Lock 3 undergoing maintenance

8 Million litres drained in one night! Click this link for great footage!

LOck 3 SA water pic 2

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Lock 3 is undergoing maintenance for the next several weeks, and the attached video makes interesting viewing of the draining procedure in preparation for this. It is fascinating to note that the foundations at Lock 3 were different from those at other locks built by South Australia.

The foundation at Lock 3 is better than at any other site in South Australia. It consists of a bluish clay underlying the river sand at a depth from six feet to 14 feet below low water level. On top for about one foot, this clay resembles a rock which has to be gadded-out, but underneath is much softer and is readily broken with a pick. It is a solid, regular and almost watertight material.[i]

But the preparation for the floor work was difficult nonetheless. Robert Barclay, a labourer, spoke of the ‘back-breaking’ work: ‘With the solid riverbed, footings had to be chiselled out from it instead of making a pile foundation. After removing the sand from the river floor, we had to dig about eight feet into the stone to secure a hold, so the force of the water would not push the lock and weir away. It was terrible hard digging, just like cement that had gone hard in a bag, got wet and set hard.[ii]

This riverbed had other interesting aspects. Assistant engineer George Mudie found a collection of fossils including a shark’s tooth of the genus charadon which lived millions of years ago, a palatal tooth of another extinct fish and a cluster of whale bones.[iii] Other workers found fossils too.

[i] The Mt Barker Courier, 5 September 1924, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148094740

[ii] Helen Stagg, Harnessing the River Murray, Stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935, p. 108.

[iii] Murray Pioneer, 22 February 1924, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article109332771

A 1932 Hungarian journal on Agriculture and the Murray River Valley works


Photo from gubanyi.hu website.

On a visit to the State Records of South Australia last week, I came across a few fascinating documents which alerted me to the visit of a Hungarian Engineer to Australia c 1931 to research the ‘latest irrigation achievements’ done in different foreign countries. It seems he wrote an article for publication in the Hungarian Journal Vizughyi Kozlemeney, published by the Hungarian Department of Agriculture.

In 1933, he forwarded a copy, with ‘sincerest gratitude and thanks’ to the River Murray Commission in Canberra, mentioning that his contribution was on pp. 439-535. The editor of the journal had expressed his sincerest thanks to the River Murray Commission for ‘supplying us with a very rich and valuable collection of data concerning the magnificent engineering works executed in the Murray River Valley.’

 The link to the paper is here, but a subscription is required to read it, (which I do not have.) The 1932 edition of VIZUGHI KOZLEMENEY 

Gubanyi had been visiting Australia, (and had lived in NSW earlier in the century) and at the end of this period of research had requested photographs of various stages of the works for inclusion with his article. The journal’s focus was on Hydraulic Engineering and was partly to allow a means of exchange of engineering/technical information between countries.

It is fascinating to know that not only did Australia bring in overseas experts to assist in the planning and surveying of the locks, (Captain Johnston from America, for example), but that others around the world were actively interested in the program as it took shape here in the Murray Darling Basin.

Charles Gubanyi was an interesting fellow, described as an ‘engineer and world traveller’. Born in 1867, he studied at the Budapest Polytechnic and earned his Engineering Degree in 1890. After a few years in railroad construction, he was involved  in the Manchurian railroad construction, especially of its tunnels. Next he accepted a job at the construction of the port of Vladivostok. In 1906, he moved to Australia and lived on an agricultural property at Uranquinty, a small town about 15 km from Wagga Wagga  and in 1913, he sold up and returned to Hungary. A Trove article describes the fond farewells given by local people on his departure. On returning to Hungary, he started an experimental farm in Pilis and published several travel-related accounts and economic policy papers.  (Obviously he returned to Australia around 1931 for this article on locking the river.)(Source: http://library.obu.edu/HungarianWorldEncyclopedia.pdf)

Employment for returned World War One soldiers

GRS1023 0001 no 1F returned soldiers work (3)fb 1918 10 25

1918 10 25 Letter from Minister of Repatriation

During my years of research, I had found evidence of many ex-servicemen employed on lock construction. With the centenary of the completion of hostilities on the Western Front in WW1 upon us, it was timely then yesterday, when I came across official documents at State Records of SA ascertaining how returned men may be employed on the works. This letter to Mr Eaton, South Australian representative on Murray River Commission, states the need to provide employment for the returned soldiers.

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Letter to J H O Eaton, SA rep on RMC

GRS1023 0001 no 1F returned soldiers work (2)fb 1918 10 31

Letter from President of Dept of Works and railways

103 years! A fine day to remember…

Today marks 103 years since the foundation stone was laid at Blanchetown, South Australia, marking the official beginning of the Locking system on the Murray River. Marking the centenary, the book encapsulating the stories of the ‘unknown’ men and women involved over two decades in SA’s share of construction of the locks and weirs, was also launched, Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935. You can contact me via this page to order your copy. You can watch the short speech made at the centenary and book launch by the author Helen Stagg on this link. Click here.

