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Left: Sandbar Bend in the early morning sun
Middle: The original Paddle Steamer Settler sank at Settler Bend. Amazing coincidence!
Right: The end of this trip at the historic Overland Corner Hotel
Renmark to Overland Corner
Bob and Sue, the land crew for this trip, met me in the Berri Caravan Park. We had an ambitious plan to cover 143 kilometres in the Riverland region of South Australia. We would start in Renmark, and progress through Lyrup, Berri, Loxton, Moorook, Kingston on Murray to Overland Corner.
The Chaffey Brothers introduced Californian irrigation techniques to Renmark, allowing the dry red clay and sandy soil to produce an oasis of orange groves, vineyards and fruit orchards. Irrigated fruit blocks spread along the Murray River. The Riverland area became home to returned soldiers, on the soldier settlement blocks. The towns look great with green neat parks. The roses were blooming everywhere, looking magnificent.
The river here is wider than in NSW, with fewer twists and turns. We had fabulous weather and a swift current. The high river level put most snags out of play. The river scenery, particularly the water birds, the trees and the occasional river beach was spectacular. The company and support provided by the land crew made the trip both successful and enjoyable. A day by day account of the trip follows.
Bob's attempt to start the trip with a rest day was quickly overruled. We drove to Renmark hoping to sail through the town and ever onwards. Oops - no wind. Plan B was rapidly adopted - paddling the board downriver from the Arthur Shepherd Memorial Park, on the outskirts of Renmark.
My first encounter with a river Lock soon followed. The lockman opened the gates and let me in. He asked if I would mind being filmed by a man who was making a documentary. I agreed. My role was to sit on the board as the water level dropped. I am not expecting an Oscar.
In all the excitement of starting the trip and the filming I hadn't studied the charts as closely as I should have. Within minutes of leaving Lock 5 I was confronted by a T intersection in the river. Should I go left or right? I was lost already!
Equally confusing was the fact that there were people and even a vehicle on the sandy left bank. In our planning the land crew and I had not spotted reliable road access to the river for some kilometres after the Lock. A careful mid-river analysis of the charts suggested I should go left. This turned out to be correct and some 6 kilometres further on I arrived at the destination for the day - Plush's Bend. I am aware of the modern trend to drop the apostrophe s from place names. I have ignored the convention in this case. To call it Plush Bend would be to convey a completely false impression.
Today the land crew and I played hide and seek. After leaving Plush's Bend the crew couldn't find me and I couldn't find them for our lunch time meeting. The bush tracks so clearly marked on the map were unsignposted in the forest and blocked by washouts. The vehicle access points to the river were few and far between. Eventually we worked out that we were almost 3 hours of river travel apart for our lunch time rendezvous, and couldn't work out an easy way to get closer! Perhaps I should have known that things wouldn't be easy when I cruised through Pitts Bend earlier in the day!
I passed through Settler Bend. In an incredible coincidence the largest paddle steamer on the river, the original PS Settler, sank in Settler Bend in the 1860's. Similarly in another amazing coincidence explorer Hamilton Hume's cottage is very close to the Hume Highway!
When I eventually re-connected with the land crew we decided to push on to Lyrup. After what seemed a very long time I saw signs of habitation in the far distance. I hoped that Lyrup was closer, but no - it was still a long way away and it didn't seem to be getting any closer. I struggled on, and on. Meanwhile, in a rare off duty moment, the land crew were having a nice chat to an old friend in the Lyrup general store. As the sun was setting I reached the Lyrup boat ramp.
Lyrup was established by the South Australian government in 1894 to give some people from Adelaide a new start in life. They were delivered by paddle steamer with building materials and supplies, to set up a new community. Lyrup was one of 12 similar village settlements, and the only one to still operate in the original communal way, although the primary school is set to close in 2012 after more than a hundred years of service.
Leaving from Lyrup it didn't take long to reach a boat marina on the way to Berri. Then I pushed on to meet the land crew at Martin's Bend. This is a delightful picnic park on the river, and home to the Berri Waterski Club. One of the aims of this trip, given the wider straighter river in South Australia, was to increase the percentage of sailing versus paddling so I shook out the sail at Berri but the late afternoon breeze died as I did so.
