Riverton – artists, agriculture and assassinations

Category: inspired, News, South Australia, Travel Your Road, Date: 5 August 2020

The Barrier Highway passes through Riverton but apart from road trains, one of the first things you’ll notice in the town are the many historical buildings lining the road, quite a few which still bear their original signage. A great place to start a day in Riverton is with a good coffee and cake at the Emporium Bakehouse, where you can sit inside or out and plan your walking tour of the town.

Torrens Road which runs through the centre of town has many examples of original buildings from when the first white settlers arrived in 1856 and started this town on the bullock track from Burra to Adelaide. Some examples of the town’s first buildings can be found in a group that make up Scholz Park Museum.

The stone home and other structures are on their original four town blocks and belonged to August Scholz, who was a wheelwright and then, with his three sons, became blacksmiths and saddlers.  The buildings are open some Sundays or by appointment and luckily on the day I was there, volunteers were working in the blacksmith shop so I was able to get a glimpse of the historical tools in the collection and blacksmiths at work.

It’s just a short walk past Scholz Park to the Pioneers Garden. It was originally the Anglican cemetery and now has been restored as a town garden to commemorate the pioneers who founded the district. At the rear of the garden are 18 original headstones which have been preserved and date back to 1861. The garden has a rose garden and a seat to rest a while and enjoy the surroundings. The seat is dedicated to rural women and commemorates the establishment of the ‘Women in Agriculture and Business’ organisation, which was founded in Riverton in 1917. This organization still exists today making it the oldest women’s rural group in Australia.  

Other historical buildings on Torrens Road include the two original hotel buildings, with the impressive two-storey Hotel Central still bearing original wrought iron work on the balcony and verandah.  Across the road from the hotel is a newer addition to the town, a striking sculpture of an Aboriginal woman holding a child.

It was unveiled in 2016 and is an acknowledgement of the Ngadjuri people and their culture in the region. The statue was created by acclaimed Australian artist Robert Hannaford (AM) who was born in Riverton. He has won many art prizes over the years including the Archibald viewer prize and has been a finalist twice for the Archibald prize. Today he and his wife and fellow artist, Alison Mitchell, have an art gallery and studio near this sculpture on Torrens Road.

From the main street, take a walk through the streets to the west and you will pass row cottages, artifacts, sheds and stone buildings that speak of the town’s rail link history. A short walk takes you to the railway line and station which were built and opened in 1869. The original station was wooden and burnt down in the early 1870s but was rebuilt from stone in 1875. The structure is a very long and grand looking building and was once a busy hub with trains passing through and connecting to Terowie, Broken Hill, Alice Springs and Perth. 

The station was also the setting of a dark moment in history, when in 1921 it was the scene of Australia’s first ‘political assassination’. It was referred to as this because a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, a passenger on the train that day, was fatally injured in a shooting rampage at the station. Percival Brookfield, was travelling on the Broken Hill Express from Adelaide when the train made a stop at Riverton. As passengers were having a meal and refreshments, another passenger started firing an automatic pistol into the crowd on the platform. Four people were injured but only Brookfield who was attempting to disarm the man was fatally injured, dying later in hospital. The bullet holes from that day are still visible in the station wall.

The Riverton station was used until 1988 and in the years since it has been a gallery and tea rooms and had accommodation in a few of the old carriages in the grounds. It is now privately owned and there is no public access but you can still see the station building, water tower and goods shed from nearby roads and from the walking track in Duck Pond Park, behind the station.

It’s also from here in Duck Pond Park that you can take a walk or bike ride on the track which follows the route of the old railway line for 19 kilometres to the town of Auburn.  This path is called the Rattler Trail which then continues on as the Riesling Trail for another 33 kilometres from Auburn through the valley to the town of Clare.

Not far from Riverton is one more spectacular historic building to see. The town of Saddleworth is a 12 kilometre drive north on the Barrier Highway and once you get there, follow the signs and a steep drive up a hill to see the 1869 built Catholic Church of St Stephen, perched high above the town.

From Saddleworth you can continue on another 53 kilometres to Burra, or head towards Auburn and the Clare Valley.

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