Pride of Pinnaroo
Some towns immediately give the traveller an insight into their raison d’etre. One such place is Pinnaroo, in the Southern Mallee, 6km from the border between South Australia and Victoria. Staying just one day and one night, we felt like locals. Long before you drive into the town, the loaded trucks rumbling towards Adelaide signal this is a grain-growing district. If you happen to miss the grain trucks, you are sure to see the silos — dramatic white columns set against the skyline.
Pinnaroo started to be settled in the early 1900s and the railway line, opened in 1906, enabled families and goods to move in. Its climate and soil dictated the crop, but it also fostered farmers who acquired the latest farming inventions and, in particular, one family who saw the value in preserving these giants of the industrial age.
The result is the Gum Family Collection, the pride of Pinnaroo and an agricultural history of the district told through engines, tractors and other machines. These are the treasures — the best in Australia, it is said — collected by Donald McKenzie Gum, who regularly proclaimed, “I’m a Pinnaroo man.” He left his collection to the town, and it is housed in a huge purpose-built shed adjoining the information centre in the main street and financed by the then Pinnaroo District Council and various grants and donations.
Here, in row after gleaming row, are seriously muscled machines. Each morning, knowledgeable guides are happy to talk to visitors. If the centre happens to be closed when you visit, just ring the number on the door and it’s likely someone will drop what they’re doing and come to let you in. Farmers Max Wurfel and Tom Quince are regulars here, along with other volunteers. Tom walks with us down the rows of machines as we marvel at the strength and beauty of the Lanz Bulldog tractor, Bishop’s Dry Pickling and Dusting Machine and the Minneapolis Moline, among scores of others. An extensive Letterpress Printing Collection and a unique collection of grain are housed in the same building.
Items that recreate the life of Mallee women include crocheted doilies hung with beads, patterned fine china cups and saucers, a table set for dinner, all adding elegance in a hard landscape. Half a dozen Coolgardie meat safes, some beautiful enough to make an antiques dealer weep with envy, are lined up, each with its own way of keeping produce cool and there is a butter churn too, later converted to a flour sifter. Ingenuity is everywhere, including the forerunner of today’s complex food mixer, the elegant Hydro, finished in pale green enamel.
In the mid 1960s, tapping into a natural underground water supply meant the district could branch out into farming potatoes and onions. In 1981, the Pinnaroo Border Times led with the headline: Mallee Potatoes Raising Eyebrows. With its neighbours, Lameroo and Parilla, Pinnaroo is now one of the major potato-growing areas in South Australia.
For dinner we head for one of the two local pubs. The Golden Grain started life as Land of Promise in 1906, the same year the railway came to Pinnaroo. Local history records that trading began even before the roof was completed. When sold in 1912, it was renamed The Commercial, the new owner feeling it had fulfilled its early promise.
We have absorbed some history, seen magnificent machines, eaten well and heard great stories from dedicated locals. Have we been here for only 24 hours? It doesn’t seem so. • murrayriver.com.au
Tom Quince at the Gum Family Collection, Pinnaroo, above; historic farm exhibits, above right