The city’s secrets of the Hindley Street Heritage Trail

Hindley Street

Your daily stroll but make it historical. The Hindley Street Heritage Trail is a breezy one kilometer and can be conquered in less than an hour.

As one of Adelaide’s original main streets, Hindley Street has played a pivotal role in shaping the city’s personality right from the very beginning. Its enduring status as an entertainment staple flourished from the late 1800s, where there was a thriving arts, nightlife, and hospitality scene. Here are a few highlights of what to expect from the trail.

Hindley Street, north side, November 1939

Image: State Library of South Australia

Arts and Culture

The corner of Hindley and King William streets was home to the Madame Tussaud’s of Adelaide. In 1877, Ghiloni & Co. opened a waxwork exhibition at the northwest corner of Hindley and King William streets featuring life-size figures made of wax and dressed as famous people. Entry was 1 shilling (or about 10 cents) for adults, while children were half price. Adelaideans enjoyed the exhibition for two years before it hit the road and took its wares to Mount Gambier.

Today’s site of the Precinct Nightclub has more than a century of entertaining under its belt. The Wondergraph Theatre was built on the location in 1912 for the equivalent of more than $2.5 million in today’s currency. No details were spared with an ornate arched facade and what was thought to be one of the most spectacular chambers in the Commonwealth. It was the first cinema in Adelaide to show films with audible dialogue opposed to silent films.

Eighties kids may remember the spot as “Downtown” - a one-stop, good times haven with roller skating, dodgem cars and arcade games.

Wondergraph Theatre

Pubs galore

The masses have long flocked to Hindley Street to quench thirsts and satisfy tastebuds. Pubs such as the Woolshed, the West Oak Hotel and the Black Bull Hotel have lived multiple lives over the last 150 years before coming full circle back to reclaim their original names. The three are still merrily pouring brews today.

There are many more sites that once housed popular watering holes, including the building where you’ll find McDonald’s today. The Eagle Tavern was established there in 1846 and continued to trade until 1978. It was leased by Joseph Jene from the South Australian Brewing Company in 1902 and was rebuilt in 1905.

Fun fact - SA‘s Legal Drinking Age in 1863 was 12 years old.

Eagle Tavern in 1903

Image: State Library of South Australia

The Rosina Street Scandal

Rosina Street is nestled between Hindley Street to Currie Street. Today, it’s best known as the destination of the swanky 5-star Sofitel. The French-inspired hotel boasts sweeping views across SA’s skyline as well as its own modern Fresh restaurant and champagne bar.

Rewind 170 years and you’ll find the street’s history reads more like a Peaky Blinders script than the backdrop of a chic getaway. In the 1850s, Rosina Street was the stomping ground of criminals, pimps and prostitutes. The lack of police action over these activities caused outrage among west end residents. They eventually placed a notice on the front page of the daily newspaper entitled ‘Rosina Street Monster Brothel and Sly Grog Shop’ where they also named and shamed members of the police and judiciary as some of the street’s most frequent customers!

Rosina Street

Image: State Library of South Australia

Wander on over to the street itself to discover more, including laws that required publicans to accept corpses for storage in the cool cellar for a coroner’s inquest, which pub doubled as a horse sales destination, the movement on the street that sought to fight the “overindulgence of alcohol” through total abstinence, and the site of Australia’s first ice skating rink.