The town of Hawker was proclaimed on 1 July 1880 and named after George Collins Hawker, born in London in 1819. Hawker arrived in South Australia on the Lysander in September 1840. A year later he established the Bungaree run with his brothers and entered parliament in 1858, becoming speaker in 1860. He returned to England in 1865 and remained there until 1874. A year after his return to South Australia he was re-elected to parliament and served until his retirement in 1883.
Before the official proclamation, the Hawker area had already been taken up on pastoral leases, from as early as the 1850s, by such stations as Arkaba, Holowiliena, Warcowie, Wilpena and Wonoka. The town of Hawker was laid out, at a point on the centre-line of the Port Augusta and Government Gums railway, 65 miles 4,260 links from Port Augusta, to serve the new railway line which reached the new town in June 1880. It was expected to become a major service centre for both the railway and the pastoral and agricultural industries. At the first land sales, held on 15 July 1880, some of the allotments brought very high prices. The highest price of $492 was paid for the corner block nearest the railway on which the Royal Hotel now stands.
Other blocks which went for more than the usual price were bought by William Powell who paid $295 and G. Jackson from Cradock bought a site for $200 to start a shop. H. Gadd, another storekeeper, paid $144 for his town site. One site was marked for a police station but although the town had a Mounted Trooper in 1880 it did not have a police station, cell or anything else. It only had a post with a chain to secure an arrested suspect.
The railway station, built similar to those at Port Augusta and Beltana, was completed in 1885 by Bacon & Brewer at a cost of $2,500. It was the second station on the Great Northern Railway between Port Augusta and Darwin. The building was last used for railway purposes in 1956 when the new standard gauge line by-passed the town. From then on Hawker was served as a branch line from Quorn with one train a week. Even this service was cancelled in 1970. The Great Northern Railway, or The Ghan, as it became known still only goes as far as Alice Springs.
Although Hawker's progress was slow, some large buildings were completed in the early days. In 1880 the first Methodist Church was finished but being a wooden building it was replaced by a stone building in 1884. By 1882 Hawker had its Lodge and the Royal Hotel was open with James Waters as its first publican. That same year a stone post office was completed at a cost of almost $1,700. In 1883 it even had a brass band.
From as early as 1880 Hawker had a Provisional school with Charles Lakeman as its first teacher. At a public meeting in October 1881 it was decided to petition the government for a substantial school building. Tenders were called in January 1883 and a stone school building was completed by the end of that year at a cost of $2340. When it opened, with W.H. Harry as its first head teacher it had sixty-three students. By 1888 Hawker became the centre of the School District, looking after Chapmanton, Hookina, Willow Plains, Wilson and Wonoka. Its Board of Advice was made up of Samuel J. Jones, Chairman and Doctor Siegwardt Bruehl, Walter Pyman, Peter O'Connor, David McNeil, Gustav A. Groth and John Edgeloe as members. Eventually the Hawker school became the largest in the district and is still in use today. John Edgeloe was later appointed Justice of the Peace and a member of the Northern Road Board.
In 1888, after the proclamation of the Hawker District Council, S.J. Jones became its first chairman followed by John Edgeloe who also became a prominent member of the school, church and town community. On 4 January 1900, John Edgeloe, who already had been appointed a Justice of the Peace, became now a member of the North and Midland District Land Board.
In 1884, the town had two flourmills, producing mainly for the inland market. Its store room was used for large public functions for many years. By 1886 the town's population was more than 350 people who were living in 56 houses. It had a Post, Telegraph and Money Order Office, a Savings Bank and an Commercial Bank and a Local Court. Some of the better known residents of that time were, A.J. Scott, Postmaster, George Donaldson, S.M., R. Laidlaw, publican of the Royal Hotel and George Lord publican of the Wonoka Hotel.
The Hawker Institute was established in 1889 but it did not have its own building until August 1893. After most denominations had established their presence, and church buildings, The Salvation Army made its appearance in 1890. In September 1895 Bishop Harmer held a confirmation service in St Michael's Church during which three male and twelve female candidates were confirmed. It was also during this year that Arch Burnett was born at Hawker. He would later write 'Wilfull Murder in the Outback'.
Having experienced several drought years between 1880 and 1889, no one worried about the almost wash out of the yearly race meeting in 1889. With a total rainfall of 55 centimetres, farmers expected, and got, a bumper crop that year and the next six years. After 1896 rainfall once again was below average and farmers faced some of the poorest years on record.
Rabbits became a serious problem and from 1890 a start was made with rabbit-proof fencing around individual properties. As a result of an increase in the price of copper during the 1890s, several mines in the Northern Flinders Ranges re-opened and Hawker gained some badly needed business from teams passing through supplying the mines and returning with ore to the railway station.
One of Hawker's best known women was Lucy Ann Ward (nee Priest). Born in 1851 she married Henry Charles Ward in 1878 and lived at Willochra, where their first daughter was born, before settling down at Hawker. After their second daughter died and an adopted girl as well, they adopted another girl in 1900. In Hawker Lucy Ward opened up her house to outback women in the final stage of their confinement. Word of her devotion soon spread and many more women applied for admission. To accommodate them they had several rooms built onto the house which became known as The Gables.
Women who stayed at her Lying-in-house came from Arkaba, Beltana, Blinman, Chapmanton, Cradock, Farina, Gordon, Marree, Uroonda, Warcowie, Willow Plains and Yednalue. Nearly five hundred babies were born at The Gables before the opening in 1925 of the present Hawker Hospital.
Another Hawker legend, a man who has contributed for more than fifty years to Hawker, the Flinders Ranges, and the numerous people who depended on him, or his services, was Fred Teaque.