncared for and its condition deteriorated markedly. The garden staff was reduced to one; Albert Ellis, by then 70 years old, and he died in 1942. In 1945 an oak was planted at the bottom of the rose garden as his memorial. This tree was added to the National Trust’s Significant Tree Register in 2021.

Phase seven: The rest Home resumes work (1945-1976)

On resumption of Methodist Rest Home care in 1945, its newly appointed gardener, Ron Bates, expressed dismay at its poor condition. He recalled that:

"The croquet lawn was covered in wild oats a yard high and the hedges were totally out of control. Drives and paths were choked with weeds, roses had not been pruned for years, and the gardens infested with weeds. I was determined that one day the garden would be just as beautiful as before. "

By the early 1970's, changing attitudes to health care, diminishing patronage, increasing costs, and the need for extensive building maintenance, saw Auchendarroch’s role as a Rest Home nearing its end. Consequently, the Hospital Board sold the property by tender in 1975, and in 1976 a group of private families took on Auchendarroch as a community home.

Phase eight: Communal living experiment (1976-1992)
In 1976 six acres of the Auchendarroch property was purchased by Okendarok Pty. Ltd. for $200,000 by seven families who called themselves the "Auchendarroch Community", and collaborated in an intent to create a self-sustaining lifestyle. The Courier October 28th 1992 wrote:
"In 1976 a group of families bought the property for $200,000 to explore an alternative community life style. Self-contained units were created within the mansion and the families hare the enjoyment of grand common areas and the extensive gardens. The community undertook major upgrading work throughout the building and garden."
Some of the units overlooked the beautiful grounds shared by the community. The garden was an important part of the communal self-sustaining ethos, and much care and attention, considerable planting and bedding out in the "old-fashioned style" took place.
In 1992 this venture came to an end; many of the members had moved away, and the remainder may have become too old to care for this large, demanding property.

Phase nine: The State Government buys in (1976 – 197*)
When the Rest Home came on the market by tender, the S.A. Department of Planning set out to compulsorily acquire approximately 36 acres for open space, and several parties were interested in demolishing the building to redevelop the site.

The Hospital Board wanted to retain the house, so it waited for a sympathetic buyer, whom it was prepared to assist financially. In July 1976 two things happened:
• the State Planning Commission paid $120,000 for the larger portion of the Farm land;
• Okendarok Pty. Ltd. paid $185,000 for the house and approximately 6 acres of land.

