Saturday, 17 November 2012

Preparation, research and those who have gone before.

Human history has always included journeys:
aboriginal song-lines, exploration, emigration, travel.
We are all on a journey of one sort or another.

When people ask me why I don't start at the source of the river I explain that the way I understand it is that this journey has a spiritual element. Travelling from my home to the ocean seems natural. Since I was a boy I have watched the river flow past my door and imagined its journey. Imagined that if I threw a bottle with a message in, it would eventually reach the ocean... and then where? The river is my natural connection with the world beyond our nation's boundaries. I want to be part of that journey. Take part in the natural event that has so much been a part of my life. This is why I am beginning at my home town and not at the source. Starting 1000km above where I live and then just paddling past would feel wrong for me. The source to Echuca will have to be another trip. Note: I hope to complete what most people call the paddlable Murray in 2014. In Jan, I paddled from the Hume to Echuca with my wife Ruth, and in April plan to paddle from Bringenbrong Bridge near Corryong to the Hume.

The Murray meanders through the landscape like an old friend.

Being aware of river history helps to understand what it looks like today. The amazing achievements of others put my own journey into perspective. Although I will be unsupported, I have a comfortable boat, lots of gadgets and will never be more than 5 days from a town.

Epic Murray Journeys from others:

Charles Sturt:

Sturt had to go 1500km back upstream when the pickup he expected at the Murray Mouth never arrived. Charles Sturt. In 1829 Sturt set off to find the mouth of the Murrumbidgee River which he followed by horse. When the swamps of the Macquarie Marshes made further passage impossible he swapped to a whale boat. On this journey he discovered "a broad and noble river" which he named the Murray (unaware that it had been discovered and named the Hume by that explorer already). 1,500km later they reached the sea. When the expected steamer never arrived, they rowed all the way upstream again - nearly perishing on the homeward journey.

This trip has been re-enacted several times; in 1984 for a Bill Peach Documentary...

and The Adelaide Advertiser carried this report of a 35 day re-enactment of Charles Sturt's journey on the 12th of February 1951.
The 35-day voyage of the Start re-enactment expedition ended at Goolwa yesterday with a welcome from nearly 9,000 people, many of whom travelled from the city to take part in the pageantry. During the voyage down the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers the whaleboat crew rowed about 1.100 miles, except for small stretches of sailing, and touched three States.
The general manager of the ABC (Mr. C. J. A. Moses) said yesterday that before the re-enactment ceremonies were finished, more than 250,000 people would have seen the whaleboat and its crew. Escorted to the landing reserve at Goolwa by a flotilla of small craft including a 'miniature whaleboat crew' of eight Goolwa boys dressed like their Start counterparts. 
The crew was greeted by a group of aborigines in ceremonial paint from Point McLeay Mission Station. The natives performed their corroboree 'Nureeah,' a legend of 'A man who came down the river.' It was explained to the crowd by an 81-year-old aboriginalwoman, Mrs. Pinkie Mack. The native leader later presented his spear to  Grant Taylor, the actor portraying Sturt, as a symbol of friendship.
This book from J. H. L. Cumpston, made available as an eBook as part of the Gutenberg Project details Sturt's expeditions, including his second expedition into the interior... 

'(his) object was to trace the course of the Murrumbidgee, as, if that stream should join the Darling, the combination of these two "considerable rivers" would form a navigable stream opening a direct and, perhaps, easy communication between Sydney and these distant parts of the colony... the whale boat, 25 feet long, with a beam of 5 feet, was first built, dismantled, and, during the land journey, transported in sections... a small still was carried, for the distillation of water in the event of finding the water of the Darling salt as it was on the previous journey... They first met the Murrumbidgee in Jugiong... "I now looked down upon a stream, whose current it would have been difficult to breast, and whose waters, foaming among rocks, or circling in eddies, gave early promise of a reckless course"... but did not begin to row until near the junction with the Lachlan at the Macquarie Marshes'

Replica of Sturt's Whaleboat:

Tammy van Wisse and Graham Middleton

Tammy van Wisse swam the whole way in 2000. Tammy swum the river to highlight the plight of a river that had been taken for granted, which had not reached the sea following years of drought and over-exploitation. She was the second person to swim the length of the Murray. It was first swum by Graham Middleton in 138 days 1991. Click to read the Border Mail's report on his swim to raise money for cancer research. Tammy broke his record by 32 days. Tammy says that once you drunken from the Murray, it remains in your veins forever.

"once you drunken from the Murray,
it runs through your veins forever"

ABC Interview with Tammy van Wisse: transcript.

Border Mail

Eric the Red

Though I am yet to find out his real name, 'Eric the Red' rowed the length of the Murray four times, three times downstream and once up. Accounts of his tales can be found at: The Conquerers, The Border Mail Dec 17, 2008 and in an chance meeting in a pub described in an expedition blog by Kevin Moody in Mildura 17th Nov 1988.

