Norton Summit Apples, Cherries, Wine and Premiers: In the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia
From the Adelaide Hills saddle, down the steep gully, the Bi-Centennial Conservatory shines silvery in the distant parklands. It certainly wasn’t there when Robert Norton arrived in South Australia within days of the Proclamation of the colony. Not long after, in his employ as a bullock driver, he braved the gully and made the final muscle-burning thrust onto the summit and over to the other side. That earned him the honour of the location being called Norton’s Summit - but only just!
It might well be called Playfordville, because down in the vale where the daffodils grow, Mr. Norton’s log cabin became a regular venue for Waterloo veteran-turned-preacher, Reverend Tom Playford. He bought land here in the 1840’s, and the family is still here. One relative now has a delightful cottage in a country garden B ‘n’ B named after the first family home, “Drysdale”.
What’s more, the Playford presence is very real at the village intersection. A life size bronze statue of Sir Thomas Playford, the state’s longest serving Premier (nearly 27 years), stands looking out to the Adelaide plain below. As Norton Summit buff, Jenice Chapman explained, he was ever a local orchardist as well.
“Tom loved his cherries”, she noted, pointing to the box of cherries under his arm. “He was amazing. He’d go out and put his hand up into the tree and pull down half a bucket full. He had very big hands”.
He was a natural leader, a very shrewd politician and he had fun. On the coming of television to the state in 1959, for instance, he opened Channel 9 with a smile, saying, “It enables us to see overseas statesmen and, in fact, compare them with some of our own, on occasion”.
They are still arguing about whether he created the huge wave of post-war development or just rode on it, but we do know for certain that he was not the only Norton Summit Playford to be Premier. Jenice filled me in on the first.
“That was Honest Tom, the son of the original…the minister who came up here to preach”.
He successfully proposed the title, “Commonwealth of Australia”, at the time of Federation in 1901, and became a Government Minister in the new national parliament.
Meanwhile, the founder of the local watering hole might have had the surrounds named after him. Sutton’s Summit, perhaps? William Sutton, first licensee of the aptly named Scenic Hotel, was up here in the 1840’s too, running a general store offering everything from lolly sticks to a noggin of wine before the pub was built about 130 years back. It is cosier than ever in the winter and cool in the summer, conditions which would have suited the nineteenth century woodcutters supplying the steam driven mills of industry in Adelaide. More than a century on, it is now a popular destination for a stop-off coffee or a long lunch on a Sunday drive.
Not far down the hill that Robert Norton tackled, there is another very pleasant reason for coming this way. Up beyond the roadside gate-keeper’s lodge, Charles Giles built a grand family house he called Grove Hill and imported glasshouses to nurture the thousands of fruit trees ordered from British nurseries. He could have laid claim to the district name too. In one old orchard building, a cellar door now thrives, offering elegant wines produced by Charles’ direct descendant, Marguerite Giles. They are in demand in exclusive Sydney restaurants - and up the hill here in Sunday afternoons.
They think Mr Giles imported a couple of cider presses and gave one to his neighbour, who grew grapes along the ridge and exported wine to London. Vineyards have been planted again, and Morialta wines are also on the wine list in top interstate restaurants. The Bunya Pine on the label rises high above the vines that slope down to the attractive bush over the creek. It was planted by John Baker. The district might have been called, say, Baker’s Ridge, because his massive old stone barns and winery still stand above Fourth Creek as it rambles through a shallow valley before plunging into the spectacular gorge encompassed in Morialta Conservation Park.
The Bakers did make their mark. With its tower reaching high above the hamlet, the pretty Anglican Church is a continuing symbol of their influence.
“It is”, agreed Jenice Chapman, as we admired the beautifully simple high gabled interior. “The Baker family donated the church to the parish of Norton Summit”. Carved in stone on one side of the gothic arched front door, the face of Adelaide’s first Anglican Bishop Augustus Short looks down on the steps he trod when he dedicated the church.
“And who’s this carved on the other side?”
“That’s John Baker himself, with his lovely big moustache”.
Jenice also pointed out that the glorious stained glass windows commemorated the service of John Baker, who was also a Premier of South Australia - for eleven whole days. His son, Sir Richard, also served in the state’s ministry and went on to represent SA in the new Australian Senate.
Below the church, immediately opposite the hotel, the little stone Council Chamber was built more than a century ago. The Council moved to modern premises a couple of decades back, and luckily, a vital service moved in. The Post Office is still going, and when it’s open, so is the Norton Summit Museum. It is a treat for history buffs, with paraphernalia from the fruit, vegetable and cherry growing days of old.
Whether you come up the New Norton Summit Road (the scenic route), or arrive on the other side of the Scenic Hotel up the Old Norton Summit road, you still end up in what one 1800’s correspondent called “the loveliest situation for a village in the Mt Lofty Ranges”. That’s hard to argue with, and so pop in to the character-rich local and raise a toast to three Premiers - and old Bob, the bullock driver, in “Norton’s Summit”*.
*Localities lost their ‘s’ by decree some time ago.
Research assistance thanks to
Cultural Tourism Degree Project
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Norton Summit Post Office and Museum
Open Monday - Friday, 9 am - 2 pm
Ph: (08) 8390 1370