History of Tarcowie

Tarcowie Township and District

The name Tarcowie is an aboriginal word meaning "place of washaway water", and refers to the large number of creeks in the area.

The Ngadjuri people - the aboriginal tribe which inhabited the area before the arrival of white people - left no written history. Much of the knowledge we have of the tribe was obtained by anthropologists such as R.M. Berndt, N.B. Tindale and T. Vogelsang, who between 1937 and 1944 met with Barney Waria, a Ngadjuri elder born near Orroroo in 1873.

It is possible that this area was not heavily populated by indigenous people, and as well as the decline in numbers brought about white man's occupation of the land, and the diseases he brought with him, a number of the Ngadjuri were re-located to the Point Pearce Mission after it was established in 1868, near Port Victoria on Yorke Peninsula.

Today there is little evidence of aboriginal occupation of the land close to Tarcowie. There are rock engravings in creeks south of Orroroo, the Kappowie Rock Holes near Hornsdale, some ochre paintings on the east side of the range from Tarcowie, and some reputed aboriginal burial sites along the range. Camp sites have been found with evidence of fire hearths, spear points, and stone chippings from tool making. These sites have tended to be on more open country towards Black Rock and north-east of Orroroo.

The first white explorers to come into this area were in a party led by Captain (later Colonel) E.C. Frome in 1842, although they probably did not come into the Tarcowie valley.

Edward John Eyre had explored country to the south of Tarcowie in 1839, naming the Broughton River, Spring Hill - today known as Mt. Misery, south of Georgetown - and Mt. Remarkable, although he was many miles to the south of that hill when he observed it.

A second northern expedition led by Frome set out from Adelaide in the winter of 1843, and pushed north to Black Rock Hill, which Frome had named the previous year. Small parties on horseback would explore off to the side of the main group with the bullock wagons. It is possible that someone may have ridden to the top of the range overlooking Tarcowie, and from where they would have been able to see Mt. Remarkable further to the west.

Other explorers extraordinary of early South Australia - brothers John and James Chambers, were the first to take up the land which became the Pekina Run, and which included the Tarcowie area. Believed to have been in 1844, the brothers acquired the land under what was known as an Occupational Licence, and employed a Mr. Holland to go to N.S.W. to purchase a herd of cattle, which on arrival in South Australia were sent to the Pekina Run. Unfortunately a periodic drought occurred, and after no substantial rain for seventeen months, the cattle were removed from the Pekina Run to another of the Chambers' properties near Lake Bonney on the River Murray.

Mr. Price Maurice, who at the age of twenty two arrived in South Australia in August 1840, was passing through the district looking for land to lease for sheep farming, and offered to purchase the now empty Pekina Run from the Chambers brothers. It is reputed that he paid them thirty Pounds ($60) for the run, which covered the Chambers' original outlay.

By 1851, Occupational Licence had been changed to Pastoral Lease under the new Imperial Land Act, and Price Maurice took out the Pekina Run Lease No. 80, which comprised some 320 square miles (830 sq. km.), at an annual rental of ten shillings ($1) per square mile. In 1854, the Oladdie Run was added to the Pekina Run, and gave Price Maurice some 671 square miles (1738 sq. km.) of country. The greatest number of sheep and lambs shorn in one year on the properties was 118,000, returning 2,003 bales of wool.

The original Pekina Run included important watering points at Appila, Tarcowie, Pekina and Wepowie, as well as the main Pekina homestead just south of Orroroo. Water was always the first consideration in the thirsty land, and permanent springs to the north of the present Tarcowie township, together with the gently undulating site between two ranges of hills, made an ideal position to develop an out-station complex. Thus what was known as the Tarcowie Head Station was established to oversee the various shepherds huts at the southern end of the run.

A total of eleven buildings was noted by the Government Surveyor A.C. McKay in 1872, nearly all pine or slab huts. Split pine slabs were set upright and plastered with mud - also known as pug - and roofed with pine rafters covered by canegrass or reeds. The pine trees were native pines, which grew abundantly in the area. Any occupied huts would have a stone chimney and hearth. Nothing remains of the buildings today - not even a chimney or two - although the probable site of the cellar has been established.

In 1874, a second surveyor - Thomas Evans - laid out the township and surrounding parklands, and the township of Tarcowie was proclaimed in the Government Gazette on 20th May 1875.

At that time, most towns were surveyed to a similar plan, bounded by four terraces and crossed by High and Cross Streets, with a grid of secondary streets numbered First, Second, and so on. Unusually, Tarcowie was plotted on the diagonal rather than due north and south, and thus instead of North, South, East and West Terrace, the terraces are named - Andrews, Maurice, Wells and Clark Terrace. Maurice Terrace is obviously named after Price Maurice, but despite contact with the Department of Lands, it is not known who gave their name to the other three terraces.

An early census gave a figure of 27 occupied dwellings in Tarcowie township, and even as late as 1963, the Country Trade Directory lists 36 residents living in 14 houses.

Today there are six occupied buildings and four unoccupied buildings in the town proper, and two of the occupied buildings are weekenders. Eight permanent residents live within the four terraces at present.

There are residents on fifteen or sixteen farms in the district who would probably consider themselves to be Tarcowie people. A far cry from the early 1900's, when up to eighty children attended the primary school. In those days, many of the farms employed two or three workmen in addition to the farmer and his family.

At various times High Street has boasted the Hotel, Post Office, two general stores, butcher, boot maker, saddler, two blacksmiths, wheelwright and a garage.

Today there is the Hotel, which has become the social centre for the town and district, with a number of families coming in for a Saturday evening meal on a regular basis. Darts on a Wednesday night brings in some extras, as does golf in the season.

The Post Office is open for three mails each week, and a fruiterer calls regularly.

The popular nine hole golf course attracts fifty or more players on Open Days, and a loyal band of locals who play every week.

The Tennis Club no longer has competitive teams, although the courts and clubhouse are still available for those who wish to play tennis.

The Tarcowie Hall was built in 1906, and in 1922 two rooms and a porch were added as a memorial to the servicemen of World War I. A number of framed photographs of WWI soldiers are displayed in the Hall, as well as Honour Boards for both World Wars.

There are no longer any churches open, and no services are held in the town. Funerals are held in the Hall when requested, and the communion table and lectern from the Uniting Church make such occasions a little more formal.

The cemetery to the east of the township contains some interesting graves, dating back to
1876, and a list of those known to be buried in the cemetery is available. A very early grave, which may date back to the 1860's is located between the Hall and the Hotel.

In 1976 a portion of the parklands to the south of the township was dedicated as a Native Flora reserve. In recent years, a walk has been established through part of the reserve, with trees, shrubs and plants identified by a number, which can be checked against a brochure available at the main gate.
Tarcowie has an active Progress Association which is responsible for the care and maintenance of the Hall, and for looking after the township and cemetery areas. The Progress Association was responsible for the establishment of the walk through the Native Flora Reserve, and financed the publication of the Tarcowie book in conjunction with the 125th Anniversary celebrations in 1998. Information signs have been erected identifying the principal buildings in the township.

Much of this information can be found in the Tarcowie book "Place of Washaway Water" by Teresa Donnellan, which is available on enquiry at 08 8658 6013

(Author: Ian Shields, Tarcowie, 24/02/2005)