During the Second World War, there was a glut of wheat in Australia, and for obvious reasons there were difficulties in the exporting of it. As well, hessian sacks and corn bags (also used for wheat) were in short supply and the need for somewhere to store an enormous amount of grain became urgent. It was decided that a massive wheat storage facility would be built in the Victorian town of Murtoa, and work began in September 1941.
During our recent Victorian road trip, Mr MG and I passed through Murtoa and paid a visit (thanks to the Tourist Bureau in Horsham) to the wheat store which has come to be called the ‘Stick Shed’ because, well, it’s made of sticks, albeit rather large ones.
Upon entering the storage area, one’s breath is taken away by the sheer size of the building. Created from 560 unmilled tree trunks (sticks) which were brought to Murtoa from the Dandenong Ranges nearly 350 km away, the shed is 270m long, 60m wide and nearly 20m high. It was designed to hold 3.5 million bushels (92 000 tonnes) of wheat and is an outstanding example of rural agriculture: buildings that were completed using what was available at the time and almost entirely by hand, certainly without the benefit of heavy machinery. It’s a very simply designed building with the sticks embedded in concrete and capped with a corrugated iron roof. A basic conveyor belt, now defunct, ran the length of the building on one side.
We arrived on a grey, rainy winter’s day, but inside the shed, light spilt through the skylights almost as if through a stained glass window. There is certainly a cathedral-like ambience inside this place, perhaps enhanced by shadowy timbers reaching so far up to the roof.
The Stick Shed was completed in 1942 and was soon full of stored wheat which remained undisturbed until 1944. It wasn’t the only shed built, but it is the only one that endures and it remained in use until 1989 after which demolition was considered. Fortunately, people saw sense and it was added to the Historic Buildings Register in 1990.
I felt an overpowering sense of awe in this temple to Demeter. The sheer size of it, the atmosphere, the admiration for those who built it in the way they did, were almost overwhelming. It was an altogether inspiring visit, all the more so because we hadn’t expected to see it. It was just one of those serendipitous events that sometimes happen when one is travelling.