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Goolwa was one of the country's most important River Murray ports in the mid to late 1800s. It was a centre for transport and trade between South Australia and the eastern colonies.

Goolwa is 83km south east of Adelaide on the shore of Lake Alexandrina, close to the Murray Mouth and the southern ocean. The name Goolwa is thought to be an Aboriginal word meaning 'elbow', describing the river's shape as it curves around Hindmarsh Island.

The Goolwa state heritage area includes the inner part of the Goolwa township, the wharf and tramway precinct, part of the town's early commercial core and the residential area to the south, known as Little Scotland.

Goolwa was the first Australian river port to engage in shipbuilding and repairs. Between 1853 and 1913, 37 paddle-steamers and 23 barges were built at Goolwa.

The unique wharf and tramway precinct is of national significance. It is complemented by the well-preserved public and commercial buildings and residential cottages of the river trade era.

The Goolwa state heritage area includes the following places on the South Australian Heritage Register:

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