The Friends of Old Government House are a dedicated group of volunteers who look after the historic building that was South Australia’s first official vice-regal summer residence of the Governor of South Australia from 1860-1880.
Supported by the SA Department of Environment and Water, the Friends of Old Government House is one of the oldest in the network of Friends of Parks Inc. Volunteers assist in a number of wide-ranging tasks – tour guiding for schools and other groups, selling tickets and souvenirs, light cleaning and general maintenance, assisting at garden weddings, researching historical records and gardening. The group also enjoys a varied social program.
Old Government House is constructed of local sandstone with red brick quoins, and located 11 kilometres south of Adelaide in the Belair National Park. It featured a bay window with turret and flagpole to distinguish it from other domestic buildings, and included South Australia’s first indoor plunge pool. A spacious terrace surrounded the building and the adjacent older cottage became a kitchen annex. The house provided much relief from the heat of summer for the earlier Governors of the State. It was used from 1860-1877 by Governors Richard Graves MacDonnell, Dominick Daly and William Jervois.
Superseded by a larger summer residence at Marble Hill, completed in 1880, old Government House and all the buildings on the site were eventually transferred to the new Woods and Forests Department. Until 1958, the house – renamed The Rest – was the curators’ headquarters for the newly formed Woods and Forests Nursery. Following partial restoration the house opened to the public in 1961 and was fully restored between 1975-1982. In 1983 the Friends of Old Government House was formed to care for the complex. A Centenary of Federation grant in 2001 plus funds raised by the Friends, allowed for further renovations and restoration.
The Old Government House buildings reflect how the wealthy of the Victorian era lived, with the Main House displaying the style and accoutrements of the well-to-do and the Servant’s Quarters are the more modest furnishings of a working family. The buildings are surrounded by a garden of approximately one acre. At the time of the Governors, the garden was natural bushland surrounded by a post and rail fence. Today it has been re-designed as a mid-Victorian garden of Anglo-Italian style to complement the restored complex. It features cottage plants and flowers cultivated in Victorian times, heritage roses and mature trees. The grounds of Old Government House have been extensively renovated and replanted since the time of the Governors. The gardens are now in a mid-Victorian style, with a wide range of plants and trees and a particularly stunning collection of heritage roses.