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
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.
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
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 Murray
What 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!
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
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 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.’
- 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