The Planning Commission then enabled the construction of a new campus containing:
• A TAFESA College and a large car park;
• Mount Barker Community Library and Local History Centre.
In September 1985 it was announced that Mt Barker Council would sell to TAFESA 3Ha of Dumas Street land for the establishment of a $3,000,000 TAFE College. In March 1990 Cabinet announced that the college would be completed by July 1991.The TAFE College was opened by the unveiling of a plaque by Education Minister Mr Mike Rann on 11 March 1992. In November 1995 Minister Bob Such announced a new library in Dumas St, due to be built from April was opened on 20 May 1997.
• In December 1986 it was announced that the government had received an application for Auchendarroch House to be listed on the State Heritage Register, but no details or reasons were given in the Courier article.
Phase ten: Heritage Studies (1983-2004)
The decline and resurrection of an important Heritage property appears to have prompted three Heritage Studies or Reports for this property:
1. In November 1983 stage 1 of a three-stage Mount Barker District Heritage survey was undertaken by Peter Hignett, Hignett and Company. It incorrectly stated that the Oakfield Hotel was built by Allan and Duncan McFarlane, 1861-69. Records of the publicans show that it was built and owned by Lachlan McFarlane. Allan and Duncan were not related to Lachlan. It also says it was used as a convalescent home for WW2 soldiers.
2 In 1994 Bruce Harry and Associates prepared a Conservation Plan for this historic property. It showed various phases of the building’s existence and noted several, if not all historically important trees, such as English elm, Magnolia, nine English oaks, a Golden cypress, Golden holly, Golden oak, Silver holly, common Yew, Irish Strawberry, Cedar, Golden cedar, two Scarlet oaks, two WA Flowering gums, Algerian oak, two Chestnuts, and a Maple.
3 In 2004, Anna Pope and Claire Booth carried out a study called Heritage on Line for the District Council of Mt Barker. Its findings added little to this story not found in former reports.
The decision to restore the house, but sacrifice much of the ground and garden, around 2000, was a typical government-private enterprise compromise, based on cashing in on the site’s intrinsic value, and minimising restoration costs, in a three-way split with the local council. The house would be retained for posterity; local government would acquire additional land; and a developer would pay for the house restoration, but be able to enjoy a substantial developmental opportunity.
As it happened eventually, the opportunity took the form of a:
• Beautifully restored mansion*/fine dining restaurant (*defined as a grand house);
• Strikingly formed multi-functional entertainment centre;
• Vast, out-of-context carpark;
• Minimal but contextual garden restoration.
Tree inventory:
From data available from various plans of the garden, a 2020 inventory of trees found at various times has been compiled over four periods: 1920; 1945; 1994, and 2020, now shown here;
Trees known in 1920
2 English yew, 9 English oaks, Queensland Kauri pine, Dutch elm, English elm, Golden oak (registered), 2 Golden Cypresses, English Yew, Golden holly, 2 Golden cedars, Mt Atlas cedar, 3 palms, Magnolia sp, 3 Scarlet oaks, 2 WA Flowering gum, Cypress sp, Algerian oak, 2 Sweet Chestnuts, 2 European Beech’s, Maple, Hawthorn, Blackwood, Irish Strawberry, Silver holly, Cedar sp. Total: 45
Trees known in 1945
2 English yews, 9 English oaks, Queensland Kauri pine, Dutch elm, 2 Cypress sp, Golden holly, 3 palms, 2 Golden cedar, Magnolia sp, Mt Atlas cedar, Golden oak (registered), 3 Golden Cypresses, 3 Scarlet oak, 2 WA Flowering gums, Algerian oak, 2 Sweet Chestnuts, 2 European Beech’s, Maple, Hawthorn, Blackwood, Irish Strawberry, Silver holly. Total: 43
Trees known in 1994
2 English yew, 9 English oaks, Queensland Kauri pine, Dutch elm, 2 Cypress sp, 3 palms, 2 Golden cedars (1 dying), Magnolia sp, Mt Atlas cedar, Golden oak (registered), 3 Golden Cypresses (1 dying), 3 Scarlet oaks (1 dying), 2 Sweet Chestnuts, 2 European Beech’s, Maple, Hawthorn, Blackwood, Irish Strawberry, Silver holly. Total: 39
Trees known in 2020
4 English oaks, Queensland Kauri pine, Dutch elm. Total: 6
Conclusion: Between 1994 and 2020 there was a massive loss of original, long-lived trees that formed the basis of the garden at Auchendarroch House from 1878 to 1992. In fact, an 87% loss, mainly due, but not entirely due to, the needs of the multi-functional entertainment centre.
Phase eleven: Multi-functional Entertainment Centre (1994- 2020)
In 1994, developers Project Design Network and SteamRanger drew up plans for a multi-function centre and some living units, with public access through the garden to the nearby TAFE college. The large garden was to be retained and every historically significant tree was to be kept, according to the published data. In September this $5,000,000 scheme was approved by Council subject to certain conditions. It didn’t proceed because Project Design Network “simply couldn’t come up with the money” (Courier Newspaper 18 January 1995)
In February 1996, Adelaide company Knighton became involved in plans for this site, including a tavern, function centre and restaurants. The company spoke of high quality, heritage sensitive restoration of the old building, and retaining the public link to the TAFE college. In April 1999, Knighton advised that “the plans were still on track”
It didn’t proceed, and Knighton sold part of the property on which the entertainment complex and Auchendarroch House and garden now stand .... possibly 5 or 6 acres, to the Wallis Theatres in August 1999. The new owner still intended to create ‘a multi-million-dollar entertainment facility’ and engaged an architect, who was ‘working on the plans for the building.’
In 2002 Wallis Theatre’s Managing Director, Michelle Wallis, began a multi-million-dollar refurbishment scheme of the old mansion, incorporating a large car park, cinema and restaurant complex. Both the Cinema complex and the Auchendarroch restoration were undertaken by the architectural firm of Walter Brooke & Associates Pty. Ltd. The builder was Hansen Yunken, and the interior design for the cinema, was Lyal from Mardor Interiors.
