THE CITY OF GRIFFITH
MURRUMBIDGEE IRRIGATION AREA
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.
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".
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.
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
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
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.
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.
The area has become one of the main food producing & wine areas in Australia.
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
Compiled by Wendy
Polkinghorne with special thanks to Hilary Dalton
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