While Anne and I were in the Grampians, we travelled north to the tiny town of Murtoa to visit the massive No. 1 Stick Shed, a grain storage facility, built over four months in 1941-42 and filled with grain within six months of construction.
Emergency bulk wheat storage was needed due to good harvests and restricted international shipping during WWII. From the image above you can see why it has been described as a Bush Cathedral.
Murtoa is a proud wheatbelt town that was settled in 1872 with Lake Marma as the centre piece and the railways central to trade and employment.
The Stick Shed covers 16,000m2 under roof and measures 265 metres long (the size of 5 Olympic swimming pools), 60 metres wide and almost 20 metres high at its apex.1
There was a 2nd even bigger Stick Shed, which you can see on the left of the image below (apologies for the poor quality).
How was it built?
A steel shortage meant the shed was built largely from readily available timber, some 560 (56 rows of 10) unmilled mountain ash poles erected into the auger-dug footings in the ground. Concrete was manually poured around the footings.
Galvanised hoop-iron was used in most structural joints to offset the expected shrinkage, warping and twisting of unseasoned hardwood. This contributed to the building’s capacity to survive for more than 75 years. The roof angle was sloped to reflect the same angle a pile of wheat forms naturally.
The working section of the present day GrainCorp Murtoa Grain Receival Centre can hold up to 400,000 tonnes of grain and is the largest inland receival centre in Australia.1
How did it function?
Bulk deliveries of grain by train were distributed through The Stick Shed via an elevator and a central conveyor running high along the centre of the shed. The wheat was deposited via a movable hopper and literally piled up until it was completely full, reaching the ceiling.
It was possible to walk over the wheat and although ventilation largely prevented pest infestations, back pack sprays were used when needed.
The natural fall of the wheat pressed against timber bulkhead which were gradually removed to the conveyor at ground level taking the wheat back to the elevator for transport elsewhere by rail again. Manual labour was required to then sweep the remaining wheat – quite a task!1
It is impossible to comprehend the vast space and staggering capacity of the Stick Shed and grasp the short time in which is was build. The 5 min video below, narrated by Murtoa locals gives you some idea.
Other Stick Sheds were built around Australia in the late 1930s due to a wheat glut. Firstly in Western Australia and others followed in South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, as well as Victoria. They were designed by the Australian Wheat Board and looked like the Murtoa Stick Shed. In total 29 were built, with a capacity of around 55 million bushels.
Many survived into the 1990s, but as the manual handling practices became obsolete and it was impossible to grade the wheat held in them, as buyers progressively wanted choice. Today only the Murtoa No 1 Stick Shed survives.2
2. Extract from an information leaflet at The Stick Shed, written by Leigh Hammerton 2019
All images are my own, unless otherwise stated