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

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.’

Rest in peace Maxwell George Pearson

Max Pearson, who has inspired much of my work on researching lock and weir construction history, passed away a week ago; a man with a kind and generous heart and a passion for the River Murray, with always a story of life in the lock camps to share. He will be greatly missed.

Max Pearson sharing a story from lock-building days.

Max Pearson sharing a story from lock-building days.

My association with Max began in 1998, when I telephoned him in response to an advertisement placed by a committee he had formed to arrange a reunion of lock-builders’ families. (I had intended to take my mother whose father was also a lock-builder.) My initial phone call to Max alerted me to his passion to tell the stories of the transient lock-building communities. Reflecting on this conversation ten years later, Max seemed a very suitable subject for my Oral History Unit interview, which was part of my Masters in History program in 2009.

After the initial interview and project, I was inspired to pursue my research on the subject of lock and weir construction, and Max put me in touch with others who would have memories to share.

The friendship with Max developed over the years as I undertook the writing of a book, Harnessing the River Murray, the stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935, due for release on 5 June 2015, the centenary of the foundation stone for Lock 1 at Blanchetown.

I enjoyed many conversations and phone calls with Max.When my archival research threw up a question, I would ring Max and get an eye-witness answer if I could.

On several occasions, I met Max at Lock 7 site, where the little township once stood during lock construction, and he would point out the locations of the various parts of the camp, the school, the oval, the houses etc.

Max Pearson loved the Murray River and its history. He treasured its presence in his life, and I treasure the memories I hold of Max and our shared love of Lock and weir construction history. Thank you Max! RIP.

Can you help with a song?

OK I need your help. Put on your thinking hats! I have this photo from Lock 7 school taken about 1932. The girls are dressed as fisher-women and holding cut-out cardboard fish. (herrings) Somebody who was there could remember words to this effect: “where are you going to my pretty lass, we’re going to sea, sea. After the …. Into the sea of jewels.” I would like to find out the name of the song so I can look it up and possibly find the words and tune. (Maybe you can even identify some of the girls: the girl second from right at back is my mother Evelyn Rains.)

Lock 7 school girls as fisherwomen c 1932

Lock 7 school girls as fisherwomen c 1932