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Gawler History Team Inc.

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National Trust of South Australia

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Dead Man's Pass

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Town or Locality: Gawler
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The first authentic account we have of the presence of white men is that given by Dr. Nott in his Short Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Gawler, written in 1860. He says: About three and twenty years ago an exploring party sent out by Messrs Light and Finniss, returning from the neighbourhood of the Barossa Ranges, fell in with a wanderer in the scrub, worn out with exhaustion, hunger and thirst. After relieving his wants and lifting him into their dray, they carried him to as far as a ford on the South Para River, when on attempting to rouse him they found him dead. Having no implements wherewith to dig a grave, they placed his body upright in the hollow of a tree by the riverside and covered it decently with bark and sticks. A short time afterwards it was discovered by another exploring party and properly interred near the spot.

Robert Haysom research indicates that in May 1869, workmen in Dead Mans Pass uncovered a skull and leg-bones of a man. James Martin took charge and Dr George Nott examined them and said they were from a white man of powerful frame.

For many citizens, what is called Dead Man’s Pass extends along the South Para River from the north/western edge of the ford that links Murray Street to Gawler South. It then travels under the area where the swing-bridge existed, extending upstream, parallel to Gawler Terrace, for about two kilometres. It ends near the first major left hand bend of the river, closest to where Gawler Terrace meets One Tree Hill Road.

Children had this section of the South Para River as an ideal playground and the more adventurous wended their way further upstream to seek out the infamous Black Bob's Cave.

In the 1950's, Gawler South children would think twice about riding their bikes in the heat over to Gawler West's Ryde Street, to Paternoster's swimming pool (there was no Gawler council swimming pool until the 1960s). They preferred to use the waterholes along Dead Man’s Pass for their swimming, despite the prevalence of leeches in the water.

The ford near the swing bridge eventually got sealed and was recently used as a segment of the Tour Down Under route.

For many more photos of Dead Man's Pass over the years, please click here. For photos of the bridge click here.

External Links


  • History of Gawler 1837-1908 compiled by E H Coombe
  • Brian Thom
Deadman's Pass c1889
Deadman's Pass c1889
Dead Man's Pass c1889
Dead Man's Pass c1889
Dead Man's Pass Ford
Dead Man's Pass Ford
Dead Man's Pass c1960 viewed from 9 Gawler Terrace
Dead Man's Pass c1960 viewed from 9 Gawler Terrace
Dead Man's Pass used for Gawler three day event 1dec1984
Dead Man's Pass used for Gawler three day event 1dec1984
Dead Man's Pass GEHA Tour 5mar2011
Dead Man's Pass GEHA Tour 5mar2011

Memories of Dead Man's Pass

bt remembers: When riding to school or to the shops, there was always the great challenge to cross over the swing-bridge in the shortest possible time. From the right side of the picture, it was easy riding to reach the tree stump where we were sure the body was buried in the 1830s. But the last 15 feet was a steep descent with a difficult 90 degree left hand turn onto the dirt footpath. If one did not skid down strongly, there was the prospect of progressing headlong into the wire fence and wormwood hedge; a scenario not recommended. Before one got home from school, this bridge was also handy to throw the remnants [or all] of mother's school lunch sandwiches, to the delight of the ducks below.

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