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Polish Hill River

Polish Hill River Heritage

PHR Entrance 3.jpg
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Polish Hill River, as it was known locally because of the high concentration of Poles living there after the 1860's, is situated about two miles east of Sevenhill, which itself is three miles south of Clare.

Today, Hill River is a thinly populated farming region, hardly, it would seem, worth writing about.

Yet, less than a hundred years ago, it was a bustling thriving Polish community, with its own customs and traditions.

It was unique, in that it was the only Polish community in Australia which has left us with documentary evidence of its existence. 


I could almost dare to say that it was the only Polish community in Australia in the Nineteenth Century, but the mere fact that Father Rogalski mentioned Poles in other parts of this continent leads me to suppose that there may have been others who have faded away without having left any traces behind them.

Pikes Wine.jpg

The Poles did not only live in Hill River, but also in and around the local townships. However, only in Hill River were they concentrated almost to the complete exclusion of other nationalities. This fact is my justification for the title of this 'thesis'. 


Hill River was the place where they were densely settled, and Hill River was their spiritual and educational centre.

This extract is from an Honors Thesis

by S.M. Szczepanowski to the University of

Adelaide in 1974.


On the 17th August 1856 the ship "August" arrived (at Port Adelaide) with 231 passengers on board, including 131 Poles. The voyage took three months and 11 days. Once child was born on the ship and there was not a single death. 


Among the Polish group was Stanislaw Mlodystach with his wife and three children, who was a brother of the 1844 migrant Szymon Mlodystach with his wife. The Poles travelled north by bullock teams and most of the adults probably walked. 

Some of them settled in Sevenhill, Penwortham, Emu Flat, Clare and Mintaro, but the largest group settled at Hill River, and because of this, its name was changed to Polish Hill River.

This (extracted) text is from the 2006 Heritage publication "150 Years of Polish Settlement in S.A."  published by the Polish Hill River Church Museum Committee.


The Jesuits at Sevenhill attempted to congregate many Catholic families around them, and sought to attract German Catholics to the area; in doing so they attracted a number of Poles, which commenced the settlement of Poles around Sevenhill from 1853.

Polish families that settled in the towns of Sevenhill and Penwortham, were Bryksy, Koslowski and Rzeskowski. 

The land holdings at Polish Hill River were small, 20 acre holdings were common. In general, the men worked around the district, whilst the women stayed at home, looking after the garden, stock, and family. 

Polish was spoken at home, hence the children learnt only Polish in their early years. The dialect spoken by the community was a very ancient one, from the west Posen area. dating back to the 14th century, which has now died out in (post-war) Poland. 

This (extracted) text is from the 1984 brief Polish Hill River publication by H. Tomaszewski.

Ships set sail to Port Misery

This (extracted) text is from the 2006 Heritage publication "150 Years of Polish Settlement in S.A."  published by the Polish Hill River Church Museum Committee.

A typical scene on the deck of an Australian Emigrant ship,.png
Ships set sail to Port Misery

First the “Prince George” sets sail and in November 1838, conveying Pastor Kavel and his flock of mostly members of the Lutheran faith, arriving at Port Misery (now Port Adelaide), bringing predominantly German migrants and several people with Polish names.

On 11 September 1844, the ship “George Washington” arrives with 164 passengers.  Among them are four Polish families from the Prussian province town of Gross Dammer (now Dąbrówka Wielkopolska in Poland): Młodystach, Wallent, Krollig and Stanitzki.  They first settled in the Barossa Valley near Tanunda.


It is hard to imagine having to spend 4 months, from May to September, on a small ship, on rough seas, with sea sickness, basic rations and the needs of small children to be met.  Joy comes to one family, when at sea Franciszka, wife of Szymon Młodystach gives birth to a baby boy, James.

News of the journey is published in “The Observer“ which reports the emigrants are from several parts of Germany, East Prussia and the Polish frontier.  

They appear to be a very able bodied and orderly set and are in excellent spirits.  They consist principally of the agricultural classes with a sprinkling of smiths and other handicraftsmen and a good proportion of young men and women fit for domestic service”.


On 17 August 1856 the ship “August“ arrives with 231 passengers on board, including 131 Poles.  The voyage took three months and 11 days.  Records show one birth and no deaths during the voyage.

