Food on the table at the lock camps: as recalled by Charlie Adams.

Charlie Adams on the day of the first interview, Mildura, Victoria. March 1 2010.

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

Bill Pearson (left) and Harold Pearson (right) duck hunting with their dog at Lock 4

1931 Christmas: Charlie’s Toby jug

“On the way, I got out at Blanchetown and spent Christmas with my cousins, the Brooks family. This little Toby Jug was my present off the Christmas tree in 1931. That’s all we’d get, one present. I arrived on Christmas Eve and the parents were given a present for each child and all that was left on the tree was a little Toby Jug.” (Page 153 Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935)
charlies toby jug 1931 Christmas 4

In 1931 they had the big flood and they urgently needed stone so I was able to go with my father on the PS Captain Sturt because it was school holidays. On the way down, they had a barge on each side and one in front as well as the big 90-foot derrick boat, with the big boom on it. We had to take it down to Lock 2 to stand the trestles in the navigable pass up again after the flood.
We couldn’t travel at night in case we ran up a billabong because the river was up. On the way, I got out at Blanchetown and spent Christmas with my cousins, the Brooks family. This little Toby Jug was my present off the Christmas tree in 1931. That’s all we’d get, one present. I arrived on Christmas Eve and the parents were given a present for each child and all that was left on the tree was a little Toby Jug.
The boat went down and got a load of stone and picked me up on the way back. Coming back we couldn’t travel at night because the river had dropped so much, we were frightened of running against a sandbar. And we just got through past Lock 6 nearly to the South Australian border when we ran aground. Then we were two days while the men had to go back in a rowboat to Lock 6 and help get the weir back into place to build the river up so we could get moving again. The trip could take about three to four weeks I suppose, long enough for the school holidays to pass. By the time we got back it was time to go back to school again.