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Auburn, the southern gateway to the Clare Valley, is rich in history and built heritage. As early as 1839, in South Australia’s infancy as a colony, pioneers grazed sheep and cattle in the district.
When established in 1849, the township was named Tateham’s Waterhole, after the first settler, William ‘Billy’ Tateham, who, reputedly, lived in a dugout on the side of the River Wakefield.
In 1856, it was renamed after the Irish town of Auburn.
At about the same time Auburn was being developed, copper was discovered at Burra to the north-east. The copper was transported by bullock drays along the Gulf Road from Burra, through Auburn, to Port Henry (now called Port Wakefield).
With up to 100 bullock drays a day in the early 1850s passing Through, Auburn flourished as a resting place for the ‘bullockies’ and ‘muleteers’, the men responsible for carting the copper ore. Various services were quickly established and land sales drew many investors.
In 1857 when the copper teams were re-routed through Riverton to the new railway terminus at Gawler, the Gulf Road became less important. However, Auburn continued to flourish as a commercial centre and agricultural area.
As Auburn grew in the 1860s and 1870s, it boasted two breweries, a foundry, gasworks, flour mill and a shoe factory. Many Auburn buildings had gas lighting.
Vines were planted near Auburn in the early 1850s. 170 years later, the Clare Valley is one of Australia’s premium wine regions with more than 40 producers. Eight of these are in or near Auburn.
The township retains much of its charm as well as its original stone buildings.
The stonework of Joseph Meller is still to be seen in many fine colonial buildings. This renowned stonemason had a bluestone quarry near the Eyre Creek. Other noted builders were Robert Whitehead, James Scott, Joseph Jones and William Threadgold. These resourceful men, particularly Meller, constructed most of Auburn’s buildings from the late 1850s to the turn of the century.
Some of South Australia’s finest stonework is to be found in the group of public and private buildings along Main North Road and St. Vincent Street. Auburn is widely recognised as an historic town and many of its buildings are listed on the National Trust, State Heritage and National Estate Registers.
A number of these buildings have been converted into heritage-style accommodation and outlets catering for locals and visitors alike.
One of Australia’s greatest poets, C.J. Dennis, was born in Auburn in 1876. He is best known for the immensely popular ‘The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke’, published in 1915. An annual festival is held in Auburn to celebrate his life and work.