Centenary of Griffith

The Delves Family

John Delves

I am a proud descendant of one of the pioneering families of Hanwood, who are long standing customers of ,what is now , Murrumbidgee Irrigation.

When my great grandfather Paul Percy originally arrived at Mirool West/Bagtown in July 1913, he shared accommodation with Alan Little, in the tent barracks provided by the WC & IC.

Fourteen days after his arrival, on August 2nd 1913 Paul Percy was granted Farm 140. The original holding , 140 is still owned by our family and we believe we might be one of the longest continuous customers of MI, who still own their original farm; the Mc Gann’s  at Farm 126 and Mc Williams Hanwood  Farms 133 and 130  may also fall into this category.

He then returned to Bendigo where the family had previously had land, to collect his two horses, a spring cart and other equipment he had left with a friend for safe keeping. On his return journey he crossed the Murrumbidgee River where the drawbridge was only a few years old.

Paul camped initially at Yarranvale dam, a public dam, which is on Farm 132 – now owned by Judy Zappacosta. In 1913 this dam provided the water for John James McWilliam to irrigate his newly heeled in grape cuttings.

My great grandfather used his horse to cultivate the ground for JJ’s rootlings.  A furphy tank was used to hand water the cuttings until the irrigation water arrived in October later that year.

In exchange for the use of one of his horses to cultivate; JJ gave Paul enough rootlings to plant 5 acres of black Shiraz.

With a lack of horticultural experience neighbours worked together. They pooled their farming resources including tools and implements. The WC & IC also had implements which could be borrowed.

Their house was partly built by Christmas 1913 when his wife Alice, and two small children, my grandfather Harry and his sister Pauline, moved to Hanwood. Alice and the children arrived by train at Willbriggie Station.

The post and timber for the house, and later vines, were cut on the side of Scenic Hill, now Wood Road. Dairy cows were purchased - their cream was delivered to the Butter Factory near the present MI offices formerly CSIRO.

The house contains a large brick fireplace in the kitchen which secured the permanent residency of the family in Hanwood.  My great grandfather purchased bricks for the fireplace, which sat for several weeks.   It seems at this point, my great grandmother, Alice, had reservations about their future in Hanwood. Life was difficult for Alice. The bricks were sold.

Several weeks went by until she visited a Mrs Ted Brown. This social visit reassured her, and bricks were re-purchased and the fireplace built.

Three more children were born -Doreen, Alva and Ron. The first of these children Doreen sadly died at six weeks of a red back spider bite whilst her father carried her on horseback for medical help to Whitton. There was no doctor or any medical service in the settlement at this time. Doreen is buried at Bagtown Cemetery.

As has been documented, there was dissatisfaction with government administration and farm holding sizes.  In the mid 1920’s following many deputations a number of farms were granted additional area. 

In 1928, with the additional area Paul, with his son Harry grew one of the early rice crops. The first rice crop was harvested by a header pulled by a team of eight horses. The coffee pot engine proved to be not powerful enough and a motor from an Ivel tractor was converted to drive the header. In 1929 they employed a ten horse team.

In 1936 seven years later, a diesel McDonald tractor was bought for 630 pounds the equivalent price of a rice farm. A number of these tractors were bought by other large area farmers at this time and it had an impact on rice growing with its efficiency to return the capital outlay.

During the 30’s life did improve following the Depression.  But the Second World War again changed circumstances with resources needed for the war; petrol was scarce. To travel distances some people used charcoal burners inplace of petrol. My grandfather Harry made a car charcoal burner for himself.  For instance to travel to Melbourne, he acquired bags of charcoal from a man who used red gum to make charcoal, at Darlington Point.  He would travel with 2 bags tied on the front bumper bar. Every 70 miles he would have to pour charcoal into the burner.  He would acquire more charcoal at Tocumwal and this would get him through to Melbourne.

I acknowledge the hardships and determination of the pioneers from 1912 onwards.  The foresight of people who could envisage and put into practice the MIA; the infrastructure, including channels created with horses and small implements to deliver the water to new crops.

For instance, imagine the uncertainty of digging with a shovel, into a newly formed earth channel bank for the first time and hoping the water would take the right course.

The original settlers were issued with topographical maps but even so it must have been daunting to envisage the directional flow of water on their first irrigated crops.

John Delves