Renmark, SA

Historic and attractive riverland town on the banks of the Murray River.

Renmark, located on the Murray River, is a prosperous town in the heart of rich Riverland area where limes, olives, apricots, grapes, plums, garlic and oranges are all grown. Like so many towns in the area Renmark is characterised by wide streets and handsome riverbank parklands. This is a town where it is possible to enjoy the majesty of the Murray by hiring a bicycle and cycling along the riverbank; hiring a canoe or kayak and paddling along the river; or visiting the historic boats - the PS Industry and Argo Barge - moored at the river's edge.


Renmark is located 258 km north east of Adelaide, 139 km west of Mildura and 20 metres above sea level.


Origin of Name

It is said that the word "Renmark" is derived from the local First Nations word meaning "red mud".


Things to See and Do

Renmark Community Hotel
Now known simply as the Renmark Hotel, this elegant art deco hotel which is beside the Murray River is notable for the fact that it was the first community hotel in the British Empire. It was established in 1897 and achieved instant fame by putting some 13 illegal sly grog shops out of business. For more history check out where it is explained that the hotel has hosted, among others, luminaries such as Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The profits from the hotel are directed to the community. It was Heritage Listed in 1996.

Argo Barge
Barges were common on the Murray River when it was a major transport route. They were capable of carrying huge loads - up to 1700 bales of wool or 200 tonnes. The Argo Barge, which stands on the banks of the Murray behind the Visitor Centre and is recognised as the largest barge to ever ply the Murray, was built in Mannum in 1915-1916 as a floating pumping station. Until World War II it was used to help dig irrigation channels and after that it was used to pump water during times of drought. It is a huge barge with a hull that is 36.6 m long, 7 m wide and 2.4 m high. It weighs 80 tonnes. It was retired in 1964 and purchased by Renmark Council in 1993 for the very modest sum of $2,000. It was restored and refloated in 2001 when it was formally handed back to the community. There is a very detailed brochure available which can be downloaded as a PDF at

PS Industry
The PS Industry is located behind the Visitor Information Centre. It was built at Goolwa in 1911 and spent most of its working life searching for and removing snags in the river. It was also used to construct the locks and weirs along the river.  It is still operational and does regular short trips along the river on the first Sunday of the month at 11.00 am and 1.30 pm. It can be inspected from 9.00 am - 4.30 pm Monday to Friday and from 10.00 am - 3.30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. For details of opening times and journeys contact (08) 8586 6704. There is a downloadable PDF brochure with prices and sailing times available. Check out

Bicycle Hire
It is possible to hire bicycles for a half or full day at the Renmark Paringa Visitor Information Centre. Check out or phone 1300 661 704.

Canoes and Kayaks
It is possible to hire canoes and kayaks and to explore the Murray with an organisation called Canoe the Riverland. They also offer a range of canoe tours including a Sunset Tour, a kayak Moonlight Tour and an Overnight Camping tour. Check out

Located on the corner of Renmark Street and  21st Street and very clearly sign posted off the Sturt Highway, this National Trust building is an unusual combination of a Canadian log cabin surrounded by very typical Australian verandas. It was originally built of native pine logs, lathe and plaster walls and ceilings and pine floors by Charles Chaffey (see below for details of the Chaffey Brothers) who was famous for pioneering irrigation in the Renmark area. Chaffey was a younger brother of the more famous Chaffey Brothers. He acquired 140 acres (64.8 ha) and, inspired by his brothers' success with irrigation, he grew an "olive grove planted in 1890 (with complete building and olive mill processing olive oil), and lemon and orange orchards including the first naval orange tree brought to Australia and later on grapefruit. there were vineyards and zante currants and muscat grapes and orchards of peaches, apricots and pears. Then there were fields of wheat, alfalfa and lucerne for stock - the Olivewood dairy was a noted one - and windbreaks of eucalyptus to protect crops from wind and dust storms." Check out for a very detailed description of the house and the property.
Today it is National Heritage listed and there is a museum at the back of the building which includes old river maps, bottles, an extensive collection of cameras, an early dental surgery and other memorabilia provided by the local community. There is also a replica of an early olive pressing mill. Olivewood is open Thursday - Monday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, Tuesday 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm. Tel: (08) 8586 6175.


Other Attractions in the Area

Ruston's Roses
Proudly declaring itself "Australia's largest rose garden and home of the National Rose Collection of Australia", Ruston's Roses really is impressive. There are over 50,000 bushes and 4,000 varieties. As the website explains (see "The collection includes modern garden roses such as hybrid teas, floribundas, miniatures and ground covers, old garden roses including gallicas, damasks, centifolias, mosses, bourbons, teas, noisetts, hybrid perpetuals, musks and rugosas as well as a number of species roses. Most of the varieties produce six flushes each year, starting with the spectacular spring flush at the end of September. With modern horticultural practices, the roses can be kept blooming until well into winter, giving a nine-month season." Located 5 km from the centre of Renmark, on Moorna Street which runs off 23rd Street, it is Wednesday to Sunday, tel: (08) 8586 6191.

