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The name Glenalta is derived from "Glen" (valley) and "Alta" (high). Areas of Glenalta were previously known as Blackwood Vale, Sun Valley and Sherwood Estate.

The Rise and Fall of Glenalta

A drive around this suburb of "glens" and "altitudes" gives the impression of a modern suburb orientated towards universal car ownership. Streets flow around natural contours and reserves that follow the creeks from National Park around Woodlark Grove, at the end of Bermuda Way and along Minnow Creek. Gardens and native vegetation run to the kerbsides making walking in this car dominated area a challenge. Glenalta is contained between Main Road to the west, Laffers Road north, Hawthorndene Drive south and Upper Sturt Road and National Park to the east.

However, two considerably older suburbs, Blackwood and Hawthorndene, had their origins in this area.

A Land Grant was issued to James Coutts late in 1844 and when he applied for an Occupation Licence for grazing rights on Yorke Peninsula in 1847, he gave his address as Blackwood Vale. He sold his Section 874 to Robert Burfield two years later (1849).

In 1853 when William Dawbiney died on Robert Burfield's property, present day Glenalta was known as "Blackwood Vale Farm". This was a descriptive name, referring to the dark limbs of the native trees, particularly casuarina stricta (sheoak) or eucalyptus microcarpa (grey box gum) growing down the hillsides. The Blackwood Tree, (acacia melanoxylon) is not native to this district. In 1889 a Hawthorn Hedge was planted to form a maze in Belair National Park based on the one in Dean Forest in English Gloucestershire. It is claimed to be the oldest existing hawthorn maze in Australia, and certainly the first of its kind in the colony. When Englishman C. Leigh Winser took over Section 874 in 1914 he planted a hawthorn hedge around his orchard and within a decade the seeds combined with those from National Park, had washed down Minnow Creek into the district we now know as Hawthorndene.

Land Grants were issued soon after survey for all the five sections of land between 1844 and 1849. Daniel Tregallis, a miner who could not write or sign his name had, within two years of his arrival in 1845, secured his land, Section 878 and remained there grazing stock until his death in 1896. In 1892 after complaints about his straying bull, he was informed by Council, that "unless he keeps the bull inside he will be prosecuted".

Robert Burfield started off as a blacksmith in rented premises at Port Adelaide in 1846 but by 1847 with John Fuller, a livery stable keeper in Adelaide had bought Section 874 and took up a Land Grant for Section 1063 as well as possibly leasing Section 875, effectively controlling the southern half of Glenalta for the rest of his life. He continued to operate the Commercial Hotel at Port Adelaide from 1846 to 1850 and then opened the Wharf Hotel in 1853 which he ran until 1858. He appears to have had a family of girls and one was married at "Blackwood Farm" in 1861 to William Barnet, a bookseller of Gawler Town, indicating that the family had moved to the hills for a few years. 1861 was also the year he was elected to Mitcham District Council. Records show that Robert was back, running the Wharf Hotel at Port Adelaide, between 1865 and 1868.

The Travellers Rest Hotel at Belair closed in 1862 and there was no hotel until travellers reached Clarendon and so on 8 April 1869 Robert Burfield opened the Blackwood Inn with a blacksmith shop and stable. In April 1877 he was on a new 14 member management committee of Retreat House, "for the protection and treatment and care of habitual inebriates". Perhaps realising his conflict of interests, within six months he had transferred the licence of the Blackwood Inn, although he remained landlord until transferring the sections of land to Philip F. Laffer early in 1878. In 1880 this Inn was renamed the Belair Hotel.

Late in the afternoon of October 25 1878, Mr Burfield went down to Minnow Creek with a cask on a horse and cart to draw water for household purposes from the creek flowing beneath a wooden bridge with post and rails along the sides. A lady who lived near the creek heard Mr Burfield calling to his horse to stop as he seemed to be trying to turn his cart near the narrow bridge where there was little room. She looked towards the bridge and saw the horse and cart fall over the side! Running to the spot she saw Mr Burfield lying on his face in about two feet of water with the splash board of the dray upon him. By the time she procured assistance from some neighbours, who freed the horse, removed the cart and conveyed the injured 60 year old man to the Blackwood Inn, "life was extinct". Mr Burfield had been a colonist for 40 years.

