The information below is an extract from a speech given by Mayor Cr Peter Laird and Athol Roberts OAM at the Carrathool Shire Council Centenary Festival in October 2006.
Carrathool Shire Council was proclaimed as Willandra Shire on 3 March 1906, starting from scratch without an office, staff and little finance. It was renamed the Carrathool Shire on 13 February 1907. The first meeting was reported to have been held in the Family Hotel Carrathool on 5 December 1906.
At that time there were only a few hundred scattered inhabitants who had nothing but their pioneering spirit with which to clear land, fight floods, droughts and the dreaded bush fires that periodically destroyed homes, properties, stock and sometimes human lives.
The area consisted mainly of large wool producing stations such as "Uardry", "Wyvern", "Groongal", "Willandra", "Trida", "Roto", "Moolbong", and "Cowl Cowl".
The majority of farmers on small holdings of about 640 acres gained their main livelihood as carriers driving bullock teams carting station supplies, stores, and wool. Bush shanties were located at frequent intervals along the most frequently used roads to service travellers.
Of the original four small villages in the shire, population figures in 1891 were Darlington Point 57, Whitton 308, Gunbar (unknown) and Carrathool 163.
Carrathool was chosen as the shire headquarters due to its wider area of influence and closer proximity to Hay and Hillston. It had an established river steamer service and coach service for passengers and mail three times per week to Hillston.
Both Whitton and Carrathool were serviced by rail from Junee.
The Shire was divided into A, B and C ridings, with two representatives from each riding. The six councillors represented an area covering 4,500 square miles.
The Murrumbidgee River formed the southern boundary bordering both Murrumbidgee and Waradgery (now Hay) Shires. The Lachlan River formed most of the northern and western boundary bordering unincorporated land and the Hillston Municipality. The eastern boundary of the shire lay to the east of the Cocoparra, Melbergen and Lachlan Ranges in common with Lachlan, Bland and Narrandera Shires.
The first boundary change occurred in 1912, with the area contained in the original Wade Shire being alienated from Carrathool Shire. The dream of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area had commenced.
In 1918, Council purchased its first horse drawn grader and employed an Overseer. Contractors were engaged mostly for clearing, forming and installing culverts. Caretakers were engaged to man the punt/ferry crossings at Whitton, Darlington Point and Carrathool and to maintain public watering places throughout the shire area.
In 1919 following World War I, Council carried out an immunisation campaign during the world wide influenza epidemic. The Repatriation Board provided a grant of 600 pounds to employ returned soldiers and a road clearing gang of 10 men with tools and equipment was set up.
The extension of railway services, firstly to Roto in 1918 and then from Griffith to Hillston in 1923 opened up vast areas of virgin land and expansion of wheat growing. This resulted in intense closer settlement in the early 1920's and the formation of Merriwagga, Goolgowi, Tabbita and Rankins Springs.
During the 1920s, various requests were received to relocate the shire headquarters to a more central location.
Applications were made for the classification of the Hay to Hillston Rd via Gunbar, Hillston to Griffith Rd via the railway line, Hillston to Rankins Springs Rd via Monia Gap and Lake Cargelligo to Booligal Rd via Hillston as main roads.
Council services extended with involvement in electric street lighting undertakings at Whitton and Darlington Point.
The Great Depression commenced in 1930 and Council was inundated with requests and petitions from those seeking relief work and rate collections were difficult. Grants were received and labour exchanges were established at Whitton, Carrathool, Goolgowi, Rankins Springs and Merriwagga with 70 men employed under gangers, principally to clear roads. The Shire Clerk, Office Assistant and part time Engineer accepted pay cuts of one third.
Hardship was also attributed to the inadequacy of farm sizes. However, mallee clearing was slow and labourious and only so much land could be brought into production efficiently.
The Department of Local Government made minor boundary changes to Wade, Willimbong (later to become Leeton), Carrathool and Yanco (later to amalgamate with Narrandera), with Council losing 989 pounds of assets without compensation.
In May 1934, Council resolved to transfer the headquarters from Carrathool to Goolgowi and the first meeting was held in the newly erected office on 16 July.
In his book "All Those Yesterdays" ex-councillor and Shire President, WG Parker records a letter received from Mr SV Hicks providing the following background on the original Council Chambers in Goolgowi.
"You may be interested in knowing how the Chambers came to Goolgowi. Away back in 1934 when the Chambers were at Carrathool, Crs Cashmere and Varcoe moved that the next meeting (monthly) of the Shire be held at Goolgowi, if a suitable building could be obtained; if not, it be held at Merriwagga.
They were both Merriwagga men, and had in mind a near new building with residence that a Bank had just vacated, but they worded their motion wrongly. Little did they think a suitable building could be erected at Goolgowi in such a short time.
Max Willing drew up a plan and with Messrs Jack Coates, Geoff Millard and myself, we took it over the President, Cr G Chapman, at Carrathool, and Mr AE Conolly, the Shire Clerk, for their approval. Max didn't have it quite finished, but Messrs Jack and Clive Myott came along and helped him out, and they had it ready for the next meeting. An Engineer's room was added later.
Before the Chambers came, Goolgowi was not much more than a railway siding. In 1949, I met with Cr Dave Blyth in Griffith. He suggested that I sell the Chambers to the Council - I said I wasn't interested in selling, it was the last link I had with Goolgowi, and recalled many pleasant memories. Dave said - Look Vic, if you sell, the Chambers will be at Goolgowi for all time. I weakened and said OK, they can have them at cost.
With the new Chambers at Goolgowi, Dave's predictions came true, and the Carrathool Shire will be at Goolgowi for all time."
During the Second World War, the Shire continued to be plagued with rabbits. War rationing of petrol, meat, building materials, clothing and other commodities took effect.