A short trip was planned for today, but it turned out to be even shorter! I loaded up the board early and headed off down the river through Berri, and under the huge bridge. Unfortunately I missed the mural bolted under the bridge, but will look at it next time I'm in Berri. There were a few tents on the outskirts of the town. As I passed one a lad leapt out and threw an imaginary spear at me! I'm not sure what I had done to deserve this but my face mask to prevent sun burn is a little scarey.
I pressed on regardless, with a helpful northerly tail wind. As I approached Sandbar Bend I was amused to see some river art - models of a man and a woman sitting high in the trees at the water's edge! The nesting spoonbills on the other side of the river provided a more natural scene.
After passing Salt Creek I reached the boat ramp at Sandbar Bend. I pulled in for a rest and a snack. I chatted to a man and a woman camping at the Bend. The man had shorn or crutched 1.3 million sheep, starting at 14 years of age and stopping at 60! He had a good knowledge of the river and surrounding areas. I pointed out a swimming animal in the water. I was hoping that it was a platypus, but was disappointed when he told me it was a water rat! He used to trap the rats for their skins.
Meanwhile a strong southerly change swept in and the wind was too strong to continue, particularly as the next stretch was directly into the wind. I was keen to continue - at least to Lock 4, to reduce the distance for the following day, so I waited in the water's edge for the wind to drop. After about 2 hours I gave up and contacted the land crew for collection.
Very strong southerly winds continued. Too strong to go out on the river. Moved camp from Berri to Loxton. Checked out the river access opportunities between Lock 4 and Loxton, and between Loxton and Moorook. Few and far between! Did a phone interview with Narelle from Riverland ABC radio. I was standing looking over the river at New Residence Landing, 462 kilometres from the Murray Mouth as I answered the questions. I think I got some of them right!
Packard Bend at Loxton is named after James Packard who drowned in the river in 1866, aged 23. He was a member of the party sent out to define the eastern border of South Australia. The plaque on the river's edge was was the third memorial to river tragedies I had come across in the last ten days.
We camped at Packard Bend. By now Bob had shown me how to get detailed wind forecasts from the Elders website. The wind was now from the south so we postponed the river section upstream from Loxton, and took off from the campsite in a northerly direction towards Moorook. It was a relatively straight forward leg passing along Pyap Reach and ending at Goodes Road Landing. Pyap is also the name of a paddle steamer currently operating as a tourist boat in Swan Hill.
The day was notable for the variety of animals I saw along the banks of the River. Kangaroos are often around, but it is unusual to see a deer (in a pen) and a fox (not in a pen).
An early start today from Goodes Road Landing, to allow time for solving problems, as swamps and lagoons near this section of the river limit road access for the land crew. I made good progress. It was still early in the morning when I reached the Aboriginal Land on the eastern side of the river. I saw a group of people breaking camp near the River. I headed towards them hoping to have a chat but was too late - they had moved away. I passed the little town of Gerard, and on to Pyap Bend before battling a strong headwind to reach New Residence landing. Of course once I had made the decision to stop, the headwind dropped. Bob's 'hanging hanky' windometer drooped limply to confirm the absence of even a zephyr. New Residence is one of the many collections of soldier settlement blocks in the Riverland of South Australia that provided small allotments of agricultural land after the wars to returning soldiers.
Another early start today, this time back to the upstream reaches of the river. Initially to get from Sandbar Bend (where I got stuck before) to Lock 4 and beyond, before the Berri based speedboat races swamped the river. I had seen these boats rehearsing in previous days. They absolutely fly, with only the propeller in the water! Luckily they turn around at Lock 4, so a short dash to the Lock would get me into safe waters!
As I passed a fisherman he yelled out a warning about the speedboats. He suggested that I take a shortcut through a creek and lagoon to avoid them. He assured me this would take me directly to the Lock. 'A tinny can get through.'
This raised a dilemma. Would it be ethical to take a short cut? How could I claim to have travelled 2,224 kilometres down the river if I had cut a corner? In the end I stuck to the river's course, reaching the Lock before the speedboats.
I had noticed orange trees withering and dying. The lockman explained that some local orange groves were not being watered and oranges were not being picked as growers couldn't compete with cheap orange concentrate imported from Brazil. As well as losing income, the orange growers' retirement nest egg, their orchard, is now unsaleable.
