Karoonda East Murray History

Gallery of historic images

The first occupiers were the Ngarket tribe, their lands extended north beyond Copeville, south towards Coonalpyn, east to near the border and west to a few miles from the river. The tools found are of both the ground and flaked cultures, suggesting the two distinct occupations over a very long period. Several wells are known locally, but this area would likely have been occupied only during wet periods. There were no Ngarkat surviving tribally by the mid 1800’s when the pastoralists moved in, mainly due to disease and wars with neighbouring tribes.

The Mallee lands taken up for grazing sheep were on huge pastoral leases from 1859, when Chucka Bend (Bowhill) Station included where Karoonda stands today. To the south, John Whyte left his mark with Moorlands Station 1877 – the homestead was lived in until 1974 and destroyed in 1986. Wells were hand-dug for water. The district’s oldest buildings date from this era at Bakara. These leases were not successful and were abandoned by 1900.

Our Mallee lands were unique in that the railways were established before close settlement began. They played an essential role into the 1960’s. The Brown’s Well line was built 1910 – 1914. On 30th May, 1912 track laying was completed to 30 miles 74 chains (1/2 a mile past Karoonda) and in June 1912 the first goods, passengers and mail were carried from Tailem Bend to Karoonda. Branch lines were added from Karoonda, north to Waikerie and east to the border and extended to Barmera northwards.

Settlers began taking up selections from 1910, clearing the dense scrub with horse-drawn rollers.

The first Karoonda public bore began operations in 1911, providing water for the farming pioneers.

The survey of the town was finally completed in 1913. Karoonda was a hub serving sidings and towns in four directions at about 8km intervals. There were coaling and watering facilities and workshops and barn for railcars stationed here.

By 1930 about half the arable land was cleared. Poor wheat prices, dry years and unsuitable practices created crisis.

In 1927 a farmers meeting at Borrika began moves resulting finally in orderly wheat marketing and what has eventually evolved into today’s Farmers Federation.

Some notable events in Karoonda East Murray’s history

  • 1911 first bore sunk in Karoonda township
  • 1912 first train arrived at Karoonda
  • 1913 township of Karoonda proclaimed
  • 1930 the Karoonda Meteorite fell
  • 1941 small district schools amalgamated into Karoonda to form the first area school in S.A.
  • 1950s rabbit plagues in the district
  • 1956 Bore water reticulated in Karoonda
  • 1964 Karoonda silos built, bringing bulk grain handling to the district, capacity 50,000 tonnes, the largest silo in the region
  • 1973 new 14 bed hospital opened in Karoonda
  • 1977 Murray River water reticulated
  • 1979 East Murray & Karoonda District Councils amalgamate
  • 1983 the community swimming pool built at Karoonda Area School
  • 1985 the first Annual Karoonda Sheep Fair (now Karoonda Farm Fair)
  • 1985 Caravan Park developed at Apex Park
  • 1986 Pioneer Historical Park farm and railways museum opened
  • 1991 Meals on Wheels commenced in Karoonda. 50 year celebrations KAS. Karoonda & District Community Development Group established and first issue of Community Newsletter published.
  • 1997 inaugural Karoonda Australian Music Festival
  • 1998 Council relocated to old Highways Depot on Tower Drive to accommodate expansion of the Karoonda Farm Fair
  • 2003 Karoonda township celebrates 90th birthday
  • 2011 Karoonda celebrates 100 years since sinking of the towns first public bore

Welcome to Karoonda – the Heart of South Australia’s Mallee, we hope you enjoy your visit.

Gallery of historic images


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