Mount Bryan East South Australia

Mount Bryan East

The Mount Bryan East Area had been occupied by the Aborigines for thousands of years and evidence of this occupation, such as grinding stones, hammers, axes and camp ovens, is still found in the area. Pastoralists and their shepherds settled around the mountain as early as the 1840s. Mount Bryan (932 m), the highest point in the Mount Lofty Ranges, is high enough to have the occasional snow cover. It was first sighted by Governor Gawler and Captain Sturt on 11 December 1839. Gawler named it Mount Bryan, after Henry Bryan who was a member of the party.


Cairn built in 2002 by the Tiver family to honour explorers Edward John Eyre's expedition in 1839, Capt. Charles Sturt, Governor George Gawler, Henry Bryan, Capt. Edward Frome's expedition in 1842 and three successive Tiver generations of the Hallett area. Picture kindly supplied by Glen Tiver.

Bryan had left London on 31 October 1838 with his eldest brother, Guy, on the 355 ton Thomas Harrison and landed at Port Adelaide on 25th February 1839. In a letter to his mother he discussed life in South Australia and stated that he and his brother had every intention of staying. He also wrote that they had bought two plots of land and that they had lived under a sheet of canvas for some months until they had built their houses. He slept with a loaded rifle by his side as his only form of protection. Henry was related to Sir John Eardley Wilmot, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania. Sadly Bryan lost contact with the group and died. His body was never found.

Among the first pastoralists to take up a lease in the area was twenty year old William Dare. Dare owned Piltimitiappa Station. On 21 July 1869 Anne Dare, wife of William, died after a long and painful illness, aged 41. Later settlers were the Wilks brothers, Brady, Gare, Beer, Wilkins, Hall, Webber, Dunstan and Thomas families.

James Thomas, born in 1837, arrived with his family in 1848 and settled first at Burra, but within a few years moved to Mount Bryan East. Wedding bells rang on 3 May 1866 when James Elder, junior, and Mary Ann Thomas, daughter of John Thomas, were married by the Rev L.W. Stanton. Some eighteen months later they were having a party again when a huge bonfire was lit on top of the mountain on 30 October 1867 to let everybody know that Prince Alfred had arrived in South Australia.

After the passing of the Strangways Act in 1869, pastoral holdings were split up for farmers who bought the land on credit. The Wilks family, who had previously lived at Burra, first lived in a dug out in the creek bank until their pine cottage was completed in 1877. Another early farmer who had taken up a credit selection was Henry Price. He was the original buyer of section 639 but had to transfer it to John Dunstan of Mount Bryan East on 4 March 1874 because of his continuous ill health. In February 1875 John Dunstan himself applied to surrender agreements 1672, 1785 and 1915 and obtain a new agreement.

None of the farmers had large properties and all had to struggle to make a living from the red-brown earth just inside Goyder's Line. Much of their time was taken up with fencing, dam sinking and wood cutting to clear the land for farming and for firewood for the Burra mine, and water carting from the nearby springs. The land was at first ploughed with a single furrow plough, until Smith's Stump Jump plough became available, and the seed broadcast by hand. Before the building of the first church, services were held in private homes with tea served afterwards.

A Bible Christian Church was established and opened on 13 July 1869 on land given by H. Collins. A new church was built in 1881 but sold in 1912 when a new one was built near the school. To keep cost to a minimum most of the work was done by the church members themselves.

On 18 March 1875 the District Council of Mount Bryan was proclaimed and its first Councillors were Alfred Hallett, junior, Griffith Harry, John Hawke, William Tickle and John Dunstan.

During October 1878, splendid rains fell but they were too late to make much difference to the wheat. In March 1879 farmers were waiting for rain again as the ground too hard to plough. To make matters worse on 6 June 1879 the mountain was covered in snow.

Rabbits became a big problem in the mid north during these years. In December 1876 fine weather was reported all around and famers looked forward to a decent harvest for once, provided the rabbits would not get it first. Several farmers complained that the government should enforce the Land Act more stringently. Some farmers kept sheep but did little to combat the rabbits which was a serious loss to the bona fide selector.

One farmer lost seven acres of wheat during one night in 1878. Farmers had to go around their wheat paddocks and even through it to kill the rabbits. Thousands of them were destroyed each night. Another farmer killed 256 in a four hour period. John Dunstan, Mr Best, Mr Roberts and some of their neighbours lost half their crop to the rabbits.

Near Mount Bryan 1937

During these times of hardship feelings often ran high when an injustice was perceived. In December 1879 great indignation was felt by all about the brutal assault against Mr Best because he had yarded some trespassing cattle and would not let them go before the owners had paid for the damages.

However on Christmas Day 1879 a community picnic was held in James Thomas' paddock. Various amusements were included such as footraces. Prices were won by W.Wlliams, T.Quinn and F.Wilkins the son of Harry Wilkins.

Life was difficult for the farmers on their credit selections and their women had to make ends meet whatever the conditions. They also did most of the work by hand as very few aids were available. Milking the few cows, making butter and cream, bread and anything else was all in a day's work. On 22 January 1881 Susan Wilks, wife of Thomas Wilks, died as a result of miscarriage induced by injury received through lifting a ladder.

In June 1881 a meeting was held at James Prior's house to discuss the building of a church on a site which had already been selected four years ago. The tender of William Dunstan for building the chapel was accepted.

In February 1882 William Dare's wife died from alcoholic poisoning. Both were heavy drinkers. William employed several men as shepherds who lived in cottages with their wives near the homestead. Among these were Thomas Jones, George Clark and his wife Matilda.

