Oakbank the town: Keith does a bit of exploring in "them there hills" in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia
Everybody knows about Oakbank - after all, every Easter it hosts the most popular picnic race meeting in Australia. But today, we're in search of the 'other' Oakbank and it's a story of two breweries and two empires.
Oakbank is a village built on beer - literally. Many of the charming little cottages were built by the town's two breweries for their workers. Johnstons came first when in 1845 canny Scottish brothers, James and Andrew Johnston tapped into an underground spring and began brewing beer. The rambling stone buildings on the Onkaparinga remain the home of what is South Australia's oldest family business - J. & A.G. Johnston. The brewery still operates - no beer in the cellar but Johnston's legendary Oakbank Cordial and wine of course from their nearby vineyards. But Johnstons didn't have the market all to themselves. Just ask local identity, Mary Cassini who lives in Oakbank's other brewery. The pike fish atop the brew tower is a local landmark
Mary Cassini, 'Oakbank Weaver': "The brewery was built by Henry Pike in 1889. He started off here in Oakbank as the town undertaker and carpenter. Then, in 1989 he tapped into the (now dry) underground spring that went through the town that Johnston's Brewery was using, He tapped into it and started to brew a very nice beer. He called the place Dorset Brewery and he built the brewery tower."
The cellar is now a gallery and weaving room where Mary, as the Oakbank Weaver, creates her widely acclaimed tapestries promoting world peace. She's behind the famous '3 minutes of world silence' vigils held around the world on January the first every year.
In 1938 a 'fox' virus was discovered in the brewing yeast and brewing was banned for eight years so both firms turned to making cordial and soft drinks instead. But Pike's also had a problem with their legendary Tonic Ale.
Mary Cassini, 'Oakbank Weaver': "We've heard that it was actually quite alcoholic although the label says it's a healthy 'non-intoxicating drink made with pure spring water'. Maybe the yeasts got a bit out of control so it was very popular as you can imagine."
Not surprisingly, there are many fond memories of the Tonic Ale - local legend has is that sometimes it was up to 8 percent proof!! A stroll along the main street is a must - with glimpses of an era long past. Pick up a walking brochure and match the number plagues on the buildings of interest. That includes Longfleet - built in 1867, it became the Pike family home. And across the road, the original Oakbank School built a century and a half ago is now the local kindergarten.
The brochure will also take you to a big oak tree in the main street. Mary Cassini, 'Oakbank Weaver': "It wouldn't be Oakbank without an oak tree but this one is special. Evidently Andrew Galbreith Johnston brought acorns with him from Oakbank near Glasgow and he planted a few in the town and this was one of the. And look at it now."
A now vacant corner on the main road used to be the village blacksmith. The story goes that he'd put two shoes on your horse and before he'd do the other two you'd have to go over to the brewery and buy him a beer. It paid to get in early!
No hurry at all though if you're on the Oakbank Heritage Walk so come and have a look around. You can pick one up from the Oakbank Weaver or any of the other shops in town.
Oakbank Heritage Walk Brochures available from most local businesses.