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Barmera, SA

Town on the shores of Lake Bonney which describes itself as "The Jewel of the Riverland".

There is a real complexity about the Murray River around Barmera. It twists, winds and anabranchs to such a point that lakes form, wetlands appear and there is an impossible richness to the soils on both banks. In the middle of all this richness is Barmera a substantial service centre for the surrounding citrus groves and vineyards.  This is an area of considerable interest. The Banrock Station now combines vineyards with ecologically important wetlands. Overland Corner is an historic reminder of the overlanders who brought cattle and sheep to the river and Lake Bonney is an important freshwater lake which is ideal for swimming and picnics.

Location

Barmera is located on the shores of Lake Bonney 226 km north east of Adelaide and 29 metres above sea level.

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Origin of Name

Here's an almost perfect example of the imprecision of Australian place names. Check the sources and you will find that Barmera is supposed to mean 'land dwellers' or 'water place' in the language of the local Aborigines. Other sources suggest that as the local Aboriginal group were called the Barmeedjie and the town's name was a simple corruption of their name.

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Things to See and Do

Lake Bonney
Lying on the northern edge of the town is Lake Bonney, a natural freshwater lake which is ideal for picnics (there are gazebos and barbecue facilities in the park beside the lake's edge), swimming and just relaxing on the sandy beaches. There are also boat ramps and jetties.

Lake Bonney Sculptures in Payne Reserve
A fascinating and worthwhile experience is to wander along the shoreline of Lake Bonney and admire the sculptures. The most significant is a sculpted replica of Donald Campbell's Bluebird K7. The sign near the sculpture explains: "In September 1964, Donald Campbell CBE brought his jet powered hydroplane Bluebird 7 to Barmera. He had already sent a world land speed record of 403.10 mph at Lake Eyre, South Australia on 17th July 1964, in his car Bluebird CN7. His aim was to achieve a "Unique Double" by setting both World Land and Water Speed Records in one calendar year. On the 23rd November 1964 Campbell set an Australian Water Speed Record of 216 mph on Lake Bonney. Due to a high river and poor weather conditions the world record attempt was moved to Lake Dumbleyung, Western Australia. On the 31st December 1964 he finally achieved his goal by setting a new world water speed Record of 276.33 mph." There are other small sculptures on poles along the foreshore at Payne Reserve.

Napper's Old Accommodation Hotel/House and Napper's Bridge
Located off Morgan Road on Queen Elizabeth Drive which runs north beside Lake Bonney, Nappers Old Accommodation is now a ruin. It was built around 1863 by William Napper and was orginally known as the Lake Bonney Hotel. It is now nothing more than a ruins. During its heyday the house/hotel was a vital place for supplies for the overlanders passing through the area. It is said that Napper irrigated his land which probably means he was the first person to grow crops by irrigation along the Murray River. Nearby is Napper's Bridge which was originally built incorporation a weir in 1914.

Rocky's Country Music Hall of Fame
Located in Barwell Avenue this is a celebration of Australian country music. It has a very substantial collection of memorabilia. It was officially opened by Slim Dusty in 1995. It now boasts a huge 35 metre long guitar and the handprints of such famous Australian country stars as John Williamson, Kasey Chambers, Smoky Dawson, Chad Morgan, Joy McKean and Slim Dusty. For more information tel: (08) 8588 1463.

The Donald Campbell Obelisk
Located on Queen Elizabeth Drive next door to the Bluebird Cafe (it is named after his speedboat) this obelisk is a memorial to the famous English world speed competitor, Donald Campbell, who in 1964 attempted to break the world water speed record on Lake Bonney. Although he reached 347.5 km/h he was unsuccessful. The lake was too small and the waves created by the speeding vehicle were too dangerous.

Barmera Heritage Walk
This walk, which starts at the Barmera Visitor Information Centre, is approximately 4.5 km and includes the important historic buildings and locations in Barmera. There is a map available at the Barmera Visitor Information Centre.

