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Left: The bow of the Paddle Steamship Murrumbidgee. Not much else remains after the fire.
Middle: The wharf at Echuca. Built from red gum timber and currently being restored to its former length.
Right: The oldest still operating wooden hulled working paddle steamer in the world, the P.S. Adelaide, at Echuca.
Port of Echuca
Morning Glory to Riverlander
The Morning Glory River Resort is a wonderful place to stay. Located between Barmah and Echuca, it has green lawns that roll down to the River. I arrived there to continue my trip on a Monday. Unbeknownst to me it was a public holiday in Victoria and a busy day for boats on the river. As I carried my gear from the car to the boat ramp, I had to pause time after time to let speedboats use the ramp. A slow start. I pushed off at 3 pm.
My motivation during the late afternoon was to reach the Cape Horn winery. I had spotted this 'oasis' on the map, about four hours downstream. I had visions of a lovely sandy beach for an elegant landing, with wooden stairs leading up to groups of people sitting at white tables on the bank, watching the sun set. Inevitably they would invite me to join them, offering me drinks and finger food. After enjoying their hospitality for a few hours I would fall into my tent, tired but happy.
Alas my four hours on the river were not rewarded by the realisation of my vision. Cape Horn winery is magnificent, but by the time I arrived the people had left. Not only that, the bank at that point of the river is decidedly unfriendly for board landings. I struggled to find a landing site between the fallen tree branches in the water. I scrambled off the board with difficulty, but couldn't drag much gear up the steep bank for the evening. I rolled myself up in a groundsheet and tried to sleep.
Leaving the next morning was exciting. To reach the centre of the river I had to manoeuvre the heavily-laden board and the two trailing barrels between sizeable snags in the fast flowing current. Just bumping against the snags could tip the board over. Luckily, with frantic paddling, the board and barrels both narrowly avoided the obstacles. I was underway for another wonderful day on the river.
I use charts based on those from the paddle steamer days to navigate on the river. There is a note on the chart 'P. S. [Paddle Steamer] Murrumbidgee burned here 1948'. I looked for the wreckage as I passed the spot but couldn't see anything. I later discovered that the bow of the P. S. Murrumbidgee survived the fire, and has been moved to Echuca. The P. S. Murrumbidgee is mentioned in the Melbourne Argus newspaper of September 16th, 1879. (This is three years before the first public performance of Tchaicovsky's 1812 Overture!) The Argus says: "The wool season is now at its height, and immense quantities of this description of station produce are arriving in Echuca. The Golconda and Murrumbidgee steamers arrived on Sunday from the Upper Murrumbidgee River with full cargos of wool. The Murrumbidgee brought 883 bales of wool from Groongal, Tonganmain, Tubbo and Benerenbah stations."
At 1732 kms from the Murray Mouth I entered Flemmings Bend. I floated through it. Uneventfully. Hardly worth mentioning. I was intrigued to know what I would find at Bitchy Beach. Nothing, really, just another nice river beach. However from here on the excitement mounted as I approached the River Port of Echuca. A few holiday shacks. Then houseboats. More and more signs of civilisation. Then the ultimate - the sound of a steam boat whistle, in the distance. I was nearly there. Just a few more river bends.
I had hoped to time my arrival into Echuca to coincide with the Echuca Moama Celtic Festival. My plan was to float past the huge historic red gum wharf to the stirring strains of a pipe band on the river bank. I was a few days too early.
I had been told about a Motel on the river, just upstream from Echuca. I was ready for a little luxury after the rugged night before. Unfortunately I couldn't find it, so I continued on to the Echuca Caravan Park. Access to the bank there was a little tricky. I found a gap near a houseboat aptly named 'I'm still here'. Every time I looked, it was.
Reaching Echuca is a significant milestone for the Windsurfing on the Murray project. The town has been a major player in the history of the river. In 1864 a railway was built from Echuca to Melbourne. Wool destined for Melbourne from stations along the Darling, the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers was delivered to the railhead at Echuca by paddle steamers. Their return trips delivered provisions and farming implements to the river communities and homesteads. Echuca became the largest inland port in Australia. For many people the river boats were the only source of supply and contact with the outside world.
Echuca is home to the oldest still operating wooden hulled working paddle steamer in the world, the P.S. Adelaide. She was built in Echuca in 1866 and is moored there today. Originally she was used to transport wool and as a part-time passenger boat, bringing people into Echuca to shop. Her role changed to a logging steamer when the Murray River Sawmill Company bought the boat. She towed barges up into the Barmah forrest to collect red gum logs.
