Lochaber: 1951 newspaper article recounts early history

Do you know the full history of Lochaber?

Elva Dickenson has unearthed a Herald article from September 20, 1951, which includes some fascinating historical facts about the settlement north of Naracoorte.

The article written by J. G. McIntosh reveals Lochaber was first settled by a group of Scottish migrants in 1838. They hailed from Lochaber country, in the shire of Inverness, and the central figures included “worthy members” of the Clan Cameron – Ewen, Donald, John and William.

In 1851, the first pastoral leases were issued in SA, and among them were at least two Camerons. On June 10, 1855, the first marriage in the district was recorded at Naracoorte, and the bride was Mary Cameron of Morambro.

In 1859 some of the Camerons’ land was sold and one of the buyers was Mr W. S. Williams, who is believed to be the first man to graze sheep in the district.

In July 1869, the Hundred of Lochaber was proclaimed and all the leases were resumed or expired, then the land was surveyed and offered at public auction in 1871.

Williams and Hutchison families became more prominent land-holders in the coming years, and the first district council came into being in August 1870.

Mr McIntosh wrote in the 1951 article: “In 1890 the district council was genuinely worried with the rabbit plague, and an enormous amount of wire netting was erected throughout the council area.

“Rabbit proof gates were erected across main roads in quite a number of places and one was placed at the end of the Lochaber Lane on Bordertown Road.

“Naturally enough, gates were not popular with those good folk not interested in farming and grazing. One such man wrote a strong letter to the Naracoorte Herald and described the business of getting down from his trap to open this particular gate as nothing else than a ‘preposterous nuisance’.”

Services

Mr McIntosh wrote that postal facilities were first introduced about 1883, and the first post office was located about 2.5 miles north of the present school. A few years later the office was moved to Mr J. G. Forster’s property and remained there until it closed in 1926 and the private bag system was introduced.

A telephone exchange opened in 1923.

For many years there was one mail per week on Saturdays, and the mailman went on to Padthaway, remained over the weekend and returned on Monday to collect the mail for Naracoorte. A second mail run on Wednesdays was eventually introduced.

The first school in the district was opened north-east of Ross Williams’s home before being shifted to the current site, and in 1885 27 scholars answered the roll call on opening day. This building remained in service until 1902 when the present school hall was opened.

Mr McIntosh wrote in the 1951 article: “The old school has had its ups and downs and for a time was closed for lack of scholars, but at present is enjoying its highest roll call at about 30.

“As a social centre the old building still serves the district and has done for two generations.

As well as regular dances, Mr McIntosh said: “In my early years I can recall entertainments such as a magic lantern and gramophone, together with an interesting talk, but the times are changing now.”

Weather worries

“In 1882 the Cockatoo Lake went dry, and a few years later, in 1889, they had to contend with the wettest year in living memory.

“So great was the flood that many crops were ruined, and shearing in some cases delayed until November, and then the woolly sheep had to be driven long distances through shallow water. One family, Hinzes, were able to come and collect their mail by boat.

“The year 1893 was a year of bitter trials for many of our pastoral pioneers. Quite a number were forced off their farms and stations by business methods very little better than those adopted by Ned Kelly.

“The idea of an equitable mortgage apparently did not exist in those years, and money was lent on the understanding that the whole asset was conveyed to the money lender...the money lender had such a stranglehold on his client that he could ask for his money at abnormally short notice and promptly put in the bailiff if the unfortunate client could not meet the payment.

“After years of hard work the unfortunate client walked off bankrupt and the “gangster money lender” resold the property at a substantial profit.”

“(In) the last big flood of 1906 there was a sheet of water from the edge of our wattle plantation right over to the scrub range, with the ridges jutting up like little islands here and there.

“There was a stream of water about 200 yards wide and about five feet deep flowing over the road...a similar stream flowed over the Stewarts Range Road, where little drain E now crosses. There was neither bridge nor drain in those days, and the road was quite impassable.

“Big drain E was excavated about 1913-15 through this district and has prevented any repetition of 1906.

“The year 1914 was a time of trial for the landholders, when we had our driest year in living memory. Stock losses were fairly considerable and many crops failed. Markets collapsed for the time being due to the war.”

Mr McIntosh finished his article with: “In conclusion I am sure I express the sentiments of the whole district in acknowledging our very deep debt of gratitude to the sturdy men and women who blazed the trail before us, and did so much spadework development in this fine district of ours.

“No doubt they hoped for but were not privileged to see more than a fraction of the prosperity we enjoy today.”