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Agriculture on the Wimmera Plains


The area has a very rich history with many small significant historical sites dotted all over the country side.  Here I would just like to touch on the area and how our family came to be farming in the district.

Murra Warra - Selection and Settlement

Like many place names throughout Australia, the word Murra Warra is Aboriginal.  It is thought that the Wotjobaluk  tribe gave the name to the area meaning "place of no water" which aptly describes the lack of any permanent natural water supply.  In 1836, Major Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, and his party were the first recorded Europeans to explore the area called the Wimmera Plains.

From then on pastoral tenants known as "squatters" came into the area in search of land. These early pioneers were responsible of much valuable exploration and within a few years, large runs were taken up.  Kewell Station was amongst these with an area of 117,760 acres owned by the Wilson brothers.

In 1865 a Lands Act was introduced and several parishes close to Horsham were surveyed into small allotments.  This Legislation made land available to selectors who were permitted to peg blocks of 320 acres, causing the squatters to eventually lose control of their large tracts of land.  After selection or "pegging" the land Selector applied for a "License" to occupy.  

The Grant Land Act of 1869 (so named after the Minister, James McPherson Grant) imposed strict conditions in an attempt to ensure that only bona fide selectors were recommended.  Each applicant, after selecting not more than 320 acres, was required to appear before a Local Land Board for assessment.  When the License was approved, the selector was required to live on the allotment, to fence it, and within the first three years to cultivate at least one acre in ten.  He had to pay an annual rental of two shillings per acre which, after three years, entitled him to be issued with a Lease, and at the end of a ten year period, or on full payment of one pound an acre, to the issue of a Crown Grant (title).  By 1897 selection in the Kewell West Parish was nearly completed.

We can get an understanding of some of the hardships faced by the early settlers from the following article.

In 1874 the first settlers wended their weary way to the then waterless plain. The first houses were calico and water tanks in wagons or drays told all too plainly of the long journeys for water. On the way some of the settlers were met by men who told them they were mad going to the Wimmera plains - no water and no feed for man or beast.

Horsham Times (date unknown)

The Kelly's

The Kelly name goes back to the roots of Murra Warra when James Bourke Kelly (commonly know as "J.B.") first selected land in the Parish of Kewell West which would become his farm. What is known of James is he came from Learmonth in Victoria.  Possibly in early 1874 James selected Allotment 101 (File 923) of 320 acres and Ann selected Allotment 99 (File 922) also of 320 acres.  On the 1st of August 1874 James and Ann received their licenses to occupy.  Eight years later in 1886 James gained the title to allotment 99 followed five years later for allotment 101 in 1891.

The Kelly's main home was a three bedroom house, with a utility room, bathroom, laundry and kitchen. On the north of the house was an underground water tank and to the east a cabin for his sons and workers.  The homestead had a unique cooking area, the whole southern wall of the kitchen was built out of bricks. It comprised a bread oven, a stove and an open fireplace that were all in separate compartments. The way the bread oven was warmed was not by the fireplace but by hot coals. The baker put the hot coals into the oven, then when the oven was hot enough the baker would replace the coals with dough.  One of the rooms was used for when the visiting priest came to the area.  The original roof of the homestead was made of shingles that were nailed onto the three gables. The shingles were later covered with corrugated iron - by whom we do not know.  Other farm buildings including a three stand shearing shed with a plunge dip, a stable and a huge chaff-shed which housed a chaff-cutter, the engine that drove it, and the chaff. There was a lean-to on the southern side of the chaff-shed that housed machinery. 

James Ryan Kelly, known as 'Sliprail' (a teenage nickname that carried through his life), was born in 1876 and was the second son of Mr and Mrs J. B. Kelly.  He married Margaret May Cassidy.  The estate grew to 1100 acres which incorporated the historic Sailor's Home property.  A small piece of the Sailor's Home property (otherwise known as the Blackheath Homestead) was donated on which the Sailor's Home Hall was later built. The hall was officially opened by James Ryan on October 16 1923.  James was the first person holding the secretary role of the hall, carrying this official duty from 1923 to 1925. He was also a councillor of the Wimmera Shire and was involved with the Victorian Farmers Union. He loved politics and poetry. In later years he wrote articles for the Mail Times on a regular basis giving his opinion and views on any topic.  Armed with an astounding knowledge of local affairs, his advice was keenly sought.  During 1925 he moved to Horsham and towards the end of his farming career he let out land and sold parts off until the last of the estate was sold in 1953.  James Ryan died in 1954 aged 78.

The first tenant of the 99 and 101 allotments of the Kelly estate was Albert Hinch.  He worked it for approximately five years. Harold Smith was the next tenant and he worked the estate until early 1943. The next tenants were Les and Allan Saunders who share-farmed the estate for approximately four years. In June 1943 while the Saunders were tenants of the Kelly estate, a huge wind storm ripped thought the property leaving the chaff-shed in ruins. A local tradesman, Jack Kid came out and he dismantled the chaff-house. All that remained of the chaff-house were the lumbers that supported the roof of the lean-to shed that was used to house machinery. Jack converted the old workers cabin into a chaff-house and he moved all of the chaff-cutting equipment into it.  Around 1947 the two allotments were then purchased by Ern Miller, from the Hamilton area. Allan left the partnership the same year leaving Les to work for Miller. Miller found another share-farmer, Roy Pietsch, who joined up with Les and worked the farm together until 1950.

The Jochinke's

In 1950 Miller sold the allotments 99 and 101 to Albert Victor Jochinke for 16 pounds an acre. May of that year Vic and his wife Emma, moved into the homestead with their one year old son Trevor. Albert (known as Vic) was a returned soldier who had previously owned land near the Ebenezer Mission Station in north-west Victoria.

Around 1958, Trevor attended the local Murra Warra primary school 2344.  He later attended the St. Peters Lutheran School in Dimboola then the Horsham Technical College.  After completing a Diploma of Agriculture at Longerenong Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture he was conscripted into the army and served in the Vietnam war.  On returning, he started working the farm and married Elaine Ruth Zacher on 3rd of March 1973.  Over the following years they had a daughter Ruth and son David.

David attended the local kindergarten and then St. Peters Lutheran School at Dimboola.  He later attended the Dimboola Memorial Secondary College until 1994 after which attaining a scholarship completed his Victoria Certificate of Education at Good Shepard College in Hamilton.  He attended The University of Melbourne Longerenong Campus and completed a Diploma of Applied Science in Agricultural Services in 1997.  During the years at Longerenong he commuted daily from the farm where farm work was a part of the daily routine.  In 1998 he commenced full time work on the farm which he had already been managing for the past two years due to Trevorís poor health.  Also in 1998 he became a member of the North Wimmera Country Fire Authority brigade and a delegate of the Wallup Topcrop / VFF group.  During 2001-02 he held the position of Secretary & Treasurer for the West Wimmera District Council of the Victorian Farmers Federation.  He also held the Presidents position in 2004 and Vice in 2003 and 2005.  He is the current president of the Sailors Home Hall Management Committee and a committee member of the Wimmera Catchment Management Authority Land Issues Group and the Birchip Cropping & Wimmera Farming Systems Group.


Selected details come from Murra Warra From sheep runs, to settlement and beyond, New Style Publications of Horsham and The selectors in the Parish of Kelwell West, Publication No 63 of the History and Natural History Group of the MLA Donald.


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