THE LEGACY of Eringa house and its influence on the people of Kapunda and surrounds has become more profound a month after it was damaged in a fire.
Formerly owned by pastoralist and entrepreneur Sir Sidney Kidman, the heritage-listed building at Kapunda High School was burnt on Tuesday, March 29. It is thought the fire started in a transportable building and spread to the heritage-listed building. Besides the house, items including old blazers and honour boards were lost. The exact circumstances around the fire are still being investigated.
Kapunda Historical Society secretary and treasurer Meredith Mells said the fire had caused a lot of upset between students and parents, and a good percentage of people in and around the town went to the school.
"It's hit everybody," she said.
Historian and town resident Paul McCarthy taught at the school from 1974-2007. He wrote two editions of Kidman's Legacy: Kapunda High School: a history, the most recent of which was published in 2007.
He said the school became a strong part of the personal stories of multiple generations and locals became custodians of it; for example, students in the 1930s, 40s and 50s helped maintain the surrounding gardens.
"People felt pride not just of the house, but the grounds and surroundings - even the most reluctant students," he said.
To this day, admiration for the site holds strong.
"You start with the Kidmans because Sidney was such a national figure, and a great figure in Australian history; his opening of the inland, extensive cattle stations, how much land he owned at any one particular time - it extended the size of Great Britain. He was a wheeler and dealer - he bought and sold millions," Paul said.
"The Kidman story is an iconic story in Australian history; he started with nothing and built an empire - that's the 'Australian success story'."
Eringa was built in 1876 by Alexander H Greenshields, which he had called Lanark House. With a keen interest in flowers, he established conservatories and built gardens around the home, which includes fern houses, shade houses, lawns and trees.
Greenshields died in the residence in 1897, and the property was sold to Kidman - who either owned or leased more than 100 cattle and sheep stations across Australia, among other endeavours - about 1900, and used it as his home base. The building had a fire in 1904 and Kidman rebuilt it as faithfully as possible to how it was.
When he moved out of the area, Kidman donated the building and surrounding land to the Education Department in June 1921, to be used specifically for secondary education. At the time, there were very few state-run high schools. The local primary school had rooms allocated for 'Continuation' classes - students from Year 8 onwards - and Eringa would become a dedicated space for this higher learning.
It was officially opened as the new premises for Kapunda High School on October 12, 1922.
During World War II, the house was handed over to the army to use as a base, and air raid trenches were dug into the ground after Darwin was attacked in 1942.
The house was heritage listed in 1995. Notes on the South Australian Heritage Register say the building is "associated with A H Greenshields, an important Kapunda trader, as well as with Sir Sidney Kidman. Kidman's renovations to the building provide some of the finest examples of Federation architecture and interior design in South Australia".
Among its scholars are Storm Boy author, the late Colin Thiele (1935-1936), and emeritus professor of history at the University of Adelaide, Robin Prior.
The school has launched the Remembering Eringa project, calling for submissions of memories, stories and photos about, or involve, the home. Submissions can be made here.
In a statement published on the school's Facebook page, Principal David Marino paid tribute to Kidman's own experience of a fire at Eringa, and to follow his example of rebuilding.
"Through our work, we will ensure that we honour the generosity, example and legacy of Sir Sidney Kidman and the proud traditions of our school," he said.
"I have no doubt and I have every confidence that, with time and effort, we will rebuild our school - we will honour its traditions and restore its glory. I'm calling on each and every one of you to do your part."
State education minister Blair Boyer said the state government insurer was still completing its assessment of the total damage bill. But, once their assessment came back, the government would do everything it could to bring the building back as close as possible to its original design.
"It's a piece of Australia's history," he said.