Up the Mighty Murray! – Episode 6: The Riches of the Riverland

 

 

Episode 6     The Riches of the Riverland

 

To Loxton in the Riverland Football League

 

      Map of the Murray River

 

To Loxton

 

In this episode, our river adventure continues from Waikerie to Loxton, Renmark and the state border as we follow another round of football in the Riverland League. After the Murray enters South Australia the river seems to be in no hurry to reach its coastal destination, as it meanders through the Riverland south west towards Loxton before curving away to the north west in the direction of Morgan. This stretch of the Murray is renowned for its hairpin bends, narrow channels and dangerous sandbars. Even after weirs were completed in the late 1920s, low water in times of drought exposed sand patches and mudbanks, making paddle steamer passage difficult.

 

A close look at the map (To Loxton) above reveals a kink in the border between South Australia and the eastern states of NSW and Victoria. Due to an historic surveying error, a thin wedge of South Australia actually lies north of Victoria. The border should have been continuous, set on the 141 E meridian, but in 1849 the border between South Australia and Victoria (then a part of NSW) was incorrectly surveyed 2 miles and 19 chains (3.6km) to the west of the intended position. As a consequence, and by agreement, the border between SA and Victoria, for that short distance, runs midstream along the Murray River. Elsewhere, the NSW/Victorian border is defined as the top bank on the Victorian side of the Murray, but that seemingly definite delineation is potentially contentious given changes to the river’s course over time and modification of some of the river banks.

 

To demonstrate the point, the Google Earth image below shows how the true location of the NSW/Victorian state border could potentially shift as the river course changes over time. A cut-off meander near Colignan, Victoria has altered the course of the Murray creating an anabranch, yet the border remains delineated by the old path of the river, begging the question: shouldn’t that island of land now belong to NSW? Of course, that flexibility in the delineation of a state border would be untenable in practice.

 

An anabranch of the Murray River near Colignan, Victoria
(source: Google Earth)

 

The long section of the Murray, from Overland Corner to the Wakool Junction in NSW is known as the Mallee Trench. Here the river follows a single well defined channel through broad plains of marine origin, in some places up to 8 km in width. The diversity of river features in this section include anabranches, backwaters and oxbow lakes. The Google Earth image above shows a classic oxbow lake (bottom right), often also called a horseshoe lagoon.

 

 The River Murray at Loxton

 

Loxton is known as the ‘Garden Town of the Riverland’, a compliment to its beautifully maintained parks and residential gardens, which lead the way in sustainable water use. The town is named after a boundary rider from Bookpurnong Station who lived beside the River Murray in a hut, Loxton’s Hut, as the settlement was initially called. Loxton is surrounded by horticultural farms producing citrus and stone fruits, wine grapes and almonds. Beyond the irrigated land near the river, to the south, lies the grain cropping and dryland farming country of the northern Murray Mallee region. The Loxton Historical Village exhibits farm machinery and household items used by the early European settlers who battled the harsh environment of the mallee to eke out their existence. Looking at the image below, with a little imagination, we have a window into the habitations of the Loxton pioneers. Later on our river journey, we will visit another historical village, the Pioneer Settlement at Swan Hill, now home to the PS Gem.

 

Loxton Historical Village

 

Beyond Loxton we make a run north east to Berri and then on to Renmark, the “Queen City of the River Murray”. Sections of the river country between Loxton and Renmark are protected within the multiple sites of the visually spectacular and environmentally important Murray River National Park. The 15000 ha park conserves a vast network of wetlands and floodplains, vital habitat for waterfowl. It provides opportunities for water-based recreation, birdwatching, camping and fishing.

 

Renmark is associated with the irrigation pioneers and land development entrepreneurs, the Canadian-born Chaffey Brothers, who were attracted to Mildura initially and soon after to the South Australian Riverland. Based on their experience in Californian irrigation schemes, they established irrigation settlements at Mildura and Renmark and also laid out the two towns. The Chaffey Brothers attracted settlers from Britain and other parts of Australia to take up small holdings in the irrigation areas. After several years of prosperity their business, which depended on revenue from land sales, collapsed under the weight of the 1893 Bank Crash with its consequent heavy toll on land values. Other problems beset the irrigation holdings, including inexperienced farmers, inappropriate agricultural methods, transport difficulties, fruit diseases and climatic extremes.The Chaffey Brothers’ company went into liquidation in 1895 with the rights to the Renmark scheme taken over by the SA Government and the Mildura enterprise taken over by the Victorian Government’s Mildura Irrigation Trust. We will learn more of the entrepreneurial irrigation pioneers, the Chaffey Bros., in episode 9 while at Mildura.

