Centenary of Griffith

The McWilliam family

1. How the McWilliam family came to be here in the MIA.

2. The development of the farms & the winery under pioneer conditions.

My Grandfather and my father to be, came from Junee, Grandfather had a small winery and dry area vineyard there.---- during early 1913 brochures were noticed in the Junee post office extolling the virtues of the new Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, home went the pamphlets and a family discussion ensured, which had far reaching implications both for the irrigation area and the winemaking industry of Australia.

Young Jack my father was proving to have much the same characteristics of drive, dedication and tenacity as his father, to a degree that quite alarmed his father and mother. Much of the family discussion turned upon the question ‘what are we to do with young Jack’. The answer provided by fate was to harness the enthusiasm of the 17 year old Jack with more work than he could handle, so in late June 1913 my grandfather and young Jack set off to inspect the new MIA, they left the train at Yanco, probably inspected areas their because water was already being delivered the year before in 1912, they then   travelled by horse and buggy to the new Mirrool area where they inspected a number of virgin farms for vine culture, the resident expert from the ‘Department of Agriculture’ advised against planting vines but failed to convince Jack and his Father that the soil would not support vines with irrigation.

Two 50 acre blocks were selected one adjoining the other, Farm 133 was registered in my Grandfathers name on the 12th August 1913 and my father Jacks farm 130 was registered on the 14th August 1913 just two days later,

that’s 99 years ago next month, they wasted no time in getting together vine cuttings for the planned vineyards, They went back home and during July and August 1913 cut 35.000 cuttings and had them planted in a nursery near the farm 133 water wheel. There was no water available during early spring and the nursery rows of cuttings had to be watered by cart, bringing the water from a nearby station or Government dam, then on 9th October 1913 the first water was sent down and through the water wheel, you can just imagine the jubilation on seeing the water coming down the concrete lateral for the first time.

From that time on my Father lived in a tent for a few years looking after the nursery and clearing the two blocks having it deep ploughed and putting the irrigation channels in, ready for planting the one year old rootlings the next year in their permanent positions. All the work had to be done either by hand or with draught horses.

Stuart J McWilliam.


Lawrence John Roy McWilliam

[26/11/1894 to 29\12\1972]

An epitome of the early life of Lawrence John Roy McWilliam [Our Dad ] hand written in pieces by himself. Now put together and typed out by Stuart McWilliam for easy reading. It also includes the early history of McWilliams Wines Pty. Ltd. In which he played a major role.

We must always remember our mother, who also played the major role in bringing up the family of eight children, under pioneering and difficult conditions from their marriage in 1919 onwards.

Early History


I was born on the 26th of November at Corowa N.S.W. coming to Junee when only a few months old with my parents Mr and Mrs John James McWilliam.[ Referred to as  J.J.]

J. J. McWilliam obtained an Australian Wine Licence in a shop which was rented in Broadway Street Junee, also started a small vineyard known as “Liddens” about midway between Junee and Harefield [3.5 miles from Junee], this vineyard was of about 10 acres, and a small bush hut in one corner was used for wine making, wines came from this vineyard and Corowa until ‘Mark View” [Junee vineyard] came into production. Mark View started in 1902 and produced wine from 1904 onwards.


I started school at Junee and I became known as Jack.


Made my first wine in a cubby behind an advertising board in an adjoining block, along side where we lived in the back of the wine shop, this wine was made from water melons, and during fermentation it blew out the corks in a number of bottles, which caused great merriment. I helped to bottle vinegar and wash bottles and put the taper corks in, the vinegar was made once a week in about 12 dozen 26oz bottle lots for local stores, the vinegar was made from Acetic Acid and burnt sugar for colouring.


    A house of 5 rooms was started at the “Mark View” Vineyard where I then lived with my parents.


    I started to work before and after school and at the week ends in the vineyards and cellar, which was a shed about 100 yards behind the house with a wine press, rollers, some open wooden vats, and a lot of small casks—100 gallons down to 5 gallon kegs, also helped with the picking of grapes for packing [fresh fruit], quite a lot went to Wyalong, Temora and Cootamundra.


     Started building the permanent cellar into the hill about 400 yards from the house, the cellar was 40 feet by 60 feet, then built a tunnel  along side and then a wine plant on top at the back, operated by a horse works for a number of years, together with a small pot still and bond room, the horse works were later replaced with an engine to drive the stemmer. I helped all through this period.


    I went to Goulburn and had 12 months at the Bourke Street School and also helped to lay ground tiles for a wine garden which was next door to a wine licence which my Dad [J.J.] had, we all lived upstairs over this licence area. I helped to wash and bottle wine over this period.


    I went back to Junee for a few years where I had full charge of the vineyard and cellar in the absence of my father.

    A kitchen was built onto the house at Junee together with an underground cellar and an extra bedroom, this was used sometime later by me up to 1913.

   Up to this stage no wages were paid to me.


    A row of Doradillo’s of 132 vines was given to me at Junee or the products of same. I opened a Government Savings Bank of N.S.W. Account at Junee.

   When I came to Hanwood it had 30 pounds 16shillings and 7pence in deposit from the sale of table grapes, this was later used up on coming to Hanwood.


