Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Day 12: 1124 km to the sea: Robinvale - Rest Day.

Day 12: Thursday 20/11 
River markers: 1124 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 0 km. 
Total distance travelled: 588 km.

45 degrees today. Rest day. 

This Southern Cross Wind Mill is said to be the largest in Australia.
It was used to supply the town of Robinvale with drinking water.

The Robinvale area was first settled by Europeans in 1847 when John Grant obtained a lease for the Bumbang Peninsula. The town gets its name from another early family, the Cuttles, whose son Robin was killed in a dog fight in the First World War at Villers-Bretonneux in France. The name if the town comes from vale Robin - in honour of Robin. There are strong connections with that town in France and Australia after more than 14,000 soldiers fell defending the town. The city of Melbourne paid for the first school to be  built in the town following the war using funds raised by Australian school children's penny drives. Caix square in Robinvale and a Robinvale Square in Villers-Bretonneux. So it was I was only a little surprised when the first person spoke to in Robinvale was a French backpacker doing push-ups on the banks of the river. I also was not so taken aback when I met Aussies with strong Italian accents. This area was opened up for soldier settlement following the Second World War and many Italian post war migrants followed. Euston in NSW has a third generation Italian population from Calabria. However, turning into the main Street in search if a cold beer and counter meal I came across a happy group of confident young Japanese. At least three businesses in the main street were run by Vietnamese. All which did not fuss the locals. 

Paddlesteamer at Robinvale in the 1920's.

Old truck in the Robinvale Rural History Museum. Note the difference in size of the crates and truck, as well as the level of comfort for the passengers between then and now. This would have been a pretty good truck in the 30's too, something to show off, or be envious of.

In going through the doors of the Australian icon I was looking for, I first had to pause and allow three big Tongans to take the final shots in a game of pool. Don't mess which a Tongan, they have arms like most people's thighs! For a moment I wondered whether I had made a wise choice, but their uncomplicated laughter and focus on their game and each other's reactions soon made me feel at ease. Two cold beers went down very well indeed whilst I waited for my food to be cooked by the English chef. Despite drinking 4 litres of water I was still dehydrated, so switched to water after that. The English chef, Chris, came from somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool, hated Melbourne, liked Adelaide and loved small Murray River towns. He lived above the pub and was happy here, but unsure how long he would stay. There WA no problem finding work as a chef once people found out a chef was in town. Problem was, if he did not watch out he ended up almost running the place. Chris cooked up the best mixed grill I have ever had. Bar man Greg organised a free desert; "everyone who paddles down the Murray gets a free desert". Of course being an Aussie counter meal, it came with chips - I wouldn't have it any other way.

The Robinvale Pub. Lovely mixed grill. With chips.

So, Tongans, Italians, Vietnamese, Greeks, Italians, increasingly more Iraqis and Somalis and a large indigenous community all in one ordinary looking Australian town of 4,000 inhabitants. Perhaps not so ordinary after all. Researching a little I found an article in the Age from 2002 which described Robinvale as an island of multiculturalism in Victoria. In this article,, one of the residents, Susie Coucounaris, says that as a Greek she has never experienced racism in the town, "If something bad happened to one nationality the whole community feels the brunt. It's not like it was only a Vietnamese or a Tongan, it was one of us." There are two Tongan churches in town and 30 languages spoken by families in the local school. Quoting the Age article again, Jeannette Black is the granddaughter of the pastoralist Herbert Cuttle who first donated land to establish the town in honour of his son Robin, who died in World War I. Mrs Black has lived in the town for 50 years. She is proud of its cultural diversity, although it could never have been foreseen when the first soldiers settled decades ago. The pull factors are the year round availability of work on farms and the push factors are climate change driven sea level rises and the need of people to escape repressive regimes. Interestingly it is migrants and refugees who answer the labour shortage, hand picking crops is hard work and it is very hot here.

Sunnies repair. First drill hole with pointy bit of knife. Twirl a piece of electrical tape into string.
Tie knot. Bind tightly with more electrical tape.

The new bridge with the old one in the background. A good comparison. For all the nostalgia, there seems to have been good reason to replace it.

The old bridge at Robinvale. Now in a park in town.

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. Murray Darling Basin Commission: Euston Weir
  2. Wikipedia: RobinvaleVillers-Bretonneux 
  3. ABC: Villers-Bretonneux remembers decisive battle

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