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Martin Bend


Between 1880 and 1900, 107 paddle steamers and 101 barges operated on the South Australian section of the River Murray. There were many woodcutters camped along the banks of the river and "woodpiles" were established to supply those many passing steamers with wood for their boilers.

John Pollard established the first woodcutting camp in the area in the 1870's, nearby to what would later be proclaimed as Berri. James Holden and his wife Cynthia took on the 'Berry Berry' woodpile from Pollard a few years later and their daughter Mary Ann is recorded as born at 'Berry Berry' on 4 August, 1885. Soon after her birth, Mr Holden died suddenly. Somehow Mrs Holden managed to load into a boat both her baby in it's crib and her husband's body wrapped in a blanket. She then rowed the 75 miles to Overland Corner so that her husband could be given a decent burial. Such strength and courage, she would have needed both to make such a journey.

Following Holden's death, Cobdogla Station stockmen, Jack Henderson and Charlie Cooper purchased the woodpile. Further down river Mr and Mrs W. Marshall operated a woodpile at Redbanks near the present site of Gerard Reserve. Charlie Cooper was Mrs Marshall's son and he and Henderson kept the Berri woodpile supplied with wood until the Marshalls were able to transfer their belongings from Redbanks to Berri.

For the next 21 years, from 1885 to 1906 "Marshall's Woodpile" became synonomous with Berri. In 1906 Mr Oscar Klem purchased Marshall's woodpile and proceeded to plant a substantial garden of fruit trees and vegetables. He then was able to supply the paddle steamers with not only timber but fresh fruit and vegetables. He also supplied the incoming surveyors and Government workers newly arrived in the fledgling township. His small holding was established where the grassed area lies between what is today the Berri Visitor Centre and the Pumping station.

At around this time the Stidifords were also woodcutters with their own woodpile further upstream at Martin Bend. It was after 1909 that Old Bill moved his woodpile and family nearer to Berri, down behind the current pumping station. Times were to change however with the establishment of the settlement of Berri and later the decline of the river trade, leaving the many woodcutters almost jobless.

Descendants of Stidiford, Marshall and Cooper all continue to reside in the Berri area today.
Why not take the opportunity next time you are at Martin Bend to have a look at the cleverly built simulation of a woodcutters hut?

Similar even larger woodpiles did continue in the river towns long after the paddle wheels stopped. The pumping stations needed steady supplies of wood to fuel gas and steam engines to lift the water for the newly established irrigation districts. Local men travelled miles to cut and collect wood to bring to the pumping stations, anxious to make a shilling or two for their work. From 1918 to 1959 a 5,000 ton stockpile of wood was maintained just for the Berri Pumping Station.

Information researched from 'Berri Hub of the Upper Murray' and River Reflections'.