Life in Goolwa in April 1940?

Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945

APRIL 1940

Events taking place in Scandinavia now shows that the theory of Hitler’s war plan for invasion of northern Europe before he launches his attack against the Lowlands and France is beginning to look more likely. Churchill, through the 1930’s had warned an unwilling British government to modernise and build up the nation’s defence forces to keep pace with Nazi Germany’s advanced state of modern war capabilities. Churchill’s warning had been dismissed in favour of an appeasement policy.

On April 3rd things began to run in favour of Churchill, who is now the First Lord of the Admiralty and chair of the Ministerial Defence Committee, has just been elevated to the position of Minister for Coordination of Defence. British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain has approved British forces landing in Norway in several places between June 9th and 16th to counter the expanding German forces which have landed and have now taken the capital, Oslo. The British action however has proven to be unsustainable, so it will be necessary to begin withdrawal of these troops at the end of the month.

The Germans have set up a government in occupied Norway and have appointed a former Norwegian defence minister, Vidkun Quisling, to be at its head. The strange quiet period often referred to as the ‘phoney war’ is showing some signs of hotting up as Italy now looks certain to come into the war on Germany’s side.

Around the town, home here in Goolwa the local social scene this month is brightened by smartly dressed young men wearing either their Khaki uniforms and slouch hats or in RAAF dress blues and peak caps. Ten local men of the AIF are almost at the end of their pre-embarkation leave and will soon return to NSW prior to sailing for overseas in one of two ocean liners being refitted as troop ships in Sydney. Of the airmen, Wal Balfour-Ogilvy, a former Renmark boy, was spending most of his leave in Goolwa, where he is keeping company with one of our local girls. Locals Mervyn Ward and Keith Neighbour are spending their leave with their families before returning to Laverton air base.

Lately there has been much talk about petrol rationing being brought in some time in the next few weeks. Work is being done in designing and the development of charcoal gas producing equipment to serve as a supplementary fuel in petrol engine vehicles. The federal government announces that low cost models of this gas producing unit will be available shortly. Available storage for petroleum in Australia will only carry enough to supply the nation’s use, including military requirements for three months.

Reg Bristow-Smith presented a report to the biennial Parent’s Meeting held at the Goolwa Primary School recently. He described the great number of improvements to the grounds that have been achieved over the past two years. The parade ground has been resurfaced and sealed, and alongside it a large games area has been levelled and coated with marl. The whole area is now enclosed by neat brush fencing. Boxthorns have been removed from the school property. Thanks to Mr Cyril Newell and his tractor, the larger play area outside the brush fence enclosed yard has been ploughed and levelled which in future will become a first-class grass sports oval for the school. Following the report, the committee was elected for 1940-1942: Chairman, Rev. O. Nelson; secretary, Reg Bristow-Smith; and the committee which includes, Arnold Minns, Ed Lloyd, Edgar Skewes, Arthur Neighbour and Harold Berkshire.

Over the first weekend of this month, all the accommodation at Goolwa and along the South Coast have been filled to capacity by buyers from all over Australia as they prepare for the South Australia’s biggest disposal sales at each of the lower Murray barrages. They will begin at the Goolwa works on Tuesday, April 8th and running for a week, including auctions at two of the other barrage work sites. A total of almost 4000 items include vessels, cranes, cottages, timber, power plants and stores are up for sale.

Opening day for the sale began with auctioning the working men’s mess room with separate minor lots of catering equipment.Other items sold during the day ranged from quantities of belting, tools, timber, steel and iron rods and sections but none of the larger items.Day two saw BHP purchasing huge amounts of new and used oregon timber.The purchasing agent of the Central Gold Milling Co of Tennant Creek bought a large shed and several of the wood and iron worker’s cottages which will be re-erected at their works in the Territory.These will be trucked to Adelaide, railed to Port Augusta and then railed to Alice Springs, and finally road transported to Tennant Creek.

Daily, the scene at the Goolwa barrage is a hive of industry as dismantling of buildings and massive loads of gear are being loaded onto big fleets of heavy trucks constantly coming and going throughout the day. Day three disposed of the larger items in the Goolwa catalogue PS CAPTAIN STURT, dipper dredge MILANG and three imported steam locomotives of a narrow-gauge track.

Almost to the last days of the barrage construction work, PS CAPTAIN STURT was a valuable working asset by which means the entire project was brought to a successful conclusion. Built in USA at Cincinnati, Ohio, the “STURT” as it was commonly referred to, was brought to SA in parts where assembly began at Mannum in 1915. The powerful, twin funnelled steamer was in commission by November 1916, specifically for lock and barrage building. Rear paddle driven, it would push its barges ahead of it, Mississippi style, which in its 25-year working life has transported more than a quarter of a million tons of stone to construction sites along the river. Its tremendous steam siren became legendry when it boomed out along the river, so too was the added spectacle of the “rooster tail” water cascading over its rear paddlewheel it produced when underway.

Department officers estimated that the steamer earned 50,000 Pounds, rated on the cost of contractor haulage rates. Captain George Johnston oversaw the vessel until 1928, then it came under Captain Harry Payne until 1940. The CAPTAIN STURT at auction today had only three interested buyers present, with the opening bid of 140 Pounds. Captain Jack Ritchie of Goolwa was successful in purchasing the steamer with his bid of 205 Pounds. When asked what his intentions were for the steamer, he stated he would take it to Goolwa to be thoroughly overhauled, then he would take it on one-day river excursions to the barrage and around Hindmarsh Island.

Another important piece of equipment used in a vital part of the Goolwa barrage construction was the big batter pile driving frame used throughout the job, driving the thousands of 40 foot gum piles deep into the silt river bed to give a solid base upon which to build the barrage. The silt would preserve those wooden piles for centuries. 12,000 super feet of heavy Oregon timber had been used in constructing the pile frame. Townspeople will never forget the persistent hammering noise that went on relentlessly night and day during the time it operated at the site. The fifth and sixth-day auction sales were held on Mundoo and Ewe Islands and at Pelican Point. All auction sales were completed on Saturday, April 13, and extended to Monday 16th. Throughout the sales at the Goolwa Barrage, the local branch of Red Cross conducted a cool drinks stall on site and raised a healthy return for their funds on Goolwa sale days.

Anzac Day service was organised by the Goolwa RSL sub-branch on Sunday 20th, when diggers from all over the district assembled at the Anglican church to march down Cadell Street to the memorial gardens, headed by the Victor Harbor brass band. The significance of the gathering and the service was heightened by the thoughts of the approaching departure from Sydney of the local 2/AIF men who will be among those embarking for overseas service. Rev. Ryan of Victor Harbor gave the address. Lieutenant-colonel A.S.N. Lovell conducted the service. To those assembled, the service rekindled sad memories as they stood around the war memorial at the head of Cadell Street. Here on this elevated site watched over by the eternal sentry, mounted atop the cenotaph in that endless watch over his hometown. On the marble column on which the armed digger stands, is carved the names of all those bright young men of Goolwa, who almost a quarter of a century ago now, went to fight the war to end all wars.

Of the silent sentry, there is a moment whenever passing by, one senses that he is whispering endlessly, the words of the motto of the RSL, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. So mote it be.