Fred Sims: lockworker with a hidden talent

Frederick Arthur “Fred” Sims was employed on construction work at Lock 7 on the River Murray and later at the Goolwa Barrages. During his time at lock 7 he sometimes worked as the diver wearing the cumbersome outfits required at the time.

Berri Information Centre, lock history display, September 2018

I don’t know much about Fred before his time on the locks. However he was born on Dec 12 1901 at Dulwich in South Australia and married Roma Grace Burke on 5 July 1924 in Norwood. Fred sounds like he was quite a character, with a flair for writing. Recently, his grandson sent me what are believed to be poems written by Fred during his time at Lock 7.

These poems provide a unique insight into the past, especially when I have been able to connect up some of his subject material with real events that have been documented or which tie in with oral history I undertook for my book, Harnessing the River Murray: Stories of the People who Built lock 1-9, 1915-1935.

In 1935, when works at Locks 7 and 8 had been completed the massive task of dismantling all the equipment, workshops and cabins/houses was undertaken for it all to be transported by barge to Goolwa to commence barrage construction.

It was on one of these trips that misfortune struck the barge Aurora at Lock 5. Early in January 1935, the barge being towed by the SS Industry, hit one of the pillars of the open lock 5. See story here:

Fred Sims was an eye witness to this event and penned this amazing poem, which I have permission to share here. I think he would never have imagined when he put pen to paper that his musings would be ‘published’ on such a platform as this! Many thanks to Rodney Sims for sharing the poem (found in the possession of Darrell Sims.)

The Arora (sic) page 1
The Arora (sic) page 2
The Arora (sic) page 3
The Arora (sic) page 4
Arthur Eddy, S Allen and Stan Underwood with diver Fred Sims c 1932 Lock 7

A stroke of luck and an incredible discovery

While researching for my book, Harnessing the River Murray, Stories of the People Who Built Locks 1 to 9, 1915 to 1935, it was a stroke of good fortune that I discovered a kind of literary ‘time capsule’ containing letters from five children from one family at Lock 5. It was in “The Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record,” that I uncovered a series of letters written by the children of Arthur and Florence Rains while Arthur was employed at Lock 5, Paringa. To ‘hear the voices’ of these children over ninety years later is incredible! The five children wrote seventy-one letters between them to the weekly Young Folks Column conducted by “the Mopoke” and spoke of their time at Lock 5 camp between 1924 and 1927. This allowed me an almost tangible connection with the family as well as to the community in which they lived.
The historical records of engineering works primarily consist of the official records of the construction authorities; the insider’s view through the children’s eyes is a very rare opportunity to see the details of life at the lock camp.
If you would like to hear more about these letters and indeed of

Details of Fleurieu Peninsula Family History Group Seminar Day

the social history of the lock building communities, you may like to attend an upcoming seminar day to be held at Christies Beach, Saturday August 17. Details in the image. Bookings essential.

My book will be available for sale on the day.

One year since the centenary celebrations

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 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

The Marion steams into Lock 1, June 5, 2015

Modern book publishing

What a great innovation Print On Demand is for modern-day writers. With digital printing, customers can order 1 or 100 copies of many self-published books. Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935 by Helen Stagg is one such example. Click here to order your copy now! Print on Demand: Harnessing the River MurrayWP_20150819_005

Happy New Year!

CaptureWhat a fabulous year 2015 has been, celebrating the centenary of lock building on the Mighty Murray. So grateful that my years of research and writing finally came to completion with the publication of the history which pays tribute to the men and women whose lives and work led to the accomplishment of this great engineering feat.
Thanks to all who have supported my work in any way and to those who have purchased a copy of the book. My life has been greatly blessed by meeting so many wonderful people. Happy New Year everyone!

Great summer holiday reading.


Author and historian Helen Stagg signing a copy of her newly released social history of the Lock construction workers at one of the Book Launches in 2015.

Retail outlets: Harnessing the River Murray, Stories of the people who built Locks 1-9. 1915 to 1935, by Helen Stagg. (RRP $44.95)

Adelaide: Digital Print, Print on Demand, 135 Gilles St Adelaide, 08 82323404 Order here!

Mildura: Book City, 58 Langtree Avenue Mildura Mildura Visitor Information Centre.

Echuca: Murray River Paddlesteamers, 57 Murray Esplanade, Port of Echuca
Mannum: Mannum Dock Museum and Information Centre, 6 Randell Street.

Renmark: T H Books 173 Murray Street Renmark & Olivewood Museum

Swan Reach: Swan Reach Museum, 22 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach, SA. Phone 08 85702019

Wentworth: Clarkes Newsagency, 55 Darling Street, Wentworth

Harnessing the River Murray

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat…

Have you done your shopping? Do you know a history-buff, Murray River enthusiast or book-lover?

Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935 could be ‘just the thing’ for some on your Christmas ‘gift list’!

