Monday, 19 November 2012

Day 1: 1712 to 1668 km: Echuca - towards Torrumbarry.

Everything has a beginning
A nervous time
A step into the unknown
Where all that is familiar
Is left behind
There is only the self 
Immersed, intensely aware.


I hazard to say that most journeys are begun methodically. Gear check, boat check, food and water check. But it is not just the fear of leaving something behind that could endanger the success of the venture. In a well planned expedition you have back up plans. It is also to reassure, to calm the nerves by worrying about the little things. Whilst our children were still young we moved between Australia and Europe five times. Each time was heart wrenching. In order to keep our heads with such strong emotions in the air, we concentrated on finding places to have nice coffees and a bite to eat, asking about everyday things and talking about what was happening in the next few minutes. Most journeys are begun nervously. They are in their essence a step into the unknown.

Leaving your home town, or passing through it are awkward times. Kitted out for an expedition, I found myself paddling my training route; others might pass by in their preparation for a marathon event. It is the home territory of local water skiers and fishermen. However this awkwardness is all in the mind, it is actually the fear of failure. Of not being able to achieve what we set out to do.

In actual fact, my friends saw me off in style, with a small flotilla of canoes accompanying me four kilometres downstream to the junction of the Murray and Campaspe Rivers and friends and family waving from the river bank. It was exactly the same point that I had seen Dave Cornthwaite off with the St. Joseph's Kayaking team four years earlier. It was at that time that I resolved to do the same - to paddle to the sea. From here I was on my own. It was a relief to be on my way. Before I got too far, I checked once more and once more again that I had everything. Running through mental lists of what was needed in everyday and emergency situations. Of course, you can't cover every eventuality. Things can happen, like heart attacks and strokes. My grandfather had died of a heart attack. In moments like these I turned to one of my father in law's favorite quotes. He used it first when leading a group into the New Guinea Highlands. They came across a raging torrent, the likes of which are rare in Australia. The only way across was via a simple three strand rope swing bridge. When some of the intrepid tourists expressed their doubts about how adventurous they really wanted to be, he advised them to "hang nicht so fest an das bissle Leben!" - don't hold on so tight to this short life of yours! Not only are we not on this beautiful planet for such a short time, but in the scheme of things we are pretty insignificant. The world will keep turning without us. Journeys like this are also about letting go.

As the bends turned into straights and the straights into bends again, my thoughts turned inwards. How would I cope with the Ross River Fever which had so plagued me over the past eighteen months. It had gotten me down. Its continual recurrence and an almost constant feeling of being unwell left me doubting my ability to continue my career as a teacher and to be a stable bread-winner for my family. I had ceased to train because even that seemed to bring on new periods of illness, each lasting for weeks. I could not remember a time since I had contracted the illness that I had been well for more than a period of two weeks. When I was feeling good, I almost felt elated, I could lift up the moods of the people around me, both at home and at work. As it was, I was unfit, I had put on ten kilograms and was depressed much of the time. I determined to break out of it by fulfilling a dream, of following the river that had flowed past my door for much of my life to the sea. I was going to do this. The conversation began.

Paddling a kayak is like meditating. You might think that you relax your mind, but in order to do it well, in order to be efficient and not injure yourself you need to concentrate on every single stroke. If you don't you pay for it with muscular aches and pains. On long journeys once a pain is there it is generally there to stay, so it pays to listen and be kind to your body. It has to hold up for the long haul. It was time to settle into the routine. In one hour I was well out of town, in two I had passed the five mile, in four I was half way to Torrumbarry, the day was growing old and with all that had happened I was ready to find a spot for the night.

I found a spot with a fair bit of bush, where trees would provide shelter from the hot afternoon sun and it looked like I would have a bit of privacy. I found a place to tie up my boat, set up the tent and settled in for the night. It was the first true test of my food and cooking arrangements and I ate well. Tomorrow I would reach Torrumbarry and in doing so, leave the area I knew and enter the unknown.

