You can preview the book on this link:
The book, with a foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has 258 pages and over 150 photographs.
Books can be ordered on-line or by phone from Digital Print, Adelaide. You can arrange to collect the book from their city address if you prefer. (You would need to telephone to arrange this: Freecall – 1800 970 971
Click here for your on-line order from Digital Print
About the book:
This detailed examination of the lives of the men and their families who worked on the lock and weir construction is illustrated with 160 photographs and captures community life in the temporary villages on the banks of the mighty Murray. Through a blend of archival material and oral history, the book reveals the daily struggles and joys of this little-known workforce whose itinerant lifestyle led to them being referred to as ‘the great wandering class’.
With an introduction by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, the book is then divided into two sections. Part One covers the contest for control of the river from the late 1800s and South Australia’s early progress towards securing a ‘harnessed river’ and explains the stages of building a lock, the difficult working conditions and the tough times, cutbacks, accidents, and tragedies. Alongside this, the story develops of the schools, health issues and rich community activity. In addition some rare material illustrates the lives of the women and children and allows a view of daily domestic life. Part Two consists of the Oral History of seven people who spent their childhoods on the locks and their memories add warmth and colour to the story. In addition, the appendices contain an alphabetical list of over 500 accident victims at the works and allow the genealogical tracking of family members at the various locks. Also there are six petitions signed by residents at various locks, another source of names for family historians. The book is completed with a chronology and glossary and a comprehensive endnotes section.
The legacy of the lock building communities stands strong today: the structures which control the flow of Australia’s great waterway, the mighty Murray.
About the Author:
Helen Stagg grew up near the Murray River at Mildura in Victoria and completed an Arts degree majoring in history at the University of Melbourne. After teaching secondary school history in Hamilton she took time off to focus on raising her family before re-connecting with the river and her history passion in the 1990s in her hometown Mildura. In 2010 she completed a Master of History at UNE where she began her research into the construction of the first nine locks and weirs on the Murray River. She has presented papers at conferences and published several journal articles on the topic. Her aim in this book is to reveal the little-known stories of the lock-building communities.
If you would like to order your copy of Helen’s book, please contact Digital Print: Print on Demand at Digital Print, Adelaide
With World War 1 underway, the call to duty was taking labour away from the state (and eventually from the works. Despite a ‘season of unprecedented financial stringency’ due to the war-time economy, some public works had to proceed; those involving water supply were seen of utmost priority, essential to national development and to guaranteeing water security for South Australia. The Millbrook reservoir, the Encounter Bay Scheme and the Warren Weir Scheme in the Barossa along with the River Murray works were going ahead as planned. To provide for the ‘camp’ that was developing at Blanchetown and which would be characteristic of each site, Engineer Cutting was working on the establishment of a mess for the men where meals would be provided. By 15 February 1916 there were about 50 men employed on preliminary plant and site construction at Blanchetown. By April 1916, with a start already made on cofferdam number 1, worker numbers had increased to 61 and nearly all the required machinery at Blanchetown had been installed.
The photo from the Reed family collection is most likely taken of Blanchetown, circa 1917. James Clifton Reed was initially employed at Lock 1 as storekeeper but also worked as time-keeper at Locks 9, 4 and 7 before becoming Superintendent at the Lake Victoria Storage.
 Register 1916 02 15, p 6.
I will be at the Australian History & Genealogy Expo in Adelaide this week, from noon Friday 7 Oct till 5 pm and then again on Saturday Oct 8 from 9 am till 2 pm. Find me at the Engineering Heritage Australia exhibit with my books which I will be happy to sign. Buy your copy, ideal Christmas gift and save postage costs!
I am also speaking at 4.30 Friday in Mini theatre 1 on my research. The talks in the mini theatres are free with your expo admission. I look forward to meeting you.
(NOTE CASH SALES ONLY for the book)
Copies of this carefully researched and important history, which reflects the lives of the people from the temporary camps along the River Murray during lock construction, can be obtained from the various outlets shown. If you are in Adelaide, your ‘Print-on-Demand’ copy can be picked up from Digital Print’s 135 Gilles Street address, or by phoning 1800970971 or 0882323404.
The author Helen Stagg will be at the History & Genealogy Expo in Adelaide on Friday Oct 7 from noon till 5, and on Saturday October 8 from 9 till 2. She will be at the SA Engineering Heritage table. You can get your own signed copy there. The venue is Immanuel College, Novar Gardens. (Please note, Helen has no EFTPOS facility, so cash sales only.)
Last year, this day was marked by a large gathering at Lock 1 at Blanchetown to re-enact the laying of the Foundation Stone signalling the start of locking the river. Just as had happened 100 years before, the PS Marion arrived carrying guests, a band played, children formed a guard of honour and speeches were made. Also my book, Harnessing the River Murray, stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935, was officially launched.
The centenary plaque, Blanchetown.