It is once again a vibrant community asset combining past and present in an innovative and historically sensitive manner. The house has been subjected to several Heritage studies, in which the garden and its trees have not been well reported. In restoring what was possible of the spirit of the original garden, Michelle Wallis consulted Peter Wadewitz (Peat Soils, Willunga), Merv and Kelvin Trimper (for choice of roses), and Merilyn Kuchel (historic garden designer), and member of the National Trust.
In what remains of the original garden laid out by the Barr Smiths, there are 7 trees that have an historical significance worth recording. They were added to the National Trust of South Australia’s Significant Tree Register, and the National Trusts of Australia Register of Significant trees, in February and June 2021.
Phase twelve: The garden and grounds (1922-2021)
In the Methodist’s 1922 brochure, the site was described as:
“The land is forty-two and a half acres in extent and is subdivided into beautiful meadows, some of which are surrounded by hawthorn hedges. There are many magnificent specimens of English oaks and other trees. There are also three acres of grounds, many extensive lawns, which will provide room for croquet, tennis and other games. There is a bowling green immediately opposite. On the grounds there is a fine selection of choice shrubs, and in addition three acres of fruit trees, currants, raspberries, chestnuts, walnuts, etc. Glass-houses, shade-houses and fruit-houses abound, and a plentiful water supply from the main well, close to the Lightning oak.”
Phase thirteen: Significant Trees (2000-2021)
This is the current phase; 2020 onwards. The entertainment complex had been working well as a commercial enterprise, but the advent of respiratory disease COVID-19, in February 2019 saw such places closed by government intervention, enabling only maintenance and research works to be undertaken. It was this hiatus that saw the garden assessed for any historically significant trees in 2020. It was visited variously by John Gladwell, Tony Whitehill, Chris Lawry and Michael Heath, with a view to nominating any suitable trees to the National Trust’s Significant Tree Register. These researchers were invited to visit by Michelle Wallis, and shown around the garden in the company of gardener Penny Mitchell. After assessing all surviving original trees, four trees were deemed worth nominating to NTSA’s Significant Tree Register; one is a re-nomination, and one was already registered, totalling 7 trees.
Trees deemed worth nominating as “significant” at Auchendarroch House
1. Original English oak lightning (Quercus robur)1842/42 renomination
2. Large English oak (Quercus robur) (above skate park; outside present property boundary, but previously a boundary tree of the orchard
3. Golden oak (Quercus robur, golden form nominated in 2020
4. Silver elm (Ulmus ‘Variegata) (near Dumas Rd) In footpath now, but previously in the garden
5. Dutch elm (Ulmus X hollandica)
6. Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara)
7. English Oak (gardener’s oak) (Quercus robur) 1945
The successful restoration and maintenance of historic buildings and their gardens requires a balance between cost and usefulness, in times when the original usefulness has past, but the costs remain. In the case of Auchendarroch, there seems to have been a recognition between several parties that ‘modernisation’ to create a present-day usefulness had to sacrifice quite a large portion of the original owner’s intent, a large and impressive kitchen garden, and an up-to-the-minute display of trees and shrubs that were de rigueur in the 1870s.
Instead, today, and for years to follow, there is a large and impressive entertainment complex, a sensitively restored Victorian mansion*, visually dominant public car parking, and a token area of restored garden, with some original, now elderly - but impressive trees. This study notes that former studies have referred to the building as:
French Renaissance, Italianate, Georgian and Victorian!
This study settles for a Victorian mansion.
The failure, if there is one, is the 21st century insistence of poorly juxtaposed, and out-of-context car parking which diminishes the former grandeur of an impressive country estate. Kevin McLoud of TVs “Grand Designs” has said that “Not everything that stands out is outstanding.” That’s certainly true of most surface carparks.
The success, if there is one, is the clear recognition that the architectural magnificence of a restored Victorian mansion is respected for its place in the State’s history. Whilst the grounds have proved sacrificial, sufficient of them remain, in context with the mansion, to give students of its history a glimpse of the original owner’s intentions.
While the house remains deservedly on the State Heritage Register, in a much-improved condition than on the day it was placed there, of the 40 or so original trees in the grounds, six have been found redolent of the garden’s founding intent, and they will now be permanently recognised by inclusion in NTSA’s Significant Tree Register.
If Robert and Joanna Barr Smith could appraise today’s development, they would be delighted at the efforts lavished on the mansion; they would likely invest in the entertainment complex, and marvel at its visual technology. On the other hand, might they frown on an unsightly carpark? Given their money and studied use of aesthetics, would they use both to put the carpark underground, and replace the garden above it, for all to enjoy, and retain its contextual integrity?
Michelle Wallis, Managing Director, Wallis Cinemas
Sheila Jones, Mt Barker History Centre
Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1976
John Gladwell, History SA volunteer
Tony Whitehill, horticulturalist, arborist, and NTSA volunteer
Chris Lawry, Arborist, plantsman, and NTSA volunteer
Wikipedia; various
“Souvenir of the Memorial Hospital and “Auchendarroch” Mount Barker Rest Home, 1922
Adelaide University, “Stories from Archives & Special Collections”
SA Life magazine, 17/10/2019, article by Michael Keelan
“Hotels and publicans in South Australia” by J. L. Hoad, 1986
“D C Mount Barker Heritage Survey”, by Anna Pope and Claire Booth, 2004
“More than a hospital”, a history of the Mount Barker District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, by Moya Stevens, Reid Press, Mount Barker, 2009
Auchendarroch Conservation Plan: March, 1994, by Bruce Harry & Associates

Michael Heath, compiler, architect, landscape architect, and NTSA volunteer.