The name "Brownhill" describes the hills to the north of the creek. The indigenous Kaurna people called the area Wirraparinga meaning scrub or creek place.
The climb to the top of Brownhill is as exhilarating as the view is spectacular. Spread below you is suburbia, a ribbon of vegetation marking Brownhill Creek as it meanders across the plains. Turn around, and be struck by the contrast, native vegetation seemingly unchanged since Dreamtime as tiers of hills and valleys stretch away to the top of Mt Lofty, effectively hiding all the lives and environmental changes within the folds of time.
Cartographic evidence points to Brown Hill being mapped and named as one of the trig points for the first survey of land during 1837 and 1838. John Arrowsmith's 1839 map of the District of Adelaide S A, as divided into Country Sections from the Trigonometrical Surveys by Colonel Light, the late Surveyor General, was published by the British Parliamentary, House of Commons in 1841. It shows "Brown Hill" and Green Hill and it is interesting to realise that Brownhill, Greenhill and Black Hill can be seen from the coastal Barker Inlets quite clearly. Perhaps Captain Collett Barker made this observation too when exploring the eastern side of St Vincents Gulf for a suitable port in 1831?
Wirriparinga (aboriginal meaning scrubby place by water) or Brownhill Creek is one of the main watercourses across the Mitcham District, rising around Crafers and flowing in a north westerly direction out of the hills, through Mitcham Village and Hawthorn and towards the Reedbeds, now West Lakes. There is no suburb known as Brownhill Creek, but rather it is a name given to the general area either side of the creek extending eastwards from Mitcham Village and between Springfield and Belair.
On completion of the survey, most of the sections on Mitcham plains from Winston Ave (Sections 1-7), east to the hills' face were offered on a Monday for inspection with the surveyor. Subsequently prospective settlers could make a selection, if land orders had been purchased before leaving England, or buy the land.
Europeans settled the area very early even before the survey of the Adelaide Plains was completed. In fact it is recorded that a Mr Walker and his son James were already living among the hills, in a thatched cottage, built of clay and which looked at least ten years old, when the first settlers arrived. Initially the creek valley was taken up by the SA Company from 1837 for No 1 Sheep Station to hold sheep overlanded to feed the colony. William Finlayson and Samuel Sleep were two of the men employed as shepherds living along the foothills near Mitcham. Many other men, known as 'tiersmen', scaled the hills in search of timber for building purposes and firewood. Often, they just camped out, some with their families. We discover the first recorded child born in Brownhill Creek was James who was the first of eight children born to Catherine and James Greig in June 1839. Other families are reported to have stayed in the "Monarch of the Glen", a large gum tree, still growing in the Brownhill Creek Caravan Park. By the end of 1841 the SA Company had 20,000 sheep in the colony, making it one of the largest owners, but by the end of the decade prices had fallen and the Company was divesting itself of its stock interests. Present-day Brownhill Creek Reserve has always been crown land but as soon as the surrounding area was surveyed, between 1846 and 1853 John Grainger began to purchase it eventually owning over 700 acres. Included was a mine or series of shafts containing bismuth, silver & lead and a little copper in the upper reaches of the Creek. Almost immediately he began to lease parcels of land, some to tiersmen who turned to farming as they cleared the land. Later generations carried on with more profitable market gardening until rising land values forced diversification or the relinquishing of family holdings.
Late in the 1840s serious consideration was given to supplying water from the Creek to Mitcham and Adelaide but thirty years were to pass before it eventually happened. In the late 1870s, after John Grainger had died, the Water Conservation Department was set up. Cast-iron pipes imported from Scotland were laid, tanks built into the side of Brown Hill (at the top of Carrick Hill Drive), a reservoir and filter beds constructed in Brownhill Creek and a well sunk in Ellison's Gully.
Samuel Ellison was already occupying the tiers above Brownhill Creek by the time his son Joseph was born in October 1843. He was issued with a timber licence in 1850 and although more children were born at Brownhill Creek it was not until 1853 at the age of 65 that he formalised a 21-year lease for the north side of the creek with John Grainger. In fact both Samuel and his wife Elizabeth lived on into their nineties before being buried at the Glen Osmond Cemetery.
