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