History of Alexandrina Council - Part 5

AROUND THE TOWN - July’19 - by Frank Tuckwell

I missed the last Council meeting through a city appointment I had to attend so as there is no item of interest observed from the gallery, this month’s reflection will give way to a little longer step in the history of our local Council’s evolution.

A Short history of our local Council 1853 – 1997 (Part 5)

As the Goolwa Town Council (Corporation) entered the twentieth century with the high spirits and aspirations of the new nation of the Commonwealth of Australia, Mayor Bill Sumner headed his town Council which for the first time, would be part of the third level of government in the land. It would be an entirely new era as Goolwa had little river trade left to it, with some growing concern about disputed control over interstate Goolwa’s river skippers would give less time capturing the dwindling trade remnants left to it below Morgan and began to enter public life through local and State water flow to South Australia. it would find itself asking the question as to what part it would play in the future discussions regarding allocation of Murray River waters between the States.

In the late 1890’s Colonial parliaments had the political battle lines drawn between conservatives, independents and social democrats. When election time came around candidates would hold “town hall” meetings in the Goolwa Institute to harangue the local citizenry. As the closing of the 19th century drew near, the political scene began to change as the old colonial parliaments could see their role changing from top to middle level ranking.

While State politics was moving along adjusting to its middle level role, John D. (Jack) Ritchie was the first of the riverboat skippers to tie up his vessel and enter local politics. He contested and won a Goolwa Council seat for North ward in the 1898. On the resignation of the Stephen Cole, the Town Clerk in 1899, Jack resigned as an elected the member and was appointed Goolwa Town Clerk in July 1899. He served in that office until he resigned in February 1923, to be elected to Council for North ward for 1923-24.

Jack was followed into local government by his brother George, who tied up his steamer to stand for and win the office of Mayor in the town election of 1901. George held the office for three terms.

Captain George was born in Goolwa in 1864, son of Captain James Ritchie, one of Cadell’s pioneer fleet captains. On the death of his father, he took over his shipping business in 1882 and built up a successful fleet of steamers. Although he was to hold a continuing interest in the family business, George made the decision to enter Goolwa’s public life when he was elected by popular vote to become Mayor of Goolwa, 1901-1903. He was also a member of the Corinthian Lodge of Freemasons in Goolwa and was a worshipful Master of the lodge for a term.

George next ventured into State politics by winning the seat of Alexandra in the House of Assembly in 1902. At different periods he served the state in both houses for a total of 40 years, holding every government office during that time, including Treasurer, Chief Secretary and acting Premier. In June 1935 he was knighted for services to the State to become Sir George Ritchie KCMG. He retired in 1943 due to ill-health at 80 years of age. Sir George died on the 9th August 1944.

World War 1 raged through the second decade of the twentieth century and weighed heavily on the people of Goolwa. The Mayors of Goolwa farewelled at least 117 young Goolwa-ites off to war which totalled one sixth of the town’s population. By the 1920’s the river trade for the Port of Goolwa had come to an end except for occasional remnants of local work. As the river trade ran out so did a significant number of the town’s population but although the local owners of the riverboats and those who had the major businesses in the town could have done likewise, they remained and kept their faith in the town of Goolwa. The death notice for the port was finally delivered by a terse line in the Commonwealth Gazette in December 1922 stating bluntly the “establishment of the Port of Goolwa revoked”.

Then followed the great depression as it loomed darkly toward the closing years of the decade and with its economic effects on all governments beginning to show nationally, the chain effects proceeded to move down the line to bite into the financial viability of small Councils. In 1928 the State government began to investigate the possible amalgamation of certain urban and rural Councils with this enquiry inevitably including the still financially viable Corporation of Goolwa within its scope. During Easter weekend of 1929 a massive “Back-to-Goolwa” festival was celebrated throughout town involving an RSL regatta and air race featuring the leading aviators in the industry, along with schools, churches, lodges and clubs drawing the biggest crowd of people ever seen in the town. This event was to show solidarity of Council and people in the fight against the proposed Council amalgamation with their new Mayor, the progressive Percy Wells at its head. The full effects of the great depression fell on the world later that year.