This stretch of the River has several sandy beaches. Well, sand with traces of mud, but wonderful compared to the ubiquitous sticky clay I had battled with in other places. It is easy to pull into these small beaches for a rest. I whirled through Whirlpool Bend, lurched through Leach Bend before I saw Sawmill Bend. On the beach here there is a large old rusting structure for cleaning sand. The wind was getting too strong by now and I was pleased to reach the boat ramp at Stanitzki's Bend to end the day's travel.
Fierce winds prevented any river travel today. Planning and reconnaissance only.
Melbourne Cup day, but please keep reading - the race that stops the nation doesn't stop this charity project!
After a long drive from Loxton I arrived at New Residence Landing. I put the board in the water, loaded it and took off on Seven Mile Reach, wondering how long it is.
It was a wonderful day and this turned out to be a very interesting part of the river. I took time to admire the wetlands birds. Pelicans soared high in the air. Yellow billed spoonbills flew elegantly, in contrast to the cormorants that fly in the most ungainly manner, as if their wings are only loosely bolted on. Ducks flew fast and furiously, while kookaburras flew in a straight line from one tree to another. White ibis, purple swamp hens, willie wagtails and unidentified tweety birds added to the aerial scenery. Crows (or ravens) cried out. I've heard that one of the differences between crows and ravens is their call. One call dies away, whereas the other ends in an abrupt 'k'. I'm not sure which bird is the rude one.
After three weeks on the river I had become accustomed to being surrounded by Australian native wildlife. So it was a real shock this day to see domestic cattle on the eastern bank! The other notable feature of this stretch of the river is the number of landings. These cleared patches of river bank served as low clay wharves for paddle steamers and other craft, reflecting the importance of the river as a highway servicing the homesteads and communities in days gone by. Seven landings are marked on the chart in just over 6 river kilometres.
A few moored houseboats and a beautifully kept riverside park came in to view as I reached Moorook. This was our planned end point for the day. However after checking that the tracks in the Moorook Game Reserve were passable for two wheel drive vehicles, I negotiated with the land crew to continue into the Reserve. We met at campsite 7, and called it a day. We retired to the Kingston on Murray Caravan Park.
The Kingston on Murray Bridge crossed today's section of the river. Charts warned of turbulence and a water siphon effect under the bridge when the river level is high. We drove to the bridge to see if any special precautions were required.
Luckily today the current looked manageable. However for me it was just another reminder of how courageous the early explorers must have been. Captain Sturt, for example, didn't have any charts to warn him of possible dangers under the bridge when he rowed down the river in 1830!
The abundance of water birds on the river between Moorook and Cobdogla is testimony to the concept of game reserves. Cobdogla is an Aboriginal name meaning land of plenty. Plenty of water birds! There were birds everywhere, particularly on the backwaters adjoining the river. In addition to the birds listed earlier, I saw Australian Shellducks, a cape baron goose, and black swans with cygnets (all fluff no feathers).
Ending today at the campsite was a rare luxury. I tied up the board on the river, ready for the next day. Then I wandered into the well-kept little township of Kingston on Murray where I found the land crew eating ice creams!
The highlights today were reaching the western-most point of this trip, Overland Corner, and the celebratory lunch in the historic Overland Corner Hotel.
I left early from the campsite at Kingston on Murray. The lockman at Lock 3 provided me with interesting information. I learnt that the River Murray flag (1853) is older than the Australian flag (1901) and that there are two versions of the flag - the Upper Murray and the Lower Murray versions. The Lock has a dual fishway, designed to allow native fish to pass through but with a trap for carp. Carp jump and are therefore caught in the trap, whereas native fish, wisely, don't jump.
I passed Banrock Creek and Banrock Island. It is believed that Captain Starlight, who you may remember from 'Robbery Under Arms', used Banrock Island as a pound for stolen cattle, after herding them across the River on a sandbar. I also passed Banrock Station, which produces wine, is restoring the native flora and fauna of the area, and donates to global conservation causes.
The Overland Corner Hotel (1859) was a staging post for trips from NSW to Adelaide. Then, as now, I expect it was an oasis in a dry area. Our lunch marked the end of the trip for Bob and Sue, who as usual had done a superb and selfless job in supporting the project.
An off river day today. Goodbye to Bob and Sue from Kingston on Murray. I drove back to the campground in Loxton to set up for early start next day.