Dave Cornthwaite

    Dave Cornthwaite is a professional expeditioner whose first major challenge was to skate board across Australia. In 2009 Dave traversed and then paddled the length of the Murray from the summit of Kosciusko to the sea, one of the first to do so. Dave shared his journey through regular entertaining videos which he uploaded regularly throughout his journey. Whilst focussed on the adventure and the charity he supports, Dave raises issues about the river that he learns from the people that live along it. They are fun to watch and provide an insight into such an expedition that is hard to convey through photos and text alone. Dave's professional preparation, sponsorship and communication set a standard that is hard to match. For more about Dave's continuing adventures, go to Dave Cornthwaite Expeditions and here for the website specifically covering his journey.


    I accompanied Dave as he paddled through Echuca and together with the St. Joseph's Kayaking Team, made sure that he got a proper farewell from our town.

    Murray Marathon

    The St. Jo's Kayaking Team fostered canoeing skills, resilience and social awareness in 4 years of Murray Marathons (2005-2008) in the lead up to this legendary annual 400km race, My experience when I raced it back in 1980 and 1981 and training the St. Joseph's Kayaking team later were great preparations for this paddle.

    Rose Fletcher

      Rose Fletcher is a surprising champion. Her example sets a new mold for paddlers of the river. Able to take her time, she lives the journey, allowing it to take as long as it needs. She lives simply and independently, supplementing her food supply in the vegetation growing along the river banks and with fish caught from the river. Rose is a naturalist with a great knowledge of birds, a gentle nature when it comes to sharing her tent with crawling visitors and the ability to take stunning photographs. She is was the first to share photographs through Facebook as regular updates, motivating others, like Seja Vu and myself to do the same. Rose and Seja may well be modern and gentler versions of Eric the Red. However you see them, we and I believe the river, profits from their generosity in sharing what they have seen and the effort and skill of their photography. You can see more of their photographs at Murray River Expeditioners Facebook page . There, you will also find beautiful images from Rose Fletcher and Seja Vu - or look them up in Facebook if you can't get access to the group.


      One of the things I hope to achieve in documenting my preparation and journey is to empower others to begin their own adventures. This is why I also share other people's stories. 

      This is a shot of the wet dock area of the Echuca wharf, with a few small padllesteamers in it. The post in the corner used to be the edge of the river. It was to show the paddle boat captains where the bank began in high river. The wharf reached almost all the way to the council chambers. Since the 1880's the path of the river has changed. Almost 100m of river bank has built up. It is hard to imagine the old wharf reaching all the way in here - but it did. My father used to collect riverboat photos and wrote several books on this aspect of our history (Riverboat Days & Red gum and Paddlewheels). I will upload a picture from these of the old wharf.

      These majestic old river gums are forever dropping their branches, but in doing so they provide nests for all types of birds.

      Preparation and planning

      If you are considering a trip like this, preparation is key. Find people who have done the trip before, read reports from others on the internet and get hold of a good map book. From Yarrawonga to Renmark you can't go past Murray River Charts by Barry and Maureen Wright. The newest version of the charts has a DVD version which includes the bay of islands charts.

      For the upper Murray get there is a very good river guide called 'River of Islands: Charts of the River Murray - Yarrawonga Weir to Hume Dam' by Kath and Leon Bentley (1985) which is worth acquiring. It is mentioned in Barry and Maureen Wright's 'Murray River Charts' and available on the CD version of their charts by agreement with the authors.


      Murray River Access Maps provide an alternative to the above publications and at around $8 a booklet in 2014, they are a good deal. They include roads and river kilometres, but do not show snags, or include insights and history about stretches of the river as the other publications do. Whilst it is possible to see where you are using google maps, for the convenience and safety of knowing where you are at all times, it is worth having one of these maps. Phone reception is poor along many stretches and technology requires batteries and charging strategies which can fail. It is better to have a hard copy.

      For the river below Renmark, get hold of Murray River Pilot by Ronald and Margaret Baker and Bill Reschke.


      Just as important as fitness and good health is being happy with your gear, in your boat and developing skills, such as how to paddle in strong currents, how to avoid snags when in your boat, or if floating following a capsize. The best way to do this is to find a canoe club and get as much time on the water as possible in the boat you will do the trip in. Do not wait until you are drifting sideways into a snag, overhanging willows, or a whirl pool. Know how to get out of trouble. Skill yourself up.

      Canoe Victoria

      Canoe Associations in every state run coaching sessions which build these skills. There are also private coaches. David Cornthwaite swears by this book. If you are new to paddling, or the Murray, or would like to get an experienced paddlers perspective you can't go past "The Guide - How to Paddle The Whole Murray - Source - To Sea' by Ro Privett. Ideas, thoughts and experiences which can help get your Murray trip afloat.

