The Barossa Valley of South Australia was named 'Barrosa' by its first surveyor Colonel William Light, in commemoration of the English Victory over the French in the Spanish Peninsula War. Later, misspellings in maps gave it its present unique-sounding name.
Barossa Valley is one of the world's foremost wine-producers, famous for white wines, like Riesling, Chardonnay, and Semillon; and red wines, like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, and Mourvedre. It is also famous for its Rose and Lavender Gardens, Alpaca and Mohair Farms, and for its unspoiled scenic beauty. The old-fashioned Architecture, world-class Cuisine, lively local life, and various culinary and wine-related yearly festivals attract thousands of tourists every year. One tourist favorite, of course, is the famous Whispering Wall of the Barossa Valley Dam.
Originally inhabited by aborigines, Barossa Valley came under European settlement around 1836―a free settlement, unlike the convict settlements of East Australia. The Englishman George Fife Angus, after whom Angus Town/Angaston was named, founded the South Australian Company, that surveyed the land and declared it first-rate for agrarian development. Angus brought Lutheran farmers from Germany to work on his various projects in 1842. Since these people were suffering religious persecution back in Germany, they were very glad to settle in the liberal atmosphere of Australia. They planted vineyards, orchards, and gardens, and people like August Fielder, the Aldenhoven brothers, Johann Gramp, and Carl Sobels soon became the leading figures in the wine industry.
For all this cultivation, as well as the growing population, it was necessary to have a constant and good supply of water, more than the South Para River weir could provide, and so the idea of building a dam evolved. After scouring around the region for a suitable location, the settlers decided that the Yettie Creek Gorge in the Mount Lofty Ranges would be perfect.
An Irish-born engineer Alexander Bain Moncrieff (22 May 1845-11 April 1928), was appointed to draw up the blueprints of the project. The engineer-in-chief at Adelaide from 1888 and later the Railways Commissioner from 1909, Moncrieff was a workaholic, who is not known to have taken even a single holiday in his entire forty-two-year career. He was to design many important projects in Australia, but the dam at Barossa was his crowning glory.
Moncrieff's idea for the dam was completely innovative and unheard of―a concave concrete structure that would curve backwards against the pressure of the stored water and would have a base over ten meters thick that would narrow off above. Such a revolutionary idea attracted international attention and got highlighted in the Scientific American magazine. After receiving government approval in 1899, the scheme got underway that winter, and a temporary township called Barossa Waterworks Township was set up for the over four hundred workers and their families. Construction work began in earnest, with many new methods, as new as the design, invented and successfully applied. A timber framework to shape the curved wall was constructed under the supervision of the colorful character, Hermann Heinze. A former sailor who had deserted his job, he had a strong anathema for steady and diligent employment, and an even stronger penchant for drinking and smoking. These peccadilloes soon got him fired from the job, but, as it was soon discovered that he was the only one capable of getting the work done as required, his post-firing drinking spree in the Sandy Creek was interrupted and he was summarily brought back.
The dam construction wound up in 1903, after which all the remaining material and equipment was auctioned off and the township was dismantled. They had built what was then the highest dam in Australia, all of 39 meters high and with a volume of 13,760 m3. Now three regions―Gawler, Elizabeth, and Munno Para―receive their water supply from the Barossa Reservoir.
The Whispering Wall
The Whispering Wall, which is the huge curved retaining wall of the Barossa Reservoir, is located about 7 km southeast of Lyndoch off Yettie Road, and 5 km from Williamstown. The wall is about 140 meters long and has unique acoustic effects that allow sound to travel long distances―if you speak in a normal voice at one end, you can be heard perfectly clearly at the other end more than 100 meters away. This may seem like an acoustic miracle, but it has a simple explanation―the curve of the wall allows the sound waves to bounce along the entire length.
These acoustic effects were inadvertent, and, in fact, were discovered only accidentally after the dam was finished. It is now one of South Australia's most visited sites. Except Christmas Day and the Total Fire Ban Day in the Mount Lofty Ranges district, when it is closed, visiting days are from Monday to Sunday, between 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Information about the dam's history is provided by guides and posted boards, and there is a Water Works Museum with a fine collection of heritage water supply items.
Aside from its acoustic attraction, the whispering wall offers great views of both the Barossa Reservoir and the surrounding, well-preserved natural bounty. The area abounds in thick scrub, tall red gums, and pines, and a flourishing bird and animal life. It is a popular destination for picnics, bird-watching, fishing, and bush-walking. There is a golf course nearby, and, if you want to stay, there are affordable places upstream from the reservoir.