Arbury Park Outdoor School lies on the western edge of Peramangk country and the eastern edge of Kaurna country. Peramangk country is approximately the eastern scarp of the Mount Lofty Ranges covering an area from Myponga, north to Angaston and east to Mount Barker. Kaurna country is approximately the Adelaide Plains and the western Mount Lofty Ranges.
The two groups have a long, shared history, including trade and overlapping traditional boundaries and cultural stories. Since colonisation in the 1830s their relationship has been shaped by their interactions with European settlers.
On 21 March 2018, the Kaurna people were recognised as native title holders for lands around Adelaide including Bridgewater. The decision is the first positive determination of native title over a capital city area since the creation of the Native Title Act in 1993.

The Peramangk occupied an area which was well endowed with resources, food, water, firewood, and raw materials such as stone; timber and resins for tool manufacture; bark for huts, shields and canoes; pigments for painting; furred animals for cloaks and rugs, etc. During winter, they constructed warm, dry huts of branches, bark grass and leaves, often built around the hollow side of old red gums.
Peramangk first encountered European explorers, squatters and overlanders who passed through their country or settled there. From the mid-1840s, flocks of sheep began crowding their water sources, grazing their lands, and displacing the animals they hunted for food. Some resistance and open conflicts arose. There was little recorded physical violence, and in some cases food and other items were given by farmers in exchange for assistance with harvesting crops (eg wheat and potatoes), at a time when farm labour was in desperately short supply.

However, by the late 1850s the scattered documentary sources cease to mention the Peramangk people. This is a sad commentary on the devastating effect of European incursions upon Aboriginal Australia. Most of the historical information relating to the Peramangk consists of passing references in European diaries, official’s records, or personal memoirs. They are barely mentioned in the early ethnographic literature, written in the late nineteenth century.

From Torrens Valley Historical Journal Number 32


European settlers arrived on the Adelaide Plains in 1836. They looked towards the nearby hills and the timber that could be seen in plenty to build houses. From the plains the hills looked like tiers so they became known as “The Tiers”. By 1837 people, known as Tiersmen, were living and working in the Tiers as cutters, sawyers and splitters, sending their wood to the plains for building and establishing the new colony. The tall stringy bark eucalypts were ideal for building. The settlers found the timber long and straight and the bark useful for thatching roofs.

In December 1838 Robert Cock led a party of four men into the Tiers to try and find a route to the River Murray. They eventually made their way through to Lake Alexandrina. Wood splitters and sawyers soon followed Cock’s route to the creek then name Cock’s Creek (now Cox Creek). In 1841 Benjamin Dean established an inn, the “Rural Deanery” on the spring-fed Cox Creek, conveniently located one day’s bullock cart walk from Adelaide. The Bridgewater Hotel was later established on its present site in 1855 after being moved from the Cock’s Creek settlement. In 1858 John Dunn bought the land nearby and the following year the township of Bridgewater was laid out spelling the end of the Cock’s Creek settlement. In 1860 Dunn built a mill with a large water-wheel, known as the Bridgewater Mill. 


The land on which the school is located was bought by the South Australian Government in 1964, in preparation for the construction of the SE freeway, from Sir Alick Downer, a former Australian High Commissioner to London. His family named the property after an estate in Warwickshire, Arbury Hall. The site had been a thriving nursery, Raywood Nursery, and many of the exotic trees still present like Claret Ash, Poplar, Pin Oak and Fir are remnants of this activity from the early 1900s.

In 1965, Dr Alby Jones, then superintendent of teacher recruiting and training “looked to the day when South Australia would have its first true outdoor school, where children could camp and learn not only everyday lessons but also about nature, the environment and themselves”. In 1975, as Director-General of Education, Dr Jones secured funding from the Commonwealth Schools Commission to enable the SA Education Department to develop Arbury Park Outdoor School. In his words “..it would be a school, not a holiday resort, for students from all types of schools …They would come to learn, particularly from the natural resources of Arbury Park. They would learn to live together, to cooperate and to share, and of course, it would be pleasurable, it would be fun.”
The final stages of construction were being completed when the first students, from Keller Road Primary School, Salisbury East, arrived on 15 March 1976. The school was officially opened on 4 November 1976.

In April 1989 the adjacent Raywood Conference Centre, also managed by the Education Department was sold, but some of the land managed by Raywood and known locally as Deanery Hill and a section of Cox Creek was retained for use by the Outdoor School. These properties, totaling 10.2 hectares brought the land managed by the Outdoor School to 32 hectares.
As part of the school’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 1996, a small ephemeral wetland development was opened and dedicated to the memory of Brian Foreman, the school’s first principal. The wetlands continues to be a wonderful outdoor classroom where students learn about freshwater life, birds and wetland plants.

The Cox Creek section of the school has been the site of considerable activity and student involvement since February 1997. The “Cox Creek Rehabilitation Project”, a cooperative project of the Deanery Community Landcare Group, began with funding from the Mt Lofty Ranges Catchment Program to remove 80 mature basket willows and subsequently revegetate the creek banks. Students and staff at Arbury Park continue to propagate and plant local species into this area providing benefits for the local environment and the local community. Other projects that promote sustainability include, the construction in 2009 of 4 large tanks that store 340kL of harvested rainwater.

Fire danger has always been part of the school’s management planning. In November 2013, this planning proved to be invaluable when a fire burnt approximately 9 hectares of stringybark forest. The regeneration of the burnt bush reminds us of the resilience and complexity of our beautiful outdoor classroom.

Improvements to all-weather teaching spaces occurred in 2018 with construction of a large all-purpose central meeting shelter, and again in 2020 with a large covered outdoor learning area and renovation of the old tennis court.

Since 1976 Arbury Park Outdoor School has continued to be driven by the vision of Dr Alby Jones; ”…..a place where students and teachers can live and learn together.”

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