Howard Hattam memoirs bring Tailem Bend's history to life

In publishing the diaries of Howard "Barney" Hattam, the Tailem Bend History Group hopes to make local history accessible to all.

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Imagine you could sit down and chat with someone who grew up in your town a century ago.

That might not be possible, but Tailem Bend’s historians can now offer the next best thing.

On Friday, the local history group launched My Memoirs of Tailem Bend, a collection of first-hand reminisances by the late Howard “Barney” Hattam.

Mr Hattam grew up at Fred’s Landing during the Great War and, as a boy, fished on the River Murray with some of the Ngarrindjeri people who lived at a nearby camp.

Early in his life, he experienced the 1914 drought in which seawater came up the river as far as Mannum; the 1926 appearance of three porpoises in the river at Tailem Bend; and the 1927 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the current Queen Elizabeth II, visit Tailem Bend. Photo: State Library of South Australia (B33850).

To the delight of the historians, he wrote about his experiences in a diary, in flowing cursive writing which was recently deciphered by Rhonda Mik.

Historian Maxine Kiddie said Mr Hattam’s diaries had been full of little stories about people and places around the town where he had lived all his life.

“It’s a lovely read,” she said of the book.

“He talks about the floods ... he remembered all the shops and where people lived.”

The Hattam family had originally approached another local historian, Angela Tomkinson, about typing up the memoirs about 10 years ago.

Donations from Tailem Bend Progress Association and the Knights of the Southern Cross helped the project get done.

History group members Elizabeth Nicholls, Peter Connolly, Brenton Qualmann, Doris Connolly, Harry and Kathleen Kromwyk, Neville and Joyce Medlow, Helen Bowering, Vicki and Merv Stevens, Maxine Kiddie and Angela Tomkinson. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Ms Tomkinson said the project showed how important it was to keep a record of local stories.

“We all think we’re invincible and we’re going to be around forever,” she said.

“But if you catch a person and talk to them while they’re still here, you can pass their memories on to the next generation.”

Soprano Janet Hattam, a descendant of Mr Hattam’s, sang at the book launch at the Coorong council chambers.

State MP Adrian Pederick and Mayor Paul Simmons spoke, while young Leo Rigney offered a welcome to country.

Afterwards, town criers Peter and Doris Connolly led the party over the road to the old railway station for the opening of a room where the historians will store and display photos and artefacts from Tailem Bend’s past.

  • Buy a copy of the book: $15 at Tailem Bend Post Office or the community library at Tailem Bend Primary School.

  • More information: