Pompoota Hall centenary: little-known tales of SA's soldier-settler scheme to be re-told

If these walls could talk: Trevor Twigden prepares for Pompoota Hall's centenary this Sunday. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
If these walls could talk: Trevor Twigden prepares for Pompoota Hall's centenary this Sunday. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

When the smoke cleared after the Great War, hundreds of servicemen returned to South Australia to rebuild their lives.

Some might have heard of the soldier-settler scheme that gave those men land in rural areas, but few would realise the pivotal role the Pompoota Hall played in that chapter of the state's history.

More than 300 came through the tiny River Murray settlement, accessible only by paddleboat, to learn the basics of a farming life.

Their experiences – and those of the students and community members who have also used the building during its history – will be celebrated at its centenary from 11am this Sunday.

In 1917, then-Premier Crawford Vaughan visited for an official ceremony; this weekend, Jay Weatherill will do the same, unveiling a plaque to honour the men and women who lived, learnt and toiled at Pompoota.

An exhibition about the training farm there, "After the Trenches", will also be opened in the presence of Veterans’ Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith.

Other special guests will include fifth-generation Pompoota residents Rob and Helen Lindner, who still farm the property their family established.

Lunch and refreshments will be available, with proceeds going towards ongoing upkeep of the hall.

Organising committee member Trevor Twigden said the training farm had been a world-leading facility at the time it opened, and experts came from as far afield as France to inspect it.

"People who had been demobilised for health reasons, they were the original trainees," he said.

"A guy called Samuel McIntosh was instrumental in convincing the government to put it here."

McIntosh had helped oversee an 1890s village settlement scheme in the Riverland.

"There were problems: they got dropped on the riverbank with some grain, some food and some money for a few months and were expected to be self-sufficient," Mr Twigden said.

"When they were looking to do something with soldier-settlers, they said 'you've got to have some training if you're going to be successful'."

Between 1917 and 1923 trainees from Pompoota moved on to properties in the Riverland and Mid North as well as Wall Flat and Mypolonga.

The exhibition about the soldier-settler scheme was produced with a $6100 Anzac Day commemoration grant, and will remain at the hall until April 25 before being shown elsewhere.

Mid Murray Council contributed $2000 to the cost of Sunday's event, and many other organisations offered support.

  • More information: email trevort321@bigpond.com or call 8535 4352.