The oldest town in the Flinders Ranges is a special blend of history and modernity.

Story By Andrew Bain

In the South Australian town of Melrose, 260 kilometres north of Adelaide, a blacksmith shop has been transformed into a cafe. Smithing tools hang from the walls and ploughman’s lunches emerge from the kitchen.
For seven years the Bluey Blundstone’s Blacksmith Shop cafe was owned and run by John and Chris Potts, but when they retired in August 2011 it wasn’t to leave town, it was to further enjoy it. The couple from Adelaide fell in love with Melrose during long-weekend holidays in the 1980s and bought the coffee shop in 2004. Now they can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“We’re not leaving, it’s too nice,” John says. “I probably would have moved here earlier if I’d known I could have earned a living. This community just suits us. The people think along the same lines as us, and they have the same humour. It’s good to walk along the road and even school children say hello. I walk to get the mail and it’s a five-minute walk that takes 15 minutes. It’s the way it used to be and it’s great.”
Melrose is the oldest town in the Flinders Ranges. Settled in the 1840s, it sits at the foot of Mount Remarkable, named by Edward John Eyre because of the “lofty way in which it towered above the surrounding hills”. Melrose’s fortunes first flared with the discovery of copper on the lower slopes of Mount Remarkable in the mid-1840s – mine shafts still puncture the hills – though the finds were small and operations lasted just a few years.
Wool and grain became the town’s economic mainstays and during its headiest days Melrose was home to a brewery that employed 20 people, a training camp for soldier-settler farmers, a dozen policeman and three pubs.
It’s little wonder that history still looms large in the town. At the heart of the main street, the Melrose Courthouse Museum looks directly across to the lush Paradise Square Gardens, which served as the town cemetery between 1846 and 1872. Two of the three pubs remain, including the oldest licensed hotel in the Flinders Ranges, the North Star Hotel, which was first tapped in 1854.
But there’s also much around Melrose that reveals a changing town. Step inside the North Star – now revamped into a stylish, contemporary pub with an inventive menu built around local produce such as Spencer Gulf prawns and saltbush lamb – and there’s a surprising emphasis on wine. The front bar serves as the cellar door for Bundaleer Wines. It’s a shift reflective of Melrose’s position at the heart of one of Australia’s newest wine regions, the Southern Flinders Ranges.

This story excerpt is from Issue #82

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012