The Park lies within the boundaries of Kaurna lands. No sites of Aboriginal occupation have been found in the Park, although it is thought to have been occupied prior to European settlement. Many Aboriginal foodplants found in the Park provided settlers with food e.g. Native cranberry (Astroloma humifusum).
Settlement did not occur within Tea Tree Gully until early 1839, which was nearly two years after the colony of South Australia was proclaimed. Despite much research being attempted, very little is documented about Aboriginal activity within the Anstey Hill site or the whole district of Tea Tree Gully for that matter. It is correct to assume however, that a considerable indigenous population moved freely throughout the entire area up until European invasion. The Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains often camped in the area during the seasonal migration, and later on, Aboriginal groups would pass through on their way into the city, often from the upper and lower Murray region.
Little is known of the environmental impact these groups had on the land, apart from speculated firing of the scrub and also the finding of stone tools and artefacts, in particular a kidney- shaped scraper made of slate used in the curing of possum skins.
Anstey Hill is named after George Alexander Anstey (1814-1895), who lived on the Highercombe Estate in the 1840's, and was fairly influential throughout the whole district during this time. He was held in low regard by the local community following his alleged use of district grant money for his own private road, which became known as Ansteys Hill. He was, however, a keen viticulturist, and helped to found the winemaking legacy in this region.
A number of developments at the Anstey Hill site occurred after European occupation commenced, including freestone quarries, a Dolomite quarry and iron mine in the northeastern corner and C.F Newman's 'Model Nursery' situated in Water Gully, remnants of which are still visible today.
This nursery was the leading commercial nursery in South Australia during the late 19th century. In 1854, 68 acres of land was purchased with subsequent acquisitions increasing the property to nearly 500 acres. The nursery was formally established in 1875 and included shade-houses, glass and hot houses, 300 varieties of orchids, 600 varieties of roses and 90 acres of fruit trees, including 500,000 apple, plum and cherry trees, 100,000 orange trees and 100,000 vines. They also specialised in rare and exotic plants. Two major storms in 1913 caused irreparable damage to the Nursery from which it never recovered.
The Tea Tree Gully Iron Mine was opened in 1853 and produced small amounts of iron ore from the top of the hill until closure in 1862.
The largest impact on the site is the Tea Tree Gully Quarry in the North-west corner. Closed in 1982, the open cut imposes strict considerations on future use of this area. Quarries in Water Gully opened in the 1880's, and supplied the council of Tea Tree Gully with road metal. In 1912 a crushing plant was erected on the north side of the gully and the remains of this plant are still visible.
Much of the quarried materials taken from Anstey Hill have been used in the constructions of various important buildings throughout the city. Material from the Tea Tree Gully Freestone Quarries located in the North-East of the Reserve has been used in such buildings as the War Memorial St. Peter's Cathedral, the Town Hall and the Post Office.
Anstey Hill Reserve was purchased by the South Australian Government in 1966, with acquisition of land within this area continuing up until 1977. This continuing land acquisition occurred with the aim of securing the undeveloped area of foothills on the eastern fringe of the Mount Lofty Ranges, adjacent to the suburb of Tea Tree Gully. As such a total area of 383.25 ha constitutes the Anstey Hill Recreation Park of today.