Mannahill
Collage of Mannahill.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere, home to a handful of people, a typical bush pub, an historic train station (and not much else). Mannahill has all the makings of a classic outback town. If your idyllic vision of the Australian landscape is sitting on the verandah of the local pub, feet up with a beer, watching the sun set across barren plains and the red hilltops of a distant rock-range poking above the horizon, then Mannahill (or Manna Hill) may be your idyllic location.

The town has all the historical elements of an isolated South Australian settlement - gold discoveries and railroad development, pioneering pastoral settlers and arduous stock routes all flung into the desolate stockpot that make up the saltbush plains of the 'Flinders Ranges Outback Region'.

Located 120km from the larger township of Petersbough the early days of Mannahill were marked by difficult living conditions and oppressive work. The gold fields proved to be sporadic and unreliable producers and bankruptcy and industrial disputes were commonplace throughout mining community. Workers at the rail sidings were not immune from industrial action either. Water had to be supplied at the sidings, in the form of reservoirs, for the passing locomotives. Remember, in the 1880's this involved digging by hand. Forty 'navvies' working on the Yunta Creek reservoir were laid off due to encountering rock and they were offered the opportunity to be taken on at the Mannahill reservoir - on the condition they walk the 48km to the new work site. This was in a desert-like area approaching summer. Conflict and a strike arose once the men reached Mannhill resulting in the summary sacking of the workforce and reinstatement of those who had not joined the strike - tough employment conditions.

The newspapers of the day reported that accidents, incidents and suicide were common place. It must have been a miserable place to eke out a living although the same journals record a vibrant sporting and social life. James Putt, 'a teamster at Manna Hill, fell under the front wheel of his waggon(sic) to-day and was run over. When released it was found that his life was extinct'. In another misfortune, Arthur Anderson lost nine of his charges from his donkey team after they ate poison weed. Anderson became so depressed over his failure he shot himself in the head - 'and died'.

Apart from torrid working conditions, transport and the general environment was not conducive to an easy life. Dust storms could pile dirt four feet high against the fences in the main street of Mannahill and build up on roofs enough to cave then in. Conditions aboard the Broken Hill Express were 'scandalous' with overcrowding commonplace. It was reported in 1908 that 'one car contained 54 passengers, including 16 women and 12 children. There was no lavatory accommodation on the car'. As well as being crammed like sardines in a hot tin box than rolled through the desert, typhoid was rife amongst the communities and the trains were blamed for spread of the disease.

You would be right if you suspected not much happens in Mannahill. The Barrier Highway from Peterborough to Broken Hill in N.S.W. serves as the main street but most of the traffic drives right on through. The train stops, if required, and the occasional caravan or camper home pulls up for a quiet night in the middle of nowhere.


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