R is for Red Cliffs


George and William Chaffey had chosen the Red Cliffs area for the first Mildura settlement but had to abandon the idea as there were no pumps to lift the water to such a great height.  Thirty four years later it was felt technology had improved and mistakes of the past could be avoided. The country to be offered to the ex-diggers was reputed to be some of the richest land of the north-west.

Gangs of men started first on the thirty acres required for the nursery where the young grape vines would be grown. 800 men were divided into 30 gangs.  The men had tents but were too tired to prepare proper meals after a hard day’s work.  Boarding houses sprang up supplying cut lunches and evening meals.  Mail arrived by train in bags rolled down the hill as there was no station.  Despite the hard work endured by the men a football club was formed and the men played against the other towns, returning by train, jumping out and rolling down the hill like sacks of mail.  Surprisingly only one sprained foot was reported.  There were no doctors, nurses or dentists in the settlement and the journey to Mildura was long and torturous over unmade tracks.

To obtain a block of land Ted and other applicants had to obtain a qualification certificate with references from a minister of religion, a school teacher and a government authority.  He was then grilled by a board in Melbourne and when considered suitable presented himself to the Land Board in Mildura and was allocated his 15 acres. He was then handed over to Jim Bailey who assigned him to a gang.  The temperatures were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, there were flies and dust and no sign of a settlement.  Many turned around and went back to Melbourne.

For a few months there were no police in Red Cliffs.  Two-up, sly grog and all sorts of gambling were commonplace.  With the arrival of women it was felt a police presence was needed.  Constable Bill Winterton, six feet tall and eighteen stone, commanded respect after his arrival on April 21.  When at first the men stood up to him he took off his coat and challenged them to a fight.  No-one took up the challenge.

Feeding the men was still a problem so two large mess halls were built.  The men had one pound a week deducted from their wages.  This proved successful and the food was of good quality.  One day the men turned up and there was no food waiting for them.  The staff had all caught a train to Melbourne with four hundred pounds of the men’s money to put on the Melbourne Cup.  They lost the lot and from then on the mess was run by State Rivers.

Ted Turner was popular with the other ex soldiers and at night eight or ten men would gather round his tent, singing and yarning until all hours while he played his violin.

There were many setbacks of course.  Most 1921 planting were lost due to lack of water.  Then rabbits arrived, followed by huge sandstorms caused by clearing so much land.  The men learned from their mistakes and the town grew.

A lending library was established with donations, followed by the establishment of a literary society.  Children were arriving so a school began in the old woolshed.  The teacher was a blockie who thought he had left his former profession for good.  A doctor started visiting three times a week.  As well as football,  a cricket team was formed  and a tennis club began.  From nothing a community was emerging.

Everyone liked to tell a funny story, especially Ted Turner.  When the Reverend Fettell, an ex-digger, was to be transferred to Bendigo, Ted told the following story. Mr Fettell used to assist Ted in issuing shares in the Red Cliffs Co-operative Society.  A Dr Zimmer attended at the same office three days a week.  One day a woman arrived and immediately went into great detail about her ailments.  Although they tried to stop her outpouring she kept going to the end and then asked what they advised her to do.  “See a doctor, madam”, was the joint reply.

17 thoughts on “R is for Red Cliffs

  1. A marvellous account of Red Cliffs and a terrific photo showing where it got its name my husband Greg’s father worked at Red Cliffs after the war. I enjoyed reading your description of what it was like.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hari OM
    LOL… oh so Aussie… for not only was the community forming, so was the Australian character deepening and becoming its very own thing. My word they were hardy. YAM xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. With the Red Cliffs soldier settlement celebrating it’s centenary next year (2021) we are interested in your stories, Linda. Wondering if you can contact us via email: history@redcliffs.net Thanks.
    If anyone has Red Cliffs (Victoria) connections we have a facebook page and a website where you can connect with us or others from our community and get details of our plans for the centenary. From Red Cliffs & District Historical Society.


  4. I studied Australian history and literature and the hardship of these soldier settlements is familiar to me. What I didn’t know, were the hoops they had to jump through to qualify and that men who’d already slogged it out during the war and potentially been injured had to work so hard for what I’d thought was a gift. That seems a bit rough. However, these were different times and physical work was probably more the norm than it is now. I loved the photo of the red cliffs. It was very striking, but I wouldn’t want to be starting a farm there.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking of mateship, I’ve been looking into mateship on the battlefield. Well, it was one of those things that hits you in the face, especially as I’ve researched hundreds of soldiers. What they don’t tell you about these soldiers is that many of them enlisted together from the same small towns and had grown up together. They were also brothers and cousins. Then, yiou throw these pre-existing connections into the crucible of war and something beyond your standard friendship is forged. This is like an uber-mateship.


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