Prior to European settlement the Renmark area was inhabited by the Naralte Aborigines who were described by one early settler as 'very friendly’ and quickly picked up a smattering of English. They were willing to work and attempted to instruct the newcomers in their methods of hunting. The river provided abundant food and they lived well off a diet of kangaroos, emus, wombats, goannas, lizards, ducks, turtles, fish, snakes and bird eggs. It is said that the word 'Renmark' is derived from the local Aboriginal words meaning 'red mud'.
Although, there were other white settlers in the area prior to their arrival, the Chaffey brothers are honoured as founders of Renmark. The Canadian born George and William Chaffey were invited to Australia to create an irrigation colony at Mildura. The project was delayed due to political disputes and in the meantime an agreement of the establishment of an irrigation colony at Renmark was signed on 14th February 1887. Renmark is Australia's oldest irrigation settlement.
30,000 acres from the Bookmark Station lease was granted to the Chaffey's on which to build the new colony. Vineyards and fruit blocks slowly emerged throughout the district.
In 1893, the Renmark Irrigation Trust was established to supply water to the growers, and in the early years, it also played a role in the administration and governing of the settlement. The Renmark Irrigation Trust was actually the ‘District Council’ until it merged with the ‘Town Council’ in 1960 to form the Corporation of the Town of Renmark.
In July 1996, the Corporation, and the adjoining District of Paringa amalgamated to form the current Renmark Paringa Council. The new Council has an area of some 920.9 square kilometres, with a population of just under 10,000 (2007).
Initially, Renmark was almost a prohibition settlement but on 3rd March 1897, a liquor licence was granted to the Renmark Hotel and it became the first community owned hotel in the Commonwealth and was administered by a trust.
During its brief history, Renmark has witnessed many changes. Once it played a major role as a port for paddle steamers, until the introduction of the railway signalled the end of the river trade era. The railway was, in turn, made redundant with the advent of prime movers to transport freight. The first train ran into Renmark over the, then new, Paringa Bridge in 1927 and the last scheduled train ran through in 1983, a short life of only 56 years.
The township has survived memorable floods (such as 1956), droughts (as in 1914) storms and threat of bushfires. All of these in just over one hundred years but with each setback Renmark recovered and grew.
In recent years, the focus of the area has once again returned to the river with a growth in tourism and usage of the river for recreational purposes. Future developments have considered the tourism potential in the area by including features such as accommodation and recreational facilities. The Council has recognised the importance of the growing tourist market by establishing and maintaining the Renmark Paringa Visitor Information Centre and is operated seven days per week by the Council, with paid staff members and many volunteer workers. The Paddle Steamer Industry itself, is berthed adjacent to the Centre, and is now in fully restored working condition, keeping alive some of Renmark’s History.
Renmark has had a dynamic history and with the establishment of new developments, such as the Jane Eliza Estate, the Calperum Industrial Development and a community which is willing to work together, its future is assured to be every bit as prosperous.
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The township of Paringa, only 4km from Renmark offers hotel and caravan park accommodation. Headings lookout, Murtho Forest Picnic area, Bert Dix Memorial Riverside park, Lock 5, Paringa boat Marina, Margaret Dowling National Trust Reserve, the Old Custom’s House and a scenic river lookout are other attractions of Paringa. Paringa is also home to a small colony of Koala’s. They can be found sleeping in the tree tops during the day, so ask one of the locals for the most recent sightings.
In 1913, it became the first Murray town to become connected to Adelaide by rail. The Paringa Suspension Bridge, originally built to connect the rail line to Renmark, is one of only 4 still spanning the Murray River today. The Bridge was built in 1927 and still carries B-double trucks, with a pedestrian walkway, as part of the Sturt Highway. A paved walkway weaves its way from the old bridge to the Renmark Town Centre providing interpretive signage about the area along the way.
Fruit growing, farming and tree nurseries are Paringa’s main industries. The community use Renmark as its main shopping and business centre, as well as Paringa’s privately owned hotel, a general store, antique shop, scrapbooking store, hairdressing salon, bakery and post office.
The population of Paringa is estimated at 1791 people in the 2006 census. During recent years many new homes have been erected and some sites offer magnificent views over the Murray River.
At the beginning of 1894 the SA Government were confronted by the necessity to do something about the large number of unemployed men gathering for rallies in the streets of Adelaide. In addition to their current policy of creating relief works (some of lasting, others of limited value) they then decided to further assist by putting men on the land to establish settlements which could become self-supporting. A total of eleven settlement sites were chosen along the upper Murray and eventually established, Lyrup being one of first.
A group of 40 men and their wives, 49 single men and 114 youths and children and been selected to occupy the Lyrup settlement. The Government would transport them and their possessions to Morgan by train, then to Lyrup by paddle steamer. They would also provide basic supplies of building materials and farming equipment for the settles to get started in their new lifestyle.
The PS Ellen arrived at the Lyrup riverbank at about 8am on Thursday 22 February 1894. The settlers, wives and children disembarked. The food supplies bedding, furniture, and tarpaulins intended to become shelter and other equipment and supplies were unloaded onto the riverbank. The considerable amounts of iron, timber, ploughs and heavy items which could not be fitted onto the PS Ellen were delivered by the PS Gem. The settlers gave the captain and crew a rousing cheer as the PS Ellen departed to continue her journey to Renmark. Lyrup was born.
Of the eleven village settlements established in 1894 Lyrup is the only one where the Village Association still exists. Today the only function of this association is the ownership and operation of irrigation and drainage facilities for the horticultural blocks now owned by the association members. It also supplies domestic water to the Lyrup Village area.