Eric Ashby

One of the stories from the 2013 project: Who were they? People who shaped Victor Harbor and for whom our parks and reserves are named.

Situated on Matthew Flinders Drive, Encounter Bay, this shady reserve on the lakes was named for Eric Ivan Ashby (1928–2004).

Eric Ashby’s ancestors were yeoman farmers in Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, England from 1475 until about 1750 when they shifted to Staines, Middlesex and became bankers and brewers. Ashby Bank was eventually sold to Barclays in 1903. In 1855 Eric’s great great grandfather started a tea merchant business. The tea business was sold in 1983.

Eric’s grandfather, Edwin Ashby migrated to Australia in 1888. He had suffered ill health in England and in the warm South Australian climate his health was restored. Edwin Ashby purchased property at Blackwood, called it “Wittunga” and built the family home there, ran a general farm and established an orchard. He was a keen conservationist and ornithologist and was a world authority on chitons. His collection of chitons is in the Adelaide Museum. Edwin began, and his children Keith and Alison worked hard to continue, what is now the Wittunga Botanic Garden. In 1965 Keith Ashby with the agreement of his children Hazel, Enid, Eric and Beth donated the Wittunga house and gardens to the Board of Governors of the Botanic Gardens.

Eric Ashby was the son of Arthur Keith Ashby and Edith Mary nee Walker. He was born at Torquay Private Hospital, Esmond Street, Unley, South Australia, on the 7 October 1928. Six months later, in 1929, Eric’s grandparents, Edwin and Esther nee Coleman purchased the Mount Alma property at Inman Valley where Eric and his family subsequently lived for almost sixty years.

Eric was educated at Blackwood Primary School and Scotch College. In 1940, aged eleven, he became a boarder at Friends (Quaker) School, Hobart, for two years until the uncertainty of crossing Bass Strait during World War II persuaded his parents to send him to Prince Alfred College in Adelaide to complete his education. Eric rowed in the Head of the river for Prince Alfred College for two years and also enjoyed playing tennis and cricket.

After leaving school Eric Ashby worked on the two family farms, at Wittunga, Blackwood and Mount Alma, Inman Valley. After his marriage to Phyllis May Roads on 21 January 1950 he lived on the Mount Alma property permanently. Phyllis’s family, the Roads and Millards lived at Yankalilla and Inman Valley respectively for generations.

Eric and Phyllis Ashby had four children. Christine was born in 1951, Alison in 1953, Edwin in 1956 and Ivan born in 1958.

Eric Ashby was an eleventh generation Quaker and attributed his love of native flora and fauna to his long line of nature-loving Quaker ancestors. He particularly loved the local orchids and knew their botanical names, and when and where to find them. In 1960 he put aside some land on Mount Alma for the use of his aunt, Alison Ashby, to plant Australian trees and shrubs. (The gazebo at Nangawooka Flora Reserve at Victor Harbor was built in memory of Alison Ashby).

In 1953 Eric and Phyllis commenced the Mount Alma Polwarth Stud and over time sheep were exported to sixteen countries around the world. Sheep from the Stud won many prizes including Most Successful Exhibitor for 12 years running at Australian Sheep Breeders’ Show and twice exhibited in the South American International Show in Uruguay, South America.

In the New Years Honours List 2005, Eric Ashby was posthumously awarded an OAM for service to the wool and sheep meat industry, particularly through pioneering the development of the Polwarth breed, and to local government.

Victor Harbor Council involvement

Eric Ashby was a Councillor for almost seven years from 1980, Deputy Mayor 1983, Caretaker Mayor 1984 and Mayor from 1984 to 1987.

“He entered Local Government in Victor Harbor at a particularly difficult time,” Graeme Maxwell, former City Manager said. “The Council was very much divided and there was conflict between some members and management. Circumstances were so difficult that the council was relieved of all its planning powers in November 1981 and the elected body was suspended by the State Government in December. An Administrator was appointed until July 1982.”

For several years the Victor Harbor Centre Committee, appointed by the State Government, had planning controls in relation to the central business district. Mr. Ashby was a member of that committee. Council’s planning powers were progressively re-instated but were not fully exercisable until October 1986.

Mr Ashby stood for a position on Council on a platform of achieving unity within the organisation, to foster good governance, implement good decision making and to ‘get things happening.’ During his service, Victor Harbor was facing massive development pressures with many projects competing for support. These included discount department stores, super-markets, high rise apartments and multi storey holiday and convention accommodation. One project was purported to be valued at $30 million.

“Mayor Ashby was the Council’s greatest advocate for the State Government to approve changes to the Victor Harbor Development Plan and this became his greatest frustration. He found he had little influence over the bureaucrats in speeding up the process,” Mr. Maxwell said.

While serving on Council Eric Ashby saw a number of projections and initiatives come to fruition including relocation of the Primary School from the town centre; reintroduction of the Horse Tram; construction of a new community recreation centre; appointment of a development officer and a tourism officer. A number of private and public tourism facilities were approved, established and/or improved including Whalers Haven Resort, Nangawooka Flora Reserve, Urimbirra Wildlife Park and Greenhills Adventure Park. Significant progress was made in relation to addressing some shortcomings in infrastructure including a planned approach to improving roads and footpaths, redevelopment of Ocean Street with a new streetscape and one way traffic, creation of a pedestrian bridge over the Inman River, construction of a new road bridge at Inman Valley and establishment of a new public library.

Former Victor Harbor Mayor Scott Schubert also acknowledged the significant contribution made by Mr. Ashby. “Mr. Ashby served at a difficult time when, in 1981, the State Government felt the need to step in and relieve the Council of its duties. The community was fortunate to have a visionary person such as Mr. Ashby to lead the Council as Mayor out of the turmoil of the early 1980’s,” Mayor Schubert said.

Public activities

  • Polwarth Sheep Breeders Association of South Australia. President 1958-1997.
  • Australian Polwarth Sheep Breeders Association. President 1970 to 1973 and 1985 to 1989 and also International President Life Member.
  • Australian Sheep Breeders Association Life Member
  • Australian Sheep Breeders Show Committee. Life Governor from 1993
  • Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Board member from 1984 to 1987 with involvement at State and National levels
  • South Australian Farmers Federation. Serving in the meat and wool section from 1970 to 1980 and also a delegate to the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation.
  • State representative of the Cattle Council of Australia, the Produce Consultation Committee, National Cattle Disease Eradication Committee and National Livestock Committee.
  • Chairman for the Livestock Marketing Study Group of South Australia and national chairman for the marketing committee and was involved with the introduction of the sale by description concept known as “CALM”.
  • Represented Australia at the World Meat Conference in Uruguay.
  • State Planning Rural Committee for several years.
  • City of Victor Harbor councillor for 8 years from 1979. Mayor from 1984-1987.
  • Inaugural Ambulance Board member of Victor Harbor.
  • Fire Control Officer for the Inman Valley area for 39 years.
  • Inman Valley Hall Committee at its inception in 1953 until completion. Also Trustee from 1953 until just before his death in 2004.
  • Chairman of the Inman Valley Rabbit Eradication Committee 1959 to 1965.
  • Inman Valley School Committee from 1956 to 1970 including chairman for 2 years.
  • Ampol-United Farmers and Graziers Champion Farmer of South Australia 1969.


Eric Ashby’s daughter Christine Collins submitted much of this information and gave her permission for the use of this material. The EBFHG recognises this and thanks Christine for her contribution.