The History of Irrigation
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Kath Sheldrick

Originally from Queensland, Kath Sheldrick met and married Leeton irrigation farmer Frank Sheldrick during World War II. The couple moved south in 1949, taking up through the soldier settlement scheme. The property was part of the Tullakool Irrigation Area, designated for rice growing.


The following text is based on an edited transcript of an interview conducted with Mrs Kath Sheldrick in February 2005.

Key topics: Tullakool, soldier settlement, property development, phone and electricity services, farm equipment, domestic life, 1956 flood.

Frank's father was an irrigation farmer, a rice grower in Leeton, where he'd grown rice for many years and Frank had been there until he went into the Army immediately he turned 18 as so many of the young people did right then
After the war we built a small house and we share-farmed with Frank's father for four years before we came eventually down to Tullakool in February 1949.
We came under a Soldier Settlement Land Scheme; the very first Tullakool settlers came in 1948. Similar schemes were put in place in various parts throughout Australia and the idea was that if you met the criteria for certain areas, you put in an application and then it usually resulted in so very many applications that there was a ballot then and the qualifications for Tullakool, like outside physical fitness and all that sort of thing, included previous experience in rice growing.
The tenure of the land was lease in perpetuity (99 years). Some years later by paying the appropriate cost settlers could convert to freehold. We were among those who did.
We came with a number of people, the majority of whom came from either Leeton or Griffith because those were the only areas at that time growing rice. The ladies, formed a social committee and a small hall was built, mostly by voluntary labour and there was the Tullakool Settlers Association formed and not very long after that there was the branch of the Rice Growers Association formed. So we were very much together, very much supportive and entertainment consisted largely of home visits and sing-songs around pianos and a hit of tennis.

Making a new home
On the blocks there was a channel, but no interior works had been done to start farming, no fences, no housing, literally nothing. The first priority in most cases was houses. A lot of the fellows came ahead of their wives and lived in tents and things like that. We bought what had been shearers' quarters from a property on the Wakool-Deniliquin Road and it was transported to our land and then a friend of ours from Leeton who was a retired builder came and the building that had been just one massive kitchen/dining area and a number of small dormitories. As our friend's time and our money permitted, we altered it until it became a reasonably comfortable home. One thing that comes to my mind when I talk about that is that in its previous setting, that house had been in a lovely clump of pepper trees and I just wished so much that they could have brought the pepper trees because the plains were absolutely treeless.

Others did similar things. There was a ballot held and some of the buildings from the now disused airfield, RAAF field in Deniliquin were made available and we didn't take part in that ballot, but a number of the Tullakool settlers and their wives made their first home by modifying or enlarging these fairly simple buildings that were previously the property of the RAAF.

Sharing the party-line

I found everybody very friendly, particularly our neighbours directly across the road who had already lived in the area for 23 years, they were so supportive and so helpful and so concerned because by the time I came, I had three little children and I didn't have a telephone – but we were able to join on a party-line which meant seven people sharing the one telephone line; we were very grateful for the concerns and the kindnesses of the people who were already living around us.
Not only was it a party-line, but unhappily for the other 23 families who by now were settled on Tullakool, ours was the only phone. So that was another reason why it was marvellous, through nothing else but the kindness of our neighbours, that phone came to be. In emergencies and at various times, we were able to take and deliver messages to other people which spread the benefit wider.

