Pastoral settlement from 1840s – Pastoral settlement had spread beyond the site of Quorn by 1849, even though the formal lease system didn’t come in until 1851.
John Brown and his sons were amongst those who converted annual occupation licences to pastoral leases in 1851. Their lease included the site of Quorn. Location and early growth.
Quorn’s site, at the eastern end of Pichi Richi Pass, made it a natural stopping place for traffic heading north-south and east-west.
Farmers began pushing into the district as soon as they knew that pastoral land was going to be divided up for agriculture.
Between 1875-1880 many settlers moved in to farm the newly opened country. The township began formal life in 1878 and grew rapidly as an agricultural centre.
Three workshops made farm machinery in Quorn during the wheat boom. Two flour mills were built on Railway Terrace.
The townspeople were well organised and knew what they wanted for their town:

The Wants of Quorn

1879 Within a year, the townspeople had a fully developed list of things they wanted from the Government:
• A Post Office and Telegraph Station (accepting that this might take a little while).
• An immediate daily mail service from Port Augusta, using the railway (granted almost immediately).
• Allotment of land for a cemetery. Four people had died in the last two months and been buried in parklands ‘much too close to the township’.
• The railway goods shed to be placed on the side nearest the township instead of the other side of the rails (unsuccessful – the government claimed that the line gradient made it impossible to have both goods and passenger sheds on the town side).
• A Police Station and residence. The report in the Register (10 July 1879) notes: ‘It was pointed out that the funds voted for a Police Station at Saltia might now be applied to one here [Quorn] instead, the opening of the railway through the Pichirichi Pass having driven very much of the traffic off the road and caused a great decrease in the population and trade of that place. It was also stated that the hotel at Saltia was about to be closed, and this would obviate to a great extent the necessity for the Police Station there’.

Quorn: A Railway Centre

Quorn became an important railway centre after the Great Northern Railway opened in 1879. Building the line started at Port Augusta in August 1878. Its route through Quorn was planned ‘to tap the northern Willochra Plan and wheat-lands beyond, as well as to serve pastoral and mining interests more remote’ (Mincham 1965:239). As the line moved up eastern side of the Flinders Ranges, stock from stations further north could be moved out by rail. From 1882, east-west rail traffic also came through Quorn when the line from Terowie was connected to Quorn. Eventually Quorn was a junction for the lines that crossed Australia from Perth to Sydney, and Adelaide to Alice Springs. Quorn’s four hotels served locals and travellers from the central locations. After the extensions of the Great Northern Railway to Farina and then Marree, the flour mills at Quorn and Hawker supplied flour, bran and pollard (used as feed for horses, farm animals and poultry) to pastoral stations as far north as Queensland’s Channel Country. Bran and pollard are produced during the milling process that produces flour from wheat grains. The two are usually said in the same breath. ‘Bran and pollard’ was so precious a source of food for horses and other animals that warnings were issued against its export very early in World War I (The Argus, 30 December 1914). Quorn’s position on the rail network made it an ideal place for holding sales of sheep and cattle. By the 1920s, the biggest stock sales outside of Adelaide were held at Quorn, and five separate stock and station agents had offices in Quorn. Now there are none.

Quorn Workers

Quorn’s population grew as men came in to work on the railways and stock yards and in industries such as flour milling and making farm machinery. Businesses grew up in town to meet the needs of the railway workers, the wheat farmers from the surrounding district and travellers passing through. – The Railway workshops brought more workers. – Not surprisingly, Eight Hour Day (now Labour Day)was celebrated actively by the workers of Quorn. o The first South Australian workers won the right to work an eight hour day as early as 1873 and railway workers were amongst the first to win it. It took till the 1920s for workers across Australia to have this right.

Eight Hours Day celebration at Quorn, 1901.
Eight Hours Day celebration at Quorn, 1901.

State Library of South Australia B14790. Eight Hours Day celebration at Quorn, 1901. The banner in front on the right is probably a trade union banner.

In their time off work, men played sport such as football, went shooting, raced greyhounds or went to one of Quorn’s many hotels.
Some harvested wattle bark from acacias in the Dutchman’s Stern Range near Quorn ‘and hauled it down by flying fox on a cable strung from the clifftop, to be sold for tanning [hides] (Bonython 1971:41).

World War II and later

During World War II military, coal and other traffic placed sizeable demands on the railway. Troops travelled to Darwin in preparedness for a Japanese invasion, following the bombing in 1941, and evacuees from the north came south to safety. Troops, supplies, stock and coal moved continuously through Quorn day and night.

