A 1932 Hungarian journal on Agriculture and the Murray River Valley works


Photo from gubanyi.hu website.

On a visit to the State Records of South Australia last week, I came across a few fascinating documents which alerted me to the visit of a Hungarian Engineer to Australia c 1931 to research the ‘latest irrigation achievements’ done in different foreign countries. It seems he wrote an article for publication in the Hungarian Journal Vizughyi Kozlemeney, published by the Hungarian Department of Agriculture.

In 1933, he forwarded a copy, with ‘sincerest gratitude and thanks’ to the River Murray Commission in Canberra, mentioning that his contribution was on pp. 439-535. The editor of the journal had expressed his sincerest thanks to the River Murray Commission for ‘supplying us with a very rich and valuable collection of data concerning the magnificent engineering works executed in the Murray River Valley.’

 The link to the paper is here, but a subscription is required to read it, (which I do not have.) The 1932 edition of VIZUGHI KOZLEMENEY 

Gubanyi had been visiting Australia, (and had lived in NSW earlier in the century) and at the end of this period of research had requested photographs of various stages of the works for inclusion with his article. The journal’s focus was on Hydraulic Engineering and was partly to allow a means of exchange of engineering/technical information between countries.

It is fascinating to know that not only did Australia bring in overseas experts to assist in the planning and surveying of the locks, (Captain Johnston from America, for example), but that others around the world were actively interested in the program as it took shape here in the Murray Darling Basin.

Charles Gubanyi was an interesting fellow, described as an ‘engineer and world traveller’. Born in 1867, he studied at the Budapest Polytechnic and earned his Engineering Degree in 1890. After a few years in railroad construction, he was involved  in the Manchurian railroad construction, especially of its tunnels. Next he accepted a job at the construction of the port of Vladivostok. In 1906, he moved to Australia and lived on an agricultural property at Uranquinty, a small town about 15 km from Wagga Wagga  and in 1913, he sold up and returned to Hungary. A Trove article describes the fond farewells given by local people on his departure. On returning to Hungary, he started an experimental farm in Pilis and published several travel-related accounts and economic policy papers.  (Obviously he returned to Australia around 1931 for this article on locking the river.)(Source: http://library.obu.edu/HungarianWorldEncyclopedia.pdf)

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

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

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.

Come to the Fair: Lock 6 School, 1929

On September 6, 1929 1100 children from many regional schools converged in Renmark for River Region Education Week. Each school was allocated colours and Lock 6 children looked resplendent in their pink and silver grey as they participated in a day of sporting activity followed by an evening concert. Some of the scholars who acquitted themselves very well from Lock 6 included Gladys Fitzpatrick, Dorothy McKinnon, Stan Underwood, Gwen Westley and Roy McCully,
At the Renmark area concert that evening the children of the Lock Six School sang ‘Come to the Fair’ which was reportedly the most outstanding item of the evening with their preparation noted as exemplary. They received vigorous applause and shouts of “encore, encore!” filled the hall.

This is the marvellous song they sang, rendered here by the The National Children’s Choir Ireland in a 2003 Concert.

Teacher T A Joraslafsky

Teacher T A Joraslafsky

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