As evening fell, I heard cicadas synchronise their calls, till, as if conducted, they all chirped in time. I listened to the gentle drumming sound of dry leaves bouncing off my tent as, carried by the wind, they tumbled and spun from the tall river red gums around my camp. In the night, I heard something big thrashing about in the water, kangaroos hopping through camp, crashing through the undergrowth, and unperturbed by my presence tearing off and chewing grass.

I heard a possums guttural warning to another of its kind, a tawny frogmouth's incessant booming call through the night air and the sound of the wind moving through the trees all around me, like waves on an ocean beach. With dawn still hours away, the first birds are beginning to call, broadcasting their presence and intentions for the new day.

Distance paddled: 44km

The river at Echuca

These pictures provide a glimpse of a local's view of the river and the vegetation on its banks. In contrast to an expedition, I have attempted to show you the river in all its seasons, in the cold of winter and the heat of summer, in dry times when it can almost be walked across and in dramatic floods. Living next to the river you come to respect it and care for it. The river becomes your friend and your nemesis. For all the structures which try to tame it, it is wild at heart... and occasionally breaks free. At those times we have seen the best of sides of our community. Similar tales resound all along the river. In Wentworth, there is a park and a museum honouring the "grey fergies" that saved the town in the floods of 1956. In Echuca I still vividly remember the sirens - the same as were used for air raids in Europe - sounding in the night in 1974. On that night, every able bodied person rushed to the levees. A section 300m long had become saturated and wobbling like jelly, threatened to burst. Working through the night a complete new levee was built, almost a kilometre long saving hundreds of homes. Local quarie owners provided sand gratis and when in the face of so many volunteers, the shovels ran out, the  hardware shop and disposals came back with all their supplies. As a 10 year old, I remember school being cancelled. We were to go to the sandbagging stations all around town. The river, grey-black, rather than blue slide past the raised levees. At night it took on an eire quality, threatening to sweep away anything that slipped into it.

As a kid, I remember playing on the old wharf (a mate showed me the way through the barbed wire) which was derelict at the time. Pride was still strong in the town and this emerged in multiple and often parallel initiatives to pay homage to the pioneers and the paddle steamer trade that had made the town. It is impossible to visit Echuca-Moama and not be affected by these ghosts of the past. If when enjoying a beer in the Shamrock, you pause to look up you will see a pressed tin ceiling. The same ceiling as would have been found in the over 100 pubs which quenched the thirst of the riverboat men in the heyday of the riverboat days between 1860 and 1920. Ironically, the railway to Melbourne which made Echuca such an important river port from 1864, also rang its death null. Once the rail network reached into NSW and throughout regional Victoria, farmers could transport their wool and wheat without waiting for high river. The weir and lock at Torrumbarry, 80 kilometres downstream arrived too late to save the trade, instead heralding a new age of irrigation. Townspeople became ashamed of the old fashioned technology they had been associated with and much of the old wharf was broken down and sent to Melbourne as firewood. The proud double story verandahs which once graced all of the larger hotels were removed. Only the Shamrock and Caledonian have retained theirs. Now townspeople celebrate their heritage and the simpler, down to earth times. Once again, steam whistles can be heard. Instead of heralding new cargo for the wharf, they are calling for passengers. I like to think of them as a celebration. You can't keep a good girl down!

Sneaking up on Pevensey.

Morning light

Echuca's 1880 cast iron bridge at high river.

Wharf at high river.

Wirrikee wattle, Victoria Park.

Floods on the Campaspe in 2011.
PS Canberra

Floods on the Campaspe - "You shall not pass!"

Campaspe River, Echuca. Low water.


Shells in the bank indicating a former midden.

Sandbagging in the 2011 Echuca floods.

2011 Echuca floods. Lions Park

Echuca wharf. High river.

Wattles in the Spring, following rain.

Campaspe River, Echuca. High River.

Campaspe River, Echuca. High River.

Campaspe River, Echuca. High River.

Campaspe River, Echuca. High River.

Murray River, Echuca. High River. Winter.

Campaspe River, Echuca. Low River. 2007.

Bush at Victoria Park, alongside the Murray River in Echuca.

Echuca Wharf

Horse and dray, Echuca Wharf.

PS Pevensey, Echuca.

PS Pevensey, Echuca.

