Built in 1860 by Scottish immigrant, Lachlan McFarlane, Auchendarroch House began its life in Mt Barker as the Oakfield Hotel, and remained as such until 1878 when it was sold to another Scotsman, Robert Barr Smith, for the sum of 3000 pounds.
Robert Barr Smith, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, chose Mt Barker and the Oakfield Hotel to be the summer house for himself, his wife Joanna and their children. He employed a young architect, John H. Grainger to build a “thirty roomed mansion in the French Renaissance of The Modern School Style” around the old hotel.
As with their other homes, the house was extensively decorated in the William Morris style with all the wallpapers, fabrics, furnishing and carpets by Morris & Co. The original hand-blocked “Spring Thicket” wallpaper still adorns the Ballroom (formerly the Drawing Room) today. Shortly after completion Barr Smith named it “Auchendarroch”. Auchendarroch derives its origins from the Scottish-Gaelic term “holy place of the oaks”.
Along with the house came approximately 42 acres of land. With the assistance of his head gardener, Carl Thybell, the property was divided into three acres of garden and three acres of orchard, with the rest being prepared for farming purposes.
The inner garden was surrounded by hedges and consisted largely of expansive grassed areas and exotic English trees. On the northern side of the house the area was built up level and lawned for croquet. To the west were four large rose beds plus a round lawn surrounded by flower and rose beds with a rose arbour in the centre with tessellated tile floor and seats. There was also a large vegetable garden where a lot of the food for the house was grown.
A garden lover, Robert Barr Smith introduced many exotic species to the garden including cedars, chestnuts, maples, conifers and of course, over 50 oaks including two or three specimens of the rare Golden Oak.
The Barr Smith’s would traditionally use Auchendarroch House from late October until the end of April with Robert and his son Thomas travelling to work in Adelaide each day by horse. As the children married and had children of their own, the home became a focal point for all family gatherings as well as numerous social functions in the district. This tradition continued even after Robert’s death in 1915 until Joanna’s death in 1919 when the property was put up for auction.
Two years later, the property was purchased by The Memorial Hospital for 7000 pounds to provide an “ideal Rest and Convalescent Home where, at a reasonable cost, weary and worn humans may be strengthened for life’s duties”. As the home grew in popularity, many internal and external modifications were made to the building including a new two-storey wing on the western end and an extra storey added to the rear kitchen wing.
The garden continued to play an important role supplying food as well as an idealic setting for rest and convalescing.
In 1940 with the coming of the Second World War, the Red Cross took over the running of the Rest Home as convalescent accommodation for servicemen and then in 1942 it was requisitioned by the R.A.A.F for a hospital for Air Force personnel.
At the end of the war, the Home returned to the Memorial Hospital though not quite in the state it had been in, with the gardens in particular, sorely neglected and out of control.
By the early 1970’s, with changes in health care, diminishing clients, increasing costs and the buildings in need of major repairs, the Hospital Board called for tenders to purchase the property.
In 1976, six families got together to purchase Auchendarroch House from Memorial Hospital. Over this period, considerable amounts of time and money were spent holding community working bees, painting, re-roofing, re-wiring and re-plumbing to safeguard the structure and ensure the buildings did not deteriorate any further. They worked very closely with the State Heritage Department to ensure all work done over the years complied with the strict guidelines so eventually it gained State Heritage status.
Auchendarroch House was sold to a developer in 1994 and left vacant until it was purchased by the Wallis Family in 2000. During the period that it was unoccupied it sustained substantial damage by vandals so the Wallis Family made a vast financial commitment to restore the Heritage listed House to its former glory while providing a much needed entertainment complex for the community.
Four rooms, including the Oakfield, Dining, Joanna’s room and the majestic Ballroom, featuring William Morris wallpaper and leadlight windows were all beautifully restored. In 2009 further additions to the function facilities were completed with the upgrading of the Barr Smith Billiard Room which now features both William Morris wallpaper and luxurious swags and curtains. The Robert Charles Room, named after the late Managing Director Robert Charles (Bob) Wallis displays Swarovski Crystal curtains and ceiling lights and handmade forged iron “vines” around the bar.
Great care has been taken by the Wallis Family with all design elements of the latest redevelopment. It reflects their strong family ties to Scotland and their passion to give back to the local community through the care and respect they have shown in restoring the heritage house and gardens, and expanding and opening it up for everyone to enjoy.
The Wallis Family have improved the overall look and feel of Auchendarroch House, restored some parts to its former glory and expand the facilities to better take advantage of the beautiful surrounds – always maintaining its historical significance and respecting and honouring its association with the Barr Smith family who were arguably one if the most important and prominent families in South Australia in the last half of the 19TH Century.
The aim was to broaden market appeal by offering new experiences and open up the stunning gardens for the local community and tourist to explore and enjoy.
Come and visit us today and experience a piece of history in Mt Barker.