Hawdon & Bonney Obelisk
Located on Lakeside Drive, this obelisk was erected to commemorate the overland journey of Hawdon & Bonney in 1838. They were the first pioneers to drive stock from the eastern states to South Australia. They camped on the shores of Lake Bonney, which Hawdon named after his companion. A plaque was later added by the McDouall Stuart Society to honour the explorer John McDouall Stuart. He and his party were the first people to cross the continent from south to north and back again.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Cobdogla Irrigation & Steam Museum
Located at Park Terrace, Cobdogla, 5 km west of Barmera, is the Cobdogla Irrigation & Steam Museum. It is an unusual museum which contains the world's only working Humphrey Pump. These gas-driven pumps were used for the irrigation of the area. They actually operated like a water cannon with the water being propelled by an explosion of gas. The pump is now part of the State's Heritage. With the museum's focus being on early irrigation history and steam powered engineering principals, there is also a 1960 Bagnal Train which offers rides through the extensive grounds. There are also dioramas depicting the region's development from pre-white settlement through the early years. For opening and visiting information (the museum has five operating days a year) contact (08) 8588 2289. Check out the website for further details: http://www.cobdoglasteammuseum.com.au.

The Overland Corner Hotel
Located at Barmera West, this historic hotel was built in 1859 on a site - 'Overland Corner' - which had become a popular resting place for drovers moving sheep across to South Australia from New South Wales. It was commissioned by John Chambers, a successful pastoralist and built by William, Henry and George Brand. Red gum, which has been cut into tiles, has been used as the flooring in the bar. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1965 and consequently the building can’t be altered. Its importance lies largely in the fact that it is the first stone building in this area of Australia. Not surprisingly the hotel has been the site of a number of adventures and mishaps. It is said that Captain Moonlite, the well known bushranger, rode his horse into the bar. In the early 20th century it was the local mail receival point and in the 1920s German settlers used it for dances There are historic graves in the area and there are also remnants of an old copper mine. The pub was flooded in the 1950s and today there is a large levee bank protecting it from the Murray’s floods. The river is a 670 metre walk from the pub. Brochures can be obtained from the bar. For more information tel: (08) 8588 7021 or check out http://www.overlandcornerhotel.com.au.

Banrock Station Wine & Wetlands Centre
Banrock Station, on Holmes Road off the Sturt Highway near Kingston On Murray, is a rare combination of a cellar door and a serious environmental project. The 1375 ha property proudly declares “Good Earth … Fine Wine … Banrock Station – Wines, Walks, Wildlife, Wetlands” and a percentage of the “proceeds of every wine sale” is contributed to “conservation projects around the globe”.
The station is divided into six landscape zones. The Wine and Wetland Centre and car park (Zone 6) is where wines produced from the station’s shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, semillon, chardonnay, Doradillo, riesling, viognier, grenache, malbec and montepulciano grapes can be tasted and where, in a beautiful setting overlooking the wetlands and floodplains, an excellent restaurant offers unique South Australian produce.
The property is divided into five zones. Zone 1 is the surrounding Mallee, Zone 2 is the wetlands and Zone 3 is the floodplain. Zone 4 is the Murray River and Zone 5 is the 236 ha vineyard.
Banrock’s two lagoons cover 250 hectares (main lagoon – 120 ha, eastern lagoon – 130 ha); boast eight kilometres of trails including 800 metres of well maintained boardwalk across the lagoons which is suitable for wheelchairs and people with a preference for very gentle strolling; have four bird hides where, on comfortable seats, the visitor can gaze across the peaceful lagoon waters at the pelicans, purple swamphens, black swans, little pied cormorants, yellow-billed spoonbills and Pacific black ducks which, as the Banrock walking brochure so colourfully explains, use the lagoon as their “nurseries, filters, shock absorbers and supermarkets”.
It is a compliment to Banrock’s current owners that they not only employ full time rangers and spend millions maintaining their wetlands but they have, since 1994, been restoring “the mallee, woodland, wetland and floodplain environments” so that today wine lovers can enjoy a superb meal with award winning wines and spend hours wandering through lands now committed to protecting the habitat for threatened species and migratory birds. The result is a memorable and worthwhile experience. For more information check out http://www.banrockstation.com.au.

