IF THE Murtoa Stick Shed is the cathedral of the Wimmera, then Murtoa's youth were among its most devoted parishioners.
They weren't supposed to be there, but Stick Shed committee of management secretary David Grigg said playing in the grain inside the shed was simply too much fun.
"We would come over the railway line, at times climb under the trucks on the railway siding, and we'd get in through a window or an open door," he said.
"Then - particularly if it was full of wheat - we'd get up onto the gangplank, jump into the wheat and slide down the side and then start all over again."
Mr Grigg was born in Murtoa in 1944 - two years after the 265 metre-long shed was built to store wheat that could not be exported during the Second World War. He said young people used the shed - the official name of which is Marmalake Grain Store Wheat Storage Shed Number One - as their childhood haunt for decades.
"Even younger children than me still reminisce about (playing in the shed). While wheat was here, I'd say kids were doing that," he said.
"It also wasn't unusual for footballers to go there and train. They would run up the side of the wheat to strengthen their legs - akin to how athletes run up sandhills on beaches.
Mr Grigg said the Stick Shed was popular while in use, given it provided jobs for locals.
"To get grain out, people used to have to sweep it up with brooms," he said. "It used to get very hot in there, and the dust was incredible. To the best of our knowledge no one has ever suffered permanent damage from the dust."
Robert Petschel worked as a maintenance engineer in the Stick Shed for 46 years.
He said he remembered one working day at the shed in the 1970s more than any other.
"I slipped on the grain and I fell backwards between the guardrail and the outer board on the overhead catwalk," he said.
"How I got through there without hitting my head, I'll never know. Really, in a way, I look at it and think I shouldn't be here today - but I ended up hanging with one arm from the last board. Grain was pouring over me, and I remember thinking, 'How the hell am I going to get back up?'
"Then I looked down and saw the grain was only about 10 feet below, so I let go and fell into it. I was up to my waist in grain and grabbed onto a baffle I was trying to shift, got out, walked around and went back to work."
The Stick Shed last stored wheat in 1990 - the same year that it was added to the Victorian Heritage Register. Despite this recognition, the community needed to work hard to keep it standing.
Another Stick Shed committee member, Leigh Hammerton, is very familiar with this advocacy. He has published a book, Shedding Light, on the topic.
"It took many years before it was fully protected, and it was very controversial," he said.
"The shed had very little maintenance for about 20-odd years. It wasn't until about 2005 that Heritage Victoria was pressured into doing a lot of restoration work there.
"Over five years or so, they spent up to $2 million replacing all the damaged poles, fixing up the iron on the roof and getting it back up to scratch - as they were obliged to by their own legislation.
"At the end of that period we were able to do a land exchange in return for restoration works on the part of the shed that GrainCorp still owns. That meant we could actually get into the shed and bring visitors in.
"Eventually it went onto the National Heritage List in 2014, which was the most significant thing of all. That put the shed on the same level as the Sydney Opera House and Uluru, so it was an incredibly good outcome for all concerned."
Mr Hammerton said an active GrainCorp site remained at the western end of the shed, where overhead conveyors loaded grain onto train carriages.
"That offloads all the different products from the silos," he said.
"Nothing comes in from the rail anymore - it can go out to the ports by rail but mostly products are exported by truck these days."
Mr Grigg said it was exciting to be sharing stories of the shed's early years with so many people now the Stick Shed was an established tourist attraction.
"I'm pleased I've been involved in the preservation of this since 1989, and to see where it is today is fantastic," he said.
"Last financial year we had over 10,000 visitors come through, and this financial year to date we've had close to 4000 come through so we're going to well overtake last year's total."
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