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Former resident of Moorook


Interview: 2nd August 2011

 Malcolm “Effie” Wachtel is often mentioned in the same sentence with “Angee” Wachtel. They are brothers who grew up at Moorook. Wachtels Lagoon at Moorook is named after their grandfather TGA Wachtel who leased the land for many years and grazed the lagoon bed in dry years before the lock was built in 1925.

In 1976, Malcolm joined the Department of Agriculture in Loxton and in 1979 he moved from Moorook to Loxton to live.

In 1982, Malcolm’s mother, Joan Wachtel, published a book about the history of Moorook, Moorook Bend in the River. Despite Malcolm’s requests to edit the book, his mother would not allow him this opportunity.

Malcolm’s earliest recollections of Moorook and Yatco Lagoon were of The Spit on the north lagoon where horses bred by Fred Drogemuller (Jeff’s grandfather) were caught. Malcolm and Jeff are first cousins.

Malcolm recalled that pushbikes were the main method of getting to and from Moorook Primary School. Unfortunately when Malcolm was a young lad his new pushbike was run over shortly after the Christmas when he received it. He remembers his first teacher Margaret Munn and the Headmaster Alec Keis who was a very good tennis player.

Eventually, Malcolm caught the bus from Moorook to Loxton Area School right up until he completed his Leaving Certificate.

Yatco Lagoon

Malcolm’s fond memories of Yatco lagoon are linked to his love of duck hunting. The lagoon was highly valued for duck hunting by many in the community. Malcolm’s first introduction to duck hunting was with a single barrel Harrington and Richardson shotgun borrowed from his uncle Eric Gogel. His favourite spot was behind The Spit and on calm days Malcolm would row across there in a 7 foot marine ply punt he made. The punt had a customised water proof box for holding shotgun shells and a sandwich.

On one morning with a fully loaded punt and his retriever dog on top, the punt became too front heavy and it sank in the middle of “Gun Alley”.

He also made his own duck decoys from flat wood cut outs and palm fronds and painted them.

Malcolm recalled that duck season opening day was always the same date in February and so it more often occurred mid week than on weekends. He was part of organised shoots on the lagoons for 37 years from 1958 up until 1996 where duck hunting was part of the local community culture. His brother “Angee” and cousins Colin and Lin continue to hunt today. Access to the lagoons was granted through Tschirpig’s property and later Martins.

Apart from abundant ducks, Malcolm recalls numerous Great Crested Grebes in the lagoons which are seldom seen today, and yabbying was always popular on the south lagoon.

 Excerpt from Joan Wachtel’s book — Moorook — Bend in the River

Twenty families, mostly from Port Adelaide, handed in their names to become members of this new community. They took up the challenge and travelled by rail from Adelaide to Morgan. A short walk to the wharf gave them their first sighting of the mighty River Murray.

They embarked on the P.S.Gem captained by Hughie King. It was 20 May 1894 when Captain King cut the Gem’s engines and the paddle wheels slowly churned as he turned her to starboard, edging her to the bank — the Moorook Landing at last!

There had been no preparation for their arrival. Here they were scrambling up the bank with their future quite unknown. They lit fires to cheer their children and themselves. They boiled water and drank the gum-leaf scented tea — how good that tea tasted! Was it really smoke that caused those tears? Their nearest doctor was at Renmark — 30 miles away on the other side of this wide river; their nearest hospital, Kapunda — days away. Overland Corner 17 miles away downstream by river on the opposite side was their postal address — all up river mail came through there.

Overland Corner’s notorious era was drawing to a close. In that year of 1894 the Police Station closed its doors for the last time. The hotel licence had expired in 1891.

There were rabbits, kangaroos, wild fowl, duck and fish for the taking, but they had not been warned about the flies, mosquitoes and snakes.

A meeting of males elected a chairman who was responsible to the government. The government set up a store with supplies of flour, tea, sugar, salt, pepper, and molasses. The Village Settlers were given coupons to the value of 7/1d per week. They handled no money. The Government disposed of the produce and credited it to the settlement.

This to some, at first, would have been very stimulating, bringing out each man’s ingenuity. Providing his own food and shelter; starting to grow firstly vegetables, then fodder to feed horses, cows, sheep and goats, gave strengthening sense of purpose for the men who had been without jobs.

Few women care to share their kitchens — be it community bread-baking or an early morning turn at water-carrying to do the washing. Lack of privacy and discomforts soon shattered ideology. Unhappy women made unhappier men.

Joan Wachtel went on to describe the hardships and challenges faced by the first white settlers, concluding that — their existence was not only an object lesson in human nature, but heralded the development of the Riverland’s prosperous fruit-growing industry and the kind of co-operation for which the district became famous.