“Slate is everywhere in evidence in Willunga: … culverts are topped, bottomed and sided by it, bridges and waterways lined by it …”              Southern Argus, 28 May 1903, p. 3

Slate shaped the town of Willunga. Visitors delight in the signs, landscaping, the unique house that is Glantawe and the like. But beneath our feet lies an extensive water management system that utilised slate from our quarries, which has evolved at least since the 1850s.

The 2017 High Street upgrade saw part of a superb slate dry stone drain and culvert uncovered at the 5-way intersection at the bottom of the High street. Perhaps the article below was heralding this part of the water management system.

WILLUNGA BRIGHTENING. — The District Council are going to considerable outlay in building culverts and repairing or improving streets in Willunga while the Central Road Board are also helping by making a fine culvert at the entrance of the town. (Evening Journal, 18 May 1872, p. 2).

Figure 1: A 2-way branch for water flow at the 5-way intersection

Although the 5-way intersection drain and culvert are the most recently found manifestations of our slate-constructed water system, there are more examples to be seen around Willunga.

In St Jude’s Street, near the Uniting Church there is a beautifully constructed dry stone slate culvert. This culvert was originally constructed around 1864 with “top and bottom to be flagged [with slate]” (Adelaide Observer, 17 December 1864, p. 3). Around 2002, the culvert was restored due to the efforts of Jeremy Keyte and the skill of Doug March.

Figure 2: Culvert – St Jude’s Street.

Crossing the High Street, opposite St Matthews Street, is an intriguing drain/tunnel with slate top and bottom, but limestone walls. This was found by Mr Ray Scott when he worked for the Willunga District Council. He has kindly provided Willunga Branch with the photograph below.

Figure 3. A large drain/tunnel that spreads across the High Street from St Matthews Street to the Courthouse Reserve.

On the higher sections of the Old Willunga Hill Road, the gutters that direct the storm water down the hill are constructed of slate. According to accounts from our community, these gutters were constructed mainly by people who were interned as aliens during World War II.

Figure 4: Slate gutter on Old Willunga Hill Road.

In the 19th century slate was plentiful and we had the skills to quarry it, split it and lay it. These skills are now more rare, but the Willunga community still celebrates and values its heritage of slate.

As you explore our town, think about the slate constructions directing the water beneath your feet.

For more information on Willunga slate, visit the Slate Museum at 61 High Street, Willunga and/or obtain a copy of the Slate Museum and Trail brochure.

Contributed by Paddy O’Toole.

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