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THE CITY OF GRIFFITH

MURRUMBIDGEE IRRIGATION AREA

 

 

 Click here for further information

 

Griffith, including the villages of Beelbangera, Bilbul, Hanwood, Lake Wyangan, Nericon, Tharbogang, Yenda & Yoogali,  has a population of 26,000.  Is the only city within the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and is situated 570km west of Sydney and 450km north of Melbourne.

 

When John Oxley explored this area in 1817 he commented in his journal: "Yesterday, being the King's birthday, Mr Cunningham planted under Mount Brogden, acorns, peach and apricot stones and quince seeds, with the hope rather than the expectation that they would grow and serve to commemorate the day and situation, should these desolate plains be ever again visited by civilized man, of which, however, I think there is very little probability.   " On June 6, he wrote: "We saw no signs of water during our route: the whole country seems burnt up with long continued drought; no traces of natives, or any game seen" and on June 7: "Halted at four o'clock, having gone ten miles through a country which, for barrenness and desolation, can I think, have no equal".

 

The first wave of European habitation was the Squatters who took up huge parcels of land and ran them as pastoral runs with huge herds of cattle and flocks of sheep.  Then in the 1880s many farming families came to this area as a direct result of John Robertson's 1861 Land Act.  These families became known as the Selectors. No more than 100 people earned a living in this area.   Much of the land carried only one sheep to two hectares with the ever present threat of drought.

 

In 1906 the "Barren Jack and Murrumbidgee Canals Construction Act" became a reality and the NSW Public Works Dept was authorised to carry out the necessary construction work.  Thus began the giant task of establishing the immense scheme which was to completely transform the country side and to be the beginning of this unique pioneering venture.

 

The first step in the mammoth undertaking was the construction of Burrinjuck Dam, as it finally became known, which because of the outbreak of World War I was not finally and fully completed until 1927. (In fact, the scheme was severely checked until the end of the War in 1918.)

 

After the land was resumed work began on the construction of the canals and channels.  There were construction camps and horse yards built about every seven miles along the canal route.   As each section was completed the camps moved to the next location.

 

Griffith, originally called Mirrool, was named after Arthur Hill Griffith, Minister for Public Works, and was first settled in December 1912.  Irrigation water was released on 13 July 1913 and was available at Mirrool in October of the same year. (Original land holder names for the first eleven years)

 

The proposed irrigation scheme was advertised extensively worldwide by the Irrigation Trust and most of the mining areas of NSW and SA were also targeted.

This resulted in large numbers of original settlers coming from these areas including migrants from Northern Italy who worked in the mining areas.  It is estimated that in 1913 one fifth of MIA settlers came from Broken Hill.

The town of Griffith was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and by 1914 promotion of the scheme extended from London to San Francisco while at the same time it was extensively advertised in Sydney in glossy, colourful posters in trams, trains and ferries depicting abundant farm produce and inviting city dwellers to become prosperous farmers. As a result, the original farm grantees came from an extraordinary diversity of backgrounds and nationalities.

 

1916 onwards saw a large inflow of men returning from active service overseas with the first AIF.   They came to the Area to undertake agricultural training to become eligible to enter a ballot for the land.  This "training" period of three to six months has been described as "six months HARD LABOUR".

 

Many of the men, even those sound in mind and body, were quite unfit and unsuited for the hard manual work.  Others, though fit and suited for this way of life, worked hard but in vain. Nevertheless, despite disillusionment, most patiently followed the ethic of not giving up and after years of farm areas that were too small to be a "living area", rock bottom prices and disastrous "expert advice", they won out through sheer perseverance and the will to win.

 

As well as northern Italian men who came as early as 1913, many Italians migrated to Australia and, of course, to the MIA in the 1920s and 1930s.  With a background of small acreage farming, agricultural skill and their willingness to work hard, most were very successful. In 1921 the Italian population of Griffith numbered approximately 33.  By 1954 nearly half of all farms were Italian owned.

 

The European and British settlers brought with them a sophistication and culture which has enriched the whole community.  To-day we are fortunate to live and work in this unique and very prosperous Area - a prosperity achieved by an extremely hard working community bringing about what is probably another unique circumstance in the State if not the whole of Australia - that some or several products are harvested every month of the year.

 

 

This area has become one of the main wine and food producing areas in Australia.

 

  The largest wine grape producing region in Australia and has four of the largest wine grape exporters.  Consumers should be aware that wine produced for 'South Eastern Australia' wine grape are likely to contain some of our regions quality wine grapes.

  Most of Australia's rice is grown in the region, in fact approximately 95%, the bulk of which is exported.


70% of the total NSW citrus production comes from this region.


  The production of rockmelons is the highest in Australia, accounting for 30% of total production bringing between $8 and $10 million annually to local growers.


  1,200 hectares of onions return $7 million to growers whilst 1,200 hectares of carrot/parsnip production brings between $6 and $9 million annually to growers.


  Many other crops are grown:- Canola, wheat, barley, tomatoes, pumpkins, lettuce, sweet corn, turnips, broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages, garlic, watermelons and stone fruits.

  Griffith sheep and lamb sales are amongst the largest in NSW.


  Approximately 25,000 head of cattle are sold at the Griffith Saleyards each year.


  A number of local companies are regularly listed in the top 500 privately owned companies in NSW.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Hilary Dalton: "As Time Goes By - a look at the early days of Griffith & Its people", Ibis Links, July 1995, p.5, Griffith Genealogical & Historical Society Inc.

John Oxley: "Journal of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales undertaken by order of the British Government in the years 1817-1818", John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1820

Hilary Dalton: "Griffith & District Pioneers", Series 1, 2 & 3, Editors - Hilary Dalton & Wendy Polkinghorne, Griffith Genealogical & Historical Society Inc., 1990, 1992, 1993.

Water Resources Commission: "A Story of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme", Water Resources Commission, mid 1990s.

B.M. Kelly: "From Wilderness to Eden, A History of the City of Griffith, its region and its People", Council of the City of Griffith, 1988.

Griffith Visitors Centre: PO Box 126, Griffith, 1996.

Compiled by Wendy Polkinghorne with special thanks to Hilary Dalton

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