Water mattered

James Lerk | Bendigo Weekly | 18-Aug-2017


I  have mentioned the keenness with which Herbert Keck had used irrigation in developing his orchard, horticultural and nursery activities on his site.

The Bendigo business prospered under the drive and initiative that Herbert took, however he was also a great exponent of irrigation development in other areas which were much closer to water sources such as rivers.

In 1911 Keck purchased Murray Flats at Barham, the rich soil combined with water from the Murray River made this a really great investment. 

Keck grew oranges supplying the young trees from his own nursery, these would take only four years to bear good crops. 

He was undoubtedly  inspired by the successful citrus growers at Murrabit, who had bought their trees from him. 

Four years later Keck’s farm at Barham was one of the standouts for tomato and fruit and vegetable growing along with those of Wah Hop and WR Forbes, they freighting their produce to Melbourne.

In 1912 Keck was elected to become a member of the local Settlers’ and Farmers’ Association. He urged the premier to make good on his promise to establish a central market for fresh produce at South Melbourne.

Before 1907 Keck was already regularly involved with the agricultural promotion and development of the Kerang district. 

His expertise was sought in respect of what trees to select, and many other allied agricultural subjects. 

In the same year he was elected by the local farmers to be director for the Conference Exhibition of District Products, to be open to the public for three days.

The local drill hall was almost bursting with people to view this exhibition, it was a resounding success and all praise was heaped on Keck. 

This exhibition had been supported by the Australian Natives Association. Other ANA branches from Murrabit, Barham, Koondrook, Tresco and of course Kerang itself. 

Keck was always at meetings promoting intensive farming by using irrigation, on occasion he was in the company of William Benjamin Chaffey.

Chaffey was born in Ontario, Canada in 1856, moving with his family in 1878 to California where they were heavily involved in irrigation using cement pipes for water distribution. 

Alfred Deakin visited California in a private capacity in 1885 and was enthused with what the Chaffey family had done for intensive agriculture.

At their own initiative the Chaffey brothers came to Victoria and looked at the land along the Murray River near Mildura and proposed to spend £300,000 over three years if the government granted them a very sizeable area of land to develop.

As Victoria was weighing up this idea the South Australian Government was prepared to grant a similar area at Renmark.

Eventually both sites were developed. 

Not all went smoothly, there were many disappointed settlers with rancour towards the Chaffey brothers, but in time the two areas became flourishingly productive for fruit and vine growing.

James Heirs McColl’s name was mentioned in the same breath in the irrigation areas along with those of Chaffey and Keck.

McColl was born in 1844 and arrived with his family in Melbourne in 1853, four years later he was working in a store in Bendigo. 

He did an apprenticeship at Horwood’s foundry, and in 1873 became a mining legal manager here in Bendigo before entering parliament. 

McColl was elected the member for Gunbower and like his late father Hugh, took on the mantle of promoting irrigation.


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