Rejuvenating the land and providing on-going opportunities for the community
The area was established when the ‘United Aborigines Mission’ initiated the mission at Gerard in 1945 on over 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land purchased downriver from Loxton. Gerard replaced the mission at Swan Reach and its inhabitants were moved to the Gerard mission. There was initially great hope for the mission, particularly after a very favourable assessment by CG Grasby, the District Horticultural Adviser, with a full report produced and guidelines for irrigation and plantings provided, and a start made with 300 grape vines.
Pre-fabricated huts were obtained from an old Army camp and other fittings from a Woodcutters’ Camp at Loveday. The Gerard Mission school was opened in 1946, after the school at Swan Reach had closed the previous December.
As well as transferring Aboriginal people from Swan Reach, some were brought to Gerard from Ooldea, in South Australia’s far west. The hopes of self-sufficiency were never achieved, despite considerable clearing and planting of citrus and stone fruit trees, and herds of sheep and cows.
By 1946 the Aboriginal residents were given the chance to have some say in organising their community and formed their own council for welfare and social activities, under the overall management of a government superintendent. In 1974 the reserve was handed to the ‘Aboriginal Lands Trust’, and operated under its own full council.
In the late 1980s the Gerard community revived traditional crafts using the work of Edward Eyre and others as reference.
In 2012 the Elders of the Gerard Community approached a local farmer/accountant Colin Milburn who has known the community for many years with an idea to grow their own vegetables on the surrounding land, which at this point was home to kangaroos and rabbits, and a few thousand dead Almond trees.
Due to the extensive irrigation system it appeared a bit of overkill and so the idea of producing hay which had been considered before was looked at again. A grant was received from the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Irrigation Industry Improvement Program (3IP).
This is exactly the type of project the 3IP intended to fund as it will rejuvenate the land and provide on-going opportunities for the community.
It took about 6 months of hard work to clear the site into an area that could be cultivated to grow hay, and now we have a mixture of hay growing including Lucerne and Oaten.
Future project envisaged for the surrounding land include renovating the old Yabbie ponds, feedlot and a possible tourism plan for the site next to the Murray.