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Landowners at Moorook

 

Interview: 11th August 2011

Philip and Maria moved to Yatco Lagoon in 1976 from Mount Compass to farm around the lagoon floodplain and grow lucerne on the highland.

When they arrived the floodplain had been underwater for almost two years during the 1974/75 floods. Their land included the entire south lagoon and high land running up to the Moorook-Loxton Road and land on the northern side of Drogemuller Road.

The land was purchased in partnership with Tim O’Brien who later sold his interest in the land to Philip and Maria.

They lived in the original homestead built by Traugott Tschirpig in 1912 and during their time at Yatco Lagoon, Philip and Maria restored the building and landscaped the gardens.  The homestead was constructed with limestone quarried from land in front of Michael Mason’s home. Landscaping around the homestead involved planting hundreds of native trees and shrubs that completely removed the homestead from view from the highway. Ian Burdon and Cathy Taylor live in the homestead today. 

Opportunity and innovation

A water licence was available for 200 acres of floodplain land although on purchasing the land the new owners had to prove that they had a need to use the water in order to secure an ongoing licence from the Engineering and Water Supply Department. To do this, a sunflower crop was planted and irrigated on the northern side of the south lagoon, using a flood pump from the river to an earth channel, and then siphoning the water from the channel onto the crop. Sunflowers were grown for just one season in 1977.

Having retained the licence, the water was then used to grow lucerne on the highland and was very profitable at $2 per bale and as high as $4 per bale during the 1982 drought. Advice from local Agronomist Barry Bull was invaluable during this period. In 1982 they expanded their lucerne plantings from 30 acres to 75 acres using centre pivot irrigation. Increasing power costs put the venture at risk and eventually the arrival of lucerne aphid rendered lucerne growing unprofitable.

Eco-tourism

Aspirations to further develop land along the lagoon front, led Philip and Maria to sell the Tschirpig homestead to enable a new home and a commercial flower growing enterprise to commence, plus the development of the Yatco Cottages which were built by Philip from Western Australian native pine. Four cottages were approved by Council and two cottages were completed in 1985 for rental and holiday accommodation, offering superb views over Yatco Lagoon. The cottages featured information about local bird life and a dinghy was provided for guests to go rowing in. In hindsight, the Yatco Cottages were probably the first eco-tourism venture in the region. With the support of Berri Tourism officers Aileen O’Connell and Kay Kubank, the cottage occupancy remained around 50% with many repeat customers. The cottages are today referred to as the Yatco Cabins and are owned and operated by Leon and Lynette Stasinowsky.

The Stasinowsky’s had purchased the Yatco floodplain from the Martins earlier in 1991 when interest rates were so high that they placed a financial burden on the other business enterprises.

Philip and Maria started the cut flower enterprise in 1986 and included statice and agapanthus under a 1600 metre square shade house. They recalled large hail storms in the late 80’s that damaged the cut flowers infrastructure and broke windows in the cottages.

In 1997, due to changes in Philip’s health, the Martins moved to a 1 hectare block with a smaller home opposite Wachtels Lagoon in Moorook which they have developed to be completely self-sustainable. A small plantation of figs, plus fresh vegetables, a restored train carriage and numerous chooks keep them both extremely busy and engaged in community development opportunities.

Reflections

Philip and Maria recall several aspects of the lagoon environment, including:

- Their children growing up and building rafts on the lagoon (see photo';

Phillip being invited to hunt ducks at Gun Alley, not realising how popular the site was amongst duck shooters;

- Fantastic regrowth of red gums and lignum on the eastern side of the Yatco Lagoon;

- Grazing of the floodplain with a maximum of 30 head of cattle;

- Popular camping spots along the river and around the lagoon, and having to control numbers of campers; and,

- The birdlife, snakes, and water rats.

Drainage from the irrigated areas above the lagoon had created saltier soils on some sites around the lagoon which grew more salt tolerant plants such as pig face and samphire. Billy buttons grew where the soil was fresher.

They noticed the south lagoon become gradually saltier especially when water was pumped from the channel into the south lagoon.

Vision

Philip and Maria’s vision for Moorook includes a community farmers market in summer with locally grown produce, and linking their property into the “possible Blockies Trail” which has been discussed by various tourism forums in the Riverland.