You can read a sample of the text here: SAMPLE-Harnessing_the_Murray

Order DIRECT from Digital Print Australia

lock 7 Christmas tree from dawn glenn collection

Lock 7 Christmas tree c 1932 showing a large number of Christmas stockings at the base, one for each child.

On page 48 of Harnessing the River Murray, the Christmas celebrations at Lock 9 are described: ‘On Christmas Eve, the eagerly anticipated Christmas tree was erected on the lawns next to the men’s quarters and decorated with toys, balloons and Christmas stockings. Little electric bulbs illuminated the tree which sparkled amid the surrounding darkness as more than 120 children excitedly greeted Father Christmas, (Oliver Edwards), who arrived in a car to distribute a toy and stocking to each one. There was plenty of fruit, lollies, and cool drinks for the children and the adults enjoyed the music and dancing.’

SA’s Best Kept Secret: Swan Reach Museum, South Australia.

Swan Reach Museum 22 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach SA
Swan Reach Museum 22 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach SA

Housed in the old Swan Reach school building built in 1917 using stone cut from the cliffs along the River Murray, the museum is a must see. It has a comprehensive historical display complemented by a well-stocked shop with books including the recently published ‘Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1-9, 1915 to 1935.’

The museum’s significant collection includes Aboriginal artefacts, agricultural and domestic equipment from a farm in the Galga area and other fascinating memorabilia from bygone eras.

Take the path outside and more intrigues from the past await. Of special importance is a purpose-built shed dedicated to telling the history of Lock 1 and the ferries in the district. Included in the display are two vintage engines once used on the ferries, old machinery, tools and wooden patterns used to cast the steel ferry wheels, as well as a large photographic collection of the ferries in the district and the construction of Lock 1.
Next is a small blacksmith shop made from old native pine and flattened tar drums which houses a collection of blacksmith tools and one wall is dedicated to a collection of rabbit and dingo traps.

You will also find an old telephone exchange building, containing one of the State’s last manual telephone switchboards, and a sound proof box used to send and receive telegrams via Morse code. From here the path, lined with rose bushes, passes old farming implements from the district leading back to the museum’s entrance.

Take time to browse in the store there and support the small band of volunteers who work hard to keep our history alive.
Location 22 Nildottie Road Swan Reach, South Australia 5354
Wednesday 2 pm – 4.30 pm. Saturday 10 am – 12 noon or by appointment
Phone 0885702019 or 0885702223 for more information or if you would like to purchase a copy of ‘Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1-9, 1915 to 1935.’ Your purchase will support the work of the museum.

Swan Reach Museum, 22 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach, SA. 0885702019

Swan Reach Museum, 22 Nildottie Road, Swan Reach, SA. 0885702019

Sunraysia River Watch: Helen Stagg guest speaker

Sunraysia River Watch AGM

SUNRAYSIA River Watch will be hold its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, September 9, from 10am at the Mildura Rowing Club, with all comers welcome.

The meeting will cover River Watch activities for the 2014/15 year, with Helen Stagg –

Helen signing a book for Brian Grogan OAM

Helen signing a book for Brian Grogan OAM

author of ‘Harnessing the River Murray: Stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935’ – to act as guest speaker.

Sunraysia River Watch was created in 1992, and is a community ‘self-help’ program designed to protect the Murray River and its environment from pollution and degradation.

The group encourages locals and visitors alike to treat the river ‘like a friend,’ while also aiming to significantly improve the water quality of the river, reduce pollution and littering in the river and along the riverbank, reduce vandalism to the surrounding environment, improve the aesthetics of the river and its environment, improve boating operations and boat user responsibility and increase native fish population.

RSVPs for the AGM are essential for catering purposes, with more information available by contacting Margot Fowler on 0407 394 101

Harnessing the River Murray: reader feedback.

It has been very satisfying to receive letters from those who have read my book. Here are some of the comments:

“Well researched, presented, captivating and enlightening. I trust yourWP_20150819_005 book will become part of Australia’s historical archive.” DH
“Just want to say what an excellent work you have produced. It is most interesting to read and is so well produced. Thanks for all your hard work. It is another valuable resource document for many to enjoy.” DT
“Thank you for writing such an interesting book. I had no knowledge of the lock building other than Lock 1. I always imagined that they were built in numerical order.” RH
“It’s fascinating – a wonderful record and great read. So glad you wrote it!” PK
“Just thought that I’d let you know how much I had enjoyed your book. I especially like the illustration on p. 33 of the houseboat….So much more of interest in the book.” DW
“I really enjoyed the book. It gives a great insight into the project and its ups and downs. It would have been tough times especially during the Depression.” JN
“Many thanks for the book!! I already have a line wanting to check it out!” NM, Librarian
“I have now read it and understand a lot more of the place and times.” VM
“It was a great read – I couldn’t put it down until I had finished. Thanks a lot Helen; the Lock 5 history was essential reading for my family research to find its mark. Even though it was a sad outcome, I still think it best to know the truth of the situation. Thank you again for your insightful book.” SV