    I went to Corowa and put through two vintages.


    I was in full charge of all wines sent along to Junee, this was the vineyard of the estate of my grand father which was rented by my father, it was sold later, 80 acres of vines, house, cellar, etc, etc. one patch of “Phylloxera” had shown up in the Doradillo vines, about 20 were in a bad condition when I left.

    I returned to Junee in May of 1912 with two horses and a cart.

No wages paid to me to date.


    At the age of 18 years I inspected both Leeton and Griffith areas with my father, I favoured farm 130 and 133, two 50 acre blocks, as I could not hold these two blocks the Dad agreed that he would hold farm 133.

    During July and August 56,600 grape cuttings were cut by myself and a German fellow who we had pruning, these cuttings were 32,000 Black Shiraz, 22,000 Doradillo, 2,000 Malbec, plus a few table grapes and were from the only 8 acres not pruned at Junee, hence the above varieties, as they were cut they were bundled and placed in the dam.

   These cuttings were all planted into a vine nursery in mid September, 2,000 in each row near the farm 133 water wheel [29 rows]  and watered once by a 400 gallon water cart, the water was obtained from Hamilton’s Dam next door and carted to the furrows, one water cart load per row. The first water came down the new irrigation channels on the 9th of October 1913, so from then on gravity irrigation was available, I obtained close to 100% strike.

    Two horses were brought from Junee together with a single furrow plough, Harry Thomas came to work with his family, a shed was built  which his family lived in at one end, and a kitchen at the other end, the sleeping area and kitchen were divided by a bag partition, a tent outside was where I slept, and I dined with the Thomas’s [the Thomas family worked for me about 12 months, then he shifted to his own block at Hanwood] until the huts were erected by myself and a fellow named Bob Brooks. The huts consisted of 6 rooms  joined together in a row facing east, they were erected from round timber squared up with our own saw, fibro sides iron roofing and earth floors for a few years. These huts were separated from the original kitchen and living area by a fairly large overhead grape trellis at the back, and provided wonderful shade during the summers.


     These blocks farm 130 and 133 were cleared of timber and all wood mostly Yarran, and a few Box, Pine, and Needlewood were carted into a heap on farm 130, this was our fuel supply for some years.

     All irrigation channels were put in by Charlie Day with horses a plough and wonky scoop, in January of 1914 both farms were ploughed by Jack and Reg Piper with a two furrow plough, their charge was 12 shillings and 6 pence an acre, no grading was done and the water was made run through the ridges with a plough furrow.

   In March I bought over from Junee another horse and cart and a 7-hoe drill given to me by my father, [J.J.] and in April planted 35 acres of wheat on farm 130 for hay purposes.

   During this period I had about 8,000 trellis posts and strainers carted on to farm 130, they cost 12 shillings and 6 pence per 100 to cart and the same to saw and split in the bush, the strainers had to be over 6 inches at the small end.

   In July/August vines were planted in subsoiled furrows using three horses after lining out with a single furrow plough, all channel banks were planted with Doradillo’s and all ground except the 35 acres of wheat planted with vines and oranges etc. 1,500 Cornichon grapes were planted for table grapes.

   It was also this year that I opened a bank account at bag town with the A.B.C. Bank, this account could only be operated by myself and continued as such till 1932,even until 1945 there was not one cheque drawn that did not have my sole signature.

   In October/ November of 1914 Andy Day came in with his binder and harvested the wheat crop for hay, and got about 80 tons, Moses Gollan did most of the chaff cutting for this crop, and I got 12 pounds 10 shillings per ton. Then I bought a chaff cutter and New Way engine, this engine was used later for a considerable period in the cellars at Hanwood, immediately the wheat hay was off, the ground was prepared and planted to sorghum.

   All trellising was completed and all vines [except around the cellar area] were planted, most of the wire for trellising was obtained from old external fences on Commission property. The stays for the strainer posts were put in by Bob Brooks at 1 shilling per mortice, strainers were put in by Jim Turner also at 1 shilling each, shovel and crowbar was used to erect all trellising.


     I started to cut into chaff the sorghum and got 4 pounds a ton for this half green stuff—must have had 2 cwt in the chaff bags---bring your own bags---drought was on and sold it all before the break on May 15th, the sorghum averaged about 10 tons per acre, the hay and chaff netted over 2,000 pounds.

    Bought about 300 gallons of very old wine from a fellow named Mr Peterson of Corowa at eight shillings and three pence per gallon [8/3] he went out of wine in 1912 when I was at Corowa, this old wine was blended with wine from Junee made in 1916 and allowed wine to be sold at Hanwood from early 1916, also bought were 12-- 300 and 400 gallon casks and a grape stemmer---all pay later scheme.

   This stemmer and the New Way engine formed most of the plant at Hanwood for the first 4 years.

Wine was sold at Hanwood in 1916  at 12/6 - 10/-  and 7/6 per gallon quite a trade was built up with the old town---about 2,000 pounds a year---must have been over 10,000 pounds local up to 1919.


