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Murray River timeline from 1900 to 1950 a brief history

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The story of our Murray River 1900 to 1950

60-32 Millions years to 1900
1900 to 1950
1951 to Current



Severe drought




First Australian car built in Mannum








Corowa Water Conference

Interstate Royal Commission




South Australian Government begins draining Lower Murray wetlands for irrigation agriculture




Victorian Water Act




Major flood in South Australia




Snowy Mountains National Chase established

Australian Dried Fruits Association formed




Tocumwal linked by rail to Melbourne




Closer settlement

  • In 1908 the South Australian Government begins to establish irrigated fruit blocks in the Riverland. Kingston, Waikerie, Moorook, Ramco and Holder (form Village Settlements) are taken over and re-organised. Berri is established in 1910, followed by Cobdogla in 1918.
  • Victoria establishes irrigation settlements at Merbein and Nyah for horticulture in 1910, and re-develops the Swan Hill Flats (first irrigated in 1887) for dairying at the same time. Tresco is also taken over and redeveloped in 1913.




Major flood




South Australian Water Authority established

  • The Irrigation and Reclaimation Department takes charge of the waterworks along the Murray.




Salination appears

  • Irrigation induced, salt-affected land appears near Cohuna, Victoria.




Scheme to lock the Murray River

  • South Australian Government engages Captain E.N. Johnston of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, to prepare a plan for improving the navigation of the river by a series of locks and weirs.




New South Wales Water Authority established

  • The Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission is established to undertake the administration and control of all rural water conservation and irrigation projects in the State.

Construction of Lock 1 at Blanchetown, South Australia begins




World War I

  • Many men leave the valley to join the armed forces. The war effort is strongly supported by those people who remain.
  • Internment camps for "enemy aliens" are established.
  • Technological departments are a result of the war, especially in the areas of transport and machinery, affect future development in the valley




Severe drought

  • Salinity levels at Morgan in South Australia reach 10,000 E.C.
  • Drought and World War I result in the effective end of commercial navigation on the Murray-Darling system




River Murray Waters Agreement

  • After 13 years of negotiation, an agreement is finally developed between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia on the management and sharing of the waters of the Murray River.
  • The main provisions for the regulation of the river in this Agreement are:
    • the construction of a storage on the Upper Murray
    • the construction of Lake Victoria storage
    • the construction of 26 weirs and locks on the Murray between Blanchetown in South Australia to Echuca in Victoria
    • the construction of nine weirs and locks on the lower part of either the Murrumbidgee or the Darling River. (Later the Murrumbidgee is selected)




River Murray Commission established

  • Its main role is to regulate the Murray and efficiently share its waters between the three States on the River according to the River Murray Waters Agreement
  • Initial responsibility is to co-ordinate the construction of storages, locks and weirs by the three State constructing authorities.

Major flood




Soldier settlement irrigation schemes

  • After World War I, the Kingston, Waikerie and Berri areas in the Riverland of South Australia are extended for soldier settlement and new areas are developed at Cadell, Chaffey (Ral Ral Division) and Block "E" at Renmark
  • Soldier settlement occurs at Shepparton, Tongala, Kerang, Woorinen, Swan Hill and Nyah in Victoria
  • In the Sunraysia region, Red Cliffs in Victoria and Coomealla in New South Wales are established and include soldier settlers.




Hume Dam construction commences

  • Key storage for the regulation of the Murray.
  • A year-round supply of water will be ensured by storing high winter flows and releasing during the critical low-flow months of February to May and during drought periods.




Major flood




First lock and weir of the system completed at Blanchetown

  • Blanchetown Weir and Lock 1 in South Australia completed to assist navigation

Border Railway Agreement

  • An agreement between New South Wales and Victoria gives Victoria the right to extend its lines into southern New South Wales and enables New South Wales to open up the southern Riverina for closer settlement.
  • Lines from Echuca to Balranald and from Murrabit to Stoney Crossing tap the last profitable steamer trading area (the lower Murrumbidgee and the Wakool and Edward region is opened up for closer settlement. Victoria takes over the railway from Deniliquin to Echuca and extends the line from Yarrawonga to Oaklands.




Last cargo steamer built




Torrumbarry Weir completed

  • Water is diverted for irrigation and stock and domestic purposes to the Cohuna, Kerang and Swan Hill areas of Victoria.

Robinvale linked by rail to Melbourne




Lake Victoria storage completed

  • A natural ephemeral lake is developed to become a permanent storage to help regulate water supply to South Australia.

Excavation of Devon Downs (Ngaut Ngaut) Rock-Shelter




Engineering and Water Supply Department establishes in South Australia

Wetlands between Mannum and Wellington reclaimed

  • South Australian Government sponsored reclaimation and settlement of the Lower Murray wetlands completed. Reclaimed land is used for pasture production for dairying.




