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Left: The varied diet of the solo sailor - seven varieties of canned tuna!
Middle: The well appointed forest camp set up by the land crew.
Right: Gourmet riverside dining provided by the land crew.
Riverlander to Torrumbarry Weir and Picnic Point to O'Shannessy's regulator
Light rain fell as I loaded up the board and barrels at the Riverlander boat ramp. Then the weather cleared a little so off I went. I swept past the wildlife refuge on the NSW bank of the river, and into the site of the paddlesteamer race between PS Etona and PS Enterprise, in October 1974.
The PS Etona and its smaller predecessor provided missionary services along the Murray River, including 893 baptisms. Bishop J. R. Harmer had the PS Etona built in 1899 with funds partially supplied by Eton College in England. For many years the PS Etona was a floating church for the river communities along the Murray in South Australia. The boat had a small chapel with an organ. At one time the organ was played by a young Englishman who went on to become Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein. His troops knew him as 'Monty'. The PS Etona continued as the River Mission Church until 1913. Then, after serving time as a fishing boat, and playing a heroic role in emergency flood relief on the Murrumbidgee River at Balranald in 1956, the Etona was restored in Echuca.
The PS Enterprise is now the largest working exhibit at the National Museum in Canberra. She was built in Echuca from river red gum timber and launched in 1878. She is moored on Lake Burley Griffin and is one of the oldest working paddle steamers in the world. Augustus Creager bought the PS Enterprise in 1919 and raised his young family on board. A family photo shows his 13 month old daughter Jocelyn walking the gang plank over the water to shore - no handrails! OH&S was different in those days.
The famous race in 1974 between the PS Etona and PS Enterprise was won by the PS Etona by five lengths. I can imagine the cacophony of steam whistle blasts as the race finished.
A large houseboat passed me on the river. In a brief shouted conversation as the boat passed I answered the usual questions: 'Where have you come from?' and 'Where are you going to?' My answers inspired some enthusiasm on board, judging by the leaping and cheering. After passing the Pericoota (great name!) Marina I came across the houseboat again, now securely moored to the bank. The holiday makers yelled out an offer of a cup of tea. As I sat on the board drinking the tea I heard that the house boat trip was a reunion for a group who met each other when travelling around Europe. It was good to talk to them and the last hot drink for several days was very welcome. As I pushed off to look for a suitable campsite I commented on how quiet and peaceful it was on the river. I didn't understand the strange looks this comment raised until later in the night.
I found a good campsite on the apex of a bend, with the houseboat partially visible on one arm of the bend, and a homestead in the distance on the other. Saturday nights on the river are often lively. This night was no exception. I found myself between duelling discos! The houseboat music from my right had a thumping beat. The homestead music from my left was also good if a little more subdued. I enjoyed the stereo sounds and a fireworks display before I drifted off to sleep.
Strong winds were forecast on the following day. I packed up as fast as possible to make progress before the wind became stronger. Highlights of this morning included being passed by the Spirit II, a boat that takes river tourists from Albury to Echuca and beyond, and finding a floating thong. I looked around for an owner for the thong, but there was no-one around. I flung it from the river onto steps leading down to the water, hoping it would be reunited with its foot.
By 11 am the wind had become too strong to continue. Fortunately I could pull into a sandy beach - rare in this area. I settled in with the paper waiting for the wind to die down. Several people came and went from the beach during the day. Tony and Joan, on the beach with godson Scott, lived nearby and offered hospitality. I appreciated the offer but didn't take it up, being keen to leave if the weather conditions improved. As darkness approached I set up camp for the night.
My aim for the next day was to reach Deep Creek Marina. Like an oasis in the desert it offers the luxuries of a general store and even a restaurant. It is also clearly marked on the map, making it an ideal place to meet up with the land crew arriving the following day. I pushed myself hard during the day to reach the 'oasis', 21 kms downstream. I travelled past Dead Horse Point and a small paddlesteamer 'Colonial Lass'. On arrival Deep Creek Marina became Deep Creek disappointment. The general store, the restaurant and the hotel were all closed. Very closed. Not only that I couldn't find anyone to ask if I could camp on the beautiful lawns.
I was about to set up camp on an uncomfortable spot on the wrong side of the creek when my mobile rang. It was my land crew wondering where I was. Dave had been looking for me on the river, and had set up camp on a wonderful riverside site on Arnold Bend. I had expected him the next day but I had missed the latest planning email as I no longer had email access.
Dave's call was very welcome. He collected me and all my gear. As we packed I came across a couple of 'house-boaters' who could not have been more helpful, offering to look after the board till next morning. Dave took me to the wonderful campsite he had found. The meal he cooked that night, and the excellent tasty food sent by his wife Christine for the following nights, was enjoyed in peaceful bush settings, on the edge of the river.
