Murtoa’s famous ‘Stick Shed’
One of the most interesting buildings I have seen in a long time!
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the famous “Stick Shed” in Murtoa, a small town north-east of Horsham in Victoria’s ‘western district’.
Wool and wheat form the basis of the economy in this region of Victoria, and so it has been for generations. In ordinary years, wheat grain is harvested and stored in a silo before being sold for either domestic consumption or export .
But in 1941, things were a little different.
World War II was underway and Australia’s finest had been sent off to fight for the Empire. War didn’t just deplete the number of available hands to assist with the harvest, it also closed off most of Australia’s export options. When combined with an exceptionally-good season, the farmers of Murtoa had a real problem on their hands because suddenly there was an oversupply of wheat grain and no-where to store it.
Enter the “Stick Shed”, officially the Marmalake/Murtoa Grain Store No.1 Murtoa Shed. In 1941, building supplies (and labour) were in short supply so the shed’s builders had to use the few building materials available. To support the roof when steel rafters were unavailable, the builders embedded 600 unmilled hardwood poles into a concrete floor, then strengthened it with iron tie rods before attaching a corrugated iron roof . The ‘Stick Shed’ measures a massive 280 metres in lenth, 60 metres in width and 19 metres in height at the ridge. That’s enormous!
As can be guessed, it is the 600 poles that give the “Stick Shed” its name.
When construction was completed in 1942, the “Stick Shed” was used by the Victorian Grain Elevators Board (now GrainCorp) until 1989 when the condition of the shed and improved handling regulations rendered the “Stick Shed” economically unviable.
Numerous versions of the “Stick Shed” were constructed around Victoria in the 1940’s but all have since been demolished. A second shed, which had been built next to the “Stick Shed” in Murtoa, was demolished in 1975.
When the “Stick Shed” closed, there were plans made for its demolition but an Interim Preservation Order was served by Historic Buildings Council (HBC) in December 1989 and by December 1990 the shed had been added to the Victorian Heritage Register. In August 1991 the Grain Elevators Board applied for a demolition permit on the grounds that maintenance was beyond their resources but the permit was refused. In 1995 the shed fell back into the hands of the Department of Treasury & Finance but GrainCorp continue to operate an elevator that is integral to the west end of the shed.
Despite all this, there are still people calling for demolition of the Stick Shed, including Peter Walsh MP and the Victorian Farmers’ Federation.The National Trust and the Heritage Council of Victoria oppose demolition but as we’ve seen with the Oakleigh Motel or Hamer Hall, state heritage protection doesn’t stand for much in Victoria anymore. Luckily, the Heritage Council are applying to have the “Stick Shed” added to the Commonwealth Heritage Register and demolition is now very unlikely.
The Heritage Council has started a programme of restoring the shed, which is currently in a poor condition. In places, the roof is missing and some of the woodwork has rotted. The Heritage Council held an Open Day today so that members of the public could see the “Stick Shed” for themsleves.
I can say that it proved to be a very popular attraction!
Because I had to make a long journey from Melbourne, I was awake at 5am in order to be in Murtoa for the 10am opening. As it turned out, I arrived 20 minutes early and a generous Heritage Council staffer agreed to let me in early so that I could take photographs of the shed whilst it was empty. (One can never underestimate the generosity and friendliness of rural folk).
The “Stick Shed” is a vast size and much bigger than I imagined it to be. The concrete floor was dusty, there was debris in many places and there was a large hole in the roof in the middle section of the building. As I wandered around, I could hear pigeons roosting above my head and even found a smashed bird egg on the floor. On one side of the shed was a long conveyer-belt that had long ago seen better days and notices warning of certain poles being dangerous were attached to various columns. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful building to wander around and I really enjoyed the experience.
As I inspected the “Stick Shed”, I could see how dangerous and unsuitable such a facility would be if used for its original purpose today, but following the restoration I am certain other uses can be found for it. Being of such historical importance and aesthetic beauty inside, there’s no way that a building like this should be demolished or neglected further.
I know it seems like a peculiar idea, but as I walked around I couldn’t help but think it would be a great spot for a rave party!
The open day was very well attended with a wide variety of people travelling to Murtoa to take a look. Hopefully this will encourage the Heritage Council to host more open days in future and give the public a chance to see the restoration work up close.
If you’d like some more information about this wonderful building, it has an unofficial website at http://www.murtoastickshed.com.au/. The “Stick Shed” is located at GrainCorp’s facility on the Wimmera Highway in Murtoa, next to the railway line.