With abundant history, fabulous walking trails and landscape and seascape views, it’s no wonder Chris Rann and his wife, Skye MacDonald, fell in love with Tonto homestead when it first came on the market.

After selling his first house in the same Hay Flat area in the early 2000s and purchasing an intermediate home in the Adelaide Hills, Chris soon “mourned and missed” the area he knew and loved so much. When their real estate agent called in 2008, with news that the Tonto homestead was on the market, Chris – a former journalist turned public relations executive, and development manager Skye – were very keen to take a look.

“I think we must have been the only people foolhardy enough to put in an offer,” says Skye, referring to the state of the homestead when they first saw it. While it is steeped in a rich history dating back to the 1800s, Tonto was – and still is – in need of some serious restoration to bring it back to its glory days.

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And glory this property did indeed have. Originally known as Spring Hill, due to the permanent natural spring located near the top of the hill behind the house, this property first consisted of 80 acres’ (32.4 hectares) land granted in 1856 to John Allen, a sheep farmer from Yankalilla. A mud dwelling was erected on the land and within six months, the property had grown to 400 acres and was sold to Daniel Attrill, also from Yankalilla. Daniel remained for 26 years and is believed to have constructed a substantial four-bedroom dwelling. The property gained its unlikely name “Tonto” in 1889, when purchased by a Scottish couple, in honour of a hill in Scotland with a similar spring.

The current Edwardian homestead was constructed between 1914 and 1918 by Robert Robertson. The house incorporates at least two rooms of Daniel’s original dwelling, turning it into a house consisting of seven large main rooms, a huge entrance hall, a transverse passage measuring 53x8ft, which stretches the whole width of the house, and a cellar.

“It’s quite miraculous that, during World War I, they were able to do all this,” Chris says. “It was owned by a wealthy people. They had four house staff and four permanent garden staff at one stage. Next to the main house, there’s a four-room cottage, which was their accommodation.”


“In the ’20s, it had a croquet lawn, a sweeping circular drive English-style garden and a tennis court where there’s now a shearing shed,” Skye adds. “All the rooms are really large and the hallway is remarkable — we call it the cricket pitch!” In fact, relatives of a previous owner recollect visiting the property as children and playing cricket down the hall. “We haven’t told the girls that,” Chris says, referring to the couple’s twin six-year-old daughters, Willow and Sari.

Read more about historic Tonto’s rich history in the April issue of Australian Country, available for order and online now!

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