Penola. St Joseph's Catholic Church built in 1924. On the site of the town's first Catholic Church built in 1859.
Penola is centrally situated - being roughly 50km from Mt Gambier, Naracoorte, Millicent and Casterton and it is a district of pastoralists and swamps. The great pastoralists of the district prevented the growth of small-scale agriculture in the 19th century and the town population grew very slowly. The district known as Penola was first squatted on before 1840 by Solomon, Josiah and Thomas Austin at Yallum Park. The site was probably selected by their agent John Bowden. The first settlers, as opposed to squatters, were Scottish born Alexander Cameron and his wife Margaret, nee MacKillop, who in 1845 obtained an occupation licence to lease the land. By the 1860s Cameron had an estate of around 50,000 freehold acres. Other settlers like the Gladstone’s and Duncan Cameron lived in the district in the 1840s. In April 1850 Alexander Cameron obtained eighty acres of freehold land and established the private town of Panoola, later known as Penola. He set aside several blocks for the use of the community, including a market square and blocks for churches to be built on at a later stage. The plan for the town was drawn in 1858. Alexander Cameron was born in 1810 in Scotland and overlanded his first sheep to South Australia from NSW. In 1848 Duncan Cameron (no relation to Alexander Cameron) became the original licensee of the Royal Oak Hotel. He did a roaring trade during the early 1850s when thousands of men from Adelaide travelled to the Victorian goldfields via Penola. Adam Lindsay Gordon the writer became the police trooper in 1854-56. The hotel was rebuilt in 1872.
Apart from the two Cameron men the first residents were Christopher Sharam, a boot maker and his wife Ellen who had fifteen children. A post office was constructed in 1857 and in the early days religious services were held in the local courtroom with the Presbyterians being the first to make use of this facility. The Reverend Mark Dixon was the first clergyman from 1856 until 1864. The Catholics started with a wooden church in 1858. Their first resident priest was Father Powell who also had established a school in 1855. A new stone church, called St Joseph’s was completed in 1865 at a cost of £1,000. Most of this money had come from wealthy Catholic Highland Scots of the district. The Church of England's Saint Mary's church was completed in 1873.
The first school in the South East opened in Penola in 1855 when Michael O'Grady had charge of 40 students in his private school. The best-known school was opened in 1866 by Mary MacKillop, the co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. Scottish born Mary lived 1842-1909. She was greatly assisted by Father Tenison Woods of Mt Gambier who encouraged her and had her take her vows to be a nun in 1867. Mary established her second school in Adelaide before setting up the order around Australia. She died in Sydney and became the first Australian to be made a Catholic Saint. The government school was completed in 1879. Petticoat Lane, the oldest street of Penola, retains historical charm. Red gum kerbing as well as rose and lavender plantings enhance the lane’s character. It is a State Heritage Area. Because the big landowners locked up the land in pastoralism there was little agriculture in the district. That which occurred was by tenant farmers of the great land owners like Riddoch or Gladstone. The railway line to Mt Gambier was started in 1885 and completed in 1887. Forestry began in 1873. The population now is about 1,200 close to what it was in the 1891 census!