The early 1880s were particularly hard times. A long continued drought caused considerable anxiety. Farmers were driving or carting cattle to water at all times of the day. Nearly every tank or dam in the neighbourhood was dry. The ground had become so thoroughly dry and hard that it would require a good long soaking rain to make it anything like ploughable.

In March 1882 the Bible Christian Chapel was opened. Tea was provided by Mesdames H. Collins and Gare. The evening meeting was crowded and presided over by George Harry. Treasurer's Gare report showed building costs of 200 pounds but after several donations had been taken into account there was only a debt left of 84 pounds left.

The post office was operating in 1885 and still open in 1889. Before the little township had its official post office Jane Prior had carried the first mail from Mount Bryn East to Mount Bryan on horseback before her marriage in 1882. The first post office was operated from the Dunstan's residence, with the mail arriving from Hallett. When the post office, which had been operated for a long time by the Dunstan family, closed Mount Bryan East, which had never been declared a town, officially ceased to exit. Many of the descendants of the early families remained in the area, including the Gebhardts, Gares and the Wilks.

The Bible Christians celebrated their Sunday School anniversary on 15 and 16 November 1885. With the drought still continuing it was bad times all around and church collections were obviously down too. When the harvest was over in January 1886 it was the worst on record. There was hardly enough for seed wheat for the next season. An entertainment was held on 1 August 1887 in aid of the church building funds with several songs and recitals. The most worthy being those of Frederick and Frank Wilkins.

In an effort to gain at least some income, William Dare Senior and his son William applied for a quartz claim on section 674 at the Ulooloo goldfield on 3 October 1887. Like most other hopefuls who had tried the same they got very little for their hard work. When William died, his executor, W.H. Phillips, applied to the Surveyor General's Office for the transfer of perpetual lease no 475 in the Hundred of Hallett, to Louisa Dare.

By 1889 the rabbits were still as big a problem as ever. The Hallett District Council asked for tenders to clear the area of this vermin. Specifications could be seen at the Mount Bryan East Post Office and at Wilkins' house. That same year Council meetings were held at the Bible Christian Chapel with Harry Wilkins member of Hallett District Council representing No 3 Ward. Some official documents could finally be signed at the township in 1895 when John Collins was appointed Justice of the Peace.

By the 1880s Mount Bryan East had been incorporated into the Hallett District Council. In 1880, during a ratepayers meeting held at the post office they strongly voiced their dissatisfaction about the poor representation and a petition sent to the government about it. At the February 1890 meeting, Wilkins was appointed to approach the Treasurer to obtain a special grant for the roads. On 19 May Council was informed by the Secretary of Crownlands and Immigration Office that an additional grant of 100 Pounds had been received.

Most people who died at Mount Bryan East were also taken to Hallett and interred at that cemetery. When L. Webber, 74, died, the burial took place at Hallett on 27 January 1885. Louisa Elizabeth Wilkins, aged 19, died on 24 March 1894 and was buried at Hallett on 27 March by Rev Yosman. When Ethel Prior of 7 months died she too was buried at Hallett on 3 April 1894.

On 19 March 1897 the Register reported that 'Farmers are putting in seed but it is very uphill work as stock are in very low condition. The country is very bare and the outlook very dark. If we do not get a good rain before winter sets in the stock will suffer terribly. Produce is very scarce, butter, bacon and eggs are things of the past'. Life had always been hard, crops flourished in good years, but the poor marginal soils could not support many farmers. Droughts in 1851, 1863-5, 1890s and early 1900s, rabbits and salinity were their undoing.

During 1890 when South Australia was in the grip of a depression, grasshoppers were eating the wheat the farmers were sowing. A year later 1891 Harry Wilkins petitioned the Council unsuccessfully for a loan to build a rabbit proof fence. A few months later a very pleasant day was spent at the Wilkins Netfield farm. A few friends met and had a bit of fun coursing in a paddock of 400 acres enclosed with wire netting. There were nine hares let in and Mr Russell's dog Tip was considered the best. The day was pleasant and the ground was good for both visitors and dogs. Dances too were held occasionally in the various homes.

Education of the children had been an important issue for the farmers. A school and teacher residence was completed at a cost of 500 pounds in 1884 and opened in 1885 by R.W. Whitington with Miss Plummer as its first teacher and Ben Dunstan one of the first students. The next year fencing of the school grounds was completed and Mary Enright appointed provisional teacher in August 1885. In 1895 Blanche Ayliffe earned 72 pounds per year an the school had an average attendance of 13.2 students. Mary Josephine Taylor was appointed 21 April 1895 at 66 pounds. During 1896 and 1897 Mary J Taylor was earning 69 pounds per year teaching an average of 19 students. In 1898 Mary got an additional three pounds and now earned 72 pounds. A School concert organised by Mary raised more than 4 pounds in 1898 In 1899 Mary resigned on 31 December when there were 22 students and was paid 78 pounds. During 1900 Martha Taylor took over. Her husband had been a teacher but had died in 1895. During 1906 the School and residence were repainted and a water tank installed.

Its best known student was George Hubert Wilkins, later Sir Hubert Wilkins, youngest son of the Wilkins family. In 1910 Miss Adcock took the whole school, all of ten pupils, on a school excursion to Adelaide. After the closure of the school, in 1917, due to falling population, and larger farms, the community declined slowly. It was reopened in 1925 with six students. During the depression numbers increased to about thirty but by 1947 numbers had declined once more and the school finally closed.

About 1900, Wilkins bought the first seed drill. It resulted in fewer seeds taken by the birds and an improvement in the yield of his crop.

During the early 1900s Mount Bryan East had about fifty houses and its own cricket club which often was able to defeat some of the neighbouring clubs, including Burra.

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