Inside Mountain Ash’s Last Durable Link to WW2 Grain Storage Shed

Wheat and wood central to Murtoa story

Tue 12 Dec 23


A massive grain storage shed erected 82 years ago at Murtoa, 350 km northwest of Melbourne, and pinned to the earth by 560 towering mountain ash poles remains a testament to the longevity and durability of timber.

This tourist magnet, now known as The Stick Shed, is the only remaining Australian emergency grain store built during World War 2.

A steel shortage meant the shed was built mainly from readily available timber, the unmilled Eucalyptus regnans poles erected into the auger-dug footings in the ground.

Galvanised hoop iron was used in most structural joints, an adapted solution to problems with differing pole sizes and the expected shrinkage, warping and twisting of unseasoned hardwood.

However, this contributed to the building’s capacity to survive for more than 80 years; it allowed the structure to move and shift due to internal usage stresses and high winds without collapsing.

With more than 150 tonnes of corrugated iron roofing, the structure covers 16,000 sq m. The roof angle was sloped to reflect the same angle a pile of wheat forms naturally, giving a conserved rainfall run-off of about 35 megalitres of water a year.

Incredibly, the massive Stick Shed was constructed in only four months: an accurate display of persistence and dogged determination by the John Curtin-led federal government that wanted a valuable commodity protected as soon as possible.

The Stick Shed is the 101st building included in the National Heritage List. Completed in 1942, The Stick Shed’s unique and dramatic structure has captured the imagination of thousands of tourists who have gasped at its serene and evocative cathedral-like interior.

Referred to by some as the ‘Cathedral of the Wimmera’, the Murtoa Stick Shed’s ghostly unmilled tall timber poles and central aisle draw the eye upward towards the roof as light spills into the space through skylights as if through a stained-glass window.

Grain and timber are central to the story of Murtoa, and the war-time shed is a part of this story. This story depicts the impact of World War 2 on Australia’s trade and export industry and the transformation of grain haulage in Australia. 

Murtoa, a proud Wheatbelt town, was settled in 1872 with Lake Marma as the centrepiece and the railways central to trade and employment.

The Murtoa No. 1 Grain Store was built over four months between September 1941 and January 1942 and was filled with wheat within six months of construction.

The Stick Shed reflects the massive growth of the wheat industry and the need for mass distribution, bulk grain handling and storage facilities for Australia’s oldest agricultural crop.

Murtoa was selected as the site for the storage shed; it was located within a significant wheat cropping area and adjacent to the main railway line between Melbourne and Adelaide.

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.

Editor’s note: The Murtoa storage shed was commissioned in 1941 by the Grain Elevators Board, based on earlier designs in Western Australia, to protect bulk wheat stored at ground level, using iron roofing and outwardly sloped walls. 

The shed, as designed, was about 265 m long, 60 m wide, and 19 m high at the hip and held 3.5 million bushels, or about 92,500 tonnes of wheat. Green Bros contractors of Bendigo undertook construction in September 1941.

Much of the building was constructed with little mechanical aid and a limited workforce due to the war. 


  • Jim Bowden

    Jim Bowden, senior editor and co-publisher of Wood Central. Jim brings 50-plus years’ experience in agriculture and timber journalism. Since he founded Australian Timberman in 1977, he has been devoted to the forest industry – with a passion.


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