PS EmmyLou, Echuca.

PS Perricootta, Echuca.

PS Alexander Arbuthnot, Echuca.

Adelaide: Source Lost Echuca Facebook

Building levees to keep back the flood in 1976.
PS Adelaide, Echuca.

PS Pevensey, Echuca.

PS Adelaide, Echuca.

Winter's paddle. Murray River. Echuca.

PS Canberra, Echuca.

Golden wattle, Echuca.

All the Rivers Run celebrates the riverboat days. It heralded a new era of tourism for Echuca-Moama and a resurgence in interest in paddle steamers. 

Synopsis (Crawfords Australia).

In a storm off the Victorian coast in 1890, a young English girl is shipwrecked and orphaned. She is rescued heroically by the only other survivor of the wreck, who is feted and rewarded in Melbourne. The girl is taken in care by her guardian, Uncle Charles, who has made a meager fortune from gold, and settled at Echuca - the great Australian inland port on the River Murray. His ward is sixteen years old, and her name is Philadelphia Gordon. She is known as Delie.

Delie is an energetic and high-spirited girl who wants to paint, and not conform. She finds it difficult to understand why her aunt Hester, a tart and unsmiling woman, seeks to impose her ideas of womanhood, femininity, even good housekeeping on a girl who needs nothing more than the freedom to lead her own life. It is her cousin, Adam, who truly awakens in Delie the feelings of young womanhood. Tom, the seaman who rescued Delie, arrives in Echuca on a paddle steamer he bought with his reward. It is the beginning for Delie of a remarkable ten years in her life. Her investment of part of her inheritance in the riverboat is, without her knowing it, the first step towards a turbulent marriage to a riverboat man and, indeed, to the boats who ply their great trade along the mighty, unpredictable and perilous river.

In a riverboat ceremony, Delie marries Brenton Edwards, a cavalier riverman, who wins and loses the girl on their way to the alter. Their years together are as unpredictable as the river, and more than once Delie is attracted to bohemian Melbourne, and the patronage of Alistair Raeburn, the gentleman art critic, who falls in love with his protégé. Yet Delie remains magnetically drawn to Brenton and the river, the crew of their paddle-steamer Philadelphia, and the river community of Echuca, friends like Bessie Griggs, a merchant's daughter, and George blakeney, the bluff rival riverboat captain. Their community has grown from the 1850's when it was merely a river crossing, established by Henry Hopwood, an English convict. Mobs of cattle and sheep were driven across the Murray at Echuca on their way to the stockyards at Melbourne.

Proudly, Delie and Brenton race the Philadelphia in dangerously narrow waters, and for a wager they cannot afford. They dare the Darling River in drought, a dash which could go for nearly 1000 miles across outback New South Wales, in the hope that rains will wash down from Queensland and allow their escape. In tinderbox conditions, they survive a fire which all but bankrupts them. They have a son, in a way many women did at the time…on the riverbank, in circumstances far removed from Echuca, when hardened riverman became midwives. Brenton turns against the law to find a way out of their financial maze, and the couple part before coming together again. Brenton is critically injured in a riverboat accident. It inspires Delie to turn her talents towards being a riverboat captain, to winning her own Master's Ticket.

The long paddock.

When gold was discovered in Victoria, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the goldfields. In response to their need for food, drovers began walking cattle from as far north as Queensland, down what was to become established routes between watering points from all over the riverina. You can tell when you are on a 'long paddock', or travelling stock reserve as they are more officially known, because of the very wide roadside verges and occasional holding paddocks. The routes crossed, or followed, reliable water sources. Where access to water was more than two days apart, tanks (large dams) and bores were provided. The long paddock provided feed for the cattle as they walked and allowed large mobs to be moved easily. The very wide streets in some towns hint that a stock route previously existed there. In Echuca, it ran from the bridge to the former stockyards alongside the railway line. The current iron bridge, completed in 1878 was built where stock was driven across. The long paddock therefore existed before both the railway line and the bridge. Both were built in the space allowed for travelling stock.


On the 30th of June 1870, the Riverine Herald noted that although the season had not been a good one due to heavy rains, 1,930 and 2,300 'fat sheep' had passed through Echuca. 

