The Cathedral of the Wimmera – Murtoa’s Big Stick Shed

I was born and have lived on and off over the years in the Wimmera region of the state of Victoria in Australia. The majority of this region is predominately farmland and to be honest there are not many prominent large historic buildings out that way that have survived modern progress. There is one huge building though that has fascinated me since I was a kid, but it was basically always out-of-bounds to the general public: the “Big Stick Shed“, a huge grain storage building in Murtoa, which is a small country town about 30 minutes east of the major rural centre of Horsham (where I am currently visiting my family and also a place I went to high school and worked in years ago).

Stick Shed sign Murtoa Victoria Australia
This way to the Stick Shed

Built during World War Two the official name of the “Stick Shed” was the Marmalake/Murtoa Grain Store and it was designed to accommodate a massive amount of wheat due to a surplus caused by the war (export opportunities were obviously limited and there was also a bumper crop in 1941 which created a worldwide glut of wheat). It was built in just a few months with work starting on September 25th, 1941. The grain store was ready to receive wheat by January 22nd, 1942 and was full by June 1942 (storing 3.4 million bushels of wheat or over 91,000 tonnes of wheat)! The angle of the roof was designed to be at the natural repose of stacked wheat.

Big Stick Shed
The size of the Stick Shed really is big!
Grain Storage Shed Murtoa
The Stick Shed

The “Stick Shed” is quite a feat of construction for that period given that there was a wartime materials shortage. The external walls and roof of the building are made from corrugated iron, with the dimensions of the building being 280 metres long (918 feet), 60 metres wide (197 feet) and at its highest point 19 metres high (62 feet – approximately 6 storeys high). The floor is concrete and the roof is supported by an incredible 560 unmilled poles (10 rows of 56 poles) which is where the “stick” name comes from. Elevators and conveyor belts that ran the entire length of the building were used to move the wheat stored inside.

Big Stick Shed Murtoa Victoria Cathedral of the Wimmera
The “Big Stick Shed”

From different angles within the shed it has the appearance of a forest or a cathedral, hence the description the “Cathedral of the Wimmera“. Something that fascinates me is that today the designers of this incredible structure are unknown!

Big Stick Shed Murtoa Victoria Australia
The Cathedral of the Wimmera
Big Stick Shed Murtoa
An indoor “forest”
Murtoa Big Stick Shed
560 unmilled poles makes for an impressive sight

In October 2012 I finally got my chance to visit the “Stick Shed” as the building was open for inspection during a celebratory weekend in Murtoa. This was the first time in a year that it had been open to the public following an extensive ongoing conservation project to preserve the building (the conservation works began in 2010, amazingly less than 3% of the poles had to be replaced with steel poles – these were chosen as it was too difficult or too expensive to obtain suitable wooden poles). Prior to this the shed had only been open to the public occasionally over the years.

Stick Shed Murtoa Victoria Heritage Register
Big Stick Shed – you can see some of the steel poles here

The Grain Elevator’s Board closed the shed in 1989 as it had become uneconomical to continue to maintain and operate. The building represents architectural, scientific, technical and social achievements within the region. The significance to Victorian history is highlighted by the “Stick Shed” being on the Victorian Heritage Register since 1990. Despite being a major local landmark the future of the shed is still uncertain, but following the conservation project it is hoped that with community input it can become a permanent tourist destination.

Ladder Murtoa Stick Shed
A ladder only for the brave

There was actually a second grain storage shed built at the same site. Although not as long, the second building was taller and had more than double the grain storage capacity (it could store 7.5 million bushels of wheat). It was constructed between 1942-1943 but sadly demolished in 1975. Luckily with hindsight the original shed has been retained as it now remains the only such structure left in Victoria (3 were built in the state during the 1940’s and this is the oldest one).

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