Dozens of people converged on the Wall Flat hall on Sunday for a celebration of the district’s history.
In particular, it was the 100th anniversary of the arrival of South Australia’s first soldier-settlers in the area, 19 graduates of the Pompoota training farm.
Robert Martin wrote a history of Wall Flat for the occasion, transcribed below.
A Brief History of Wall Flat, with a Focus on Soldier Settlement
Henry Metcalfe took out an occupation lease in 1843, for land on the River Murray that stretched from the later. Murray Bridge northwards, probably as far as the present Wall district.
Metcalfe died suddenly in 1849 and the pastoral run passed to John Baker, a man notable in South Australia's history as a pastoralist and politician, even being for a short time premier. It was at this time that the name Wall appeared in the records as the name of the run, it previously being known as Metcalfe's Run.
The name Wall is of Indigenous origin, being given to the district by the Ngaralta people, a sub-group of the Ngarrindjeri. These people stayed on after European settlement, sometimes working as pastoral hands, but were eventually swept away to camps, reserves and other places.
John Baker had many pastoral holdings around South Australia, with Wall being adjacent to his Terlinga Station near Tungkillo. Baker's home was at Morialta, Norton Summit, and the building now owned by Paul Bartlett at the north end of Wall began as the residence for the manager of the Wall Station. The dairy formerly owned by Jack and Gladys Wundenberg was also a station building, and there is oral memory of stone stockyards.
One of Wall's claims to fame is that in 1853 it was the terminus of the very first steamboat trip on the Murray, with WR Randell's Mary Ann voyaging here from his station just above what would soon be Mannum. So began the great riverboat trade on the Murray-Darling system.
The river port of Mannum became the township most useful to the inhabitants of Wall for trade and supplies. The focus changed towards Murray Bridge from the 1880s onwards when a railway reached the bridge there and a township grew.
John Baker died in 1872, and his widow Isabella promptly put all his pastoral properties up for auction, but Wall and Terlinga were passed in. Indeed the Baker family maintained interests in the region till the 1890s. Nevertheless various parts of the former pastoral runs were sold or resumed from the 1870s onwards, and given over to farming.
There followed a period of dry-land farming when the majority of families in the district were of German origin, especially second and third-generation members of families that had originally settled in the Adelaide Hills, had large families, and were now sending their sons and daughters east to the Murray Plains. Caloote was the village formed nearest to Wall, which was a locality not populated enough to itself claim status as a village or township. Families at Caloote included the Zadows and Rathjens. Nearer to Wall were the Waldings, Bellchambers and Masons, engaged at fishing and other occupations.
The most notable farmer of German origin at Wall during this period was Ludwig Kuehn, who owned nearly a square mile (2.5 square km) of land. The ruins of his house and farm buildings have lingered till the present day towards the northern end of Wall.
Irrigation of blocks beside the Murray had been a preoccupation since the 1880s, and in 1910 the South Australian Government included the Mypolonga, Pompoota, Neeta and Wall Swamps in its plans for reclamation. Land was resumed and work began on levees, channels, pumping stations, and so on.
The First World War began in 1914, and the SA Government soon decided that the blocks at Wall should, when ready, be allotted specifically to returned soldiers. In 1916 it established a Training Centre for returned soldiers at Pompoota.
So it was that during 1917 nineteen trainees from Pompoota, with their wives and children, arrived at Wall. And these were the very first soldier settlers in South Australia to go onto the land. Their names were: FJ Bailey, RB Burton, A Clode, WI Daddow, GC Fletcher, F Gaen, JW Glazbrook, EE Harris, G Haynes, WH Maddocks, R Maskell, R McDonald, GC Morrison, HF O'Callaghan, HJ Parsons, GA Pavlic, JW Tomlin, PJW Treleaven, and B Wundenberg.
They set up dairy farms, but their blocks were too small to be viable. Their hardships were not helped by a flood later in that year of 1917.
After a two-year delay, the state government built a hall to serve for recreation, a meeting place, and as a school for the more than 30 children at Wall.
The best remembered soldier settler at Wallis EA 'Raggy' Holland, who arrived with his wife Beat in 1919. He eventually became the 'Mayor of Wall Flat', had a state-wide reputation as a humourist, and set up a mock museum at Wall.
Another notable soldier settler was Clem Collins, also arriving in 1919. He was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly for the multi-member seat of Murray. He represented the Australian Labor Party, and was MP during mostly Labor regimes, from 1924 to 1933.
Jim Glazbrook, like Raggy Holland and Clem Collins, spoke up eloquently for the difficulties faced by soldier settlers.
By 1925, the authorities had given up on the proposal to start orchards as well as dairies at Wall, and written off the expense of infrastructure, in particular the concrete channels that had been installed for those orchards. This was due to the general unsuitability of the soil above the reclaimed swamps.
The joint federal and state schemes for soldier settlement in Australia ran into numerous difficulties. About half of the soldier settlers gave up, and about half persevered.
The consolidation of blocks at Wall into larger and more viable farms began early, and soon farmers who were not soldier settlers were arriving at Wall. For instance, in 1926 came Tom and Emily Starr. In 1929 Artie and Ev Zadow arrived here, taking over the farm of the soldier settler Albert Aberg.
The settlers battled through their hardships, including the Great Depression, the flood of 1931, and the Second World War. The local hall was the venue for frequent entertainments, especially dances, to lighten the spirits. Rose Martin, who came to Wall with her husband Joe in 1926, was secretary of the School Committee for 40 years and helped organize these dances and card evenings. The Zadows of Wall and Caloote are very musical, and Zadows' Band played at dances for decades.
Sport has been as important for Wall as for any Australian community, and Wall has maintained strong ties with neighbouring Mypolonga and its sporting teams.
Technological, economic and social changes brought gains and losses. The local store closed in 1939, trucks replaced riverboats for the transport of milk and supplies in 1946, electricity was connected in 1954. The school closed in 1971, as one-teacher schools disappeared throughout the state. The post office closed the following year.
In 1956 came the greatest flood known, well-remembered by many people still living, and leaving a record in many photographs.
The population has changed over the past century, from mostly soldier settlers and their families, to mainly civilian. farmers and their families, to a situation where now there are few farmers, with people who commute elsewhere for work.
A rise in prosperity, with the wider use of the motor car, has aided this later trend. Better roads have helped as well, although citizens of Wall have always complained of their neglect on the fringes of two council districts.
Wall Flat has a Progress Association, set up in 1983 and particularly concerned with the. maintenance of the local hall, the former school.
In 2017 three dairy farms remain at Wall. Of the original soldier settler families of 1917, the Wundenbergs are still represented here.
- Can you contribute information or photographs? Email Robert Martin at email@example.com or phone 8362 8262.