Things are much easier with a land crew. More can be achieved, and the company makes the achievements more enjoyable. The next morning we bought some supplies and headed back to Deep Creek Marina to resume the trip. Reasonable progress was made into the westerly headwind. Once again Dave did a sterling job as land crew. He even found me at lunchtime when I accidentally sent him a text saying 'let's meet at amatsor'. Seasoned cryptic crossword experts would have trouble interpreting 'amatsor' as 'boatramp'. Dave had also scouted ahead to advise me on what to expect. He suggested a suitable meeting point for the end of the day. He had also organised an interview with the local paper, the Riverine Herald. Dave and Christine continued the tradition of excellent land crew that this project has enjoyed.
I reached the day's destination well ahead of the estimated time I had given Dave. The spot was marked by a series of low jetties, and a spectacular purple bougainvillea bush, which I've since learnt is a native of South America. I visited the 'All the Rivers Run Caravan Park' and bought myself an ice coffee as a reward. When I rang Dave he was struggling to assemble a kit form roof rack. It was a good roof rack which is more than can be said for the assembly instructions. In the fullness of time (equivalent to an AFL match) and after much trial and error the roofrack was ready for the board. We loaded up and went back to camp.
The next day we had set ourselves a tough task - 18 kms, with a strong gusty wind. Luckily the wind turned out to be a tail wind for much of the day. The river scenery was spectacular, as it had been for all of the trip. Fortified by another riverside lunch, I reached Torrumbarry Weir in the evening. We speculated how the board could navigate through or past the Weir on a future trip. For now we would turn our attention to an untraversed section of the river upstream near Picnic Point.
An 'off-river' day allowed some recovery time after five days on the river. We admired the Cadell Tilt near Mathoura, and had an interesting conversation with the publican in the Pastoral Hotel. The Cadell Tilt is an upward movement of land that dammed the Goulburn and Murray River until both rivers found alternative paths towards the west. The publican is someone who runs a public house.
The four wheel drive feature of the land crew vehicle was tested as we ventured into the Moira State Forest looking for our next campsite. After several water crossings and a 40 Kms/hour race with a wild emu which ran alongside the vehicle we found the perfect site, at O'Shannessy's regulator. Another part of the river, another amazing bush campsite.
We started the next day with a trip into Echuca for an interview with Ruth Clayton of the Riverine Herald (link below), followed by breakfast and interneting (new verb!). Then we drove to Picnic Point, took the board off the vehicle and set it up. During this time we chatted to a woman who was walking her dog. She told us about an excellent butcher in Mathoura (helpful) and went on to say that our board was the most basic craft she had ever seen on the river (put your own word in here).
The river is very narrow downstream from Picnic Point, and the current is fast. That makes the snags more threatening. At one point the gap between snags crossing the river narrowed down to about three metres. Exciting! In no time at all I reached the campsite which marked the end of this excursion to the river.
The early afternoon finish on the river gave us time to study the birdlife near the camp. An egret stood motionless for hours on a branch at the water's edge, waiting for the current to deliver its food. A swamp harrier circled overhead. Baby kookaburras learning to fly landed clumsily. Perhaps the prettiest birds were the azure kingfishers. Numerous small birds skimmed the surface of the water in the evening, then landed near us on the bank. Reed warblers? A brown tree creeper pecked the bark of a tree. Nankeen night herons perched high in the trees, willie wagtails wagged on the ground. White choughs, magpies, pied currawongs and Australian ravens hopped around unconcerned by our presence. During the day coots had scuttled away from the board and grey teal ducks flew out of the way. I was surprised that the yellow spoonbills perched so far above their food - high up on dead branches.
On another day I thought I saw a snake in the water. On closer examination it turned out to be a darter bird with it's long neck and head resembling a snake ready to strike. Cormorants, Australian white ibis, herons, galahs and many other birds filled the river environment. A bird lover's paradise.
Click here to see the Riverine Herald article on the Windsurfing project
PS Etona history, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jksgenie/etona.htm /a>
PS Entetrprise history, http://www.nma.gov.au/collections/ps_enterprise/
The Living Murray, http://thelivingmurray2.mdbc.gov.au/programs/environmental_works_and_measures/barmahchokestudy/barmah_choke_history.html
Azure kingfisher, http://www.daintreeriverwildwatch.com.au/Guest-s-photos.17.0.html
Riverine Herald, http://www.rivheraldechuca.net/
Riverlander (1697 kms from Murray Mouth) to Torrumbarry Weir (1630 kms from Murray Mouth)
Picnic Point (1790 kms from Murray Mouth) to O'Shannessy's regulator (1780 kms from Murray Mouth)
Dates 19 - 26 November 2011
Distance, time: 78 Kms, 8 days, 7 nights camping
River height: Normal summer height
River temperature: Comfortable - around 23 degrees C
Published 10 December 2011
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