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History of Nandaly

European settlement of the Nandaly district can be traced back to the 1840’s but it was in the 1890’s and the early years of the 1900’s that the townships that make up Nandaly and District began to form.

Life for the early settlers was hard. The Mallee scrub had to be rolled, burned and the stumps grubbed all using bullocks or teams of horses.

Until around 1913 when the Nandaly Reservoir was constructed water had to be carted to the District from Sea Lake, a two day round trip by bullock wagon.

The houses of the era, ‘shanties’, were built in the wattle and daub form with earthen floors but many were just superphosphate bags hung on posts and railings.

The first store was built in 1912 and by 1918 the town had a wine salon, boarding house and post office.

The first of many droughts hit the area in 1914 and the dust was so bad lanterns had to be lit at midday so children could see to eat their lunch. At the time it was common for tablecloths to be put over food, not under it to keep the sand at bay. It was so bad some houses were covered up to the window-sills.

The coming of the railway in 1915 signalled a new era for the town. Freight services meant materials could be delivered directly to the town and wheat sent to Sea Lake, avoiding what was previously a four day journey.

A Red Cross Society Branch was formed in 1916, the same year as the first school was built.

1916 also brought the first mice plague to Nandaly. Mice in their hundreds of thousands forced everyone to protect their homes, wheat, stock and stock food from the marauding pests.

“I have seen a plague of locusts
And I’ve seen a plague of grubs
I’ve heard of flies and rabbit plagues
Men talk of in pubs

But none can beat the plague of mice
Back in nineteen thirty-two
They ate up everything in sight
Till there was nothing left to chew

They came in countless millions
None new from whence they came
They swept the Mallee bare of food
Like grass before a flame
They ravished all the hay stacks
Till their destruction was complete
The wheat stacks at the station
Were just loose heaps of wheat

They came into the houses
And demanded to be fed
They chewed holes in the mattress
And they had young ones in the bed

They stripped the paper from the walls
And chewed the flour paste
They wasn’t fussy what they ate,
It seemed they had no taste

They got into the wardrobes
Chewed buttons off your clothes
And when you went to sleep at night
They nibbled at your clothes”

From The Mouse Plague by W. Boyd

The damage was enormous and the community took months to recover. The 1916 plague was just one of a number of similar plagues experienced periodically over the next thirty years. The extract for the poem reproduced above was written about a mouse plague in the 1930’s.

In 1917 the Shire of Swan Hill called a public meeting in Nandaly to elect five trustees for a Public Hall to be built in Nandaly. A Queen Carnival was held to raise money for the Hall. The winner, Ms Bridget Cloonan, raised the sum of one hundred and thirty pounds, thirteen shillings and eight pence, a large sum of money at the time. The carnival raised just over three hundred and fifty five pounds. The Hall opened on 3rd October 1918. At the ‘Grand Opening Ball’ eighty couples took the floor.

The Public Hall served the town well and was the centre of most town activity. Even when it burnt down in 1954, the town rallied around and raised the money necessary to rebuild it.

1917 also saw the first horse racing event held in the town, the first of many picnic race meetings. Boxing tournaments were also held in the town. Coursing (grey hound racing) was also a popular sporting activity.

After Armistice Day in 1918 a procession was held through the streets of the town ending in the football ground for a sports meeting and picnic. The town also welcomed back soldiers who had who had served in the War. The town presented medals to each of the soldiers who returned.

The town grew significantly after the war with many new buildings, including several churches, being erected.

Electricity came to the town in the early 1950’s, replacing the lanterns and old 32v generators that had served the town for several decades.

The Nandaly Football Club was formed in 1919 but there had been a club at Tyrell West from the early 1900’s. The new Club, with the help of railway workers on the railway extension to Kulwin, won the Northern Mallee League premiership in its first year. The league covered an enormous area with teams and supporters travelling to matches in special trains.

Family, sport and community have been the secret of Nandaly’s success. In the nineteen seventies the town boasted a Football Club, Men’s Basket Ball Club, Women’s Basketball Club, Netball Club, Golf Club, Tennis Club and a Cricket Club. All of these Clubs were supported by the whole town and enjoyed tremendous success.

The town and surrounding District went through tough times and good times. Drought was a constant shadow over the town and brought with it much hardship. However, it was in these times the town grew stronger and the families that lived in it became closer.

The Hotel, the Public Hall, General Store and Tennis Club remain active centre pieces of the town.

Nandaly remains a strong and very proud community. Its strength lays in the families that continue to make the town their home and the belief they have in themselves.

Derived from “Back to Nandaly. A History of a Mallee Town”, compiled by Bev Cook, The Sunnyland Press, Red Cliffs, 1982.

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