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Left: Signature fish: Murray Cod
Middle: Land crew kitchen
Right: Aboriginal Health College
Lock 9 to 5 Kms below Lock 8
The Mallee country in North West Victoria is spectacular.
The saltbush plains stretch as far as the eye can see. The soils are generally infertile and sandy, sometimes red and sometimes clay-grey.
In places the variety of plants increases - the land is recovering from previous sheep grazing.
The video below gives a much better idea of the countryside than can be expressed in words. The video is 9 minutes long, but one or two minutes may be enough.
The River Valley here contains a rich and diverse archaeological history, spanning the last 20,000 years.
Shell middens in the area, some up to 400 metres long, provide information about the diet of the Aboriginal hunter-gatherers.
The middens mainly contain two aquatic molluscs: the river mussel Alathyria jacksoni and the river snail Notopala sublineata.
Nutritional studies indicate that Alathyria are low in fat but are good sources of omega 3- and 6-fatty acids and magnesium (Mg), Iron (Fe), Sodium (Na) and Zinc (Zn).
They are also high in protein and calorific energy (kj).
It is now thought that Notopala sublineata was also an important food source.
Dave and I met up in Wentworth. I was pleased to see he had the food and camp dog Kala! Christine, of the Albert Park Land Crew,
had been preparing our fabulous food in the lead up weeks.
A brief planning session in the local bakery set the scene for the coming week.
In this remote section of the Murray, tracks along the river for 4 wheel drive vehicles are few and far between.
We decided to tackle the stretch between Lock 8 and Lock 9,
leaving the more inaccessible sections of the river in the area until we have a support boat.
We started with the usual shakedown cruise, just downstream of Lock 8. Does the board still float? Can I still stay on it?
Luckily the answer to both questions was yes. The chart indicated that the river here is shallow. 'Proceed slowly.' That was a given for us.
The most basic craft on the river only has one speed - slow!
After a couple of kilometres I noticed some kangaroos, and then, suprisingly, a man walking along the river bank.
I called out to him, asking what kind of stock he has on his property. "No stock, we are restoring the environment and the kangaroo population." was the shouted reply.
The distant and difficult conversation across the broad stretch of water continued for a short time. I ended up with his phone number for a followup call.
About 4 months later I made the call and had a really interesting chat to Ken.
It turns out he is managing Wingillie Station and helping with remarkable environmental restoration work.
As well as supporting eastern and western grey kangaroos, euros and red kangaroos,
the station now has southern bell frogs and a fish previously considered extinct in the area.
Here is the story: An endangered freshwater fish has made a return to River Murray waters in New South Wales for the first time in more than 10 years. This is the result of a project to help save it from extinction.
The Murray Hardyhead is a small fish (up to 9cm long) with an amazing ability to tolerate saline water. It has been listed as endangered since 1999.
Until now it has survived in just a handful of places in northern Victoria, and in the Riverland and Lower Lakes in South Australia.
The new project has relocated a small population from South Australia’s Riverland to an environmentally-watered wetland in far western NSW.
The relocation is a joint project involving the Commonwealth Government, the NSW Department of Primary Industries Fisheries, Western Local Land Services, the SA Department for Environment
and Water, Aquasave - Nature Glenelg Trust, the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group, and the owners of Wingillie Station.
NSW DPI Senior Fisheries Manager Iain Ellis said work had been underway for several years to identify a suitable site at Little Frenchman’s Creek and then deliver water for the environment,
to ensure the habitat was right for the relocation.
“While Murray Hardyhead have been successfully translocated in Victoria and South Australia in the past, this reintroduction to Little Frenchman’s Creek is the first time we’ve
attempted to re-establish a locally extinct freshwater fish species to New South Wales.” he said. (See reference below)
The shakedown cruise ended successfully at a beautiful spot on the river. We set up camp there. As usual Dave had all the camping gear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable stay.
The next day we were thwarted by very strong gusty winds. After pushing off from Lock 9, it wasn't long before we were holed up on the bank, waiting for the wind to die down.
Luckily we had really good morning tea and lunch to help us through the ordeal! It is wonderful to have a land crew! After a few more kilometers strong winds stopped play.
We had come across some campers from Aldinga. They kindly agreed to mind the board overnight while we went back to our camp.
We collected the board from the 'Aldingas' as we called them, but for the next two days strong winds prevented any progress on the river. We made a sortie into Cullulleraine,
a very small town on the Sturt Highway in north-western Victoria, 56 kilometres west of Mildura. It has a general store, fuel and, importantly, mobile phone reception!
Full of energy after the enforced lay off, we made good progress on Friday - reaching and passing through Ned's Corner (757 kms from the River mouth).
This is a significant milestone in this remote part of the river. Ned's Corner Station is the largest freehold property in Victoria.
Once a huge (30,000 ha) sheep station on a pastoral lease, it was bought by the Trust for Nature in 2002.
It is now the biggest private conservation reserve in Victoria, providing an important habitat for the revival of native plants and wildlife
often not seen in other parts of Victoria.
After seeing very little human activity on the river, we were suddenly surprised by a rush of 6 tinnies that zoomed past. We didn't see them again.
However we did see a snake, as we rested on the river bank. "What kind of snake?" I hear you ask. It was a long thin black wriggly snake.
This part of the river provided a huge challenge for Dave. His excellent sense of direction was regularly challenged
by gulches, soft boggy sand, vast saltbush plains and even a long impenetrable wire fence. In spite of the difficulties he always found me.
The good progress on the river continued on Saturday, passing Victoria Rocks, Cams Creek and through a wide reach that I thought would be ideal for water skiing.
The highlight of the eight remaining kilometres next day was a huge fish we saw. About a metre long, and bulky!
I'd like to say it was a murray cod. Just as a restauraunt has its signature dish, the Murray has its signature fish - the mighty murray cod.
Alas, I suspect it was a colossal carp, but I don't want to carp on it.
The river trip ended on Sunday at a pleasant shady spot, just upstream of Lock 8, which is yet to be traversed, to connect with the 5 River kms downstream of Lock 8 covered on Day 1.
Endangered Fish Returns to NSW Waters
Garvey, Jillian. (2016). Australian Aboriginal freshwater shell middens from late Quaternary northwest Victoria:
Prey choice, economic variability and exploitation. Quaternary International. In Press. 10.1016/j.quaint.2015.11.065.
River Murray Charts, Wright M. A.,
Murray River Recreational User Guide – Map Booklet Series
Wikipedia: Mallee country, north east Victoria
Lock 9 (770 kilometres from the river mouth) to
5 Kilometres downstream of Lock 8 (726 kilometres from the river mouth)
Locks 8 and 9 both yet to be traversed.