Great Depression

  • Difficult economic conditions lead to "rationalisation" of river works.
  • Emphasis of river management turns to irrigation. Only those weirs and locks which will assist irrigation diversion are not to be built.




Major Flood




River Murray Waters Agreement amended

  • Only three of the original 16 locks and weirs planned for the Murray above the Darling convergence to be constructed
  • Only two weirs of the nine locks and weirs planned for the lower Murrumbidgee to be constructed
  • Yarrawonga Weir to be constructed for irrigation diversion
  • Five barrages to be built near the Murray Mouth to keep Lake Alexandrina and the lower River fresh by preventing seawater entering during low flows.




Hume Dam completed

  • Reliable year-round flow in the Murray gives confidence for further development and settlement

End of the wool trade

  • The last commercial load of wool carried by cargo steamer, arrives at Echuca Wharf. The P.S. Invincible and barge Vega dock with wool from stations along the Murrumbidgee, Wakool and Edward rivers.




Last of the Original series of Locks and Weirs completed

  • Euston Weir is constructed to assist irrigation diversion but also has a navigation lock; Lock 15.
  • Lock 12 to 14 and 16 to 25 of the original series are cancelled due to decline in commercial navigation.




Yarrawonga Weir completed

  • Murray's largest weir creates Lake Mulwala which enables the gravity diversion of water for irrigation in southern New South Wales and northern Victoria.
  • Mulwala Canel carries water to land in the Finley-Deniliquin region of New South Wales
  • Yarrawonga Main Channel carries water to land between the lower Goulburn and the Murray Valley in northern Victoria.
  • River regulation and flood mitigation improved. The absence of a lock is a barrier to navigation.




World War II

  • Many men leave the valley to join the armed forces. Much of their previous work is taken over by women
  • Food production and processing in the valley is important to the war effort
  • Training and prison camps are established at various locations in the valley (Lake Boga | Loveday S.A.)
  • Paddle steamers are brought out of retirement briefly to collect firewood to supply Melbourne. Italian prisoners of war crew the boats.




Murray Mouth Barrages completed

  • Water quality in the Lower Murray and Lakes is improved by the prevention of seawater ingress during lower river flow. Stable water level is maintained on Lakes and Lower Murray
  • Productivity of surrounding farming land is improved.

Murrumbidgee Weir completed

  • The Lowbridge Flood Control and Irrigation District is established to artificially flood a large area of the lower Murrumbidgee floodplain.




Rice grown in the Murray Valley

  • The first rice is grown in the valley as a wartime project, on Tulla Estate in the Wakook District, New South Wales.




Severe drought

  • Value of irrigation agriculture is reinforced by drought and World War II




Morgan-Whyalla Pipeline completed

  • A pipeline from Morgan takes water to the BHP iron fountry and shipyard at Whyalla which are regarded as vital to the war effort
  • First major pipeline to take water out of the Murray Valley supplies the industrial towns of the "Iron Triangle" (Whyalla, Port Pirie, Port Augusta). A pipeline is later extended to Woomera (1949).

Kosciusko State Park established

  • Summer grazing in the summit area is progressively phased out.



  • Soldier Settlement Irritation Schemes

  • Following World War II, the Loxton Irrigation Area and the Cooltong Division of the Chaffey Area, in the Riverland, South Australia are developed as War Service Land Settlement Schemes
  • In Victoria, the Robinvale Irrigation District in the Sunraysia Region and the Murray Valley Irrigation Area centred on Cobram are established for "Soldier Settlement" immediately after the War
  • Robinvale is the first Irrigation District in Victoria to receive its water totally via pipes, as opposed to open channels
  • Between 1947 and 1956 a number of large holdines in the southern Riverina of New South Wales are sub-divided for Soldier Settlement. The Berriquin Irrigation District is established in the Finley and Berrigan area; the Denimein Irrigation District is established north of Deniliquin; the Deniboota District is established to the south; and further west the Wakook Irrigation District is established. The Tullakook Irrigation Area is established within the Wakool District
  • The Coomealla Irrigation Area in the Sunraysia region of New South Wales is extended for solider settlement.




First Murray tourist boat

P.S. Murrumbidgee is converted to become the frst boat on the Murray to cater totally for tourists. After being destroyed by fire in 1948, it is replaced by the P.V. Coonawarra.




Work begins on Snowy Mountains Scheme

  • Water to be divered from the Snowy Catchment westward through two transmountain tunnel systems to increase supplies in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers
  • Hydro-electricity to be generated by the diversion.




Increase in Hume Reservoir storage capacity

  • Work begins to enlarge the Reservoir to a capacity of 2460 gigalitres


60-32 Millions years to 1900
1900 to 1950
1951 to Current



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