Gawler is reputedly the first country town in the state of South Australia, and is named after the second Governor (British Vice-Regal representative) of the colony of South Australia, George Gawler. It is located 40 km (25 miles) north of the state capital, Adelaide, and is close to the major wine producing district of the Barossa Valley. Topographically, Gawler lies at the confluence of two tributaries of the Gawler River, the North and South Para rivers, where they emerge from a range of low hills.
A British colony, South Australia was established as a commercial venture by the South Australia Company through the sale of land to free settlers at £1 per acre (£247/km²). Gawler was established through a 4000 acre (1618 hectare) “special survey” applied for by Henry Dundas Murray and John Reid and a syndicate of ten other colonists. The town plan was devised by the colonial surveyor, William Light, the son of Francis Light who founded Penang, Malaysia, and was the only town planned by him other than Adelaide. William Jacob used Light’s plans and laid out the town.
Adelaide became a model of foresight with wide streets and ample parklands. After Light’s death, it also became a model for numerous other planned towns in South Australia (many of which were never built). As the only other town planned by Light, Gawler is ironically dissimilar to Adelaide’s one square mile (2.6 km²) grid. The heart of Gawler is triangular rather than square, a form dictated by the topographical features. The parkland along the riverbanks and a Victorian preference for public squares are present but Light was aware that he was planning a village, not a metropolis.
Gawler prospered early with the discovery of copper nearby at Kapunda and Burra, which resulted in Gawler becoming a resting stop to and from Adelaide. Later, it developed industries including flour milling and manufacturing steam locomotives.
With prosperity came a modest cultural flowering, the high point of which was the holding of a competition to compose an anthem for Australia in 1859, four decades before statehood. The result was Song Of Australia, written by Caroline J Carleton to music by Carl Linger. This became in the next century a candidate in a national referendum to choose a new National Anthem for Australia to replace God Save the Queen.