A tranquil village located among rolling hills in rich pastoral country, Mintaro is one of the most picturesque villages in the area. As if frozen in town, it is blessed with numerous beautiful mellow stone buildings, and been classified as an Heritage Town. The town now has tourism as its current primary industry.
Mintaro is within the Clare Valley wine region and has two winery cellar doors offering tasting and sales of their superb wines, a few galleries, charming eateries and a Maze. It also boasts a number of character Bed and Breakfast establishments, and the Magpie & Stump Hotel.
Where is it?: 126 km north of Adelaide; 15 km east of Clare.
Once a major stopping place on the copper carting route in the late 19th century, the village was left in something of a time warp when it became a forgotten backwater in later years except for its excellent slate quarry. This idyllic rustic village has in recent years become a highlight on the itenerary of any Clare Valley traveller, in part because of its faithfully restored buildings and Martindale Hall, a grand mansion on the edge of town executed in Georgian style with great artistic talent, but also because of its first class wineries. Being in the Clare Valley wine region, the wines produced here have the same earthy characteristics of other wines from the region, abd are up there with the best from the area.
Built features: wineries; Mintaro Slate Quarries; Robinson's Cottage (1851); Magpie & Stump Hotel (1851); Council chambers; historic bullock stables; Reilly's Cottage Gallery and Wines (1870s); Teapot Inn; The Old Manse; Pay Office Cottage; The Mintaro Institute (1878); Mintaro Mews; Olde Devonshire Arms (1856); ' Kadlunga' (c.1874); St Mark's Church of England (1850-51)
Mintaro Maze consists of over 800 conifers, featuring fountains, twists and turns to trick even the most committed explorer, have loads of fun with a range of giant sized games featuring local Mintaro slate. A truly water-wise garden, the maze hasn't been watered since the year 2000. The Maze conducts a haggis hunt over the Clare gourmet weekend in May and the Fairy, Elves and Pixies Picnic.
Upon a hill outide of town are two beautiful stone Weslyan chapels, the smaller one opened in May 1854, and the other in 1867. The latter was built when the original chapel was too small, and was then used as a community hall. The chapel became a Methodist church after the Methodist Union of 1900, and then Uniting in 1977. On its opening, it was described as "a very commodious building, and very prettily situate on rising ground, with its face towards the east. It has been greatly improved of late by the addition of a bell."
Merildin railway station
Merildin railway station (once known as Mintaro) sits in solitary splendour in a paddock with the living legacy of the station master's garden. It is state heritage listed, but is so remote from the rest of Mintaro that it's unlikely to find a new purpose in life. The line was really busy in the early 1980's when the Port Pirie to Adelaide line was being standardised, at which time all of the traffic heading east or west was going via Peterborough. Unfortunately the line fell in to disuse for freight trains once the standard gauge line was laid to Adelaide.
Slate products from Mintaro were shipped through the station, these included the slabs for billiard tables which were exported to England as they were perfectly flat. There was another halt to the south, which was a private stop serving Martindale Hall. There was a facility for unloading horses as there was a racetrack nearby.
Martindale Hall is one of South Australia's best known historic houses and notable pastoral homesteads. Built on gently rising ground near the village of Mintaro, it commands a wide view across the countryside. This 19th century Georgian manor 'starred' as Appleyard College in the award winning Australian film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. It offers visitors an experience of life in another era.
This Georgian style mansion was designed by London architect, Ebenezer Gregg, and completed in 1879 for the princely sum of $72,000. The building project was supervised by Adelaide architect E. Woods. It was built for wealthy bachelor Edmund Bowman who had his own private training track and stable, a pack of foxhounds and on his own cricket ground entertained the English cricketers.
The area was first opened up for farming in 1849 under the name 'Mintara'. The town was surveyed in 1854 by Joseph and Henry Gilbert and prospered, having long been a busy watering stop for throngs of bullock teams travelling the Gulf Road between the copper mining town of Burra and Port Wakefield, transporting copper and coal for the Patent Copper Company. In mid-1852, as a result of the Victorian Gold Rush, most of these teams and wagons abruptly lay idle for want of teamsters. In desperation the Patent Copper Company imported mule teams from Uraguay in South America and up to a hundred mules were seen to pass though the town each day. The town's economy collapsed when the teams where rerouted to the new railhead at Gawler from 1857, but soon recovered with the growth of slate quarrying and agricultural production.
The slate was discovered by Peter Brady on his property just outside the town in 1858. He leased the area to Thompson Priest who started the excavation and development of the quarry. Priest, a stonecutter and signwriter, sent to England for experienced stone cutters and worked the quarry for nearly thirty years. The skill of his own work is still to be found on tombstones in the local cemeteries.
Origin of name: some sources claim it to be a corruption of an Aboriginal word 'mintadloo' or 'Minta - Ngadlu' meaning 'netted water' while others claim it is derived from a Spanish word meaning 'camp or resting place'. The latter argument is based on the fact that the Burra Mining Company imported Spanish-speaking mule drivers from Uruguay to transport copper from Burra to Port Wakefield. As many as 100 mule drivers would pass through the town each day.