Gazetted for rice growing

The initial Tullakool division was 24 - the term that was used was gazetted rice farms and I think some two years later, further areas were opened up for grazing and for dairying in some cases and the Tullakool homestead became part of one of the dairy blocks.
There was one particular area where, I'm not sure whether there was also a variation in soil types, I think that's more than possible, but eventually the relevant government departments realised that - if my memory serves me right, five of these farms were not going to provide adequate income and so those five people were given the opportunity to go back to the MIA and they settled and farmed in the Whitton area between Leeton and Griffith.
We were committed to grow 100 acres of rice per annum, but there was no option about our major endeavour on our land, on the Tullakool rice area. It was called the Tullakool Irrigation Area as separate and distinct from the Wakool Irrigation Area and the dairy and sheep farms became part of the Wakool Irrigation Area, with different water allocations.
The requirement for us on Tullakool was the 100 acres of rice had to be grown on a six year rotation with pasture crops and therefore we had sheep.We were closely governed because we were dependent on, for the first few years, on a very meagre living allowance and I suppose generous interest rates because none of these fellows - they were all just back from service in the Army, Navy or Air Force, so nobody had had any income, had earned anything for the numbers of years that they'd been in the services, so we were, of necessity, borrowing money to become established.
Frank and I had what now would be considered a small amount of equipment. Our main item was what today would be considered a far too small Case tractor which was new. Farm machinery was very hard to buy at that time because during the war everything had been directed to the war effort and shipping had been restricted to essential things and farm equipment wasn't considered essential and so there was a great shortage.
We also had a double furrow plough and I can't remember the details, but a couple of other things, a scarifier and I want to say a mull-board plough, I'm not sure whether it's mull-board or mould board, but we had a skeleton plant and one of our immediate neighbours, who was Mick Miller, also from Leeton, he had lots of energy and enthusiasm, but he didn't have any plant. We couldn't afford to buy labour, so in the beginning Frank and Mick worked shifts around the clock with our plant. He helped Frank and in return Frank helped him and they used our equipment. Some of the settlers had plant from the prisoner-of-war farm which had been in that Tullakool area during the war; there was farming equipment there and some farmers obtained some of that equipment, once again by ballot.

Harvesting with horses

The ploughing of the paddocks themselves was tractor drawn, but our early harvesters were horse drawn and I have a vision of Frank behind this double furrow plough being horse drawn and I've also seen a photo of the late George Anthony who was one of our fellow settlers, I've seen him behind an implement that was horse drawn. I would say that our first three, four rice harvesters were horse drawn.
The very first Tullakool settlers came in 1948 and Frank came onto our block in February 1949 and I waited in Leeton for our third child to be born and I came in the June 1949.
In the beginning we had a very splendid vehicle, it was what was known in the Army as a blitzwagon, it was a four wheel drive vehicle. It had a front cabin and a very rugged looking trucklike body, and that was our only vehicle. It wasn't very comfortable, it was still the metal seats from the Army. I did make cushions, but there were just two single seats and then we used to have a cushion on the floor and a butterbox in between the two metal seats. Trips to town were not very regular, they were regular but they were not very frequent."
Barham was the nearest town. It hadn't been geared for the influx of new settlers - you couldn't buy any building materials, you couldn't buy furniture, a whole range of things because by the time the whole of the Tullakool area was opened up, I believe it involved 68 new families who came into the district, so for some things we had to go further afield and we went either to Deniliquin or to Kerang.

