Mildura PhD graduate re-writes history

Mildura PhD graduate re-writes history

07 Jun 2011

A La Trobe University academic has completed the first comprehensive study of the founding of Mildura in her Doctorate thesis, Dr Jennifer Hamilton-McKenzie looked at the Chaffey Brothers and their dreams of irrigating the parched Mallee landscape.

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Transcript

Narrator:

A La Trobe University academic has completed the first comprehensive study of the founding of Mildura in her Doctorate thesis, Dr Jennifer Hamilton-McKenzie looked at the Chaffey Brothers and their dreams of irrigating the parched Mallee landscape.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

One of the things about my research is that it revealed, what I termed as irrigation philosophy, irrigation ethos. It's very emblematic of the late 1880's and the late 1890's in the western world and was part of the global migration that was happening at the time. It was exciting, it had a progressive edge to it, it involved land, which we could personally own, and therefore autonomy, so I think its' not to be under-estimated 'the irrigation philosophy'.

Narrator:

When George Chaffey arrived in 1886 there was nothing but a disused sheep run. It was riddled with rabbits and crippled by drought. It looked nothing like the land of 'milk and honey', but the brothers overlayed the landscape with their own concept of what the land should look like.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

George, I think saw Australia as an absolute wonderful mine, he could just go anywhere so he came here and negotiated eventually with Deakin(Alfred) to have 250,000 acres at Mildura, there was also an arrangement with South Australia at Renmark, he was also developing Werribee in Victoria, he also had something in Sydney in Mulga and he was also trying to get something happening in Queensland. So you see you he had this great sense I think of his own destiny, he was going to be a great land developer.

Narrator:

Through her research, Dr. Hamilton-McKenzie uncovered the extent to which the brothers employed suspect business arrangements as they lacked the seeding capital to fund their land development ambitions.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

It was only on the quick sale of land he was financing the irrigation works. When that land sale started to peter out in 1892 and the settlers weren't getting the irrigation water they needed because the money wasn't there to back up the irrigation, the house of cards started to fall and I think the settlers 'smelt a rat', and they started to agitate against the Chaffey's.

Narrator:

A Royal Commission into their collapse was held in 1896. During these proceedings, the advertising material used to promote the land called 'The Red Book', was described as a 'bundle of misrepresentations', also known as 'boosterism'. It was a technique borrowed from California land developers.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

Their advertising campaign was quite enormous, and very sophisticated. They borrowed from the 'boosterism', which was existent in California at the time, and I think backed by this whole idea of George's concept of he could actually, irrigate Australia basically. Because he had eventually irrigation settlements not only here but also in Renmark, in Werribee, Mulga in Sydney, and negotiating with Queensland, but he was over-reaching himself enormously.

Narrator:

Dr. Hamilton-McKenzie teaches in the History programme at La Trobe University, Mildura and celebrated her Graduation day on Friday, 27 May, 2011 at the Grand Hotel.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

We can do post graduate research here, and its high quality research, there is an amazing amount of opportunities available and I'd like my research I think to form part of the idea of sustainability. So we have a Sustainability Collective here at La Trobe, here at Mildura and I'm going to actually be contributing the beginnings of the Mildura experience as a way of building on the future.

Narrator:

…but for now Dr. Hamilton-McKenzie has the opportunity to re-write history.

Dr Hamilton-McKenzie:

Its an exiting story, we don't have to shy away from the real story, it can be a very vibrant part of our history.

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