The easy trail beside Dry Creek lies in a gully just ten kilometres northeast of Adelaide's centre, with the new Walkley Heights houses rising on one brow and Yatala Prison looming on the other. The Dry Creek Linear Park walking track transports you into the South Australian bush, with deep rooted, broad river red gums overhanging still creek-pools that survive the summer.

In winter, however, this is no "Dry Creek". The Kuarna aboriginal word Yatala refers to running water, and with stormwater from as far away as Golden Grove flooding through, a boardwalk section hugging a cliff-face is no longer a pretty detour - it's essential to avoid a fast-flowing ford.

As more than a thousand families move into Walkley Heights, the Dry Creek Linear Park is becoming very popular. There's a real "R.M. Williams" influence in the subdivision's presentation, and that's because he lived just over the creek for awhile. Having bought fifty-five hectares here fifty years ago, the legendary stockman and household name in boots and country clothing, moved here when his marriage broke down in the 1950's. A stockman's hut survives atop the creekbank, but his personally constructed homestead was demolished for fear Yatala escapees would find refuge in it.

The prison guards overlooking hard labour in the quarries downstream would certainly have seen the voluntary hard yakka across the creek as "R.M." added thousands of roses and vineyards. Even as the suburbs rolled northwards towards him, he had big plans. On a small flood-plain in a big bend, he ran rodeos - rough riders on the river flat were cheered on by spectators aside their cars parked on special terracing up the hill (there's a fascinating and nostalgic photo of one event in the excellent park brochure).

Then the long-serving Premier, Tom Playford, sought to buy the property for future housing needs. The bushman didn't want to sell; it was compulsory acquired instead, and R.M. Williams fought it in the courts. All he got was "a pile of unwanted money" and a hatred for old Tom that saw him head for Queensland vowing never to return. More than forty years on, the houses are finally coming to Dry Creek, and the new Linear Park trail is a definite selling point.

Now it's a secluded three-kilometre creek corridor that's open to all, but for many years, you could admire the vistas only as a guard or at Her Majesty's pleasure and doing hard labour at that! In the 1850's a bit of rock breaking was the latest in prison reform, and so the old colonial quarries along the gully made this a nice remote spot for a jail. The ancient seabed sediments made good cement factory fodder or road rubble, and the quartzite came off in blocks for building. A projecting bridge-like guard post on the trail points to a big quarry where prisoners were expected to crack a cubic metre a day. And they reckon the expert crims could knock it off by lunchtime.

When the Dry Creek Linear Park trail was planned a couple of years ago, some of the track was almost ready to go. A railway line spur came right up into the gully along the creek past another guard post mounted on dry stone walls on the steep hill above. Two old bridges were used to bring stone out of the quarries and across to waiting trains that used turntables to reverse and take out building materials to Port Adelaide and other areas. Along today's trail, walled embankments made of small bluestone blocks are testament to more than a century of hard labour in the gully behind Yatala.

Between the new Walkley Heights subdivision and the prison, the Linear Park harbours dozens of picturesque mature river red gums and thousands of recent plantings that will restore the sense of the original woodland above. There are several more remnants of rock cracking days too! Prison gangs were out here until the 1960's. Some prisoners worked in the old stone blacksmith's shop that goes back 150 years or so.

They made billies, firebuckets, wheelbarrows, gates and much more until more trades and eduction were offered inside the institutions' walls. These historic stone buildings were falling down until they were rescued by Salisbury Council.

A lonely stone powder magazine has stood opposite Yatala for 120 years. The dangers of quarrying were brought home to all in 1931 when a charge went off prematurely, throwing a guard and inmate to their deaths down a cliff face.

And then there's the story of the escape that turned nasty. Sawn-off shotguns were secreted in through a cut flood fence, and four long-termers threatened a guard and then took off through the damaged gate. An accomplice in a car awaited them up the creek - and then it all turned Al Capone like - this was in 1930. The escapees exchanged several shots with police through Nailsworth Primary School on Main North Road, before two of them stole a lorry. They were shot dead, and the other two eventually ended up back in the quarries, shackled and cracking stone for a long time.

Today, however, it's all very relaxed, inviting and tranquil. And winter rains will soon turn on the gushing and gurgling to add to the beauty of the Dry Creek Linear Park.

Dry Creek Linear Park Walkley Heights
Enter off Walkley's Road just north of Grand Junction Road

Brochure and further information
City of Salisbury
12 James Street
Salisbury. SA 5108
Phone: 08-8460-8222
Fax: 08-8281-5466
Email: city@salisbury.sa.gov.au
Website: www.salisbury.sa.gov.au

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