The recently opened Pony Ridge walking trail goes through Section 1099 on the south side of the valley. In 1847 a land grant for this was issued to John Grainger. Soon after it was passed to brothers Urich C & Charles C Whittle. They halved the 93 acre section, the northern 34 acres was sold to Absalom Bennetts in 1849 a few months after his wife Mary gave birth to the first of their two children. Just before Charles Whittle died in 1872 he presented the newly open Mitcham Institute, with a book published in 1634 (The History of the Church since the days of our saviour Jesus Christ, until this prefect Age, by Patrick Symson, later minister at Stiveling in Scotland, 3rd Edition). In 1881 Mr Bennetts sold his property to John Curtis, a father of eleven children, who leased it to William Richardson another father of eleven. However the property remained in the Curtis family until 1973. Much of this property was cleared for pasture for dairy cows and market gardening. In 1890 the road to the property was diverted higher up the hillside, away from the flood prone creek. The Curtis family had been in the area since 1869.
Meanwhile the southern part of the Section 1099 continued to be owned by the Whittle family until 1872 when Joseph Grigg, father of 11, bought the property and stayed until his death in 1910.
1848 was eventful year as in April John Grainger Barton was born to Edmund and Sophia Rosa Barton at their house on Brownhill Creek. Neighbour, Jane McCulloch Davie, attended the birth; Jane later married Russell Barton, J. Grainger's older brother. Their mother Sophia died in 1851 and their father in 1864 and so orphaned 16-year-old Grainger left Brownhill Creek and lived with his relations at "Mooculta" near Bourke NSW. He grew up with an understanding that there was 20 acres of land near Brownhill Creek in trust from him when he turned 21 years old. By the time he was 19 he was married and named his first John Grainger Barton. He made inquiries about the land but although a document was sighted it had not been co-signed by Mr John Grainger before he left the colony and he refused to acknowledge it before he died in 1872. John Grainger Barton (Junior) had died in 1871.
The winter of 1848 was wet and misty in the tiers, as the wooded areas towards Mt Lofty were known. Children were often fully occupied assisting their parents in their line of work, as in those days education was not compulsory. Twelve year old Robert Forrest was exposed to the same dangers as the tiersmen he worked along side. The tracks were narrow and steep, and the bullock team drivers sitting on top of an insecure load of heavy logs had little control in the wet, misty and slippery conditions. Robert Paterson, one of the lad's father's mates, called for him to jump when he saw the boy's load begin to slip as it moved out of sight around a bend. The boy "was then and there violently thrown in and upon the ground where the said dray with its load of rails by …whereof the said Robert Forrest from the weight and prepared of the said dray is laden and drawn as aforesaid, did then and there receive certain mortal bruises in and upon the head to body and the said Robert Forrest of which said mortally died." So said the report of the inquest that followed in his home conducted by William Wyatt the coroner and before local men, Daniel Ledgard, James Wilson, Edward Webb, Robert Ledgard, Robert Harrison, Archibald Gall, Andrew Davie, James Forrest, the boy's father, Henry Francis, Joseph Smith, James Bragg, John Neale Some of them lived in and around Mitcham Village.
James Forrest and his wife Jennet stayed on, having another son, John in 1853 and by 1854 they were renting three sections across the creek from Brown Hill to Belair, (numbers 1094, 1095 and 923).
Meanwhile John Grainger sought permission from the Colonial Secretary to cut timber for St Michael's Church being built at Mitcham; (he was already the most generous benefactor to this church donating L400). He also offered to buy the old tollhouse at Glen Osmond which had been closed for two years and he had opened a mine called Wheal Grainger by the end of 1848. By early 1855 John Grainger had left "Gable Ends" at Mitcham Village and returned to England.
