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Published May 28th 2019
An exciting insight into South Australia's history
As the rate of social and technological change becomes faster, nostalgia and an interest in history are not just for the older generation. Reminders of our history in Adelaide and the metropolitan area are fast disappearing as a relentless path for progress is bulldozed, but some country towns are increasingly putting their history to good use. Karoonda is one of these.
Karoonda is the main town of the Murray Mallee region of South Australia, founded around a hundred years ago. For much of its history, it was known for wheat production, but sheep farming is increasingly important here now. Like some many other country towns in SA, the railways were a huge part of life for Murray Mallee towns. Grain was transported to Adelaide by rail, and the train was a valuable lifeline that transported people and essential household goods until the late twentieth century.
When the South Australian Railways service to Adelaide stopped, many abandoned railway stations created ghost towns in the surrounding districts. Whole towns and communities died when their populations left for the big cities, leaving disused buildings and railway infrastructure behind to rot.
Karoonda and the District Council of East Murray are clearly proud of their local history, and the Karoonda Historical Society has created a sizeable free historical display in Pioneer Park, a part of the parklands that encircles the town. Although I had come to see the railway station museum it is currently being renovated, and I found this outdoor museum is a great alternative.
Wynarka Methodist Church is Part of the Historical Display
Karoonda Pioneer Park contains many large exhibits from the early part of the twentieth century: railway carriages, a Brill rail car (1927), the Wynarka Methodist Church (1913), an early settlers shack and the Hood family farmhouse (1913).
There are also a number of buildings that were once in Karoonda and surrounding districts. The replica Karoonda motor garage includes an old vintage Chevrolet car on display, together with original workshop equipment. The Kuntara telephone exchange and post office was perhaps the smallest post office in SA, while a large collection of agricultural harvesting machinery reminds you that wheat was the lifeline for Karoonda for much of the century.
The Karoonda Pioneer Park Historical Display is open every day and free to visit. Kids can have fun and roam around the parkland, and learn about the history of the Murray Mallee region as they climb aboard railway carriages and peer in windows. It reminded me a little of Old Tailem Town Pioneer Village, but this is free and much more focused on local history.
With the Colour Up Karoonda Festival attracting visitors from Adelaide to town to see colourful art displays on the massive silos, Karoonda and its Pioneer Park is a must-see for anyone who is interested in South Australian history.