Mildura launch of ‘Harnessing the River Murray’ at Mildura and District Historical Society and Genealogical Rooms


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

The Mildura Book Launch will be at Mildura and District Genealogical Society Rooms, 74 Deakin Avenue  next door to Mildura Civic Centre on Monday July 6 at 2 pm. All are welcome.

Helen is also guest the same evening at 8 pm immediately after the Mildura Genealogy Society July meeting to speak about the Mildura families in her book.

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The venue for Helen’s book launch and slide show.

Helen is the grand-daughter of one of the hundreds of men who worked on the mammoth engineering schemCarnegie Centree to control the waters of the Murray River with a series of locks and weirs. As a child Helen was told stories by her mother of her own childhood at the lock construction sites and Helen’s mission has been to further explore the stories of the workmen and their families. Over the past five years, Helen has undertaken extensive archival research and captured the oral history of some of the few remaining ‘lock children’ for her book ‘Harnessing the River Murray: Stories of the people who built Locks 1 to 9, 1915 – 1935′ which was released in June 2015. The book, with a foreword by Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has 258 pages and over 150 photographs and focuses on the first nine locks and weirs which were built by South Australia. It tells the story from the viewpoint of the ordinary people, the workers and the women and children who lived with them in the camps which popped up along the river at each construction site. 2015 marks exactly 100 years since the Foundation Stone was laid for the first Lock at Blanchetown in South Australia.



Continued from last week: Part two: After travelling along the Sturt Highway about 80 km, I kept an an eye out for the turnoff which was basically only a track known as Wallawalla Track. However, for the 2nd time, we missed the turnoff, inconspicuous as it is. I knew when we saw the telephone tower that we had gone too far so after a U-turn, and driving more slowly, we saw the dirt road leading off in the direction of the River. It is not at all obvious that the river is ahead because the track goes for about ten km over a flat, treeless, saltbush plain.On turning, we had entered the Murray Sunset National Park.

We travelled along this track for a distance of 12.5 km, and turned left onto the Old Mail Coach Road, another unsealed road. This was once the main mail route between Blanchetown and Wentworth from the late 1860’s to the early 1900’s, continuing during the lock construction period. The Old Coach road had also been the stock route that was once used by the ‘Overlanders’ who brought the very first stock to Adelaide overland from New South Wales. We travelled on this road for 2.7 km before turning right towards Lindsay Island.

"No go zone"

“No go zone”

Imagine our dismay when we came to the bridge (pictured) and were confronted with closure. Apparently, (according to a small sign nearby), the National Parks Authority were undertaking maintenance on Lindsay Island and public access was therefore denied. We spotted a small group of kangaroos peacefully observing us from the shade of a huge river redgum across the river.

Kangaroos grazing contentedly on the banks of the LIndsay.

Kangaroos grazing contentedly on the banks of the Lindsay.

Disappointed but not prepared to be totally thwarted, we headed back along the Coach Road until we found a little inlet to the Lindsay River where we stopped to have a picnic lunch. Here at least I could listen to some of the bush sounds and put myself into the period of time when the lock families would have picnics on the banks of the Lindsay or the banks of the Murray. We pulled up at a beautiful spot which turned out to be a boat ramp but very close to some massive redgums which no doubt were only ‘whippersnappers’ during the lock construction period. I could imagine the Eddy family or the Rains family or the Adams family or a collection of these families, travelling, perhaps by boat, out to the spot and having a relaxing picnic just as we were. The shade was cool and the setting was picturesque. Sulphur-crested cockatoos swooped in and out of the nearby redgums, parrots squawked in the other  redgums, a solitary duck floated by on the river and in the distance a couple of pelicans were doing a spot of fishing. A location like this, removed a little from the lock camp and the busy sounds of construction, could have made a very pleasurable outing for the lock families and no doubt allowed them to return with perhaps a catch of fish or ducks for family meals.

A relaxing picnic by the Lindsay.

A relaxing picnic by the Lindsay.

After lunch we set off for a short stroll along the banks of the Lindsay River towards brilliantly coloured red sand ‘cliff’. I imagined the ‘lockites’, (as the lock construction communities liked to call themselves, strolling like this for some exercise or else scouting out where there was a hive to collect honey etc.

To be continued…