Black Sunday

On the morning of Sunday, January 2nd 1955 Adelaide Hill’s residents awoke to ominously rapidly rising temperatures and howling winds. To make matters worse a dust storm had blown in from the parched agricultural lands to the north. By mid-morning the temperature had climbed past one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and the winds were gusting to over 60 mph. It was about this time that the news spread that a large bushfire had erupted near Anstey Hill. This blaze soon turned extremely nasty, expanding and quickly spreading to the south and east fanned by strong north and north westerly winds.  

Devastating all before it, the conflagration then jumped the Torrens Gorge, which now put the towns of Montacute, Cherryville and Basket Range right in its path. At the highest point on the range running behind these towns, Marble Hill now stood in extreme peril.

The dust storm had not abated and visibility, even from a high point such as Marble Hill, was almost non-existent. Without any warning the bushfire had swept on its destructive path through Cherryville and was at the very doors of the Governor’s Summer Residence atop Marble Hill. The then Governor of South Australia, Sir Robert George, his family and possessions, his entire staff and retinue were all on site at the time: This due to the festive season, and the fact that renovations were being made on the main Government House in Adelaide.

Extreme heat, sparks and embers blown ahead of the firestorm soon set fire to the north-facing side of the mansion. Without sophisticated equipment or man-power to fight the now well-established fire, the Governor, his retinue and pets barely escaped with their lives and had to shelter under wet blankets against a rock wall out of the worst of the heat, all the while watching their possessions and their summer home be completely consumed by the fire. By this time too all the other buildings on the property, including the coachman’s cottage, stables and caretaker’s cottage had also been engulfed leaving Marble Hill completely gutted.

Lives were lost on this day and the district around Marble Hill devastated, with many homes and orchards destroyed. Recovery after the fire was slow and to the surviving residents that fateful day would forever be known as “Black Sunday”.

The Governor's mansion lies gutted two days after the Black Sunday bushfire of 1955

The Governor's mansion lies gutted two days after the Black Sunday bushfire of 1955

The district did recover of course, and now many years on we still remember that day in family stories, but most especially at Marble Hill where more than 60 years after the fire the old Governor’s residence is being rebuilt. After so long being a crumbling ruin, the residence, the Vice-regal grounds and other buildings at Marble Hill are getting a fresh new lease on life.

To celebrate the rebirth of Marble Hill we have named one of our flagship wines the “Renaissance” and commemorate that fateful day with another fine wine called “Black Sunday”. Appropriately, all Marble Hill vineyards are in Basket Range, a district that too suffered so much from the brutal ravages of a colossal bushfire that second day into the new year of 1955.

Greg Cramond
8th May 2018