MORE than 100 years of South Australian history went up in flames last week, when the cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman's former homestead was the scene of a suspicious fire in Kapunda.
Established in 1879, Eringa - then know as Lanark House - was built by Alexander Greenshields for £4000, before it was purchased by Sir Kidman around 1900, who then renamed the property and lived there until he donated it to the Education Department in 1921.
It was officially opened as the new premises for Kapunda High School on October 12, 1922, but just shy of 100 years later it was ablaze, with fire crews called to the school at 9.10pm on March 29.
When emergency services arrived at the building on West Terrace, they found the now-administration building fully ablaze, with crews battling the blaze for most of the night.
They managed to contain the fire, but extensive damage was caused to Eringa and another property on the school grounds, in a blaze SAPOL are treating as suspicious.
Last week's fire was not the first for the building according to Kapunda Historical Society treasurer Meredith Mells, with the property first going up in flames a year after Sir Kidman purchased it.
"Prior to the 1900 fire, the building housed the largest conservatorium in the Southern Hemisphere, with more than 100 species of plants," Ms Mells said.
"When Kidman bought the property, the conservatorium was dilapidated and after the first fire, he rebuilt it to be as accurate to what it originally looked like, but not everything was the same.
"He lived there for years and when he left Kapunda, he donated the building to the Education Department for high school aged students to have a separate building to learn in as previously they were at the primary school."
Eringa has been the heart of the school ever since.
It underwent a major state government-funded refurbishment in 2012, but as a heritage building, its historical value was unchanged.
The building is one of 17 still standing in Kapunda, a town with much of its rich history centred around Sir Kidman.
Born in Athelstone in 1857, Sir Kidman arrived in Kapunda with his one-eyed horse, Cyclops, at just 13, and spent his first night in town at the Prince of Wales Hotel - which still stands today - before he journeyed to the north to build his fortune.
His empire saw him owning or leasing between 220,000 to 280,000 square kilometres of land across the country, but despite his vast land-holdings, Kapunda was home.
He managed his empire from the town for more than 30 years, with his annual horse sales - held behind the North Kapunda Hotel - the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Ms Mells said the mood around the town was solemn in the wake of the fire.
"Most people who have been in Kapunda or surround their whole completed their schooling there," she said.
"The building, and Kidman himself, mean quite a bit to the community, so the fire has been devastating.
"To happen when 100 year celebrations are not far off is something we could not imagine, especially with what's happened over the past two years."
The cause of last week's fire remains unknown.
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