PRESERVING THE PAST: Merbein South Community Hall and Recreation Park Inc. committee members Geoff Izard, Cheryl Storer and Ivan Shaw have been preparing for Sunday’s official celebration and handover of the historic site.

By JOHN DOOLEY

MANY people driving towards Lake Cullulleraine on the Sturt Highway travel past the Merbein South Post Office and general store without a second glance.

The fact, however, is that Merbein South is the gateway to the Victorian outback, and there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye.

Indicative of the area’s rich history is the opening of the local primary school in 1913, followed two years later by the post office and CSIRO Research Station. The station was originally known as the Mildura Horticultural Research and Experiment Station, and it opened 100 years ago on River Avenue.

In 1929, the community hall was opened, and that celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. In its heyday, Merbein South had football, cricket and tennis clubs, and the now-famous mushroom farm was established in 1970.

The district’s population in 2016 was estimated to be around 405, but it had been as high as 600 in the early 2000s, before things in the dried fruit and wine industry went off the boil.

This Sunday a community celebration will commemorate the long-awaited handover of a recreation space to the Merbein South community.

‘Merbein South Community Hall and Recreation Park Inc.’ has officially taken over stewardship of the recreation area – the site of the settlement’s hall, tennis courts, recreation ground and its former school.

The Merbein South Community Hall and Recreation Park management committee has been hard at work planning a car boot sale, with more than 20 cars and a lively auction, together with a sausage sizzle, Devonshire Teas and jumping castle for the kids, all of which promises to make for a great community day. 

Group chairman, Ivan Shaw, said the aim was to acknowledge the hard work that has been done by both local residents and the Mildura Rural City Council in preserving and retaining “this beautiful little space for our local community”. 

“The school was closed in 2012, and it’s really taken since then to have all of the formalities tied up to ensure this site is retained for our community, so it is a cause for celebration,” he said.

Mr Shaw said the community day would offer the opportunity for anyone to bring along items to sell from their car-boots, while an auction of larger items was also planned.

“All proceeds will go to support the installation of air conditioning in the hall and improvement of the grounds,” he said. “We’re welcoming anyone to book a spot, or take advantage of the opportunity to have items included in our auction. 

“There’ll be plenty of activities for the kids as well, with face-painting, a jumping castle and other activities. We’ll have a sausage sizzle, Devonshire tea, cake stalls, plant sales, and of course plenty of the fresh local produce that Merbein South is known for.

“We want to make it a great family day, because we’re an area with a growing number of young families. With that in mind, we think it’s important to have a space where people and families can come together, to have functions, picnics or organised activities or sports – which is why we’ve worked so hard for it to stay as a community space.”

Mr Shaw said that many travellers on the busy Sturt Highway also stop to use the space, which is why the community is lobbying to have this made a public-toilet facility.

“The hall will be available to hire for events and functions in the future, and the tennis courts and open space are readily accessible by community members and visitors,” he said.

“The school has been here since 1913, and the hall has existed since 1929, so this has always been a hub for the community – and we’re hoping that will continue to be the case well into the future.

“There’s also been a large amount of work done to get us this far, and we want to acknowledge that on our celebration day as well as the critical input from Mildura Rural City Council in backing us and helping us as we worked towards this goal.”