The Murray Pioneer wrote of the Foundation Stone event back in 1915, as follows:1915 06 03:
A stone to mark the site of the first lock in South Australian territory will be laid by the Governor (Sir Henry Galway) next Saturday afternoon (June 5th). A large Parliamentary party will leave Adelaide on Friday evening for Murray Bridge, where they will go aboard the S.S. “Marion”, which is being especially fitted up for the occasion under the supervision of the Chief Engineer of the Gem Navigation Company (Mr. Fuller). Including the crew, there will be over 120 passengers on the boat, which will be the home of the party till the following Monday morning, when a special train for the city will be boarded at Goolwa. The Prime Minister (Mr. Fisher) and Mr. Holman (Premier of New South Wales) are expected to be members of the party and to speak at the stone laying function. This is timed to take place at 2 p.m., but a glance at the timetable indicates that it may possibly be later. Parties from Renmark and Loxton will probably motor to Blanchetown to witness the ceremony. As the first lock is to be called the William R. Randell lock, it is fitting that Captain Randell [W. R’s son, who was chief engineer and water master for the Renmark Irrigation Trust] should be among those going from Renmark.
The Marion steams into Lock 1, June 5, 2015
Murray Brooks, Charlie Adams, Max Pearson and Pat Reed. Other men not known.
On March 7 and 8 1998, over 300 people gathered at a reunion of former lock builders and their families at Goolwa. The memories of Charlie Adams, Max Pearson and Murray Brooks (pictured), along with those of other ‘children’ at the locks during the construction years, feature in the book Harnessing the River Murray. Maybe you can identify the un-named men in the photo. Please contact me if you can.
News article about the reunion with Charlie Adams and Sheila Trafford-Walker pictured.
Charlie Adams on the day of the first interview, Mildura, Victoria. March 1 2010.
When I first interviewed Charlie Adams (March 2010) who spent his entire childhood moving from one lock to the next while his father was employed on the construction, he described the supply of basic foodstuffs to the people in the ‘lock camps.’
“There was the government store and you used to buy your groceries at that store. But also at Lock 7 there was a private store with a post office attached to it, next to the school. I think it was Coombes who had the Paringa store (who conducted the store at Lock 7).
Milk you got wherever you could get it. At Lock 4, Quasts (at a neighbouring farm) supplied milk; at Lock 7 one of my uncles had a couple of cows and so he supplied milk. That was another job I had of a night after I come home from school. So I could get a ride on the bike, I used to bring the cows home for him to milk. I always found them out in the bush because they had a bell tied around them and you could hear them for miles.
Mum didn’t make butter but she did make a lot of bread and any surplus bread she sold to anyone else who didn’t have bread because the bread only came on the mail about twice a week. The same with the butcher; he came around once a week from Wangumma station, Mr Scadding. He used to come round with his truck selling mainly sheep, lamb, mutton, (there) could have been a bit of beef. One of the prime things was rabbits: if it wasn’t for the rabbits, thousands of people would have died of hunger. We used to go out and set traps and catch rabbits. I enjoyed it.
Fish was plentiful and you’d go down and throw the line in to catch a cod. There was a fisherman used to live with the Blakes at Lock 9, Lock 4 and Lock 7 and he was a marvel. He’d just take his fishing rod which was a sapling, a young tree; take it down and it didn’t matter where he threw the line in, he’d pull out a fish.
We (kids) used to go down the creek yabbying and used to get yabbies, (with) either nets or little lines and pull ’em in. We didn’t get many ducks but they were there and if somebody brought home a duck, ok you had a duck.”
Bill Pearson (left) and Harold Pearson (right) duck hunting with their dog at Lock 4
Today on Global Day of Engineering, I acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all engineers associated with the lock and weir construction. From the Engineer in Chief down to the assistant resident engineers at each lock site, the massive work was undertaken with intelligence and attention to detail, on structures which have stood the test of time. A number of Engineers associated with the Locks can be seen here: SA Water Flikr
From Chapter 2 of my book, ‘Harnessing the River Murray’:
Having passed the Murray Works Act (South Australia) in 1910, the South Australian Engineer-in-Chief (1909-1918), Graham Stewart, went to England and America early in 1911 in search of an eminent engineer to conduct surveys and draw plans for his state’s locks and weirs. The American expert, Major Edward Neele Johnston, assistant to the Chief Engineer of the United States, with his extensive experience in lock and dam construction, especially on the Ohio River, was engaged. In October 1913 Johnston’s report was tabled in South Australia’s parliament. South Australia’s Legislative Council then decided to proceed independently with the locking of the Murray as far as Wentworth, which would allow permanent navigation for 1,065 miles along the river with a minimum navigable depth of almost 6.5 feet.
Johnston had examined the various sites, sunk trial holes in the river to test suitable foundations, and made detailed drawings of the first lock. All that remained was to call for tenders. Johnston recommended appointing Robert C Cutting, a civil engineer with practical experience in lock building in America, as resident engineer for the first lock. Cutting arrived in 1914 and undertook the planning and start of the project, including the submission of large scale orders for heavy machinery and equipment from overseas and local sources. …
See State Records SA tweet here.