Thebarton Police Barracks

Due to an overcrowded Police Barracks located at North Terrace and Kintore Avenue in the city and the desire to expand the area surrounding the barracks for education purposes, the Government in 1913 approved the establishment of a new purpose-built police facility to be located on the Port Road (then known as North Terrace West), Adelaide.

The area to be occupied was at the time used as an olive orchard, but previous to that it had been the site of the “old night-soil depot” and “a burial place for the offal and dead cattle from the City Slaughterhouse.”  Concern was also expressed by some that the site was too far away from the heart of the city and that in the event of police troopers being hurriedly summoned to the main streets of Adelaide in case of fire or other urgent needs, their arrival would be delayed by reason of the distance they had to travel.  However, being less than 500 metres from the junction of West and North Terrace, distance proved not to be a problem, but the dusty and broken condition of the road between the Newmarket Hotel and the Barracks was a concern, upon which the government was urged to extend the wood-blocking of the Port Road.

Work on the new police barracks facilities was completed in early 1917 at a cost in excess of £16,000, with The Register newspaper reporting, “The best bathing, washing and sanitary accommodation has also been installed.”  While this is probably seen as an unusual comment, it should be understood that prior to 1918, bathrooms and laundries were seen as unnecessary luxuries and not required to be fitted inside police premises. 

The newspaper article went on to describe the barrack’s stables as, “magnificent, containing stalls for 50 horses.  The floor is paved with hard clinker bricks.  Attached to the stable area are the harness room, an Aboriginal trackers room, lavatories, washing area for the horses, trap and car sheds, yards for stolen cattle, horses and sheep, an ambulance garage and sleeping quarters for the first aid men, a mess block, including a large mess room, kitchen, scullery, cellar, billiard room, library, and open-air lounge over the kitchen.  Commodious quarters for the Inspector have been erected adjacent to the compound.  The whole area of seven acres has been surrounded by a sawn picket fence.”

On the 1st March, 1917, the Barracks were officially opened by the Chief Secretary, The Hon. A.W. Styles, in the presence of the Commissioner of Police, Mr Thomas Edwards and numerous other dignitaries.

Rare panorama photograph of the Police Barracks, Port Road, Adelaide Circa 1917 SAPHS

Although initially established as a barracks for the mounted and foot police, in the years that followed the area underwent a number of alterations and additions, both in terms of buildings and facilities, as well as changes and increases in the number and of range of functions/units.  For example in 1935 a quartermaster store was constructed, followed in 1937 by a police hospital and a galvanised iron gymnasium.  In 1939, a three storey dormitory block containing 75 bedrooms was added at a cost of £30,000.  Other building changes included the relocation of the motor garage from Police Headquarters in Adelaide and construction of a new traffic building and auditorium.  Major function changes included the establishment of the Police Training College in the late 1930’s, the creation of the Advance Driving Wing, traffic policing functions and motor garage and workshops in the 1950’s.  As the years progressed the barracks was also the base for the Emergency Fire Service (now known as the CFS), the Police Emergency Operations Group later to become the Special Task and Rescue Force (STAR Force), the Police Armoury, the Police Band, Police Security and Speed Camera operations, the South Australian Police Historical Society and the Children Road Safety Centre.

Of interest has been the address of the barracks.  Whilst actually located on the corner of Gaol Road and Port Road, Adelaide, the complex has for many years been commonly referred to as located at ‘Port Road, Thebarton’, an address derived most probably because of being close to the boundary of the suburb of Thebarton.  Equally confusing has been its name, where over the years it has been known as the Police Barracks, Mounted Police Barracks Adelaide, Police Training College and Thebarton Police Barracks.  Although it is located within the City of Adelaide Council area the complex has however become commonly known to as the ‘Thebarton Police Barracks’

The building in which you are now standing was initially constructed for use as a dormitory block for Mounted Police Constables.  In 1951 it was converted for use by the then newly established police driver training section, known as the Advanced Driving Wing, and by the mid-1970’s the upper floor area was used as class rooms for police officer in-service training and other specialist training courses.  With the relocation of the driver and in-service training functions to the Fort Large Police Academy in the 1980’s the building was subsequently made available to the South Australian Police Historical Society for use as the South Australia Police Museum.

Having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, the Police Barracks continues as the home of the Mounted Police and Police Dog Operation Units and as an important facility for a broad range of police functions in the delivery of policing services to the community of South Australia.  Long may the Barracks continue for another 100 years.

Photograph taken 1st March, 2017, with Police Commissioner Grant Stevens commemorating the Barrack’s 100th Anniversary