Domestic life on 32 volts

Because we'd lived in Leeton, we had a number of 240 volt items of household equipment which were absolutely useless in our new circumstances. Fairly early we bought - generated our own power. There was a Perkins diesel motor involved and you had to go over to the engine room when you were ready to use power, you went over and switched it on and when you were finished, you went back and switched it off, which wasn't convenient - that was 32 volt only. When we first came there I had a wretched petrol iron and I say wretched because on one occasion I set fire to the kitchen curtains. I went off, my attention was taken away from the ironing and the curtain blew over where the petrol thing was and that was pretty scary. We had an iron, a floor polisher.
Our floors were all linoleum covered. We just didn't - well even in Leeton, we didn't have the luxury of carpet and we certainly didn't in the early years at Tullakool, so a floor polisher and an iron, not a washing machine at the outset.
We built on to the first building as previously described, we built on a back section and that included a laundry at one end and then a veranda or porch space which was gauzed in and then at the other end was the bathroom, but at first, we had a copper, Frank must have manufactured some sort of a frame for it and it was out in the yard and heated with an open fire. We used to boil the clothes and rinse them.
In 1959 we shifted the house from its original site, shifted it back some couple of hundred metres and on the same site because by then we had power and the plumbing etcetera and we built a new house on the original site. The original building was bought by one of the older settlers and transported on to land that he owned which was back towards the siding at Burraboi and, in point of fact, it's still standing today and used by the current owners. But it's been well maintained and several times renovated and it's some sort of a testament to the durability of the old style building."
We brought with us from Leeton some cuttings of athel pines and it seems incredible now because they were just pencil thick and just poked into soil and we put a row of them in front of the house and they're massive great big untidy old things now, but they were a really really good wind break. My dad, who by this time was retired, he used to come down periodically and he was a keen vegetable gardener and I always managed to have a few flowers, although I had a lot of other things to do with my time besides gardening, but we did put in some fruit trees and still the home farm, as we call it, is currently occupied by one of our sons and still out there there are two or three trees that were gifts.
We had a very well respected old gentleman from Barham called Andrew Hudson who did surveying for us and he was a very keen advocate of trees and he bought us a pine tree, just a little thing in a pot, and for many years that was our (after it grew to a respectable height), that was our Christmas tree and it's still out there now as a massive 30 or 40 metre high tree. And another one that was a gift from our channel attendant. In those days we called them water bailiffs, not channel attendants, but our water bailiff, he and his wife eventually became treasured friends of ours and in the very early days he gave us also a tiny little tree and it's still out there.

Improving amenities

When the electricity was taken through from Barham to service the intake facilities, we were fortunate enough to be allowed to hook on, so out came Sheldrick's 240 volt things that they'd waited five, six, perhaps seven years to be able to use when we'd come from Leeton.
Even the development of the irrigation - as channels and ditches and things came closer to houses and dams were made, just to have water readily available, decent water. There were a couple of sites of old wells, there was one on our place, but the longer resident told us it had beautifully clear water, but when we went to the bother of setting things in motion to get that water, it turned out to be just dreadful. But a few miles further over there was another old well on a property that was named "Sweet Water" and their well really did have fresh water in it. As soon as tanks were available, each of us had rain water tanks, but not massive big ones, and seasons of course were variable and the average rainfall was only 14 inches a year, so we couldn't really depend on it. Power, water, better roads, more businesses opened up in Barham, so there were more things available to us, shopping-wise there were more things available closer at hand and particularly in our area and in general terms, the nature of the farming equipment, the modernisation of farming equipment and well, just amenities in general."

The flood of 1956 . . .

Our land was not flooded, but we were isolated, we were cut off from Barham and Deniliquin and Echuca and we were just cut off in all directions. In an emergency it was possible to get to Barham. You went as far as you could by car and then somebody took you on a tractor for another distance and then somebody from Barham met you in a boat and a number of babies were born during that very troublesome time. So there were mothers who recall the nightmare of the trip to Barham to have their babies. A lot of us hosted families from nearer the creek whose land was flooded.
We had special friends who lived right on the Niemur River come and stay with us and I think almost everybody who had some dry land had sheep belonging to friends or neighbours in the areas that were actually flooded, so they were able to get out large numbers of sheep ahead of the flood waters and they were just accommodated wherever there was feed for them.
The problem there was that 1955 had also been a minor flood year. Once again, Tullakool land wasn't affected, but some people in the lower areas had lost fences and had damage done in 1955 and they'd scarcely had time to repair things when this massive flood came in 1956. So for some people, it was just devastating, farmwise and anything in their personal lives and 1956 was so very wet and a very very difficult year for a number of people, although we were in the fortunate position of - the men were able to help with the sand-bagging efforts and working on flood banks and in general, Tullakool residents were able to be helpful in this bad situation by helping out people who were actually flooded.

A sense of achievement

Of Tullakool specifically, I keep on talking about mutual support and I think that a whole lot of memories are centred around that and types of social activities that were very simple, but it seems to me the young ones of today don't really know much about. They're some of my happiest memories and, I think, pride in what we and fellow settlers were able to achieve, pride in what the men were able to do in particular, because it was an immense satisfaction to work - to walk onto absolutely virgin undeveloped land and to look back over the years to what it became.



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