On June 5 1915 at the historic stone-laying ceremony, the Commissioner of Public Works, Harry Jackson, said: ‘the occasion is the most memorable in the history of SA.’

Premier Crawford Vaughan said: ‘The Murray is SA’s greatest asset and we now rejoice in the hope it is to be fully developed… to usher in a new era of activity and enterprise.’

Attorney Genfoundation stoneeral Billy Hughes said on seeing the river for the first time that day, they were  ‘at the beginning of a new chapter of Australian History, a chapter that was to introduce quite a new era.’


Russell John Dumas: South Australian Engineering Heritage

I am excited to be presenting a paper at the upcoming half day Engineering Heritage Conference on May 25 in Adelaide. Hosted by the South Australian Chapter of Engineering Heritage Australia, expert speakers will present papers and reports covering a wide range of topics dealing with the history and preservation of the SA’s engineering heritage. A well-established event, it attracts a broad cross-section of the community including architects, consultants, heritage professionals, historians and engineers. Bookings essential. Click here for more information or to register!

You can view the program on the link above.
pic 1 Dumas PSR oct 1914 p 184 5My paper is on Russell John Dumas and his contribution to the Murray River Waters Scheme. Russell John Dumas, 1887 – 1975, was a ‘home-grown’ SA engineer of exceptional talent and promise. In a 1924 presentation on Murray River lock construction, he claimed that Lock 3 near Overland Corner in South Australia, where he was Resident Engineer, was the first of the larger locks, (with lock chamber, navigable pass-way and sluiceway), to be constructed by an Australian engineer. American engineer, Robert Cutting had been Constructing Engineer at Blanchetown’s Lock 1 at the start of the ambitious River Murray Waters Scheme.
This paper gives archival insight into Dumas’ work on the scheme and shares his personal account of lock-construction. As Resident Engineer at Lock 3, Dumas managed not only the lock and weir construction, but the needs of the small temporary township including provision of amenities such as a school and other facilities.
This paper also touches on accidents and aspects of the life and work of the men and their families, the people involved in the construction of these National Engineering Landmarks, the engineering works on the River Murray.

International Women’s Day: remembering the lock women!

During the research for the book Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935, I interviewed people who spent their childhood in the lock camps. Today on International Women’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to these strong, hard-working and determined women who raised their families and supported their husbands under very difficult circumstances.

Max Pearson ‘painted’ this particularity apt word-picture of his mother’s domestic work and I believe it represents the other women at the camps:

Ida Pearson

“The houses only had open fires and Mum was an excellent cook for bread and rolls. I am not saying it because she was my mum, but I used to hear people saying behind her back, that they didn’t know how she does it. She’d probably make bread three days a week. At Lock 7, my mother used to sell bread for sixpence a loaf, beautiful bread. The day she was going to make bread, she’d also make rolls, and she’d make buns, and she’d have to get all the dough ready the night before. She’d put us to bed and she’d get this dish, put the dough into it and she would put the dish between her legs and she would punch the dough. For sweets, she’d lay pastry out and put raisins on it and put another sheet of pastry over that and before it was cooked she’d cut it into squares, and we’d have that for sweets. If the cow was in milk, we’d have cow’s milk on it. If the cows were dry and the goats were milking we’d have the cream on it … it was beautiful. Sometimes we had a cow and sometimes we had a couple of goats. We helped milk the cow and goat during the week. My mother would scald the milk and get the cream off it and keep it in the cool-safe for a day or two.”

Thelma McGair, nee Eddy described her mother’s work similarly:

Eva Eddy

“My mother was busy in the house and always looked after Dad because he worked hard. She would get up and get Dad’s breakfast. She had to feed the hot stove all day and she made her own bread, hot cross buns, etc. Life was tough for the women with their wood stoves. The evening meal was a hot meal and we always had sweets such as rice pudding and boiled puddings with jams. It would have taken all day though to prepare meals like that. We were never hungry as Mum could make something out of anything. If someone killed a goat they shared it, and if anybody caught a lot of fish, they shared them too. We ate rabbits all the time.”

Florence Rains

But more severe hardships were endured especially during the great Depression as Evelyn Smith recalled: “It was during the Great Depression: work was scarce and my father was on rationed hours of work with a wife and six children to clothe and feed. Things were so bad at Lock 7 that Mum decided to raffle her sewing machine for threepence a ticket. I of course had to go around selling tickets. How I hated that. I felt it was degrading to have to ask people for money.”

Soldier Settlement: the Premier takes a river trip

In early January 1919, the SA Premier undertook an 8 day trip along the Murray to inspect the state’s capacity for “soldier settlement.” Accompanied by the Commissioner of Public Works and Irrigation, he travelled on the PS Industry, then working on lock- building largely to do with snagging etc. Read full article at the following link:

The Value of Murray Lands: the Premier’s Opinion

The article gives a great first-hand mention of the first lock then underway at Blanchetown and the problems of acquiring suitable stone from nearby locations.

1919 01 18 Randell Lock