Renmark Irrigation Trust setting the standard for 125 years

The Renmark Irrigation Trust (RIT) in South Australia’s Riverland has been leading the way since 1893 in ensuring horticulturalists receive water as efficiently as possible.

The organisation oversees the management of River Murray irrigation water in Renmark and its infrastructure serves more than 600 irrigators throughout the area.

This month the RIT will celebrate its 125th anniversary, using the milestone to reflect back on more than a century of Riverland history.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin, a wine grapegrower and third generation irrigator, says Renmark’s permanent plantings of citrus, almonds, avocados, persimmons and wine grapes depend on a reliable source of irrigation water.

Renmark irrigators were the first in Australia to replace their water channels with pipes in the 1970s.

Peter says during the early days of settlement, water as it still is today, was an important resource for the town’s growers.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin.

By WWI, Renmark had two big wineries, a dried fruit packing co-operative and a cannery. Riverland towns were a major supplier of produce during the two world wars.

“For a soldier in a trench in France or Gallipoli it would have been like Christmas to receive a can of sweet peaches or some dried fruit, instead of just bully beef or biscuits,” Peter says.

Members of the RIT pay rates to access River Murray water in the Renmark irrigation settlement, which was established by Canadian born brothers William and George Chaffey in 1887.

The RIT was initially operated by the two brothers, but the collapse of Australia’s banks in 1893 made the organisation unviable.

On December 23, 1893, the RIT became Renmark’s first local government authority after the SA Parliament passed a statute giving it the authority to manage the irrigation settlement for its members.

The RIT has been leading the way in managing the resource of River Murray water since then.

In April, Renmark became the world’s first irrigation operator to receive global ‘gold’ certification against the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard.

The RIT has led the way in modernising irrigation in Australia with irrigation channels like this one, pictured in 1893, being replaced by pipes as early as the 1970s. Photo: RIT McIntosh Collection.

The award recognises world best practice in delivery efficiency, water quality, management of environmental water and water governance.

The RIT has almost completed two years of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to deliver environmental water to rejuvenate flood plains around Renmark, which had been cleared of their native trees and vegetation.

“Bird life is unbelievable in a couple of spots, we even have black swans breeding, lots of birds have been spotted, and the frogs are unbelievable,” Peter says.

The environmental watering is a Murray Darling Basin Plan initiative, which was legislated by the Federal Parliament in 2012.

Unlike some irrigators in the eastern states, the RIT sees the Basin Plan’s implementation by 2024 as an opportunity and a chance to work more closely with governments at a state and federal level.

Black swans are breeding and floodplains have been rejuvenated due to the RIT’s environmental watering program.

Peter says the organisation instigated the development of the SEE (Social, Economic Environmental) Renmark 2024 Alliance in 2013 to respond to the challenges of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

The alliance also has representatives from Renmark Paringa Council, Destination Riverland and Regional Development Australia.

Projects such as irrigation modernisation and a scoping study of the Renmark airport have been proposed.

“We have so far attracted $18.5 million into Renmark,” Peter says.

The 125th birthday celebrations begin later this month with guided walking tours of the Renmark Irrigation Trust’s historic building and pumping station.

Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr who grew up in Renmark, will also be the guest speaker at an event in the town on December 23 to mark the RIT’s milestone.

More information can be found here.

Header image: SATC/Adam Bruzzone.

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Living regionally no barrier to success for teen entrepreneur

Renmark teenager Nathan Woodrow might only be a few months outside of finishing high school, but he already knows what it’s like to run his own business.

The young Riverlander launched his own clothing label, Ryde Clothing, two years ago and has since sold about 1000 units across the country, the majority through online sales.

The brand is inspired by the former Renmark High School student’s love for skating, mountain biking, wakeboarding, and wakeskating, a sport similar to wakeboarding except the rider’s feet aren’t strapped to the board.

At the age of 15 Nathan suffered a knee injury leaving him unable to participate in the many sporting activities that usually kept him busy.

