Goolwa Goes to War Again 1939-1945


October 1939

We are now into the second month of WW2 but in Goolwa the war seemed unreal in every-day thoughts and life of the town. The Goolwa barrage works were winding down, leaving the work force that was left with only minor tasks of clean-up and insertion of sluice logs, and operating gear for the lock left to do. Most of the construction workers who had not been laid off were concentrating on finishing the last and longest of the barrages in the system stretching from Tauwitcherie Island to the mainland at Pelican Point.

On October 12, the PS Murrabit in command of Captain T.C. (Charlie) Goode, towing the barge Koondrook left Goolwa for Echuca loaded with Larsen steel sheet piles left over from the Goolwa works. This is the second trip to Echuca for the Murrabit taking the steel up-river for use in the construction of the Lawson syphon works at Deniliquin. On this last trip the steamer and barge will pick up two lots of steel that could not be loaded because of the high river on the first trip. In all the steamer will be hauling a total of 390 tons of cargo this trip.

Racing to complete the Tauwitcherie barrage, engineers have their eyes on another Murray flood steadily working its way ever closer to the lower lakes and the Goolwa channel. Some doubted that the incomplete works could stand the rigours of the advancing wall of water. However the general consensus among the E & WS Department engineers is that the flood waters will not reach the volume of the 1931 flood and there isn’t the slightest chance that the great construction work would sustain damage from the forthcoming, or indeed any future flood because of their strength and design.

On the contrary, a big floodwater flow in this the year of the barrage works completion, would enhance its standing as a magnificent and durable structure, and is the last in all the River Murray regulation works along the length of the river system to be built. Despite the near completion of all the barrages the Commissioner of Public Works, Mr McIntosh, said earlier this month that the grand event planned to celebrate the completion of the works would be deferred until further notice because of the outbreak of the war.

Whether the town’s feeling of reality of war are felt or not, an AIF recruiting team rolled into Goolwa on Friday morning, October 27 to interview any young men who wanted to volunteer to join up in the 2nd AIF force now being formed. The recruiting depot team was touring the state working to fill a 700 men quota for SA. They seek to get half this number from men already in training doing compulsory part time service in the militia, so Goolwa with its own training group drew the team’s recruiting visit. As soon as any men enlisted, they would be called in to the Wayville showgrounds camp temporarily, then after November 7 when the new 2nd AIF camp came into operation they wound be sent to Woodside camp for ongoing training.

At Goolwa, the local militia unit H.Q. shared the old de-licenced Australasian Hotel building with the temporary local office of the River Murray Commission staff who are handling contractors, supplies and payroll of all employees on the barrage construction works. Here the 2nd AIF recruiting team set up their information office for the morning and chatting with local men who showed an interest in the new AIF display. It is reported that about 12 men volunteered to enlist and would be called in during the next few weeks and several who had shown an interest may volunteer shortly. This reaction is seen as evidence that Goolwa is well under way yet again to uphold the reputation the town had earned during WW1 when it achieved the highest number of enlistees per capita in S.A. to serve on active service.

Now into October and mid-spring, comes many local sporting organisation’s preparations for the 1939-40 warmer season events. The Goolwa Sailing Club (GSC) held its AGM this month and looks forward to an excellent season ahead. Despite the war, there is a strong local interest in the club’s activities as well as a growing involvement between the local and metropolitan sailing clubs. The newly elected principal officers of the club are among the well-known and most dedicated members of the sailing fraternity. As club patrons there is Mr Napier Birks, managing director of Charles Birks Ltd., Adelaide, whose generosity to the sporting and general welfare activities in Goolwa is well known and who frequently enjoys cruising the river from his second home at Birks Harbour in north Goolwa. The other patron is the chairman of the District Council of Port Elliot, Mr Walter. F. (Watty) Newell, popular Councillor of Sturt Ward and farmer in Goolwa. The GSC’s commodore is Eric Mayne with H. (Jock) Sauerbier as vice-commodore.

The GSC hopes that repairs being carried out on the wharf by a gang of SA Harbour Board men will be completed before sailing season officially opens on the first week of next month. The wharf, over 60 years old and one of the oldest in the state, is in the course of a major decking overhaul along the length of the structure, now that barrage construction is nearing its end. The old wharf is in a really degraded state after many thousands of tons of barrage construction material has passed over it, added to the thousands of bales of wool and tonnages of incoming and outgoing general cargoes it handled during the boom days of the riverboat era since 1878.

Elsewhere earlier this month a small historic treasure trove of documents was discovered by tradesmen working in the old Customs house on the cliff-edge behind the Goolwa wharf. The building passed into the ownership of the South Australian Railways sometime after the Commonwealth government closed the Goolwa Customs office in 1904. Currently the building is now the Goolwa Stationmaster’s home and is undergoing thorough repairs, painting and remodelling.

The discovery of the old documents was made by the tradesmen while working on re-roofing the house. It appears that in the early years of the Customs house the ceiling of the building was used as an archive by the sub-collector of Customs for redundant office paperwork. The documents were mainly Customs copies of the cargo manifests of steamers and their barges from 1859 through to the 1860’s and listed wines, spirits, ales, beers and other alcoholic drinks, tobacco, tea, coffee, hardware and other products for which Customs duty was payable. These copies had been submitted by agents of the time including Elder, Stirling & Co., Younghusband & Co., Acraman, Main, Lindsay & Co., and others of that time. Most of these documents are to be lodged with the state archives.