Current Issue #488

Good Country:
Mypolonga, an unmissable river spot

Michael X Savvas

The tranquil Murray River town of Mypolonga has a history of survival and adaptation.

In 1915, South Australia legislated Australia’s first Soldier Settlement Scheme, and soldiers who’d already survived the First World War acquired land. Soldier settlers established much of Mypolonga around this time. Many turned their blocks, which were reclaimed swamp land, into orchards and dairies.

My paternal grandfather, Xenophon (known affectionately as “X”), had served in the Greek navy. He married a Mypo woman, the granddaughter of an American sea captain, and the couple created an orange orchard alongside the river. 

Not far from where my pop lived are Jeff and Jenny Thomson. They run an orchard (mostly stonefruit) and the lovely and well-appointed Rivergum Retreat B&B. Jenny’s grandfather was also a Mypo soldier settler, and Jenny remembers X’s family. With its crenellated frontage, the house that X, my dad and others built became known as the “pink castle”. 

Jenny loves the strong sense of community in Mypo, a town which she says “many people miss, for they drive from Murray Bridge to Mannum”. Husband Jeff says of Mypo, “I like the bloody serenity. Even the frogs at night are easy to listen to. They don’t annoy you. Beautiful sound. Sometimes, we even have ducks in the swimming pool.” 

Michael X Savvas
River Murray, Mypolonga

Jenny and Jeff employ backpackers (from France, Germany, Estonia and so on) on their property. More than that, they take an interest in their workers’ lives and cultures and consider their backpackers as family. Jenny says, “We once had a rocket scientist from Germany, working for one of the big aerospace companies. He loved being in the open air here. He said, ‘You get to know the real people in the country’.” 

Not that this peaceful river life is without its challenges. The morning I spoke to Jeff, he’d found a blue- tongue lizard in a place where only leather tongues should be – in his shoe outside his door. The lizard was hiding from a brown snake Jeff discovered nearby. 

And one of the greatest challenges was the River Murray floods of 1956. Says Jenny, “At that time, we had to live in the Mypo football sheds. Mum and Dad picked oranges from boats.” 

The pink castle, the Rivergum Retreat and the house next to it were flooded in 56 yet live on. Joyce Schumacher is the Thomsons’ neighbour. At 85, the charming former singer has seen the best and worst of Australian conditions. Not only was her grand house flooded, cinders from a bushfire – fuelled by gum trees and dry reeds – burnt her upstairs sleepout. Despite these trials, Joyce likes how Mypo “has always been quiet and peaceful”. 

Life on the river can be deceptive; along with the calm, there’s always something happening and changing. 

Michael X Savvas
Schumacher House

When Jeff came to Mypo in around 1954, there were “orchards everywhere” and 31 dairies. “Now, there are around a dozen orchards, one cattle dairy and the buffalo dairy.” No, that’s not a typo. The postcard view of orange cliffs illuminated by sunset, and a full moon floating above fields, dotted with water buffalo. 

Corey Jones and his wife Mollie operate the South Australian Buffalo Company, the only commercial buffalo dairy in SA. Corey’s parents Vicki and Paul help out. Corey used the equipment on his dad’s cattle dairy farm and tried something different – buffalo. He hasn’t looked back.

He sells his milk to NSW and Victoria, and to SA cheese producers such as Woodside Cheese Wrights. Says Corey, “Buffalo milk tastes similar to cow’s milk, but it’s higher in fat and protein. The Italians like it the most because it makes the best mozzarella. Woodside Cheese make soft cheeses from it, and La Vera in Adelaide make a blue cheese from it.” 

Corey gets his Italian riverine water buffalo from Darwin, but the Mypo conditions suit them perfectly. The buffalo graze in irrigated paddocks . “They like to wallow in the river channels,” says Corey. “The fertile soil lets us feed them well. They don’t mind the heat and they don’t mind the cold. They’re pretty hardy.”

Adaptable and hardy, the buffalo have just the right qualities to fit into the Mypo community of thrivers and survivors. 

Michael X Savvas

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