Recollections of Jim Gibbs 1921-1967
The name Colignan was that of an aboriginal chief.
1921 - 26 soldier settlement blocks were surveyed from Carwarp Station, from the Kulyne boundary to where Castle Crossing Road now runs. The land was mainly scrub and pine. There were no roads, only a track from Kulkyne to Mildura. The parcels of land given to each settlers was one square mile, 640 acres, said to be sufficient to earn a decent living. Not all of the blocks were of euqqal quality. One block had a 300 acres salt pan. Another was seven miles from the river and a great deal of time was spent carting water for the animals and domestic purposes.
Water was lifted manually from the river, until the State Rivers put in three windmills along the Colignan stretch of river.
There were 5 permanent fisherman on the river, two or three of them having horse and cart to take the fish to Nowingi, about two and a half hours away. They brought back any mail. The fish were packed into containers about the size of a clothes basket. They were covered with gum leaves, to protect them on their trip by train to Melbourne. One of the fishermen, Gus, faced with the death of his horse, pushed his six baskets of fish out to Nowingi to meet the train.
At this time, 1922, there were no women in Colignan. The first houses were built about 1924 and this is when the women started to appear. The men camped on their blocks, built at shelter and proceeded to clear the land with axes, rollers, bullock and horse teams. The scrub was rolled down, allowed to dry and then burnt.
The settlers cut pine posts to fence their holdings, and other posts were cut, stacked at the river bank and taken to Red Cliffs or Mildura by steamer, for use in trellising on the fruit blocks. A valuable source of income to these early pioneers.
There were also two or three timber cutters who cut timber for the steam-driven pumps in the irrigation areas.
1924 - a slaughter yard was set up by a Mr Thompson, on a corner block of the Colignan township. He supplied meat to the settlers from his travelling butcher's shop.
A days outing at this time might go like this - an early morning start with horse and cart to Boonoonar, where the horse tethered and the family boarded the train for Mildura. Some people booked a room at the Grand Hotel, which was used as their base for the day. In the evening, it was back on the train for the return trip to Boonoonar and then off to Colignan in the horse and cart, arriving well after dark.
1925 - Thompson built a store and post office at Boonoonar, which by then had a railway station. This store was later purchased by the Castle family.
Mail would arrive at Boonoonar twice a week, Tuesday and Saturday, and Mr Harold Brown bought a truck and carted mail, bread and other requirements to Colignan. Bread came from Mildura and meat from Melbourne.
1926 - There were sufficient poeple at Colignan to warrant the building of a hall. This was built on a township block at the corner of what is now Lewis Road. The hall was later used as the first Colignan school. Some of the pupils were fourteen years old and had not attended school before. They proved quite a handful for the first teacher who was only eighteen years old herself.
A cricket club was formed and became a part of the Pioneer Associaation which also comprised teams from Boonoonar, Guinquaam, Carwarp, Yatpool and Karadoc. The Pioneer Association continued until the Red Cliffs Association was formed.
1929 - Saw the worst drought yet experienced by the new settlers and it became very difficult. Any wheat that had grown was required for feed. It was taken to Mildura, milled and brought back to feed the animals.
1933 - Two men from Myrtleford in North Eastt Victoria, Johnson and Selser, leased an area of land from Irwinss, put a pump on the river and started the first irrigation in the district. They were tobacco farmers who could not grow tobacco seedlings at Myrtleford because of blue mould. The seedlings were grown at Colignan until they reached a size where they could be taken to Myrtleford and grown without danger from blue mould. This created many jobs for locals ... sowing, weeding and pulling plants when they were ready for transplanting. This tobacco enterprise continued for three years. The area where the seedlings were grown now belongs to Mr Graham Watts.
1933 - A school opened in a building on Moore's property. The school remained open until 1938.
1936 - Castle's commenced using channel irrigation, the first in the district. They grew crops of lettuce, carrots, peas and beans. When children were leaving school, and asked what they wanted to do, often the reply would be "work at Castles."
1936 - There was a passenger and parcel service, twice a week, to Mildura, in a covered truck which was able to carry seven or eight passengers. By this time some settlers had their own cars and others still relied on their faithful old horse and cart.
1937 - Only four of the original twenty-six original settler families remained ... Browns, Gibbs, Irwins and McKenzies..
1938 - Castles began carting their own produce to Melbourne by truck.
During WW2, all the blocks at Colignan were used as market gardens, to supply the army with food for the troops. When a shortage of quality seed for the required vegetables developed, the Colignan farmers became seed merchants. Carrots and lettuce were grown to seed, with a bag over each plant. Twice a week, for about a month, the plants would be shaken and the seed collected.
The commercial market gardens gave Colignan a great financial boost.
1945 - after the war, application was made to the Government to open up Graces and Buxtons Bends, for returned servicemen. Six blocks were established in Graces Bend and eight blocks in Buxtons Bend. Orange trees were planted on these blocks, with vegetables being grown between the rows of trees.
1947 and 1948 - Castles and Irwins blocks were cut up into smaller sections and planted with citrus.
1967 - saw the first plantings, in any quantity, of grapes.
(Thanks to Frank Tucker for compiling this information)