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River Red Gums
Broken Creek to Morning Glory
Tumultuous weather dominated my previous trip in this huge river red gum forest. Unusual weather and river conditions also affected this trip. Bad weather, floods and cold water temperatures delayed the start.
The Barmah-Millewa forest is the largest red gum forest in the world. Located on the floodplains of both the Murray and Edward rivers between Tocumwal and Euchuca, it's a magnificent monoculture forest. All that can be seen from the river in any direction is river red gum after river red gum.
Near Picnic Point the River Murray suddenly takes a left turn, to head south after hundreds of kilometres of heading west. About 25,000 years ago, the land between Deniliquin and Euchuca lifted to create the Cadell Tilt, also known as the Cadell Fault. Although only about 12 metres high it dammed the Murray and Goulburn rivers to create a shallow lake. The Murray developed a new course around the northern side of the Cadell Tilt, now known as the Edward Wakool River System, while the Goulburn River continued to feed the lake, before creating a new path to the west. However about 8,000 years ago the Murray took a turn to the south, flowing from Picnic Point to Barmah. This part of the river is known as the Barmah Choke because of the limited volume of water it can carry. In times of flood the water banks up and spreads out over the floodplains inundating and irrigating the forest.
I arrived at Broken Creek, just north of Barmah, on a warm sunny day. The river level was high. Tracks through the Barmah Forest that I had walked on a year ago were now under water. The floodplains were flooded. Each red gum tree was standing in water, getting a good drink after years of drought.
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Reports from the Murray Darling Basin Authority showed that the volume of water flowing was more than 3 times the volume of when I was last on this part of the river, a year ago. I wasn't sure how well the fully laden board with 2 barrels of gear trailing along behind would cope with the fast current and potential snags deep in the forest. After some thought I decided to take only a minimal kit on board, knowing that if all went well I would reach the small town of Barmah that day.
After paddling two hundred metres down Broken Creek I found the river. I was relieved that the river current was swift, but manageable. I relaxed and enjoyed the ride in the sun. Then I heard the sound of rushing water in the distance! The sound got louder and louder as I approached the Barmah Creek junction. Fortunately the sound wasn't from an uncharted waterfall requiring unrehearsed white water skills! It was vast volumes of water rushing through the trees into the Barmah Creek. I stuck to the western side of the river and slipped past the torrent.
As I got closer to Barmah I met some other craft on the river. People on the punt 'Murray Blue Tiger' offered some assistance, telling me how far I was from Barmah (helpful) and that I was approaching Barmah Creek (confusing). I thought I had passed Barmah Creek some time ago. It turned out we were both right - Barmah Creek leaves the river near Broken Creek, and rejoins it just upstream from Barmah.
I arrived at my destination for the day - the Barmah Caravan Park. It is a well kept scenic park right on the river, and within easy walking distance of the hotel and store. I went to the office to register and pay, wondering how long it would take to hitchhike back to the car at Broken Creek. It was a hot afternoon. The campsite owner took pity on me and gave me a ride. Much appreciated!
After a night's sleep amongst the gum trees on the river bank I packed my tent, sleeping bag and other camping gear into the barrels, loaded the board and pushed off. The current was very swift which can flip the loaded board if the wind and current work together. Luckily the board and I stayed the right way up as we slipped under the Barmah bridge, and headed downstream.
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I noticed a group of people on the western bank of the river. I was passing the site of the Cummeragunja Housing and Development Aboriginal Corporation. I called out to the group, telling them who I was and that I was raising money for Aboriginal Health. This was apparently received favourably, judging by the 'Whahooooo!' that floated out across the water.
This is a very significant milestone for my trip. Cummeragunja was established in 1881, producing wheat, wool and dairy products with the aim of achieving self sufficiency. However in the 1930's external controls and restrictions on the community, and poor rations and conditions resulted in the 1939 protest Walk-off. Around 150 residents left the village looking for a better life. The opera Pecan Summer, written and composed by the Aboriginal Australian singer Deborah Cheetham incorporates the Walk-off.
Cummeragunja has produced many wonderful Australians, including Sir Douglas Nicholls (AFL player, pastor and former Governor of South Australia), William Cooper (founder of the Australian Aborigines League), Jimmy Little (musician) and Jack Patten (founder of the Aborigines Progressive Association).
