Karoonda Pioneer Park.
It is located in what was once the encircling parklands of Karoonda. These parklands, however we resurveyed for building blocks in 1928 but did not sell. It was reinstituted as parklands in 1982 and the Pioneer Park was started. The museum/park concentrates on pioneer farming techniques from 1910 to 1950 and the era when the railway was paramount in the Mallee. Old buildings in the Park include the Wynarka Methodist Church (1913), Bolt’s Bush Shed and Stables (1944), Westover’s Horse Shaft chaff cutter (1920s), Kunlara Post Office (about 1914), the first Hood family farmhouse (1913), and Brown’s blacksmith works (1914.) Structures from the railway era are quite prolific and include: railcar stock- sheep wagons, goods van, louvred van, Y truck for mallee roots, a 75 class railcar; Yurgo Railway Station; a railway siding; Mindarie Railway Pump House (1917); a pull trike; and an American made Brill(Barwell Bull) Railcar from Philadelphia which entered service in 1924. The Philadelphia Company provided chassis and the Islington Railway workshops built the body of the carriage. An improved version entered the service of South Australian Railways in 1927. The petrol running Brill cars were retired from service in 1971 after serving on almost all SAR country rail lines for nearly 50 years. (Henry Barwell was Premier of South Australia from 1920-1924 when the Brill cars first entered service and he was the man who authorised the erection of the current Adelaide Railway station. He also appointed William Webb from Colorado as the Chief Commissioner of the Railways in 1923. It was Webb who modernised SAR, expanded railway operations in Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend and introduced large, faster and heavier railway engines which necessitated rebuilding much of the railway line from Adelaide to Mount Lofty and elsewhere in SA. Webb returned to the USA in 1930 leaving SAR in debt but with good infrastructure which proved to be invaluable with troop and equipment movement during World War Two.
Karoonda is the government town for the Hundred of Marmon-Jabuk which like the Hundred of Hooper was opened for sale in 1911.The town itself is right on the edge of the hundred because of the Brown’s Well railway line alignment which veered to this point because of a deep government well (220 feet) located here. Steam trains always needed good water supplies and so wells and bores were sunk across the Murray Mallee. There are excellent quality water supplies across the region which is why Lameroo and Pinnaroo have become major irrigation areas for vegetables. Beyond Karoonda the next deep government bore for water for steam trains was located at Alawoona. Regular passenger and freight trains started arriving at Karoonda from early 1913 but by then the government had already released plans for more railways in the Murray Mallee to Peebinga( the so-called railway to nowhere) and to Waikerie on the upper Murray.
Thus Karoonda was destined to be a major railway junction point from its inception with railway engines and cars and railway employees based in the future town. In fact the refreshment rooms were erected in 1914 as trains stopped in Karoonda for 10 minutes. Major work was done on the railway station in 1916 and from its inception the rail yards always had piles of mallee roots destined for the winter fires of Adelaide. Roots were obtained for the process of clearing the dense mallee and provided farmers with an additional source of income. Karoonda was the base for rail cars used on services to Peebinga, Waikerie, Barmera and Loxton. The rail services were a boon for Karoonda businessmen as Karoonda bakery sent items to stations most of the way to Loxton ; the blacksmith sent metal parts and repairs to sidings etc.
But most of the Mallee lines radiating out from Karoonda were closed during the 1980s but the Tookayerta Railway was converted to standard gauge in 1998. It allows standard gauge trains to operate between Tailem Bend and the Viterra Grain Terminal just outside of Loxton. It has grain stops at Karoonda, Mindarie, Wanbi, Alawoona and Loxton (Tookayerta). The only other rail line in the Mallee converted to standard gauge was the Pinnaroo line which also has grain trains in season. It also branches out from Tailem Bend. The railway lines north from Karoonda to Waikerie and east to Peebinga were closed in 1990 and Karoonda is no longer a rail junction.
Karoonda grew quickly despite the misgivings some had about the viability of farming in the Mallee. The town was
proclaimed in December 1913 and town lots were sold in January 1914. All the 103 allotments were purchased with prices for blocks opposite the railway line fetching the highest prices. One allotment was set aside by the government for an institute and in September 1914 a fine stone Institute hall had opened. This hall was crucial to the early settlers in Karoonda as the town school started in the hall in January 1915 and the first Anglican, Catholic and Methodist church services were held in this building. (The school was opened in 1917 and added to in 1928.) The first purchasers of town lots included a solicitor, blacksmith, butcher, greengrocer, storekeeper, hotelkeeper, fruiterer, carpenter, saddler, baker etc. Most of the first buildings were galvanised iron or timber framed and one example was the Bank of Adelaide which opened in 1914. The Karoonda Hotel opened in 1914 as the licensee of the hotel in Parrakie near Lameroo transferred his licensee to Karoonda. By the end of 1914 Karoonda had a police station, hotel, institute, four stores, a bakery, blacksmith, saddler, boarding house and some dwellings. Many of the early stone buildings were erected in 1915. Around 1918 Male Brothers from Murray Bridge opened their carriage and blacksmith works. By 1920 it had 40 employees.
In the 1920s Karoonda continued to grow and expand. New town subdivisions (1925 and 1928) were created south of the railway line and to the west of the existing town. The stone Post Office was completed in 1925; the Karoonda Hotel was extended in 1927 and 1930 (and again in 1961); the Institute had a movie projection box added to the front; the Masonic Lodge although formed in 1925 had their Temple open in 1930; the first Council Chambers were finished in 1927( before then a wooden prefab room was used); the Methodist church opened in 1925; All Hallows Anglican Church opened in July 1926; and St. Finian of Clonard Catholic Church opened in February 1930 and St. Johns Lutheran Church was completed in 1927. Then the Great Depression hit the town and drought years exacerbated its effects. The main structure built in the thirties was a new Police Station in 1938. Since the thirties a new besser block front has been added to the old Institute building (1962), new Council Chambers opened in 1981, and a new hospital was added to the town in 1970. As mentioned before Karoonda Area School was formed in 1940 with its official opening in January 1941. Its creation meant the closing of five surrounding small schools in 1940 and a further four school closures in 1941. Karoonda Area was the first in the state. New classrooms were built for it in 1963 and 1970. Karoonda is now surviving well as higher prices for wool and lamb and a more diversified range of cereal and legume crops adapted to low winter rainfall avoids low crop yields except in severe drought years.
Karoonda has a claim to fame that no other SA town can match. On 30th November 1930 a ball of fire was seen in the sky near Karoonda. A search by Professor Kerr Grant of the University of Adelaide located the meteorite that had landed near Karoonda two weeks after the sightings. It shattered on landing and 92 fragments of the meteorite were gathered. Professor Douglas Mawson the Professor of Geology analysed and described the meteorite for a 1934 scientific publication. It was an unusual meteorite type known as chondritic asiderite.It mainly consisted of olivine with minor amounts of a range of unusual minerals. A small fragment is kept in the Council Chambers. Its chemical composition was re-analysed in America in the 1950s. The town has a small plaque about the meteorite.