In 1852 pioneer James Laffer bought the north-east section of Glenalta from Thomas Maslin in trust for his 19 year old, eldest son, who had returned from a profitable time at the gold fields, until he was 21 two years later. The property already had buildings and was fenced and so when Philip F. Laffer took it over he had a good start. In 1860 he set aside two and a half acres with a cottage on it for his brother James. This cottage still stands as "Pine Lodge" almost opposite National Park entrance near Minnow Creek. Philip lived in another cottage further up the hill, (now on Hollywood Drive) and additions over the years have made it a substantial homestead. When he died in 1908 he left the property to his son George R Laffer on the condition that he paid his mother an annuity of dE50 and if he had no sons the property was to go to his brother Henry Edward or then to William Henry Laffer, "it being my earnest desire that the homestead shall remain in the family" stated Philip's will.

George R. Laffer was Chairman of Mitcham Council for eight years and was later elected to Parliament in 1913 to become Commissioner of Crown Lands and Immigration, Minister of Repatriation and later Minister of Irrigation, leading an active career until 1930. Most of the property was planted with apple and pear orchards and after he died in 1933 the property was managed by his widow and nephew H. Harold Laffer until it was sold to G.A. Adcock in 1955 and subdivided as "Sun Valley" in 1958-9.

The south-eastern sections of Glenalta was transferred to Alexander G. Downer, solicitor after Robert Burfield's fatal accident. The property extended west to the railway again when Legh Winser came to the district in 1914 taking up the land. On his arrival in 1909 from Chelsea, England, Legh worked for Dr T.K. Hamilton of Belair on his property on Yorke Peninsula. He became secretary to South Australian governors between 1915 and 1940. His orchard at "Hawthorn Deen", as he named his property, was mostly apples - "cleos", "granny-smiths" and "jonathons" which were exported and some pears, apricots and peaches for the local market. He also ran percherons which were a good orchard horse being of gentle temperament. He first lived in a wood and iron cottage, but later in the two storey house just below the Belair Hotel on Nottingham Way. Within two years of purchasing Section 1063 he sold 18 acres to D.M. Scott who built a house on the opposite hill between Huntingdon Drive and Greenwood Crescent and in 1921, 24 acres sold to Thomas Petherick who built his house facing Hawthorndene Drive, a hawthorn hedge can still be seen out the front.

Mr Timothy Quinlan-Watson and his wife Margaret bought the 18 acres of part Section 1063 and Section 875, the latter from Legh Winser in 1939-40. They built a modern art-deco featured home on Rosella Avenue overlooking the property which was used for grazing purposes being watered by a dam which still remains, complete with ducks, off Lowan Avenue. The garden around the house still has the blue cedar, bulbs and pines along the boundary and a descendant of generations of possums lives in the roof and with her young bringing seasonal pleasure to the young family who have "Peep Parties" for neighbouring children to visit "Mrs Possum".

The street names are reflective of the Quinlan-Watson's interest in natural sciences as, when the area was subdivided in 1954, they were given bird names, complementing the streets with tree names, opposite in Hawthorndene. Mr Quinlan-Watson encouraged his family to cart water to trees he planted along the proposed streets.

The north-west part of Glenalta was subdivided first in 1926 by William Dunn, a dairy-farmer of Geraldton Western Australia, but the majority of the suburb was not developed until the 1950s and '60s. Parts were promoted as "Sun Valley" in 1959, the sales brochure promoted it as "a peaceful suburban estate..., individual home settings amongst magnificent gums, conifers, fruits and many other varieties of trees. ... Get away from the flat plains and live in picturesque Sun Valley". Legh Winser's property marketed as Sherwood Estate in 1961 introduced "an entirely new concept of Estate planning and home design potential" and in 1963 the area between Minnow Drive and Miner Avenue was offered to "to the man of moderate means to secure a home site in an established, scenic, pure residential area, only 6 miles from the GPO with school, shops, transport and all amenities within easy reach".

In 1980 a cycle track was laid though the reserves along the glen. (A copy of this is available from the Council Information Centre). Whether one chooses to walk, ride or catch a 196 bus and go for a walk through Glenalta, there is the reward of a "modern" suburb mellowing as gardens are established hiding the abstract lines of the houses.

See Glenalta Chronology Glenalta%20Chronology (4326 kb) for more information.