A Scot, Alexander Cameron, founded the township of Penola, while another Scotsman John Riddoch, planted the first vines, laying the rich foundations of Coonawarra’s quality wines.

It was Alexander Cameron who was issued one of the earliest Hotel licences in South Australia, during the year of 1848, allowing him to open the Royal Oak Hotel. The hotel is privately owned by John and Libby Heyward, the Heyward family having been associated with the Royal Oak since 1940.

The original Royal Oak Hotel was a slab construction, however in 1872 Cameron arranged for the construction of a new two storey stone hotel. It was built by A Dunbar for 2883 pounds.

During the construction the Penola correspondent to "The Border Watch" reported on September 18th 1872 "The new Royal Oak Hotel is now in full swing, the cellar walls have appeared up to the surface and a large number of men are employed. The report says that none but teetotallers are engaged on the work."

By February 12, 1873 the scaffolding had been removed and the hotel was ready for the Race Ball that was held on February 19-20 1983. The greater part of this building is still standing intact, with the addition of balcony and verandah extensions at the rear.

Further Penola History

Mother Mary MacKillop (niece to Alexander Cameron), Australia’s first declared saint together with Father Julian Tenison Woods, founded the religious order of the Sisters of St Joseph in Penola over 125 years ago. World famous poets, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Will Ogilvie and John Shaw Neilson, who were born in Penola found the country side attractive with its native flora and fauna offering a never ending source of inspiration.

Visitors have every opportunity to remember the historical significance of Penola as signposts throughout the town point to the relationship with the past. There is a heritage walk around the town, many art and craft shops, two art galleries, first class restaurants, historical homesteads & cottages and sport & recreation facilities.

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