Henry Hopwood, the founder of Echuca made his fortune by providing first a punt and then a pontoon bridge where travellers could safely cross over the Murray. The cable from his punt is still visible in one of the trees just downstream from the wharf. He made even more money once he had built a hotel on the Echuca side. He used to close his punt early in the afternoon, forcing people to stay till morning (and have ample opportunity to try a nice cool beer from his cellars)!


The chief feature of interest in Echuca is the crossing of the Murray. The town came into existence and now exists by vitrue of its being the chief crossing place of this river for many miles up and down it. In saying this, we do not lose sight of Moama, the township on the New South Wales side, a couple of miles higher up the river, which has come into existence in the same way as Echuca, but which has latterly been thrown into the shade by its Victorian rival. For a long time the river was crossed by a small and rude punt, in which vehicles were by no means safe. The punt was worked by a large rope, connecting both banks, and when we consider what the force of the current is, during flood time, we can see that the rope required to be strong. At present, there is a large and capacious punt at the crossing place at Echuca, which, as well as the pontoon bridge, belongs to Mr. Hopwood. The enormous waggons of Reynolds and English, laden each with many tons of goods, cross on this punt, and large as it is, the centre of it bends under the heavy load. The punt is attached to the shores by a cable of iron wire, which cost £100.

The pontoon bridge is an object of still greater interest than the punt. As its name implies, the bridge is carried on pontoons from one side of the river to the other. The pontoons are made of sheets of iron, riveted together as usual, with wooden decks. Although they are of no great size (little more than twenty feet long and five feet wide) yet each pontoon cost about £70. The bridge is built in lengths, and can be shortened or lengthened as the height of the river requires. The bridge is perhaps somewhat narrow, there being just room for a buggy to cross easily. The cost of the bridge must have been very great, more especially as the price of carriage to Echuca is so high.

The Moama crossing place, known as Maiden's Punt, is still used by a few ; but as Mr. Hopwood has purchased the punt there, with all the lights attached to it, it plays second fiddle to that at Echuca. There was a story recently in the papers' about the Moama punt, to the effect that the residents of that town, dissatisfied with the small punt that was placed there by Mr. Hopwood, purchased a larger punt for the purpose of crossing the river. A day or two before it arrived, Mr. Hopwood moved up the old large punt formerly in use there to Moama, so that the crossing place was fully taken up, and the punt of the Moamaites has never been used yet.

Another illustration of the striking energy and enterprise of Mr. Hopwood is the bridge over the Campaspe at Echuca. This river, which joins the Murray about two miles below the town, in one of its surpentine windings approaches within a few hundred yards of the Murray at the crossing place.

The Campaspe cannot be said to flow past Echuca, for there is nothing but a deep channel, with some dirty water lying in ponds at the bottom, steep banks and large gum trees to represent the river which thirty or forty miles above this point is a very respectable looking river for Australia. At Heffernan's, or at Harney's, the Campaspe is worth looking at, but at Echuca, after it has travelled sixty or seventy miles further, it has no better appearance than the Axe Creek. Why this is so, and what becomes of the water which rushes down in times of flood are questions hard to answer. Probably it is for the same reason that the Darling and other Australian rivers, after attaining considerable magnitude in the higher country, dwindle to insignificant proportions on the plains, and in some cases become lost in swamps.

The main road from Echuca to Sandhurst crosses the Campaspe at the township by the bridge which Mr. Hopwood has erected. It is a trussed wooden bridge about a hundred and twenty-feet long in one span from bank to bank, and is a work which reflects credit upon the projector and the maker. We believe there was an understanding that the Government would after a certain period purchase the bridge and keep it themselves, but they do not seem to be in any hurry to perform their part of the bargain. The bridge is at present undergoing some slight repairs, necessitated by the late heavy traffic during the wool season. The road from Echuca to Sandhurst is so level, that the waggons carry extra loads, and their weight has fully tested the strength of the Campaspe bridge. 

