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History of Mannum, Murray River, South Australia

Mannum History

Before settlers came to Mannum, the area was inhabited by the Narraltie Aboriginal tribe who lived in wurleys alongside the river. There are many explanations of the name “Mannum”, but the one favoured by the local Aboriginal community is “the place of many ducks”.

Evidence of past Aboriginal culture goes back 6,000 years and more. In 1929 a boy’s skeleton was found downstream from Nildottie. Weapons and tools found with him were associated only with fossils at least 6,500 years old.

In 1840, James Henderson produced The Thirty Nine Sections Special Survey, which made available land for lease in the area. The first lease was taken up by the well-known explorer, Edward John Eyre.

In 1851 pastoral leases classed as “Waste Land of the Crown” were issued and William Beavis Randell leased 34 square miles from the present dry dock area stretching eight and a half miles upstream. He gave his land the name “Noa No”. It is not yet known where the name Noa No originated. In 1853 the Hundred of Murray was proclaimed and many new settlers took up leases, most running cattle on their land.

William RandellWilliam Richard Randell worked at his father’s flourmill in Gumeracha, but dreamed of building a paddle steamer and using it to trade on the Murray River.

He, and his brother, Thomas George, together with a carpenter, built the frame and transported it to their father’s river property by bullock cart. There, they finished it and named it the ‘Mary Ann’ after their mother. They launched the Mary Ann’ at Noa No Landing just upstream of the current Mannum township. It was to become the first paddle steamer to ply the Murray, but was closely followed by the first of a fleet of ships run by Captain Cadell.

To service his growing trade, William R. Randell built the Woolshed, the first building in Mannum. In 1864, a government survey identified an area downstream as the site of the new town, but despite this, Mannum continued to develop in its original position.

The Shearer brothers began their agricultural manufacturing business in 1877, and at its peak, it employed four hundred workers, selling out to Horwood Bagshaw in 1972. Among the Shearers’ achievements was the Shearer Car, the first steam car in Australia with a differential. It took to the streets in 1897, according to David Shearer it frightened the local residents and horses alike. The firm is also credited with revolutionizing farming, producing the first Shearer stripper in 1883, and designing a number of machines to help the farmer tend his land.

Captain Arnold worked alongside the Randells in the paddle steamer industry before buying the Dry Dock in 1913. He was instrumental in negotiating contracts to ship wheat during the war, and also built boats to be used in the river locks programme. Arnold’s shipping company was responsible for employing many men, and when the river trade began to fail, due to the coming of the railway and the provision of much improved road transport, it must have caused a lot of distress to many families.

Mannum's early pioneers were very community minded, and many provided land, money and time to help the town. Arnold, for example, provided land for the hospital, and a glance at the names on early committees shows the dedication of the founding fathers to a variety of activities, including churches, the showgrounds, the Institute, schools and the Council.

In August of 1956 the Murray River rose to an above habitual level and tragically flooded the towns along its winding stream. The water reached record levels peaking at 12.3 metres at Morgan, SA. The flood is considered to be South Australia’s greatest natural catastrophe. The flood took several months to subside and is still remembered vividly by those who lived through it. For the town of Swan Reach the flood of 1956 was catastrophic, most of the town’s business buildings and houses that lay in the path
of the flood were washed away.

Mannum's Randell Street was flooded with the pubs operating from the second floor while boats were tying up to the balcony. The flood water broke the levee bank on 24 August, and had not fully receded until Christmas. To many locals it is common knowledge that the beginning of the roof on the Mannum Visitor Infornation Centre in Randell Street was the height in Randell Street.

Enjoy the Randell Walk in Mannum
Visit the Mannum Dock Museum of River History


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