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

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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!

Christmas 1924 at Lock 9 camp

lock 7 Christmas tree from dawn glenn collection

This tree at Lock 7 depicts a similar one to what the community would have put up at Lock 9 years earlier.

On December 13, a heatwave of above 100 degrees F came to an end when about an inch of rain fell, a steady soaking rain.
On Monday December 8, the Georgian vaudeville company visited the camp and a reasonable attendance enjoyed the entertainment. On Wednesday December 10, a concert organised by Tom Irvine was given before a crowded house, the proceeds being in aid of the children’s Christmas tree and sports. A varied and entertaining program consisted of an overture by Connie Reed, songs by Mrs Florence Reed and Mrs Mary Grosse, duets by the Gorman and Reed girls, quartets by Misses Gorman and Messrs Gorman and Bowell, songs by the schoolchildren and comic items by Bertie Pearson and Bertie Bowell, violin and mandolin numbers by Albert Charlton and songs by Arthur Gorman. A dance followed.

On Christmas Eve, a wonderful Christmas tree was arranged for the children. The tree was erected on the lawns adjacent to the men’s quarters and it was decorated with toys, balloons and Christmas stockings. The many little electric bulbs illuminated the tree amid the surrounding darkness. Father Christmas, (Oliver Edwards) arrived by car and the children excitedly greeted him as he proceeded to distribute the toys. 122 children received a toy and stocking each. A plentiful supply of fruit, lollies, and cool drinks was provided. Mr. and Mrs. Albert Charlton provided music with piano and violin and there was plenty of dancing and games.

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.

Harnessing the River Murray: stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915-1935 by Helen Stagg

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You can preview the book on this link:

The book, with a foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has 258 pages and over 150 photographs.

The book, with a foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has 258 pages and over 150 photographs.

SAMPLE-Harnessing_the_Murray

 

Books can be ordered on-line or by phone from Digital Print, Adelaide. You can arrange to collect the book from their city address if you prefer. (You would need to telephone to arrange this: Freecall – 1800 970 971

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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.

Evelyn Rains: My Inspiration

I owe my fascinEvelyn Rains aged about 7ation in Lock history to the stories my mother Evelyn told me when I was growing up about her childhood on the various locks where her father worked during construction. When the family were living at Lock 5, Evelyn and her brothers and sister wrote letters to the Children’s Column in the Renmark paper.One of them is attached for you to read, (1926 08 31) Today would be her 96th birthday and I honour her memory and the passion she instilled in me about our shared heritage.

1926 08 31 Murray Pioneer Evelyn