Article by: Hari Yellina
Last week, the cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman’s former property in Kapunda was the scene of a suspected fire, destroying over 100 years of South Australian history. Eringa – then known as Lanark House – was erected in 1879 for £4000 by Alexander Greenshields before being purchased by Sir Kidman in 1900, who renamed it and resided there until donating it to the Education Department in 1921. On October 12, 1922, it was formally inaugurated as the new Kapunda High School campus, but just over 100 years later, it was burning, with fire crews dispatched to the school around 9.10 p.m. on March 29.
When emergency crews arrived on West Terrace, they saw the now-administration building completely engulfed in flames, with crews battling the wildfire for the most of the night. They were able to put out the fire, but it caused considerable damage to Eringa and another house on the school grounds, which SAPOL is investigating as a suspicious fire. According to Kapunda Historical Society treasurer Meredith Mells, last week’s fire was not the first for the property, which burned down a year after Sir Kidman bought it. “Prior to the 1900 fire, the structure held the Southern Hemisphere’s largest conservatory, with over 100 varieties of plants,” Ms Mells added.
When Kidman purchased the house, the conservatory was deteriorated, and after the first fire, he reconstructed it to be as close to what it had been when it was created, but not everything was the same. He lived there for years, and when he left Kapunda, he donated the building to the Education Department so that high school students may learn in a separate building instead of the elementary school. Since then, Eringa has been the school’s beating heart. It underwent a massive state-funded renovation in 2012, although its historical importance as a heritage structure remained untouched. The structure is one of 17 that still survive in Kapunda, a town that owes much of its colourful history to Sir Kidman.
Sir Kidman, who was born in Athelstone in 1857, came in Kapunda at the age of 13 with his one-eyed horse, Cyclops, and spent his first night in town at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which still remains today, before heading north to make his fortune. Despite his large land holdings, Kapunda was home. His empire saw him owning or leasing between 220,000 and 280,000 square kilometres of land across the country. For more than 30 years, he ran his empire from the town, with his yearly horse sales, which were held behind the North Kapunda Hotel and were the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. His legacy may be found all across town, with Eringa at the centre of it all.
Ms Mells said the town’s attitude was sombre in the aftermath of the fire. “Most people who grew up in Kapunda or the surrounding area finished their education there,” she remarked. Because the building and Kidman are so important to the community, the fire has been tragic. “To happen so close to the 100th anniversary is something we couldn’t have predicted, especially given what’s happened in the last two years.” The cause of the fire last week is yet unknown.