In its early days The Gully faced stiff competition from the adjacent Highercombe Inn, which opened five months later and is now a museum. Local council meetings were held at both venues until Council Chambers were built at the end of 1855.
The proximity of the two hotels, and the gold-fever exodus of the mid 1850’s made neither of them profitable. This was especially true for The Gully which was disadvantaged by not being on the main road, which back then passed by the Highercombe. As a result of its poor position, The Gully licence changed hands fourteen times in its first twenty years!
In 1875 a stroke of luck changed its fortunes when the main road was re-routed, putting The Gully in prime position on what we now know as North East Road. Instead of horses and their owners having a drink and a rest at the Highercombe Inn, they stopped at The Gully instead. Consequently the Highercombe shut down later that year.
There are rumours that an underground tunnel exists between The Gully and the Highercombe Inn which was designed for bootlegging back in the day.
Tea Tree Gully was originally just that – a gully which, due to its fresh water supply, proximity to Adelaide, and position at the entrance to the Adelaide foothills, became a popular spot for squatting by stockholders. This led to the first permanent settlement in 1839.
When an Adelaide miller called John Steventon acquired a large grant of land and subdivided it in the 1850s, a township called Steventon started to grow. By 1867 authorities weren’t sure whether to call the village Steventon or Tea Tree Gully, but after 1900 the name Steventon gradually stopped being used.
Native tea trees up to four metres high used to grow abundantly in the swampy gully, but there are very few of the white flowering trees left in the area. Settlers found that the damp gullies in the foothills were ideal for market gardening so the tea trees were cleared. The tough wood also had an in-built resistance to water, and settlers used the trees for fencing in the swampy area.
*A big thank you to the Tea Tree Gully Library, the State Library, the Tea Tree Gully Historical Society, the Old Highercombe Hotel Museum, and the Paranormal Field Investigators for helping compile this information and supplying photographs.