How the Murray was Won

Throughout history positive change has been accomplished by men who acted. It wasn’t delivered by men who were purely eloquent at speech or who could most effectively plead victimhood at the challenges they faced. The heights of the success achieved by our forefathers was drawn through noble endurance, unbreakable commitment, practical strategy and longsighted idealism.

Following a meeting and discussion with Alfred Deakin in the early 1880s, William Chaffey (a Canadian-born Irrigationist that had been working in California) departed for Australia to consider the possibilities for the development of the interior along the Murray river. Around 1887 Chaffey was satisfied that Renmark and Mildura would be best suited for the establishment of pumped irrigation. The South Australian and Victorian government’s granted Chaffey’s company tens of thousands of acres to establish new irrigator colonies with options to purchase more land at an agreed rate. The first stab at colonisation was made for Renmark South Australia to which the Renmark Irrigation Company was founded.

An appeal was sent out to each corner of the English-speaking world, to the promise of land and opportunity in the growing Australian nation which had with it the fervorous energy of youth. Settlers began to land in Renmark and by 1889 270 people had set up their tents and bark huts along the banks of the Murray. The Renmark Irrigation Company was a syndicate made up of settler-shareholders who took up one share per acre of land they possessed and worked. This system meant that the governance and development of the region was governed communally by the syndicates shareholders.

Mildura saw itself settled in similar strides to Renmark and in the 1890s there had now developed thousands of acres of highly productive agricultural lands, bringing new wealth and opportunity to the region and the nation at large. It was this work which placed serious downward pressure on the cost of living throughout Australia – food in its abundance brought down the Murray in paddle steamers was a demonstrably great service to the nation. Chaffey found himself elected the mayor of Mildura and went on further to pioneer the development of dried fruits for further export from the region.

Chaffey’s years in Mildura as Mayor, Pioneer irrigator and man driven to the development of the export of dried fruits to the United Kingdom found great favor, regard and respect from the community. He was known commonly as “The Boss” and “The man who saw it through”. He was known to be easily approachable, keen to help fellow farmers and irrigators with advice and support. In his 1889 obituary one of his fellow irrigators and member of the Irrigation commission, Mr S. McIntosh described Chaffey as “One of the whitest men who ever lived.”

Progress is accomplished by men who have demonstrated capacity in directing positive change in the community. It wasn’t Chaffey’s ‘hot takes’ or seasoned intellectual opinions that won the west from the wasteland it was practical, dedicated and organised action-taking.

Nationalists engage in politics because we have longsighted idealism, the drive for the welfare of our nationality – not just to engage in fruitless argument. Chaffey did not require a revolutionary overthrowing of Government to overcome the challenges of his day, he took the conditions as he found them and made a plan to succeed. In much the same way all members of the ANA are encouraged to.

Take stock of the opportunities availed to you, even in this challenging day and age. Seize all fruitful and morally upright opportunities. Do not be compelled to lean back and gripe against the system as a moral justification for being ineffectual and lazy: Work, advance your position, build wealth and community – pioneer for yourself, your family and our nationality a future and a homeland – it can be done and it will be done.

M. K. Grant

Governor, Canberra.