The First Inhabitants of Eden Valley
The first inhabitants of the region that was to become Eden Valley were the Peramangk Aboriginal peoples who ranged extensively through the Mount Lofty ranges. There are 70 or so rock art sites recorded, some of the best in the Eden Valley region.
Poonawatta is located in the central Flaxman Valley area, in the heart of the Eden Valley wine region. While European drovers and squatters would have moved through the region from the late 1830s, it was 1860 when German immigrant Ferdinand Vorwerk made Poonawatta’s his home. A well was dug, a home built from local stone, crops sown and an orchard planted. In 1880, with the support of some local labour, a small Shiraz vineyard was planted next to a creek some 400 yards from the homestead. This is believed to have been the very first vineyard to be planted in the Eden Valley area.
During this period Vorwerk would have experienced interactions with the original inhabitants, the Peramangk Aboriginal peoples, as did the Temples who purchased the Poonawatta property in 1890. Those interactions were most likely less and less frequent as European settlement was encroaching on much of Peramangk territory. Records indicate that “By the mid-1850s many of the Peramangk integrated with the ‘Ngarindjeri’ of the lower Murray and the ‘Kaurna’ of the Adelaide plains, displaced by agriculture.”
There are a few records from diary notes and letters that provide an insight into the Permanangk’s activities in the region. “During her childhood on Pewsey Vale Station in the 1840s, the former Miss Isabella Semple had watched the Peramangk abandon their warm winter homes of branches and bark, grass and leaves built around hollow-sided red gums to enjoy an outdoors existence as spring advanced, in wurlies constructed of huge sheets of bark. From time to time, small groups spent days on walk-about, hunting and gathering over a wide area in the balmy summer weather, when substantial protection was not usually a necessity.”
In 1842, an English colonist wrote home to describe a native encampment he had seen in Flaxman Valley: “The blacks wander about in the day-time, and at night sleep in a shed, which they call a whurley (sic), made of the branches of trees … I can hear them singing one of their carrobarees (sic) … about 100 yards distant from the door. I went the other night to see them and found them all sitting stark naked around the fire … They had been feasting on the fat of a bullock, which we had given them … We found a large lizard beside them, which they had put by for their next meal. They are not, generally, very communicative, as they suspect the white men; but this family appear to be an exception to such reservedness; and I learnt several native words from them.”
Poonawatta is a Peramangk family group name, and in the Peramangk dialect, poona means good / healthy / fertile; and watta, a person’s land or country.
Poonawatta was sold in 1890 to Colonel John Temple on his retirement from the British army. It was a visit from John Temple’s daughters Gwen and Eleanor in 1967, a year after Sue and John Holt purchased the Poonawatta property, that provided a better understanding the property’s early history.
Poonawatta at that time was 250 acres. The original Shiraz vineyard was 20 years old when the Temple family arrived. More vineyards were established, along with an extensive vegetable garden, a lucerne patch, a dairy, piggery, large fowl house, large geese yard and over one-hundred bee hives. An old hollow red gum near the creek was used for smoking hams and bacon. A pruners cottage was built from stone from the demolished Flaxman Valley Council Chambers to accommodate the work teams required to manage the vineyards.
Gwen and Eleanor spoke of interaction with the local aboriginal groups during their youth. There was a camp on the creek flats east of the house. North-West of the house was a “canoe tree” where the bark had been removed for the crafting of a canoe. West of the house is a large hollowed red gum that was used as a shelter and for storage. It is not clear whether the original settler Vorwerk, or the Temples’ gave Poonawatta its name, but history tells that the Poonawatta Aboriginal family group visited the area and was possibly the group that camped on the creek flats.
The Temples’ left in 1922, with post WW1 soldier repatriation splitting up the property and selling to Bartholomaeus, Monteith and Kommler. Bartholomaeus owned the original homestead block. Over that time vineyards were removed, due to changing markets and the frost prone nature of their location. Only the original 1880 Shiraz vineyard remained, on the block owned by Monteith. Bartholomaeus sold to Greens and a year later in 1966 the homestead block was purchased by Sue and John Holt, thanks to the colourful engagement of Sue’s father, Colin Heggie.
Directly east of Poonawatta is the substantial Heggie grazing property, Burn Brae. Settled in 1860 by James Heggie 1st, it was James’ grandson Colin Heggie and great granddaughter Sue Holt (nee-Heggie) who jointly changed the direction of Poonawatta. In 1966 Sue was living in Adelaide, newly married and carrying a burning desire to find a property near her childhood home. Poonawatta was on the market and going to auction in September of 1966, but having just built a home in Adelaide and with a one-year old son Sue and husband John couldn’t afford to contemplate buying a farm.
Sue’s father Colin liked a drink, and with a few under his belt he attended the auction of Poonawatta. It must have been a good day; Colin was in a buoyant mood for sure. The auction came and went, and later that day Sue received a phone call from her father. “How did the auction go? Who bought Poonawatta” asked Sue. “You did” replied Colin. “And you owe me ten thousand dollars!” And that’s how Poonawatta came into the Heggie-Holt family.
In February 1971 Sue and John purchased a block of land from Monteith; the block with the original Vorwerk planting of old Shiraz vines, and the 1880 vines were again a part of the Poonawatta property. The vines then in their 90s had fallen into a state of neglect, having not been pruned for several years, with collapsed trellises and cattle roaming freely through the vineyard. Moving the cattle out was easy; the re-trellising somewhat more time consuming and it took a number of years of care and attention to bring the vineyard back into viable production.
Sue and John added a Riesling vineyard in 1972, and from 1978 to 1982, cutting by cutting, row by row, another small Shiraz vineyard. They then moved into the Burn Brae homestead in 1982, and Andrew and Michelle Holt became the next custodians of the Poonawatta property.
In 2002 the first Poonawatta 1880 Shiraz was made, and this wine is now firmly entrenched as the cornerstone of the Poonawatta brand, and the flagship wine of the portfolio. An additional Shiraz vineyard was established in 2007, and a Grenache vineyard in 2019.