After the railway line north from Hawker was closed in 1956, stock sales at Quorn gradually ceased. The railways had employed many men, and Quorn lost half its population after the railway was re-routed.

The Wonderful Women of Quorn

During World War II, trains carrying troops on their way to and from the war zones went through Quorn. Refugees came south after the Japanese entered the war and Darwin was bombed. The Quorn CWA (Country Women’s Association) decided to give a good meal to the troops. They eventually served over a million meals to troops, as well as feeding refugees. This huge effort attracted national attention. CWA branches across the country sent donations and food; businesses and individuals supported them and the railways carried freight-free all the goods that were sent to the Quorn C.W.A. The Hut in the railway station grounds was the centre of CWA activity. You can see it on the Quorn Railway Station Yard Heritage Walk. Women of Quorn by Max Fatchen The past is a ghost but I’ll give you a toast For mem’ry a pathway has worn As we went to the war in the troop trains of yore.. A toast to the women of Quorn. We were many or few in the trains rolling through We were homesick and sometimes forlorn But they served us in style with a quip and a smile The wonderful women of Quorn. And often there’d steal the thought of that meal In the mud of a jungle war torn And we’d silently say to that band far away God Bless All the Women of Quorn. (Quorn, 1978:184) The Quorn Branch of the Red Cross also worked very hard for the war effort. They raised over £6,300 (pounds), sent over 1000 garment to military hospitals for patients and nearly 1400 garments overseas for ‘civilian relief’.

Experience Railway Heritage

You can experience Quorn’s railway history around the railway precinct and by taking a historic train ride.
The Pichi Richi Railway Society runs part of the historic railway for tourists. You can download a heritage walk brochure for the Quorn railway precinct here.

Quorn District Schools

  • The school at Saltia was one of the first to open in the Quorn-Kanyaka district (1864).
  • An average of 20 children attended the school daily in its first year.
  • Most of the children would have been from families of teamsters whose homes were at Saltia.

Quorn Primary School opened in 1879 with 36 children attending daily.

  • By 1881, 73 students were attending daily on average, and the numbers grew steadily.
  • By 1905, the school had 230 students. They were thought to be lucky to have as many as four teachers for all these children!
  • A separate High School opened in Quorn in 1914 – the first in the northern areas.
  • In 1968 the Primary School moved to the High School when they merged to form an Area School.
  •  In 2010 the Quorn Area School had 260 students in classes from Reception to Year 12.
  • The school population is bi-cultural. – Aboriginal students make up 20 to 25% of the total school population.
The fife and drum band at the Quorn School in 1905.
The fife and drum band at the Quorn School in 1905.

State Library of South Australia B55446 The fife and drum band at the Quorn School in 1905. The school had 2430 students and four teachers at this stage.

Churches in Quorn

First religious services were held in people’s houses or in other buildings such as the hotels.

    • The first Anglican service was held in the Transcontinental Hotel in 1879
    •  Lutheran services were held in private homes until St Petri Church opened in 1890.

When congregations got enough money together, they put up simple buildings first. As the congregations, and income, grew, these were often built on to or replaced by bigger, grander, churches. The Quorn churches web site shows some examples of this pattern.

Churches were centres of community activity. They held socials, dances, fetes and picnics.

The Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was built at Quorn in 1883.

  • The Quorn parish was under the care of the Bishop of Port Augusta until 1957. The name of the diocese was changed then to Port Pirie.

The order founded by Saint Mary MacKillop, the Sisters of St Joseph, ran a school for local children in Quorn from 1890 until 1958.

    • Through the Catholic Motor Mission, set up during the early 1960s, two Sisters of St Joseph travelled widely to visit schools, parents and people on stations far from towns.
    • They also visited the sick at home and in hospital.

Aboriginal Mission

The United Aborigines Mission opened a home for Aboriginal children in Oodnadatta in 1926. The next year, 1927, its twelve children and two women staff took the Ghan train to Quorn and the home set up there. It was known as Colebrook Home. In 1944 Colebrook Home transferred to a large house in Eden Hills and it continued to take Aboriginal children until it was finally closed in 1972. A memorial in Colebrook Reserve remembers the Aboriginal children and their grieving families.


  • Bonython, C. Warren, 1971 Walking the Flinders Ranges. Adelaide: Rigby
  • Flinders Ranges research: http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/quorn.htm
  • Mincham, Hans 1980. Hawker, Hub of the Flinders. Hawker Centenary Committee. Adelaide.
  • Mincham, Hans 1983. The Story of the Flinders Ranges. (3rd ed). Adelaide, Rigby.
  • Wants Of Quorn. (1879, July 10). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 2 Supplement: Supplement to The South Australian Register. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article43097934