Council called for tenders for alternative fuels such as charcoal and gas and applied to have the meat ration for outside staff doing manual work increased to 7lb beef per week.
1943, the Municipality of Hillston was amalgamated with the Carrathool Shire Council following a petition to the Department of Local Government, despite opposition from Carrathool Shire Council.
In 1950, Council was awarded the coveted "Bluett Award" for the Council or County Council showing the greatest progress.
Through the 1950's services provided by Council continued to be extended with additional staff appointments such as a Health Surveyor and Ranger, provision of staff housing, commencement of the library service, and completion of the Carrathool and Merriwagga Water Supplies and Goolgowi Dam.
Electricity supplies were progressively taken over by Murrumbidgee County Council. On the 12 July 1958, the new shire offices in Stipa Street, were officially opened by the Hon AG Enticknap, MLA and Council operations from the old Council Chambers ended.
2,212,000 acres of western division land (previously unincorporated) were included into the Shire in 1958. However, following the boundary inquiry of 1960, 293,580 acres of irrigation land and the villages of Whitton and Darlington Point were lost to Wade, Leeton and Murrumbidgee Shires.
Development continued in 60's with the construction of the Hillston Swimming Pool in 1961, bridges over the Willandra Creek, Box Creek, mass installation of septic tanks in the town and villages, and improvements to the Rankins Springs and Merriwagga water supplies.
Other developments included the Hillston Caravan Park, Western Division Dental Service, and comprehensive health service including immunisations for whooping cough, tetanus, poliomyelities and diphtheria, mobile x-rays and tuberculosis skin testing.
By the 1970's the standard of the road network in the Shire had improved and in 1971 the newly completed bitumen seal of Trunk Road 80 between Goolgowi and Hillston was officially opened.
Council's road plant had increased to 7 graders, 7 tractors, a one ton truck and other plant such as rollers, sprayers, spreaders and caravans. Lake Woorabinda at Hillston was opened in 1972.
The 1980's saw the completion of major works including the Melbergan rural water scheme, Hillston drainage scheme, Rankins Springs effluent scheme, upgrading of the Carrathool water supply, extension to the sealed road network, Hillston Community Centre, Goolgowi Swimming Pool complex, and introduction of Council's first computerised accounting system.
The 1990's saw the implementation of the new Local Government Act (1993), a new accounting standard and implementation of Award Restructuring.
With these changes the Council saw a greater community expectation for services, more red tape, more responsibilities shifted from other spheres of government to local government and an expanded workforce to cope with the changes.
The 1990's introduced a new focus on the Shire and a healthy growth rate for a rural area.
Council was actively engaged in supporting and fostering substantial economic growth.
The 90's saw the development of Prime City Feedlot, the growth of the local cotton industry and a number of agricultural and horticultural developments.
The demand for improved infrastructure such as roads and accommodation placed a considerable burden on Council's limited resources.
Other major projects of the 1990's included:
- the potable water supplies at Goolgowi and Merriwagga
- completion of the bitumen seal for Kidman Way
- reconstruction of Tabbita Lane
- renovations to the Goolgowi Shire office and purchase of the Hillston Post Office for the establishment of the Hillston District Office
- establishment of the banking franchise at Hillston
- upgrading of bush fire equipment
- and construction of the Hillston Community & Medical Centre and house purchase in order to attract a new Doctor to Hillston
- upgrading and expansion of the Hillston Caravan Park
- technological improvements such as telemetry control for water supplies, PC computer network, electronic recordkeeping system and the establishment of a mobile base station at Hillston
Whilst Council continued to strive to improve its road network it became increasingly apparent that funding was inadequate to fully maintain the network.
The new millennium saw a welcomed new source of roads funding under the program of "Roads to Recovery". This program is vital for this area and shows a new level of cooperation with the Federal Government - a liaison that is important for the future.
With the new century came the water reform agenda. Concerns were held for the future of our irrigation areas as a consequence of potential changes.
Development within the shire continued with increased horticultural plantings and diversification such as cherries and olive trees, additional grain handling facilities, the Namoi Cotton gin and a noticeable increase in travellers along the Kidman Way.
In 2003, Council received international accreditation of its Environmental Management System and was the first in the region to complete the Cities for Climate Protection program.
Technological improvements also continued with the development of further mobile phone towers at Goolgowi and Carrathool, introduction of broadband internet services for Goolgowi and Hillston, a new Council website and intranet.
In 2003, the State Government embarked on a new round of amalgamations. This Council was unaffected. The number of Councils in NSW was reduced from 177 to 152.
In 2004, the new state of the art WG Parker Memorial Library & Rural Transaction Centre was completed and officially opened.
2005 saw a new emphasis on resource sharing amongst local councils in response to growing pressures on finances, increased service expectations, staff skill shortages, and State Governments Better Practice in Local Government Program.
In 2006 Council embarked on a comprehensive review of all council services with a view to ensuring that this Council continues to be viable and sustainable long into the future.
2006 also saw the release of the Percy Allen Report which highlighted the inability of local government to fund required infrastructure maintenance needs under current funding arrangements. This is a local government, State and Federal issue.
Our federal politicians have also recognised the role and importance of local government by passing an historic resolution recently through parliament.
The continuing drought has made life difficult for rural and urban residents alike and Council is currently supporting initiatives such as 50% rate subsidy for farmers and rural commercial businesses.
Council continues to fight for:
- improved police presence
- improved medical and ancillary services
- equity and commonsense under the current water reforms
- more funding for maintenance works and development of new infrastructure
- more autonomy for local government
- policies that will ensure the continued viability of our communities
- sensible solutions to environmental concerns
This Council will continue to advocate for outcomes on behalf of the residents of the Shires on issues affecting this area and this region.