Searching for something else to keep him occupied, he started sketching designs for t-shirts, screen printing them from his bedroom and selling the items online.

He told no one of his entrepreneurial pursuits and it wasn’t until he was interviewed by music and fashion publication, TEO Magazine, that Ryde Clothing began to gain local traction.

“When I was at school, a lot of the sales would come from me walking around the yard at lunch time and selling shirts,” Nathan says.

“It’s really good that in the Riverland everyone gets around you.”

While at school, Nathan also held down two part-time jobs, saving his money to invest in the small business.

He now sketches his designs at home before sending them off to be refined by Queensland artist Tammen Willmott.

Once the prints are sent back to Renmark, Nathan screen prints the designs onto the clothing.

He originally began running Ryde from his bedroom, but it wasn’t until t-shirts began to clutter his family’s living room that he decided to move operations to a shipping container in the backyard.

“I might go for a skate and just think to myself about a design, then come home straight away and sketch something up until I get it right,” he says.

Ryde Clothing released a t-shirt design for the 2018 Riverland Dinghy Derby.

Ryde Clothing’s motto is ‘stay stoked’. Many of the designs are reflective of water sports enjoyed on the Murray River.

In 2017 Nathan was mentored by Bruce Mellett from Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland who helped him to seek local media attention, find local stockists and set business goals.

Nathan finished Year 12 last year and now splits his time between a part-time role at Renmark printing company Tri State Graphics, and running Ryde Clothing.

He says living in a regional town has been an advantage to his business rather than a detriment.

“A lot of people think that you can’t do something because you’re in the Riverland,” Nathan says.

“But being here gives you an advantage because the community always gets behind you, and with the internet, you can do everything you need to.”

Ryde Clothing will release its winter collection later this month.

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Trish has been working her possum magic for almost 30 years

When it comes to possums, Renmark local Trish Stevens knows exactly what the small marsupials like to munch on.

For almost three decades, Trish, always accompanied by her trusty dogs, has wandered down to the Renmark riverfront every afternoon to feed up to 30 hungry possums.

“They love bananas best of all,” says Trish, who moved to Renmark in 1989.

“But they don’t like celery or beans and they only eat the tips of asparagus.”

Trish Stevens has been feeding the possums on the Renmark Riverfront for almost three decades, creating a small tourist attraction. PHOTO: The Murray Pioneer.

The nocturnal creatures scramble down their palm tree homes to see what fruit and vegetables Trish, fondly known as “the possum lady”, has on offer.

The spectacle has become a drawcard for both locals and tourists in the Renmark, in South Australia’s Riverland.

Trish spends about $20 a week on carrots for the marsupials, supplemented by “whatever she has leftover”.

She also nails carrots to the line of riverfront trees, allowing the creatures something to nibble on at all times.

“If I’ve got anything spare I give them that,” Trish says.

“They love everything, including water melon – they’ll eat anything really.”

Carrots are nailed to trees lining the Renmark riverfront. PHOTO: The Murray Pioneer

Trish says sometimes people call through her check-out at Renmark Woolworths where she has worked for the past 11 years and donate a bag of apples and carrots or hand over a few coins “for the possum tin”.

“But I don’t look for it,” she says.

“It’s just a thing I do – I walked past one day and thought they looked skinny and hungry.”

Trish has been feeding the possums daily since 1990.

She’s only missed five days and that was when a bout of salmonella poisoning “a while back” put her in hospital.

“Someone came up to me the other day and said they come to Renmark every year and it (the possums) is the highlight of their visit,” Trish says.

“People are just fascinated by the possums.

“Sometimes I think ‘gosh I feel tired’ and I don’t want to go down there but I do it anyway.

“I enjoy the fact that I’m feeding something that’s hungry – and it’s nice down the river.

“I sit down there and have a chat to people so that’s a good part of it.”

Header photo courtesy of Tish Moritz.

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