Riverina's Ghost Towns

14 January 1947 The Murrumbidgee Irrigator (Leeton)

Water their only salvation Cr. Struck's evidence at snowy river inquiry.

In the course of evidence at the Economic Committee of Inquiry into the proposed diversion of the Snowy River into the Murrumbidgee or the Murray, at Griffith, on Thursday last, Cr. R. A. Struck, President of the Leeton Shire Council, referred to the dwindling populations along the Narrandera-Junee and Griffithi-Cootamundra railway lines, where the once prosperous small country centres had degenerated into what might almost be called ghost towns through the lack of a permanent and reliable water supply and the ravages of drought.   

Appalling Stock Losses 

Cr. Struck stated that the Murrumbidgee Region 17, comprising the Shires of Carrathool, Murrumbidgee, Wade, Leeton, Yanko, Lockhart, Coolamon, Mitchell, Narrubuaa, Kyeamba, Illabo, Jindalee, Gundagai, and the municipalities of Narrandera, Wagga, Junee, Temora, Cootamundra and Tumut had a population 40 years ago of 96,000.

In 1938 the population was still 96,000.

On the irrigation area to-day the population was between 20,000 and 21,000.

This showed that there had been a decrease in population of 21,000 outside the irrigation areas because 40 years ago there was nobody on the irrigation area with the exception of approximately 150 men who were working for the late Sir Samuel McCaughey.

He also dwelt on the effect of the drought in the Hay and Carrathool Pastures Protection Area over the last six or seven years, and more so during the 1943-44-45 years when some of the holdings in those areas lost the whole of their stock.

Disaster For Wheat Farmers 

Attention was drawn by Cr. Struck to the condition of the wheat industry during the last three years under drought conditions, when districts from Yenda to Mirrool and on the Grifflth-Cootamundm line and from Narrandera to Marrar on the south-west line, had experienced a very bad time.

This year they had no production of wheat at all, and he instanced the Coolamon district, which normally has an annual production of 200,000 bags of wheat, but this year would not harvest a single bag.

The Ganmain district, which was known as the chaff district of the State, with a normal annual production of from 45,000 to 50,000 tons per annum, had this year about 5000 tone of poor quality hay.

He mentioned the important relationship between primary and secondary industries so far as labour was concerned, pointing out that it was necessary for the rural areas to have season-able labour and equally necessary for expansion to take place in industrial enterprises so that industries could be operated in the off peak periods, thereby allowing the labour to be transferred from rural to secondary industries so that they could have full employment for at least nine or ten months in the year.

Industrial Expansion Needed   

Mention was made by Cr. Struck of the fact that all the year round harvesting was possible on the Irrigation Area because of the number and variety of crops that were produced, labour being transferred from crop to crop and to the canneries in the canning season.

He instanced the potentialities for industrial expansion, pointing out that Leeton Cannery during the war years, besides processing nearly 9000 tons of fruit, stepped up during the war years to the production of 12,000 tons of vegetables, which meant that employees were kept busy the whole of the year round.

During this period the cannery employed approximately 1350 hands.

In April and May of 1946, due to the cancellation of vegetable orders, the cannery decreased the number of its employees from 1350 to 170.

Under normal conditions the employees were increased during the apricot season of 1946 to 700 and this week they were again decreased to 200, and there was no possible hope of farther employment for those people who had been put off until the commencement of the peach season in January.

The peach season would carry them on until April.

Some of the males would be transferred to the rice harvesting, but a large carry over of female as well as male labour, would occur.

Cr. Struck said that other industries should be established if possible, where their peak of production would be at times other than the peak of the cannery season or the harvesting of the main rural products. 

The Ghost Towns

Reverting to the decrease in population, he mentioned that the towns along the Griffith-Cootamundra line, and the Narrandera-Junee line, were to-day, almost ghost towns and it did not appear that they would ever resume their former status of prospering small towns, but would eventually decline to the stage when there would be only a post office store left.