I remember when...stories from the past

October 26, 2017

Photos courtesy of the Yarrawonga Mulwala Pioneer Museum.

Volunteers helped clear areas of Lake Mulwala.

The Yarrawonga Neighbourhood House Oral History Group invites you to take a step back in time as they reach into their files each month to present a story from days gone by.

This month’s feature is from notes provided by Yarrawonga resident John Grant who talks about work undertaken to create the beautiful Lake Mulwala foreshore we enjoy today.

Part 1 Lake Mulwala Foreshore, recollections by John Grant, 26/2/1999

No doubt the greatest single event in the history of Yarrawonga was the decision made, in July 1934, to construct the Yarrawonga Weir which resulted in the formation of Lake Mulwala, so providing the on-going benefits of irrigation, recreational facilities and, more recently power generation.

Yarrawonga and Mulwala certainly owe their popularity as a major tourist resort to Lake Mulwala and its environs. In addition to which it has largely influenced the decision of many people to retire in this area, so creating a substantial increase in our permanent residents.

Right from the outset the weir project was a real God-send to our community, coming as it did during the depression years, and providing work for a large force of men who would otherwise have been on the dole.

When I arrived in Yarrawonga, at the end of 1937, construction of the Weir was already well advanced. The foundations had been excavated, and poured, the superstructure was starting to arise, and the digging of water channels was well advanced.

Early in 1937 some members of the community, led by Harry Haebich, drew attention to the fact that when the Weir was completed a large area of the river flats, adjacent to our two towns, would be inundated, and hundreds of trees would become water-logged and die, thus creating an unacceptable landscape right up to the edge of both towns.

Representation to the authorities to have some of this area cleared was not well received by the Murray River Commission, as they considered these dead trees would be a useful buffer against erosion on both sides of the lake.

As more political pressure was bought to bear, the commission reluctantly agreed that, whilst they were not prepared to play a part in the operation, they would offer no objection to the local community clearing whatever area in the limited time available.

A government grant of 500 pound was obtained, and together with local subscriptions, and a donation from the Grove Pictures, some professional help was obtained. However most of the clearing work was carried out by voluntary labour, through a succession of working bees.

It became common practice each evening to take an axe down to the bends and cut down a number of saplings.

Each weekend, most members of the community would attend working bees, the men cutting down the trees, and the women providing meals and refreshments.

The big red gums were left to the professionals, such as the King & Jones Sawmill staff.

The Yarrawonga Mulwala citizens of today owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those men and women who, through sheer hard yakka, provided the cleared area on which we now enjoy our aquatic activities.

The Yarrawonga Weir was completed in July 1939, and the first irrigation water reached Cobram on the 13th October of that year.

The outbreak of World War 2, in September delayed the official opening ceremony for 50 years.

When Lake Mulwala filled, there was no foreshore as we know it today. The water just lapped the shoreline, below Bank Street and Hunt Street. In between was a soggy depression, known as Sullivan’s Folly, so named after the Yarrawonga Shire Engineer of that era.

I can recollect a small creek, or waterway, which flowed into the lake, in the area where Hanrahan’s home still stands. It was crossed by a small wooden bridge.

The outbreak of war, in September 1939, meant that all projects, not directly associated with the war effort, were placed on hold for the duration, and any development of the foreshore had to wait until late 1945, when the first retaining wall was commenced.

Our stories can be found at State Library Victoria, local libraries, and YouTube. You can also find us on Facebook. Search for YNH Oral History.

Have you got a story to share? We would love to hear from you so that we can record it for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

New members are welcome. Contact the Community Programs Coordinator, Debbie Cooper on 03 5744 3911 or [email protected]

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