Mrs Amelia Homersham and her new husband established "Eagles Nest" on the Mount Barker Road in 1850 overlooking the valley leading to Brownhill Creek. She was a French scholar and did translating for the government of the day as well as establishing a garden down the hillside. The two-storied house was destroyed in the 1980's Ash Wednesday bushfires.
By 1854, the year of Mitcham Council's first assessment most of the settlement had occurred up the gullies on the north side of Brownhill Creek, however among the few who settled on the south side was Henry Foster who took up Section 943. He may have built a house there when he took out a mortgage in 1857. Eventually, he held further land west along the north side of Sheoak Road which became known locally as "Fosterville".
In 1866, John Williams took up the southern part of Section 945, which remained in the family for over a century. He married his future neighbour's niece Thomasina Whittle who was living at Tam-O-Shanter Belt near Port Adelaide.
Charles Anderson arrived from Scotland in 1849 and by 1858 he had taken up part Section 1094, Section 890, 1095 for quarrying purposes. His business expanded to become one of the largest quarrying industries in the district and was carried on by his sons. Quarries the family worked included McElligott's, (early development), Sugarloaf, Anderson's and the series along Weemela Drive, behind the last surviving Anderson house on Old Belair Road.
The only community building to be constructed in the Brownhill Creek area was the Chapel built at the junction of Tilley's Hill and Brownhill Creek Roads. It was a branch of the Mitcham Baptist Church and Mrs Joseph Grigg laid the foundation stone in 1874. The first and only couple to be married in the chapel was Charles Orchard and Annie Grigg in 1892. The following year Chapel was opened as a school with only three teachers, Jeannie Barron, Harriett C Ward and Helen Lewin, until it closed in 1924. This building was then used as a house until it was burnt out in 1942 and 1955 before being vandalised to the foundations. A new mud-brick house is now on the site.
Most of Grainger's estate was taken up by CB Hardy, solicitor of Springfield near Mitcham and was leased or progressively subdivided along the main roads including the southern hillside bounded by Sheoak Road by 1880. Hardy suffered financially during the 1890s depression and sold his land to Annie Rymill in 1897. Springfield Limited acquired it in 1929 (this was the same company which subdivided Springfield the suburb). As the Great Depression set in, the land east of Brown Hill was transferred from Springfield Ltd, to Marion Clutterbuck and then in 1938 to WH Wylie to become "Springwood".
In 1881 James Copeland a carter of Belair bought Pt Sections 1095 & 890 on the south side of Brownhill Creek, they remained in the family until 1963. There may have been a connection to the area much earlier as William Walker's wife was Mary Copeland who had a son James in 1851 and then another Robert in 1853 at Brownhill Creek.
The rich alluvial soils of the creek flats encouraged market gardening which was well established by 1891. That year Alf Terry on behalf of Council built Manure Pits after being lobbied for by Messrs Williams and Curtis. They were used to stop the pollution of the creek instead of the wet manure, back loaded from the market, being just dumped on the side to the creek to dry and become lighter.
Samuel Williams 63 years and George Beavis aged 30 both of Brown Hill Creek, were buried on 25 Feb 1888 at Mitcham General Cemetery. Were their deaths related?
Bathing and Camping
Bathing in the creek relieved the hot summers and in 1894 a bathing hole was formalised in Brownhill Creek. By 1901 Council resolved that no bathing was allowed between sunrise and half an hour after sunset. At the beginning of the 1902 summer Mr T Newey complained that the dams built in the creek on the Reserve were interfering with his gardening operation and so it was resolved that "all dams in the Creek be destroyed and no further bathing allowed."
Near the entrance of the Brownhill Creek valley a camping ground was declared in 1954 as part of the National Pleasure resort of 120 acres. Two toilets, ablution blocks and laundry built from Horsnell Gully freestone became part of the Brownhill Creek camping ground development. (SAPP 49/1954)
1950 saw the Commonwealth Govt buying the top of Brown Hill for a communications tower. In 1992 the Rotary Club opened a walking trail from Carrick Hill to the top of Brown Hill. In 1998 the Mitcham Council bought the top of Brown Hill from the government to continue the preservation of the Hills Face Zone.