Earlier in this trip we deferred a seventeen kilometre stretch between Stanitzki Bend and Loxton, due to strong headwinds and the difficult access. I was keen to eliminate this gap, although without a land crew it would be difficult. Nevertheless, fortified by Sue's biscuits, I decided to give it a go.
The weather forecast was good. Early in the morning I drove to Stanitzki Bend, unloaded the board, locked the car and took off down the river. I was amused to see a badly parked boat called 'Heavenandback', high and dry on the muddy bank. It was hard to tell how far it had got in it's trip!
I passed some impressive old homesteads on the way to Rilli's boat ramp. One had a mud brick pump house. Stately windmills amongst the trees added to the genteel rural environment.
I floated past a man on the bank with a kayak. He was packing up his tent. In a shouted brief conversation we agreed that it was a perfect day to be on the river. Sometime later, the kayaker, Ian caught up to me. We floated down the river together watching the nankeen night herons, the whistling kites and river skinks, and swapping notes on other parts of the river and our plans and progress.
Ian told me that he had seen a snake swimming in the water near Lock 6, upstream of Renmark. He identified it as a python. I was silently sceptical. Pythons are in Queensland, the Murray is not! However Ian turned out to be an expert on reptiles. He had been so sure of his identification of the snake as a venomless Murray python that he paddled up to it, caught it, held it in one outstretched hand whilst photographing it with his camera held in the other!
Ian started his trip at the Hume Weir on September 13th 2012, so when I met him he was more than 50 days into his venture. He was considering stopping at the next town - Loxton.
With my early start and good progress I was pleased to arrive at the Loxton campground at 12.45pm. This gave me plenty of time to secure the board, walk up the steep hill to the main road and attempt to hitchhike back to the car. I was lucky. The sixth vehicle stopped and took me within half a kilometre of the car. In less than 2 hours I was back in the campsite, with the car.
On the first day of this Riverland trip we wanted to start by sailing through Renmark. Alas there was no wind so the plan was shelved. On this last day of the trip I drove to Renmark for a second attempt. The situation was quite different. There was a strong blustery northerly wind, with gusts from different directions. A real brute of a wind! I explored suitable launching and landing sites as I waited for the wind to settle down. After a big breakfast I judged that the conditions were OK. Not good but OK.
As I was setting up the board I was surprised to hear 'Rod! Rod!' I turned around to see Narelle and Daniel riding their bikes towards me. Narelle, from ABC Riverland, had interviewed me a few days earlier, and Daniel had filmed me and the board passing through Lock 5 near Renmark. I was delighted and very surprised to see them.
The sail through Renmark was somewhat less than elegant, given the tricky wind, but still memorable. I pulled in to shore just downstream from the 'Argo', the largest barge to operate on the Murray, and the Paddle Steamer 'Industry' commissioned in 1911 and recently beautifully restored by volunteers. A short paddle to the caravan park completed the full distance from Renmark to Overland Corner - a very successful and enjoyable trip of 143 river kilometres. A great tribute to the work of the Bob and Sue land crew.
Thoughts for future trips
It was hoped that this trip would provide more opportunities for sailing versus paddling. Bob, Sue and I spent some time analysing why this was proving difficult. The river is wider and straighter in South Australia, and the river level was high, so in this sense conditions for sailing were good. However it turned out that access to the river for the land crew was often difficult, resulting in many lengthy stretches where the land crew couldn't retrieve me if extreme weather conditions closed in or if I needed assistance due to a snake bite, accident or ill health.
In addition my opportunities to walk out through the bush to a main road if passage on the river became impossible were often limited by swamps, lagoons and creeks. This meant that to be responsible I had to carry survival and emergency gear on the board, to cater for at least one night on my own on the banks of the river. The emergency drinking water, warm bedding, wet weather gear, food, first aid items etc. loaded up the board to the point where it became tippy and unwieldy under sail. Suggestions to solve this problem include boat backup to supplement the land crew's armoury, having a fellow traveller on the river, reducing the weight of the survival gear and finding a better way to carry the survival gear. Discussions continue!
Ronald and Margaret Baker, William Reschke: Murray River Pilot
Renmark (568 kms from Murray Mouth) to Overland Corner (425 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 28 October - 11 November 2012
Distance, time: 143 Kms, 15 days
River height: Above pool levels
River flow: A good current
River temperature: Warmish - estimated at about 21 degrees
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