Relocating the historic Urrbrae Gatehouse to make way for contentious roadworks could wipe out its heritage value, an archaeologist has warned, as the State Government continues to dangle $4 million in front of the University of Adelaide to take the building elsewhere.

Key points:

  • The heritage value of the historic Urrbrae Gatehouse has been tipped to plummet if it’s relocated
  • The University of Adelaide is pursuing its legal rights to oppose Waite precinct land acquisition
  • Similar gatehouses across Adelaide have been renovated for accommodation or housing

The 1890 Gatehouse, as part of the Waite Historic Precinct, was bequeathed to the university by pastoralist and businessman Peter Waite nearly 100 years ago in one of the biggest philanthropic gifts in South Australia’s history.

The State Government wants to compulsorily acquire some of the land and remove the heritage-listed gatehouse, along with several trees, to upgrade the Fullarton and Cross roads intersection.

“There’s a suggestion they should uplift and shift it. But even if you do, it means the original intention of the building, its location, is compromised,” said Robert Stone, an associate lecturer in archaeology at Flinders University.

“Some are saying it should be shifted near the main house, but then it loses all its significance because the stables and carriage house are near the main house as well and you’ll get the impression this is just a workers cottage.”

A 1913 photo of the stately Urrbrae House, which was occupied by Peter and Matilda Waite.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia [B-14975])

Gatehouse a heritage ‘package’

Mr Stone said the Gatehouse, and others like it pocketed about Adelaide, were only significant when “packaged” with their associated stately home and the long driveway between them.

“The gatehouse was the first barrier to going into one of these stately homes, and then the driveway was second because they were never straight,” he said.

“They meandered so you could never see the house until you got there to afford them more privacy.”

He said they were usually occupied by “important members of the staff” who would operate their gates to let visitors in and out and lock them at night for security.

The curved driveway and trees obscures Urrbrae House from its gatehouse.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

A University of Adelaide spokesperson said it had not been given specific advice about the impact of a relocation.

“However, we have seen comments in Hansard about the heritage advice received by the Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DIT) from Heritage SA,” he said.

$4m offered for relocation

DIT Minister Corey Wingard originally told media in December that a Government-commissioned report found relocation was not feasible due to the cost and engineering involved, meaning the gatehouse would be demolished to make way for road-widening.

That same report, however, found that relocation was feasible and detailed how it could be done to minimise structural damage.

The Government wants to widen Cross Road and Fullarton Road to upgrade the intersection.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

Mr Wingard in mid-January offered the university $2 million to relocate the building, which he said would be in addition to about $2 million compensation the university would receive from the land acquisition.

“After meeting with representatives from the University of Adelaide, which owns the gatehouse and the land it sits on, we’ve now made available to them the option to attempt this themselves,” he said.

The university spokesperson said it remained “entirely opposed to the acquisition of the land” and would pursue its legal rights to oppose acquisition.

Gatehouses repurposed

Mr Stone in 2010 completed a doctoral dissertation entitled Stately Homes: The Mirror and Metaphor of Colonial South Australia after a question was put to him — “what happened to the houses of the rich guys?”

Flinders University archaeology associate lecturer Robert Stone has also worked extensively at sites overseas in places like Jordan.(Supplied: Robert Stone)

He said a similar gatehouse for nearby Torrens Park House, now part of Scotch College, had been “beautifully restored” in its original location as a bed and breakfast from where it offered visitors an “understanding” of its significance.

Mr Stone said a second gatehouse for Torrens Park House also remained standing on Belair Road, although it was a private residence that had been renovated.

He said many gatehouses had been demolished over the years, replaced with signposts, or forgotten, “because people think the big house is the important thing and don’t take into account the impact on the landscape of all the other buildings”.

The East Lodge Gate House, adjacent what is now Scotch Cottage, has been restored to offer accommodation.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)