The Chaffey brothers

Although, there were other white settlers in the area prior to their arrival, the Chaffey brothers are recognised as the founders of Renmark.

The Canadian born George and William Chaffey were invited to Australia by Alfred Deakin (then a minister in the Victorian Colonial Government) to create an irrigation colony at Mildura. The project was delayed due to political disputes and in the meantime an agreement for the establishment of an irrigation colony at Renmark was signed with the SA Government on 14 February 1887.

George Chaffey born 28 January 1848 at Brockville, Ontario and his brother, William Benjamin born 21 October 1856 were the sons of George and Anne nee Legoe. In 1878 George snr and William Benjamin moved to Riverside near Los Angeles to join in the Santa Ana River irrigation settlement. Their reports encouaged George jnr to join them. The large profits that flowed from this project prompted George jnr and William to become partners in new irrigation projects. These were based upon the purchase of land and water rights by the Chaffeys at a low price, and resale to settlers in small blocks, with an irrigation company to distribute water on a non-profit basis.

Pictured right: The Chaffey brothers - (L-R): Charles, George, William

Thirty thousand acres from the Bookmark Station lease was granted to the Chaffeys. Vineyards and fruit blocks slowly emerged throughout the district and the town of Renmark was born. The concept soon spread far and wide in the upper Murray region of South Australia and all the settlements along this section of the river owe their origins to irrigation.

The Renmark project was largely managed from 1888 by a younger brother, Charles Francis (1859-1934). He was keen to settle in Renmark and so brought out his wife Ella and the first of what would be a family of six children. After a stay at Paringa, they chose a 64 hectare plot of land in Renmark named Olivewood. In 1904 the family left to visit Canada and while away the Riverland suffered a poor harvest and the bank foreclosed on Charles Chaffey. Olivewood is now managed by the National Trust. Charles was not the only Chaffey remembered in Renmark. His wife, Ella wrote children's books including one published in 1896 called, The Youngsters of Murray Home. It dealt with the lives being lived at Olivewood by her six children.

Pictured right: Olivewood

The irrigation settlements in SA and Victoria grew out of drought and became the food bowl of Australia. Ironically the greed for water in the second half of the 20th century that has seen governments issue licences for more water than the Murray-Darling can produce plus the drought of the beginning of the 21st century may see the demise of these settlements!

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