Keith Conlon at Clarendon CLARENDON - Back door to the Fleurieu Peninsula

It is just minutes from southern suburban centres, but it is also a range of hills and a whole era or two away. Snug in a valley that runs to the Onkaparinga River, Clarendon was once an isolated village. The pretty hills town is only thirty five kilometres south of the city up and over the ridge from Happy Valley reservoir.

Clarendon counts its pioneer days from 1846. The main road slopes down with most of the town lining it, and on both sides there are remnants of the estate of founders Richard and Jeremiah Morphett. They were related to the famous John Morphett of Cummins House, Morphettville racecourse and much more, and there is still a Mrs. Morphett living in town just up from their old pickle factory (now slowly being restored).

Cousin George Morphett held land up the steep rise, and he offered a chunk of it to any Christian denomination who cared to build on it. As early as 1851, the Wesley Methodists took him up on it and built the tiny Mt. Zion church. Within a decade or so, teetotallers were looking down from its doors upon the boozers below at the Royal Oak Hotel. It is now a proudly pokie-free country pub with a front bar full of old photos and stories - like the one about an alleged ghost called Godfrey.

In its early days, Clarendon's villagers would walk several kilometres up to the high ridge atop Chandler's Hill and all the way down to O'Halloran Hill to catch the stagecoach to Adelaide. These days, the district's hobby farmer-commuters are only a half-hour from the city via Main South Road. They return, however, to a sleepy hills hamlet that was once a bustling rural township. Bible Christians came in from their dairies and orchards to a simple but beautiful house of worship built in 1854 on the main road. It houses the National Trust museum, which opens by appointment.

A number of the main street buildings in Clarendon date back to the 1850's goldrush days and just beyond. They had their own bootmaker and saddler, a butcher and blacksmith (his headstone, two story stone house is set back). The post office has swapped from one side of the road to the other, but it's still in nineteenth century accommodation.

Go back 130 years and the southern hills town boasted a handsome new police station and courthouse, with a fine gothic design by an architect who left his mark elsewhere too - for instance, he later gave Gawler its ornate town hall. Clarendon's police building has a strong paired arches entrance up a buttressed set of steps, with nice sculpted detail on its central stone columnůvery attractive, unless you were on your way through to the cells out the back.

The long-gone first Inn at Clarendon was close to a ford across the Onkaparinga that led to Blewitt Springs and Kangarilla. The river itself takes a sharp left turn under old sedimentary cliffs beside the town. A causeway footpath leads to a pretty picnic ground inside the bend - just the spot to eat a legendary Clarendon pastie from the nearby bakery. The Ngarrindjeri people held corroborees here on their way into Adelaide to collect blankets for the winter ("Onkaparinga" means "women's river" in Kuarna aboriginal stories).

The pretty arched road bridge across a river pool is the second on the site. The first was built of laminated redgum in 1858, and the concrete version is early twentieth-century - less romantic, but incredibly it came in a thousand pounds under the original 3,000 pounds budget. When many Adelaidians turn on their taps, the water has flowed under this bridge at Clarendon. The Onkaparinga flows most of its length southwards to Mt. Bold Reservoir, often boosted by an injection of pumped Murray water. It pools below at the Clarendon weir, faced with massive, stepped blocks of Macclesfield marble.

Some of the metropolitan supply then runs through a five-kilometre tunnel under the last range to pour into the Happy Valley reservoir, and it ends up in the Victoria Square fountain and from West Lakes back to Moana.

Clarendon is on the cusp; it's in the Adelaide Hills just before they meld into McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula, and so it's easy to wrap into a day trip. But give it some time in its own right. If you want to linger longer, there's the friendly local pub, a restaurant in an old cottage by the river, and Silvestri's will be back in business soon.

Then, there's the Old Clarendon Winery. The first vines were cultivated in the 1840's and within a few years they filled the steep hillside above the Onkaparinga. They were removed, but now new plantings are reproducing the old scene again. An early parliamentarian, Mr. Edward Peake built the steep and triple gabled winery on the hill, and the 1850's building is now a hub - people come for lunch and dinner, weddings and conferences (using the motel rooms with their long views up the river valley), and the tasting cellar is back again.

Next door, there is also the Onka Studio, a workshop and gallery where three local artists produce and sell fine textile designs.

It's a pretty backdoor to the McLaren Vale region, but this southern hills hamlet is pleading for a stopover - and it surely demands attention. I hope you get an opportunity soon to spend some time in picturesque Clarendon. For more information email

Clarendon Sesquicentenary Walking Guide ($2)
C/- Clarendon General Store, Main Road, Clarendon.

Old Clarendon Winery
PO Box 696, Clarendon. SA 5157
Phone: (08) 8383-6166
Fax: (08) 8383-6487

Royal Oak Hotel
Main Road, Clarendon
Phone: (08) 8383-6113
Fax: (08) 8383-6697

Onka Studio
Old Clarendon Winery
Clarendon. SA 5157
Phone: (08) 8383-6413

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