The site of the railway terminus at Echuca appears to be well chosen, though it would be difficult to go wrong in making a choice. The line passes on the east side of the town, and comes on the river at the point where stock are driven across, where the banks are high and the water is deep, and where a wharf can be erected with little trouble capable of accommodating any steamer likely to ply on the Murray. Of course, at present there is not much trade at Echuca, as the busy season is over. 

The town itself is small, but it is the nucleus of a large district, which will be very much increased by the opening up of the railway. The wool from the Darling, Murrumbidgee, and the Murray, even below the junction of the Darling, will be sent to Echuca for transmission to Melbourne by the railway ; and of course the settlers will receive their supplies via Echuca from whatever place is enterprising enough to secure their custom. 

We fancy that Sandhurst, as the nearest town of any importance, might manage to make itself the emporium of this large district, in some commodities at least. Already speculative men have made preparations for wresting the trade out of the hands of the South Australians. When the railway to Echuca is completed, we believe that the country bordering the Murray, up even to Wahgunyah and Albury, including the Indigo goldfield, and perhaps even the Ovens itself, will receive their supplies from Melbourne via Sandhurst and Echuca. 

Such results as these must show what a revolution in the trade of the colony this railway will effect. Those people who talk of the railway not paying have, of course, never taken these facts into consideration. Nor can these short-sighted people who wish the railway to stop at Sandhurst have fully considered the effect of continuing it to the Murray. It, in fact, places us on the line of road to the Ovens, to Albury, Chiltern, and the Upper Murray down to Echuca, and to the Lower Murray to the junction of the Darling, the Darling itself, the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, &c. Grafting that this is a thorough traffic, must it not add somewhat to the business and importance of the place. Already a Sandhurst firm has made arrangements for supplying flour to the settlers of the north -will that be the only instance of the kind? 

Moama, on the other side of the Murray, and two miles up the stream, has, as we have previously remarked, been somewhat eclipsed by its southern rival. But Moama will be a town of considerable importance, and in course of time there is little doubt that they will both increase and spread until the stream of the Murray will be the only division between them. The line of telegraph posts is continued from Echuca across the river into Moama, and thence to Deniliquin. The site of the town is good, and there are some vary substantial buildings in it. Under the New South Wales Land Bill, settlement will probably be promoted more rapidly than under the Victorian, and the land in the vicinity of Moama is likely to be taken up by free selection. This has already been done in one instance, though from the use the selector has made of the privilege in doing nothing but impound the squatter's cattle, his can scarcely be looked upon as a case of legitimate settlement upon the land. 

Cricket is a great institution. At the time of our visit we found that "all Echuca" had gone to Moama to witness a return match between the chosen elevens of the two places. If Moama must knock under to her rival in business importance, she decidedly has the best of it at cricket, for the Victorians, as in Sydney, were "well licked," and on their merits too. Considerable dissatisfaction is expressed by the people of Echuca at the want of uniformity between the postage charged in Victoria and New South Wales. It is a pity that the rates of postage in the colonies were not assimilated. 

Among minor details may be noticed the curious fact, that at Echuca there are no cows, and of course no cow's milk. In their stead are large flocks of goats, which seem to be a profitable speculation. This is certainly a curious anomaly in a town the centre of what is par excellence a pastoral district. On the banks of the river half a mile below Echuca, we noticed the place where Captain Cadell built a snag boat. The ways on which she was launched are there still. 

There is some good timber about the Murray, the chief of which is the Murray pine, which is hard and full of knots. The tree itself is a beautiful object, tall and stately, with rich dark green foliage. A few boats, or what go by the name, are kept on the river, and the Echucans can enjoy rowing as much as they like. Although the river is famed for its fish, there is seldom any to be seen at the table. Sometimes the blacks bring in fish, and one or two persons take the trouble to set lines, on which fish fifteen or twenty pounds in weight are sometimes caught. The fishing ground of the Murray River Fishing Company is at Lake Moira, some twenty miles from Echuca. One has a far better chance of tasting good Murray cod in Sandhurst than at the Murray. Thus, we only accomplished half of the object of our journey. We saw King Hopwood of Echuca, and ate of the famous grapes, but the luxury of Murray cod fresh caught is yet to come.

Long Paddock from Wilcannia to Echuca

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