A very special experiment in social engineering, Lyrup was created as a self-supporting settlement by the South Australian government in an attempt to solve an acute unemployment problem which existed in Adelaide. In total eleven settlements were created. Lyrup was probably the most successful.
There is an interesting history of this tiny village which records that: "It has been a village settlement since 1894. Lyrup has a romantic history. Lyrup was established by a contingent of 243 persons - 49 males, 40 married women and their husbands, 114 youths and children. They left Adelaide by rail for Morgan on 20 February 1894 where they boarded the PS Ellen at 2 p.m. and travelled by river to Lyrup where they landed on 22 February 1894. The area was totally virgin and nothing had been prepared for their arrival. Everything they needed was brought on the boat. Stores included an engine and pump, 5 tons of flour, 1 ton of corned beef, tents, tarpaulins (condemned by the railways because they were full of fleas), 40 yards of calico, 5 pounds of pins, 6 dozen pairs of moleskins and one dozen men’s felt hats among many other things. On arrival tents were erected for the women and children and the men were housed in bough shelters. Land was cleared, the pumping plant installed, the land cleared for planting. The settlement was established as a commune with food and clothing issued with ration coupons. If anyone caught a rabbit or a fish, it was put into the community supplies. The early days were tough with poor living conditions and dissatisfaction with the communal methods. The system changed to private ownership in 1903 and to this day the Lyrup village continues to prosper.
"Lyrup is believed to be named after Lyrup Hut - a boundary rider's hut on Book Purnong Station in the 1800s. It’s possibly named after a village near Hamburg in Germany. It stands today as a unique solution to a unique experiment. This settlement is the only one remaining of the ten started by the South Australian government on the communistic system in 1894."
Today Lyrup is a tiny village. It has the distinction, of all the eleven village settlements that were established in 1894, of being the only one that still has a Village Association.

The Story of the Chaffey Brothers
In 1886 Alfred Deakin, who had chaired a royal commission on irrigation and would later become prime minister, travelled to California to study model irrigation settlements which were being developed in the Californian desert by two Canadians, William and George Chaffey. He was responding to a drought which had devastated Victoria from 1877-1884. Deakin believed the Chaffey's model may be a solution to irrigating the Mallee which, at the time, had agricultural potential but low rainfall. The Chaffeys were convinced by Deakin. They sold up in California and moved to Mildura and Renmark where they were given £300,000 by the Victorian government to improve the region over the next twenty years. The Chaffeys planned Renmark like a town in California. The streets running east-west were given numerical names (First to Twenty-Eighth Streets).
Beyond the development of Mildura George and William Chaffey also developed the area around Renmark. They signed an agreement with the South Australian government which led to the creation of an irrigation scheme which was to turn the entire area into one of the most productive in the country. The scheme to water the entire area was greeted enthusiastically with the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens in London declaring "from these sunny lands where our sons and daughters have made their homes, we shall draw our future supply of fruit".
In 1887 the new town was heavily promoted which resulted in the arrival of 3,300 settlers, many from Britain, by 1891. This was despite the fact that the nearest railway was 163 km away.
The settlers cleared the land and dug irrigation channels. The Chaffey brothers imported two enormous engines for the pumping station to ensure the paddocks could be watered. So successful was the project that by 1893 the first fruits were being transported to the markets in Melbourne. Problems with transportation resulted in the rapid development of a dried fruit industry and proximity to the Murray River meant the town quickly became an important river port.
In spite of initial success Mildura and Renmark suffered major economic problems (drought, plagues of rabbits, transportation problems) and by 1894 Chaffey Brothers Ltd was bankrupt. George Chaffey returned to the USA while his brother, William, remained and went on to establish a winery at Irymple in 1888, the Mildura Winery (now the Mildara Blass Winery) at Merbein in 1911, and become Mildura's first mayor in 1920.



* Prior to European settlement the area was inhabited by the Naralte First Nations peoples who were described by one early settler as "very friendly and quickly picked up a smattering of English. They were willing to work ... and attempted to instruct the newcomers in their methods of hunting."

* The explorer Captain Charles Sturt rowed a whale boat down the Murrumbidgee in late 1829 and reached the junction with the Murray River on 14 January 1830. He passed the present site of Renmark in late January and reached Lake Alexandrina on 9 February, 1830.

* Renmark did not become important until 1887 when George and William Chaffey signed an agreement with the South Australian government which created an irrigation scheme. Renmark is the country's oldest irrigation settlement.

* By 1892 the Chaffey experiment had collapsed.

* In 1893 the Renmark Irrigation Trust came into existence.

* In the 1890s 'Breaker' Morant worked in the local area on the Paringa Station. When Paringa Station went broke Morant and two of the boys from the station joined the Bushveld Carbineers and served in the Boer War. He was subsequently executed by the British.

* In 1897 the Renmark Community Hotel became the first community-owned hotel in the British Empire.

* In 1901 the Chaffey Brothers started building the town wharf. It was completed in 1905.

* Renmark was proclaimed a town in 1904.

* In 1927 the railway arrived in the town. That year the Paringa railway bridge was completed.

* The town became a municipality in 1935.

* The town was decimated by the infamous 1956 flood.

* By 1959 the Renmark Irrigation Trust had moved the Chaffey's drainage systems underground so that today there are more than 130 km of underground pipes bringing water from the Murray to the orchards in the area.

* In 1960 the Corporation of the Town of Renmark was created.

* In 1979 the town's wooden wharf was replaced with a concrete structure.

* By 1983 the railway had stopped servicing Renmark.

* Today it is one of the major service centres on the Murray River.


Visitor Information

Renmark Paringa Visitor Information Centre, 84 Murray Street, Renmark, tel: 1300 661 704, (08) 8580 3060. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday, 10.00 am - 2.00 pm Saturday and Sunday.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out Paringa district is for information about accommodation and eating.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

2 suggestions
  • What about the continuing Aboriginal story of Renmark? This material comes across as deliberate erasure.

    Sam Altman
    • One of the problems is that local First Nation history is very difficult to access. I am always happy to add it to the story of a town. If you have information that should be included, please let me know and I will include it.

      Bruce Elder