Loveday Internment Camp
There are conducted tours of the remnants of this once-huge internment camp which was established in 1941 at Loveday, a tiny town near Barmera. Ask at the Barmera Visitor Information Centre for a brochure which can be downloaded at http://www.barmeratourism.com.au/images/LovedayInternmentCamp.pdf. Although it now seems like ancient history, during World War II Japanese, Chinese, Germans and Italians were locked up (a kind of 20th century version of Guantanamo Bay) so they could not fight for their own country (ie the enemy). The Loveday Internment Camp was established in 1941. The Riverland had the natural advantage of irrigation pipes which could provide water and proximity to a major highway (the Sturt Highway) as well as railways and electricity.
When Italy joined Germany during the war the British rounded up all German and Italian civilians and shipped them off to Australia and Canada. After Japan entered the war Japanese civilians were detained across Australia and throughout the Pacific. Approximately 2000 Japanese men were interned at Camp 14 at Loveday. They joined the Germans and Italians already behind wire in Camps 9 and 10. It was the largest group of internment camps in Australia and was designed to hold 6000 internees while over 1500 army personnel were based there. Group Commandant Lieutenant Colonel Dean introduced the payment of one shilling a day to any internees who were prepared to work and supervised cultivation of 440 acres which was planted that up with vegetables for consumption and seed which was distributed around of the nation. Juice from the tomatoes was canned and sent to the allies in the Pacific while the opium poppies supplied raw opium for morphine and pyrethrum daisies were used for insect repellent. Pigs will bred for market and poultry farms supplied dressed hens and eggs for the army hospitals and army camps. Work gangs carried out maintenance on roads, repaired army tents, and made soap while the wood camps provided timber for the army and for the pumping stations in the area. After the war Camp 14 was used as a transit station for POWs waiting to be shipped home. It closed in 1946. For guided tours contact Max Scholz, tel: (08) 8588 2130. Most of the camp has been dismantled. You can drive around following the map on the brochure but a better option is to go with Max Scholz.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was the home of the Barmeedjie Aboriginal people.

* Lake Bonney, which is really the centre of Barmera, was first sighted by Europeans in 1838 when Charles Bonney (after whom the lake is named) and Joseph Hawdon drove cattle along the banks of the Murray River. They reached Lake Bonney on 12 March, 1838 and Hawdon recorded in his journal: 'At sunset we opened on plains, sprinkled with tufts of grass. I discovered a fine lake of fresh water, about 30 miles in circumference, and on its margin we encamped ... The Blacks were encamped further along the lake and from the noise they made we know they must have noticed our arrival.'

* As early as 1850 there were so many drovers passing through the area that a small police station was established to control the problems which were flaring between the drovers and the Aborigines.

* The first settlement in the area grew up around the Overland Corner Hotel (built 1859) which was a popular haunt for drovers moving through the area.

* By 1867 the area was dominated by the Cobdogla run.

* By the late 19th century, with the success of fruit growing at Renmark and Mildura, Barmera was seen as a potentially rich orchard and vineyard.

* By 1911 surveys had been carried out to see if the area between Cobdogla and Berri could be irrigated.

* An irrigation system was established in 1921 leading to the town being gazetted and the arrival of soldier settlers to work the irrigated land.

* The railway was opened in 1928.

* In 1929 Barmera was declared a town.

* During World War II an internment camp was established at Loveday, south of Barmera.

* In 1964 Donald Campbell attempted to break the world water speed record on Lake Bonney.

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Visitor Information

Barmera Visitor Information Centre, Barwell Avenue, (08) 8588 2289. Open Monday-Friday 9.00 am - 4.00 pm, Saturday, Sunday 10.00 am - 1.00 pm

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Useful Websites

The town has two useful visitor information websites. Check out http://www.barmeratourism.com.au and https://www.berribarmera.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=174.

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