      Ro Privett

      I also hope that you will find this blog helpful.

      Paddling near Echuca - practising what I preach

      Most importantly, enjoy this time. Begin as early as you can and try everything out. Practise taking photos, making films, cooking on your camp stove, charging your phone from the sun and writing blogs. Set up a Facebook page about your trip. Learn about the river, the birds and the people. Try your hand at fishing. Learn to let go. You will have to on the trip.

      Training paddles with my daughter Anna and brother Laurie were a highlight of the preparation time. When the sun causes the water to sparkle you just have to soak it up and enjoy.

      The 1.5km long old cast iron bridge in Echuca. Still the only connection between Victoria and NSW despite 50 years of campaigning. It has survived many floods, but suffers under 20,000 vehicles daily and the weight of ever larger trucks. Legend has it that one of the workman building the bridge in 1880 fell into the concrete that was used to fill each pylon.

      News clips from 1984 - I remember this, it took a long time to get her in the water.
      Paddlesteamer Adelaide Relaunch

      Paddling under a darkening sky.

      It never ceases to amaze me. I have been on this river in all manner of boats for 48 years and I keep seeing new things, stuff that lifts my spirit on every journey. The low flying wedge-tailed eagle chased by 3 crows, struggling to build speed as it crossed the river and then flying straight through the dense undergrowth of the shoreline forest (just yesterday) for example. The photo is generic - couldn't get the camera out quick enough. It was much closer than this. I could see the colour of every feather, every joint in the wing as it struggled to get away and to be able to tell that each wing was at least a good meter in size.

      Preparation paddle: Echuca - Torrumbarry: 80km 
      Lunch on the most magnificent Sandhills 50km out of Echuca.

      On warmer days it seems there is nothing but sky. Training: 4 weeks to go.

      OC6 rescue service. If you want a friendly place to learn to paddle, try Echuca.

      One of the pleasures of moving along a river slowly and quietly is witnessing the birdlife. I have been canoeing for over 30 years, but still get a thrill every time I see the flash of blue, or little bobbing head of an Azure Kingfisher.

      Yesterday, I saw 2 wedge-tailed eagles circling and flocks of cockatoos and galahs screeching in alarm as they flew away. Memories of flocks of cockatoos flying along the river go back to my childhood. I hope they are around for many generations to come.

      Photo: Birdlife Australia

      Gear: pulling it all together

      Trial pack - everything ready except for a bit of fresh fruit and veg.

      Testing how the wheels and boat behave with a full load.

      The first idea I had was to load food in meal times (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Shopping bags were good storage units because they fit the shape of the boat, so there is little wastage). I later abandoned the bags, preferring to fit food and cooking gear loosely in the front storage compartment and camping gear and clothes in the rear compartment.

      It fits... what a relief. My aim was to have nothing on top of the boat, to cut down wind resistance and minimise the risk of loosing gear in rough weather. I lost a phone once. It floated almost 400km - all the way to Swan Hill, where it was found in an irrigation channel by an inspector, handed in to the police, who identified me as the owner and sent it back to me.. still in working order... but I did not want to risk that again :)

      Heavier, but well within its limits.

      Spending a lot of time researching how best to manage this page on the trip, including which devices, power, waterproofing, file transfer and storage, capacity, usability. Would like to keep it simple if I can. Found a niffty device for transferring photos from cameras to iPads... some people seem to think that it will also do the same to an iPhone. If I can avoid taking a computer, then the solar panels do not have to be as powerful (and expensive).

      Also found out that iMovie can be used on an iPhone (with iOS6). Memory may be an issue though.
      Solar panel review, including experiences and impressions of travellers and expeditioners.

      Gearing up for the trip: seems like more and more electronics. Picked up a GoPro Hero 2 Camera  today.

      The Prijon Kodiak Kayak on our Toyota Echo. Many people have a bit of a chuckle when they see the big boat on our small car, but with the custom made racks it sits well and the overhang (less than 1m front and back) is less than on much bigger cars with standard racks.

      9 weeks till I begin my paddle from Echuca to the sea.

      More from this expedition:

      • Google+  Murray River Paddle Echuca To The Sea Photo Album
      • Facebook Murray River Paddle
      • YouTube Murray River Paddle

      More information about topics from this page:
      1. Port of Echuca: Visitor Information
      2. Echuca-Moama: Visitor Information
      3. Wikipedia: Echuca
      4. Barry and Maureen Wright's River Murray Charts
      5. Environment Victoria: The Living Murray 
      6. ABC Central Victoria: News and Community Events
      7. Charles Sturt: Charles Sturt MuseumTwo expeditions into the interior of southern Australia

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