It was John McLaren who first surveyed the area south of Adelaide in 1838 reaching the area now known as Mclaren Vale the following year. The land he was sectioning had been occupied for tens of thousands of years prior by the Kaurna people. Peaceful people, the Kaurna had close trading and cultural ties with other groups of Indigenous Australians in the southern parts of Aboriginal Australia.
European colonists foresaw immense economic potential in the land they came across. The decision was made early on to convert as much of it as possible to agriculture and pasture. Over the next 20 years the naturally fertile soil resulted in good crop yields, even when the most rudimentary farming techniques were practiced.
The crop of choice during these early years was wheat and as yields continued to increase, so an increasing number of farmers were attracted to the area. While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the first European settlers to the area appreciated the natural beauty, they nonetheless imported ideas, customs and artefacts that were foreign to this part of the world. Fences were erected and trees were removed to make way for grazing purposes as well as mining projects. The introduced fauna and flora provided a short term economic boost, however an excess of this activity resulted in the loss of biodiversity. Problems arose as early as 1860s when, unbeknown to the farmers, over-cropping of wheat had depleted the soil of key nutrients.
A new approach was employed in the area and over the next century the grassy peaks and dips that complete McLaren Vale’s landscape was converted to a mixed farming region. Increasing the number of barely and flax crops and bringing in more sheep and other livestock, the land began to slowly repair itself. Mills were also erected in the area in order to process the harvested grains and seeds.
Since 1840 the term ‘McLaren Vale’ (or sometimes just ‘The Vale’) had been used in various, but unofficial, contexts. Newspapers referred to it, residents would write about it, and there was a generally accepted idea of what McLaren Vale was but it was not until 1923 that it became the official title of the township. The process was essentially the amalgamation of two small villages, Gloucester and Bellevue, which had both sprung up from mere necessity as people moved to the surrounding areas and there became a need for goods and services.
The landscape would continue to transform and as the suburban sprawl from Adelaide pushed many of the almond tree groves further away, they would find a more permanent home in McLaren Vale. By 1840 grape vines had been planted and began to dominate the area as word spread of the quality of conditions that were present across the region for them. In 1880 just 2 vignerons were listed in McLaren Vale, by 1921 there were 45 and in 2015 the region now boasts over 70 cellar doors that visitors to the area can explore.