   Bought from Wesphall and Clark [Sydney] 4 by 1,000-gallon casks and quite a number of 500 gallon casks.

   The first crop of grapes was picked in March 1916, there being no winery at Hanwood, the first harvest had to be sent to Junee. There were three rail truck loads, two truck loads from our own farms and one truck from outside growers, they were from Pryde Bros, Crawford, Thompson, Haines, Day and Delves, and some from the Yanco Experiment Farm,[about 30 tons altogether] The grapes had to be taken to Willbriggie railway station in boxes by horse lorry.

    Bought a second hand windmill, overhead tank, galvanised steel stand and 400 yards of inch and half piping, this was erected and a dam scooped out just south of the accommodation area, it supplied water to the winery, this was the first water supply for the new winery, the water supply material cost around 178  pounds.


     Cyprus pine poles for the cellar were cut, about 40 in all and measuring between 15 and 18 feet long, these were carted from 7 miles away around where the stock yards are now, 4 at a time in the spring cart, two each side of the horse and roped down, the cellars were then commenced. On one trip out to get four poles I was on the way back when something startled the horse----maybe a rabbit, hare or kangaroo ---the horse took off and one cart wheel hit a sawn off pine stump, the cart flipped over and I landed on the ground with two poles each side of me I was very lucky, I could have easy been killed.-   The cellar consisted of a dirt floor and measured 80 feet by 30 feet and was built of galvanised iron walls and roof, rafters were 6 by 1 inch, and purloins were 4 by 2 inch, all hardwood. Also built 3 fermenters and receivers of concrete, the grape stemmer, New Way engine and an old must pump from Junee consisted the plant in February 1917—started to put in 3,500 gallon tanks this year, the first vintage at Hanwood commenced on the 14th February 1917 and resulted in 28,000 gallons of wine being made.


    Put in a small still which came from Junee of 135 gallons, with under fired wood heating, also a small bond with 2 by 1,200 gallon spirit receivers, 3 more fermenters as well as other storage concrete tanks.


     Bought a steam boiler of 8 h.p.and also put in a new 400 gallon still, a steam engine and some more 3,500 gallon tanks of concrete.

Made over 38,000 gallons of wine and enlarged the cellar by an additional 40 feet which made it 80 feet by 70 feet, all iron and timber for the rafters and purloins came from the wheat stacks at Barellan and Ardlethan which I purchased.


    During this period horses were used for all farm work, a stable and shed were erected and horse feed was produced on farm 130 in the early years, then it was bought in from outside, as all ground was planted to vines and oranges.

    All cartage of wine was done with our own horses for the first few years, and then an International solid tyred motor lorry was purchased and did most of the carrying to and from Griffith and the railway station.        About 1926 I employed the carrying firm of Ebert and Sara who took over most of the wine, cement and general cartage etc.


     Started the house on farm 130 from timber left over from the above purchase of 4 by 2 and 6 by 1 inch hardwood, also bought 14 sheets of fibro, cement and doors and two windows. These were bought from Andy Martins Griffith store.


    Made over 40,000 gallons of wine this year.


    Made 80,000 gallons of wine


    Started to expand fairly rapidly in concrete storage for the next 9 years in various size tanks from 5,000 to 25,000 gallon capacity, by 1931 Hanwood had about 1,000,000 gallons storage in concrete and was crushing around 5,000 tons of grapes.


    I went to Queensland and at Bundaberg bought a continuous still [second hand] this was shipped to Yenda and installed there.

    About this time a continuous still was also installed at Hanwood, designed by me and built by Porter of Sydney, a concrete still tower was built to house the still with a concrete water tank up top to supply the winery and house etc, with a good gravity pressure supply.


     Bought two Babcock wood fired Boilers from Temora Power House as they went over to Burrinjuck power that year, I had them installed at Hanwood and coupled to the still.

During all this time the two 50 acre blocks had to be looked after---the vines trellised, trained, sprayed, irrigated cultivated and pruned, and to boost production around 1932 with his three brothers they purchased three more 50 acre neighbouring blocks and put them all under vines.



Applied for block 778 Yenda of 3 acres against the railway and held in my name only under permissive occupancy for a few years.

Wine was sold there and about 300 tons of grapes crushed the first year, 50,000 gallon concrete storage and 12,000 gallon fermenting tanks were also put in that first year. All funds came from L.J. R. McWilliam account at Griffith for a number of years before an account was opened at Yenda, all wines sold at Yenda came from Hanwood for a number of years, also wine was transferred from Hanwood to Yenda to make room at Hanwood, this was done by horse lorry.



Started Ray Morgan in Canal Street to sell wine on a commission basis, it was run by him for a couple of years, then on his death I bought the blocks 9 and 10 Canal Street for the sum of about 180 pounds in the name of D.L. and L. J. R. McWilliam, after 1932 it was transferred to McWilliams Wines when the company was formed.

The sales over the whole period averaged about 800 pounds per month, or 10,000 pounds per year cash sales. I built the concrete building in 1936 and had sole control over it until 1947.

None of what I have talked about would have been accomplished if ti was not for the drive and tenacity of the pioneers and the availability of the irrigation water.

Stuart McWilliam