Among the Polish group was Stanislaw Mlodystach with his wife and three children, who was a brother of the 1844 migrant Szymon Mlodystach and Szymon's cousin, Casper Mlodystach with his wife.

On this ship five families of Rucioch arrived. 


The beginnings of the Polish Hill River settlement were very difficult and some settlers lived in dug-outs and hollow trees at first. 

In 1857 the first Pole to buy land at Hill River was named Niemiec (means 'German' in Polish).

John Nykiel was buying and selling land, established a butcher shop and became a vigneron, making wine for the next 30 years. In his peak period, he had accumulated over a thousand acres, out of which he sold three hundred and eighteen acres to John Howard Angus in 1885.

The Poles who first played their part in civic affairs were Dr. A. Sokolowski, and later Michal Ruciak, Karol Koslowski, Tomasz Niemiec, Jan Nykiel and Malycha.

The belt of land joining Penwortham and Polish Hill River was bought out by Polish people. 

In the years of the greatest development of Polish Hill River, between 1870, and 1880, it was possible to find over thirty farms belonging to Poles.

Early Polish Settlers at Polish Hill River 1870-1890.png
Map of Sevenhill, Mintaro & Polish Valley.png

There was one very small farm of one and a half acres (John Mark Wayman) and some were from ten to twenty acres (Frank Wayman, Charles Rucioch, Victor Rucioch etc.) 

Most farms were within twenty to eighty acres, with only a few greater in area. There were also a number of landless families who do not appear in the lists of landowners.

There were a number of farms east and south east of Polish Hill River, as far as Mintaro, mainly belonging to the families of Malycha and Niemiec.

A number of Poles also settled on small sections in Sevenhill. Among them were Pawelski, Sobozak, Wisnewski, Nowak and Bocan. 

 A few settled in Clare itself, and others were dotted all over the Hundred of Clare, and beyond, even Blyth and surrounding areas.

Councillors Nykiel (Mintaro) and Ruciak (Penwortham) were substantial land holders, Ruciak owned over 250 acres around Penwortham, and Nykiel owned over a thousand acres scattered all over the Hundreds of Clare, Milne, and Andrews. (p.52)

This extract is from an Honors Thesis

by S.M. Szczepanowski to the University of

Adelaide in 1974.

CHurch and school at Polish Hill River with settlers 1880.png

The Jesuits at Sevenhill were unable to offer any service to the Poles in their native language, the solution being to find a Polish priest.

However church authorities considered that it would not be appropriate to provide one until the Polish community had started to build their own church.

Father Leon Rogalski was the Jesuit priest selected for the task, and he arrived at Sevenhill in 1870.

Church building progressed, and St. Stanislaus Kostka was (finally) consecrated with a ceremony in 1891.

Father Rogalski also started a school in 1870, which was subsequently operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The government took control of this school in 1886 as the one-teacher Sevenhill East School.   


We know that Father Rogalski knew 8 languages, and he preached with such fervour that he visibly perspired during mass. 

He helped the community hold together for the next thirty years.

With Father Rogalski's death about 1906, much of the community's existence passed away.

Now however, the community is totally disintegrated, due to dispersion of Poles not merely from Polish Hill River, but from the Clare district generally. 


Of the Nykels, Bulas, Waymans, Malychas and Borowickis that were numerically strong in Polish Hill River, only a couple of Waymans can now be found around Clare.

This (extracted) text is from the 1984 brief Polish Hill River publication by H. Tomaszewski.


Some Poles were operating as teamsters, carting ores and supplies to distant ports and railheads. Others were sinking water wells in northern areas, or working on agricultural stations.

The need to be away from home for long periods and to deal with the wider community meant that Poles found themselves in the company of Catholics from other nationalities. 


By the turn of the century there were signs that the community was starting to break up.

Some steadily bought up land in the area, while others moved out altogether. 

The school was closed in 1924 and church services continued until about 1950.

By the 1960's the majority of land around Polish Hill River was still held by a few families, descendants of the original settlers (Wayman, Modystach, Kluska and Seipelt).

Many of the families originally from Polish Hill River later settled in the Peterborough district, or along the western plains from Balaklava to Blyth.