 

The horticultural industry of the Riverland is showcased by the ‘Big Orange’ tourist attraction situated beside the Old Sturt Highway and the River Murray between Berri and Monash. Its days as an orange may be numbered, with one suggestion to reinvent the structure as the big golf ball!

 

Before leaving South Australia it is worth pausing to gain an historical insight into the political, economic and environmental dimensions of water management in the Murray-Darling Basin. To set the scene, the meeting place of the SA, Victorian and NSW borders is known as McCabe Corner. Immediately to the west is the Chowilla station and the Chowilla Game Reserve. In 1960 the South Australian government planned a huge water storage dam at Chowilla, and received approval for the project from the River Murray Commission in 1961. The reservoir was planned to be 89km long and 32km wide, covering a surface area of 1 400 sq. km. and with a capacity to hold 6 420 GL of water. Chowilla Dam would have flooded river plains in South Australia, Victoria and NSW. The costly project was designed to provide reliable water supply and flood mitigation benefits for South Australia. 

 

The dam was a poor option due to high rates of evaporation in the semi-arid location, with the attendant environmental consequence of raised salinity levels in the Riverland and lower Murray. In the end, a knife-edge government was overturned in South Australia on the issue of the dam. Millions were spent on preparatory works, including a never-to-be-used railway line, a proposed lock was eliminated from the plan to save cost, and environmental politics emerged as a powerful force in Australia.

 

Common sense eventually prevailed, Chowilla was shelved and an alternative dam got the nod. The alternative to Chowilla, Dartmouth Dam on the Mitta Mitta River upstream of the Hume Dam, was built in the 1970s. In the next episode we will look at Lake Victoria, just east of the border, and learn of its contribution to South Australia’s water supply.

 

Another day in the Riverland Football League

 

 

 

Match of the round

Loxton v Berri

Saturday 20th May 2023

At Loxton Oval

 

                         

Tigers                v                Demons

 

The Loxton Football club was formed in 1908. Unofficial matches of football were played in the Loxton area between the mid 1890s and 1913 when the Loxton Football Association was established. Young men, attracted to the Riverland for work on irrigation pipelines, railways and scrub clearing, were part of a booming football trend in the 1920s and 30s. When the Upper Murray Association was formed after the Second World War, Loxton (known as the Tigers) were about to embark on a remarkably successful era, winning 15 of the next 20 ‘A’ grade premierships (1946-65).

 

Two famous sons of Loxton are Grantley Fielke (Collingwood, Adelaide) and Russell Ebert (Port Adelaide). Fielke was a champion wingman for West Adelaide and won the 1985 Magarey Medal. Ebert, the winner of four Magarey Medals (1971, 1974, 1976, 1980) is regarded as one of the greatest all time SANFL players. He  played his junior football for the Loxton Tigers and was recruited by Port Adelaide from Waikerie in 1968.

 

The Berri Football Club was established in 1909 as a member of the Murray Football Association, the forerunner to the Upper Murray Football Association. Berri (known as the Demons) have been one of the most successful clubs in the Riverland Football League and its precursors, winning 25 premierships. A current AFL player from the Riverland town of Berri is Geelong ruckman and 2022 premiership player Rhys Stanley.

 

The football riches of the Riverland

Consider the following football names: Bruce Lindner, Grantley Fielke, Mark Mickan, Tony Modra, Mark Ricciuto, Kaiden Brand, Russell Ebert and Byron Schammer. Alongside Rhys Stanley and Aaron Francis, they would all get ‘a game or two’ in the AFL today, and they all hail from the Riverland.

 

The last time they met: Round 13 2022 – Loxton 10.13 (73) defeated Berri 9.3 (57).

 

Last placed Berri, without a win in 2023 and coming off a 127 point drubbing, face an uphill battle to overcome Loxton who are primed after a solid win over Barmera-Monash in round 4.