I had a day off the river the next day. Well, almost. The plan for the day was to hitch hike to retrieve the car. I expected this to take most of the day, as the car was at Morning Glory, which is well off the main road. However once again I found that people were amazingly willing to help. The first person to offer me a ride was on her way to golf, at the Rich River Golf Club. Only a few kms, but it was good to get to the outskirts of the town. A grandmother and grandson combination were the next to stop. They were running late for a 'Go racing' session, and their car was chock-a-block with 'stuff' so it was very good of them to stop. They dropped me at the turn off to Barmah. So far so good, but now I was in the middle of nowhere. I took a photo of the flat vastness all around. I carry sleeping gear with me when I hitch hike. As I stood at the intersection of two long, empty roads with nothing but the sun and the sound of the wind in a lonely tree, I wondered if today might be the day I would have to use it.
I didn't have to wonder for long. A yellow truck pulled up. I clambered into the passenger seat before the driver could change his mind. During the trip I learnt about the local fish and how to catch them. I jumped out at the turn off to Morning Glory.
I had previously been told that only about one vehicle a day goes along the dirt road to Morning Glory on a weekday. Before I could settle into the hitch hiking stance, that one vehicle came around the corner! I threw myself in front of it. There was no way I was letting it pass! I had an interesting ride with Ted Gilmour and his wife. Morning Glory is on Ted's original farming land, with one of Ted's sons and his wife working the farm and another son and his wife running the resort. After thanking the Gilmore family and in-laws I drove back to Echuca, in time for a cruise on the P. S.Pevensey.
The Pevensey is named after a sheep station on the Murrumbidgee River, which in turn may have been named after a village in East Sussex, England. The steamer is 33 metres long, but amazingly only draws 1.35 metres when fully loaded with 120 tonnes. When the river trade ended the Pevensey spent some time at Mildura. Luckily the historical value of the steamer was recognised. A restoration project started in 1973. The rebuilt Pevensey starred as the P.S. Philadelphia in the Australian television mini-series 'All the Rivers Run', made in Echuca in 1982-1983. The Pevensey and its steam engine turned 100 in 2011. It is still going, taking regular tourist cruises on the river, with its original steam engine thumping away.
I was reluctant to leave Echuca, so I had a long leisurely chat at the boat ramp with the boat hire man and a man with an interest in coffee machines, and an adventurous trip for his family. However it was another beautiful day for river travel so eventually I could delay no longer. I pushed off into a southerly breeze which became brisker as the day wore on. I made good time on what I had decided would be the last leg of this trip. The Riverlander camp ground came into view in the late afternoon.
I dragged the board and gear a little way up the boat ramp, changed into slightly cleaner clothes for hitch hiking, spoke to the lady at reception and walked up to the main road. Several vehicles went past me without stopping. This included one that I had given up on, but gave me a fright by reversing up behind me when I was looking the other way at the approaching traffic! This one ride took me back to the car. The Riverlander boom gate was about to be lowered for the night so I rushed back to the boat ramp and broke all records for securing the board on top of the car and loading the gear. This effectively but somewhat less than elegantly ended the river travel for the trip.
This trip and the previous one followed drought breaking rains. The river level was higher, the floodplains were flooded, and the current flowed faster. But there was another difference. From time to time I would come across patches of a small green weed floating on the surface of the river. The Captain of the Pevensey told me that this weed is called Duckweed, or officially, Azolla. It grows and breeds in ponds and stagnant creeks, not normally venturing out into the river. However in times of flood it is flushed out into the fast flowing river, where it only lives for a short time. A red variety is also found in inland creeks and dams.
About 49 million years ago Azolla is thought to have had an amazing effect on climate change. Known as the 'Azolla event' the freshwater fern Azolla is thought to have bloomed in the Arctic Ocean, which is less salty than other oceans. As dead blooms sank to the bottom of the sea, they were incorporated into the sediment. The resulting draw down of carbon dioxide has been speculated to have helped transform the planet from a 'greenhouse Earth' state, hot enough for turtles and palm trees to prosper at the poles, to the 'icehouse Earth' it has been since. If Azolla can do the same again perhaps it will save us from the carbon tax!
The Living Murray, http://thelivingmurray2.mdbc.gov.au/programs/environmental_works_and_measures/barmahchokestudy.html
Henk Brinkhuis, Stefan Schouten; (2006). "Episodic fresh surface waters in the Eocene Arctic Ocean". Nature 441 (7093): 606-609. doi:10.1038/nature04692. PMID 16752440.
Morning Glory (1751 kms from Murray Mouth) to Riverlander (1697 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 14 March - 17 March 2011
Distance, time: 54 Kms, 4 days, 3 nights camping
River height: About 2 metres higher than normal summer height, with recent flood level marks on the trees another 3 - 4 metres higher
River temperature: Comfortable - around 25 degrees C
Published 25 September 2011
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