Modystach Farm

Shoeing a horse at Modystach's Farm, and extending the barn, Wilmington 1900.

Shoeing a horse, at Modystach's Farm, Wilmington 1900 B-48362.jpeg
Broughton Hotel at Yacka 1925 B-47072-243.jpeg

The Broughton Hotel at Yacka, with the beer garden behind the wall and hedge on the right hand side. The publican was John J. Nykiel, whose name can be seen under the parapet on the hotel's facade.

CHurch and school at Polish Hill River with settlers 1880.png

Poles believed that Father Rogalski was the founder of the annual Corpus Christi procession at St. Aloysius College, although  it was held from 1864, six years before Rogalski's arrival. 

Father Rogalski held missions and solemn services such as, in honour of St. Stanislaus Kostka, in most valley communities.

Such church services at Hill River usually ended with a folk festival, a bazaar, music, dancing and fireworks, which drew bigger crowds than the services themselves.


The Poles continued their custom of celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi at Sevenhill with the annual procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the grounds of St Aloysius‘ church.  

A blank cartridge salute was fired as the canopied Host passed by.  

Displays of such old European customs, which were part of the early life of Sevenhill, gave touches of colour which were quite different from the usual life of the average Australian settlement.


For the next 30 years, there was a thriving religious and social life around the church.  

The school attached to the church opened in 1871.  It provided the basic education — reading, writing and arithmetic, but Polish and music were also taught.  

In later years Mother Mary Mackillop’s Sisters of Saint Joseph ran the school prior to the State Government taking it over.


Fr. Rogalski reported that both the Irish and the Germans took part in in Polish masses, especially on special occasions.


Bishop Reynolds said in 1884: "My Dear Poles, you remind me of my motherland, poor Ireland, which like your Poland... has suffered under and is suffering a severe persecution."

Jakub Nykiel and horse.png

A second wave of Poles; (displaced persons, as a result of the Second World War (1939-1945), of Nazi and then Soviet occupation of their homeland) make a long and reluctant journey to South Australia.  

Unable to return to their beloved country Poland, they seek to start a new life on the other side of the world.


In taking the long journey to an uncertain future, they discover they have not been the first Polish people who sought freedom in this country.  

Their discovery of an earlier ‘Little Poland’ in the Clare Valley gives them hope and inspiration.  Thousands of kilometres from their homeland, the Polish spirit is reborn as a new wave of migration honours those who came as pioneers over one hundred years earlier.  


The restoration of the church of Saint Stanislaus (Stanisław) Kostka and the establishment of a museum within the attached rebuilt school rooms soon becomes a place for pilgrimage, to tell the story of those pioneers and of their own sacrifices and journeys to freedom.  

Once again, a “Little Poland” is born, celebrating Polish faith, culture and freedom.

Modern Heritage

The houses first built at Polish Hill River were assembled of local stone with mud mortar, and have suffered badly through damp, subsidence and weathering.

Of the 35 farmhouses which existed, only 4 or 5 are habitable or feasibly restorable. Another dozen or so are recognisable ruins.

We know that Poles were great smokers of meat, and there is an old stone hut at Polish Hill River, which has still its smoke room reasonably intact.

The term "garden" when referring to a vineyard is peculiar to the Clare Valley. It is believed that this had its origins with the Poles, who had a garden with fruit, vegetables and a plot of vines.


Wineries at Polish Hill River

  1. The Wilson Vineyard 

255 Stonecutting Road Polish Hill River, Clare Valley SA

  2. Jaeschkes Hill River Wines - 1980
        406 Quarry Road Clare SA 5453

  3. Paulett Wines - 1982
        752 Jolly Way, Polish Hill River SA 5453

  4. Pikes Wines - 1984
        233 Polish Hill Rd, Sevenhill SA 5453


  • 2006 Heritage publication "150 Years of Polish Settlement in S.A." published by the Polish Hill River Church Museum Committee.

  • Honors Thesis Polish Hill River by S.M. Szczepanowski to the University of Adelaide in 1974. Held at the State Library, filed under John Wilson

  • 1984 brief Polish Hill River publication by H. Tomaszewski, Held at the State Library (D6729(T))

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