 

The match

Weather: 18C Fine and sunny

 

A team lifting goal to Berri’s Adam Langford at Loxton in round 5
(source: Berri FC on Facebook)

 

After a competitive start to the match, the Demons failed to score in the second quarter, allowing the Tigers to open up a five goal lead at half time. In the second half it was a more even contest but the home side had the answers and pulled away to a comfortable victory in the end.

 

Scores

 

Loxton 4.3 8.5 9.8 12.12 (84)

 

Berri 3.2 3.2 6.4 7.5 (47)

 

Goalkickers

Loxton: Knapp 4, Bates 2, Harder 2, Evans, Eagle, Campbell, Romero

Berri: Moroney 2, Hawkins, Hunyadi, Langford, McRae, Milburn

 

Best

Loxton: Fisher, Lange, Knapp, Evans, Bradley, Kassulke

Berri: Thompson, Marr, Frankel, Correll, Hawkins, Harkins

 

Around the RFL grounds

 

Renmark 11.14 (80) defeated Loxton North 7.3 (45) at Renmark

 

Waikerie 7.11 (53) defeated Barmera-Monash 4.4 (28) at Barmera

 

Meanwhile …

 

In the Murray Valley League the winners were Blanchetown-Swan Reach, Wunkar and Sedan Cambrai. 

 

In the River Murray League the winners were Jervois, Southern Mallee, Imperial and Rambler.

 

And back where we began, in the Great Southern League, the winners were Langhorne Creek, Myponga-Sellicks, Strathalbyn, McLaren Districts and Willunga.

 

A step back in time …

 

Before television arrived in Australia, with its adverse impact on crowd numbers at city and country games, there was another dampener on attendances. The Renmark-based Murray Pioneer newspaper made the following observation in 1946:

 

“Eight hundred people attended at the Berri Oval last Saturday, to witness the long-awaited return match between Berri and Loxton. This was the biggest crowd to attend a football match in the Upper Murray districts for many a day. It is believed to be the largest attendance at a minor round game since before the betting shop era had such an adverse effect on attendances at sport. Loxton again won a high scoring match.” (Murray Pioneer, 18 July 1946)

 

The new age ‘betting shop era’, the proliferation of online sports gambling driven by inescapable media promotion, is a contemporary threat carrying undeniable costs, not to attendances but to punters and their families. 

 

A feast of golf…

 

The Riverland is home to four great golf courses – Berri, Barmera, Loxton and Waikerie. Big River Golf at Berri, built on rolling sandhills, is a tantalizing 6019 m stroll (5284 m for women) on luxuriously carpeted fairways meandering through mallee trees and flowering gums.

 

Have any Almanackers had a hit at Berri?

 

Next episode: We cross into Victoria and visit Lake Cullulleraine, Gol Gol and Mildura for a ‘Mega Day’ in the Millewa FNL.

 

 

Read all episodes of ‘Up The Mighty Murray’ and Peter Clark’s previous series Here.

 

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Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks once more Peter.

    Another huge name to be added here is Berri’s Fred ‘Chocka’ Bloch, North Adelaide B&F in 1965 and also a titan of the Adelaide Uni Football Club.

  2. Peter Clark says

    Thanks for the addition to the story Swish.

    ‘Chocka’ is a great nickname!