Importantly for this Windsurfing on the Murray project Cummeragunja is the site of the Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service. This is one of the three Aboriginal Medical Services along the river to receive your donations from this project, through the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council. Sandra Bailey, CEO of the Council, is from Cummeragunja. The Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service provides many services for the local Aboriginal community including health education programs, health checks, advice and treatment for men's, women's, children's and mother's health.
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Once again this was a perfect sunny day on the river. Early in the day I travelled through forest but after a couple of hours a few cleared paddocks appeared, and even a vehicle or two. I encountered only one other craft until I drew closer to the Morning Glory River Resort and Conference Centre, where there was some water skiing going on. I camped overnight on the lush lawn at Morning Glory, which felt like an innerspring mattress compared to other surfaces I have slept on! The resort is in an isolated spot so when it came time to retrieve the car from Barmah I was fortunate that Suzanne from Morning Glory offered to run me back to Barmah. Standing near the office waiting for the ride I admired the lush lawn rolling down to the river with its sprinkling of majestic red gums and other trees.
I'd had two days on the river and really should have kept going. But after two perfect weather days in amongst many days of wet and windy weather I wasn't sure if I should push my luck. The next 38 kilometers offered little relief if the weather, as forecast, turned foul. There were few opportunities to 'bail'. In project parlance there were few 'outs' in the next 38 kms, which involved 2 or 3 days travel. An 'out' is where the river comes close to a road. An 'out' is comforting as a source of assistance in the case of injury, snake bite or ill health. In the absence of a convenient 'out' the alternative can be long enforced waits on the side of the river, for example if the weather is so wild that progress is impossible.
Ultimately I think the decision to end this trip was made as a result of what I've come to call the 'Second day slump syndrome'. I've noticed that after a day of hard exercise on the river it is common on the second day to have self doubts about the wisdom of continuing. Normally I push through this and the syndrome passes. I'm not sure what causes this. Of course I have a theory! I blame the first day of unaccustomed exercise for producing metabolites, for example ketones which reduce energy and enthusiasm levels on the second day. Any other suggestions are welcome, and probably more valid! I'm now looking forward to getting back on the river.
There were some off-river highlights on this trip. I called in to the Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service. I visited the Museum in Gundagai, which has a huge hall full of old stuff, including ancient firearms. The renovated Gundagai railway station buildings held my attention for some time, I had a wonderful meal in Gundaroo and I got lost in Gunning.
As I pulled into the kerb in Gunning for directions a cheery voice called out 'There's no surf in Gunning!' The local historian was referring the board on top of the car. A long footpath conversation followed about the area and Hamilton Hume and William Hovell.
The Hume and Hovell expedition, one of the most important journeys of exploration in eastern Australia, began in 1824 from a station at Fish Creek, near Gunning, after Hume had travelled from his home in Appin. Hume and Hovell reached the Murray River near Albury and named it the Hume. They didn't realise it was the same river that had already been named the Murray by Sturt. Crossing the river provided a challenge. One of the party, Richard Boyd, swam across the river with a rope in his teeth, so that a makeshift boat built out of canvass tarpaulins and poles could be towed from one side to the other.
Hume and Hovell marked trees on the bank of the river. The Hovell Tree can still be seen in a park in Albury 186 years later, but the Hume tree was destroyed by fire in the 1840's. The expedition reached Port Phillip Bay, and the route has become the Hume Highway. The expedition opened up excellent farming land.
Gunning has a wealth of other historical happenings, including the murder of Hamilton Hume's brother John, by a bushranger. It also has good cafes, and a free park for camper vans.
Gundaroo has an excellent restaurant called 'Grazing'. It has an extensive menu which provided a nice change from cans of tuna, my normal trip diet. Grazing offers a good selection of local wines, including 'Capital Wines' made by my cousin in Murrumbateman.
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I have a family connection with Grazing Restaurant and Capital wines.
The Living Murray, http://thelivingmurray2.mdbc.gov.au/programs/environmental_works_and_measures/barmahchokestudy.html
Grazing Restaurant, http://www.grazing.com.au
Capital Wines, http://www.capitalwines.com.au
Broken Creek (1772 kms from Murray Mouth) to Morning Glory (1751 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 21 November - 22 November 2010
Distance, time: 21 Kms, 2 days, 2 nights camping on the banks of the river
River height: High with flooding of river red gum forest
River flow: Huge, over 34,000 ML/day
River temperature: Refreshing - around 24 degrees C
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