  3. Loved this. The breadth of your research is impressive PC. I spent 1965 and 66 in Renmark as a 10 and 11 year old. We moved from Adelaide when Dad got promotion to Regional Relieving Manager for the then Savings Bank of SA. I think Dad became Treasurer of Renmark Rovers FC, and he definitely played in an A Grade cricket premiership with Renmark. I remember visiting all the towns of the region (large and small) as cricket scorer. Rod Seekamp who became a star half forward at Norwood was part of that cricket flag. At that time Loxton had Rex Voight who played in Glenelg flags and a very young Bruce Light was full forward for Waikerie (and went on to become a Port Adelaide star on the wing).
    Russell Ebert has a multi-town heritage being born in Berri; schooled in Loxton and then moving to Waikerie for early work in the Savings Bank. Dad says the bank manager was a Port Adelaide diehard who had a very relaxed attitude to letting Russell “nick off early” Friday lunchtime for weekend games. As stand-in manager while the boss was on annual leave he felt he had to maintain the understanding (we were West Torrens supporters). Fridays the banks stayed open later and you had to stay until the “weekly balance” was manually consolidated. I can remember planned weekends away, where dad would still be working until 8 on a Friday night if the ledgers didn’t balance.
    But the most interesting footballer to grace the Riverland’s grounds is Hawthorn 1961 premiership ruckman and BOG Malcolm Hill. He played 22 games for the Hawks for one flag then moved to Berri to run a fruit block and then the Berri Hotel. He was captain coach of Berri Demons for 3 successive flags in the Riverland (then Upper Murray) FL from 1966-68. But he also played sporadically for Sturt in the SANFL with 40 games between 1962 and 1969. He played in 3 Sturt flags under Jack Oatey in their 5 in a row run from 1966-70. In 1966 he was BOG, and played as a reserve in the 68 and 69 GF’s (pre-interchange). So he played in 4 VFL/SANFL flags in 62 games. And dual flags in 66 and 68 with both Berri and Sturt.
    Memory has him as a rugged mobile ruckman in the Big Nick mould. Sturt had one key ruckman in the lanky “Doc” Clarkson and when he got injured in 66, Oatey called on Hill to play after the Riverland league finished a couple of weeks earlier. In 68 and 69 I think he was there for “insurance” as Sturt’s backup up ruckman was the high leaping Keith Chessell at 185cm.
    There is an excellent Graham Cornes podcast interview with Malcolm Hill (June 2022) in the Conversations with Cornesy series on Spotify.

  4. Peter Clark says

    Peter_B, your contributions on Riverland footballers are gold. Thank you for recommending the Conversations with Cornesy podcast featuring Malcolm Hill. I found it thoroughly engaging and informative, raising my awareness of football in South Australia in the 1960s. Oral history helps make stories like this Murray River journey so much more accurate, interesting and colourful.

    When I started research for this series, I hoped to engage some current and former South Australians in the conversation. With your contributions, those of ‘Swish’ and others, I am a lot wiser on South Australian country and SANFL footy.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Well played PB.

    Peter C – there is also a Conversations With Cornesy with Russell Ebert (a two-parter I think) recorded not long before Russell’s death.

  6. Peter Clark says

    Brilliant ‘Swish’. What a player, what a story, what a man! Loved listening to Russell Ebert and Cornesy reminiscing about SANFL footy in the 70s. Coincidentally, I drove through Russell’s home town, Alawoona, last month on my reconnaissance trip up the Murray.

  7. Daryl Schramm says

    Loved reading all of this. I’m disappointed Winkie wasn’t on the Google Map extract. I went to Winkie Primary School for Grades 3 and 4 in ’64 and ’65. I remember going to the footy at Barmera, Berri and Renmark. Barmera-Monash were red and yellow in those days, captain-coached by Alby Yeo. Not sure when they changed to double blue. Waikerie and Loxton visits required a ferry crossing. I don’t recall ever going there to watch footy during those years.

    Your introductory history piece was welcomed. I feel as if I should have known all of that. The names of Chaffey, Chowilla all came to life.

    And yes, I played golf at Berri (and Loxton) early February this year. Played Loxton and Barmera at the same time around 3 years before, and Waikerie a year before that with Tony Kilvington’s Transport Golf Club’s annual Weekend Cup (the old Highways Department – well known to Swish). Loxton is considered to be the best of a group of great regional golf courses. I even discovered the old Honour Board of the Winkie GC in the Barmera GC’s clubroom loos!

    I often visit the Riverland. Many memories of the swimming and fishing on the river, driving, swimming, sailing and water-skiing on Lake Bonney (I remember Donald Campbells Bluebird attempt at a water speed record), yabbies, having to cut apricots and pick grapes, mossies, 3 corner jacks, duck hunting, discovering red wine etc etc.

  8. Peter Clark says

    Winkie has escaped my attention! Apologies Daryl. I obviously missed Winkie on trips to the Clare Valley, Burra and beyond when making the turn off after Berri. Next time I’m in SA I’ll find the time to explore the Riverland at a slower pace.

    I listened to Rick Darling on Conversations with Cornesy (on Spotify) today. Rick is a Ramco boy. Your descriptions of growing up in the Riverland echo Rick’s recollections.

    I am sad to be leaving South Australia as the journey up the Murray continues to the Sunraysia area next week.
    But I’ll be back – for the apricots, the footy and cricket, and the red wine!

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