Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Day 13: 1124 to 1057 km to the sea: Robinvale - Wemen - Beach campsite.

Day 13: Friday 30/11 

Robinvale - Wemen - Beach campsite.
River markers: 1124 to 1057 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 067km. 
Total distance travelled: 655 km.

Approaching Euston Weir.

The cliffs are my companions once again. with each passing kilometre they get larger and more frequent.
Packing up and moving on from Robinvale was difficult this morning, not that I wanted to stay, but a days rest gives you a lot of time to think. Whilst it was good to rest the body, it allows self doubt to creep in. The best thing was to get going. Be systematic, be methodical. 

There was a stiff breeze that morning, a left over from last nights storms as the weather change came through. The wind stirred up waves along the big sweeping bends which caused the boat to bounce a little as I paddled it out of Robinvale. What was no problem to my sea kayak would have sunk the TK2 (two man kayaks) that I have paddled so often in the past. It felt good to be in this boat. Today I would come across a ten kilometre bend and straights of this size are a feature of the lower Murray. When the wind blows down these straights, it can form white capped waves. The splashing through the waves this morning was just a taste of things to come.

Little black cormorants thrive on young European Carp. does the greater cormoraunt

As usual, the trees were full of cormorants. I can't help thinking that the large numbers of cormorants are in response to the very many European carp I see all along the river and especially lunching at the riverbanks. The fishermen say that the local murray cod died of when the black water came down with the high rivers. Black water comes from when the river flows through the forest and picks up organic matter like leaves and twigs. Black water came from the Barmah-Millewa and Barham-Koondrook-Perricoota Forests. In the later, the water sat for over a year and its effects reached as far as Morgan. Microorganisms in the water then breakdown this sort of food and use up all the oxygen leaving none of the fish. Fishermen say is the big cod that die first because they live in the deepest holes where the least oxygen is. They say that around Echuca and higher in the river the Murray cod faired better because they could escape the black water by swimming up the rivers which flow into the Murray like the Campaspe and the Goulburn. When conditions improved they return to the river. Stocking of the river with fingerlings occurs here in Robinvale, in Euston and Echuca. They they take their time to grow and are too small to eat carp. In the meanwhile cormorants are filling the niche. I have never seen such large numbers and such happy cormorants.

Rock reefs are a feature of this area. This one and / or the island behind it is called 'Danger Island'.

The first stop this morning was the Euston Weir. This was the second weir I was to pass through on this trip. In around 40 minutes I had covered most of the 6 kilometres to the weir and gave the Weir Master a call. I asked him if it were possible that a expedition kayak could pass through the lock. He said that this would not be a problem and to let him know when I was there. Once I was 200 metres away I gave him a second call and he came down in his ute. The process began as usual with the opening of the upstream gate. As soon as it was open wide enough, I paddled through and into the large empty space within. We chatted whilst his assistant began to let the water in the lock out. The weir master's name was Ray McMaster. He had been at Euston Weir for 30 years and planned to retire this year. In all that time he had lived in a house provided by the department overlooking the river. He would have to move out. Ray had grown up and completed his schooling in Echuca and had known my father as a doctor in town from that time. He shared that only recently the P.S. Adelaide had passed through the lock on its way back to Echuca from the centenary celebrations in Mildura. It must have been a special moment to see her pass through. The locks were designed to support the river trade, but as they were built at the end of that era, their greatest use today is by pleasure craft. It would have been good to see the lock being used for the purpose it was designed for. Floating in the middle if the lock I felt small. As the downstream gates opened I thanked Ray and his assistant and paddled out into the choppy pressure waves downstream of the weir. 

Euston - Robinvale Lock and Weir 15
Lock staff are available from 8am-4pm daily • Phone (03) 5026 4005

April 2011. Lock and Weir 15 underwater.

Reconstruction of the navigable pass section of Euston Weir, showing use of cofferdam, May 2011This photograph was taken after two of the four concrete half-height piers had been poured; the last two original steel trestles remain ready to be replaced. The steel cofferdam has been placed on the concrete base slab and pumped out to provide the contractor with a dry chamber for the next pier to be formed and poured. Work on the weir upgrade works and fishway construction resumed on 19 April 2011 when the flow dropped to 35,000 ML/d; on the day this photo was taken, the flow was around 22,000 ML/d. Works are currently scheduled for completion in mid-2012.

The weir is a simple one compared to Torrumbarry, constructed of barriers on rails which can be removed from the river during high rivers using a cable and winch. The barriers are on angles so that the water pressure pushes them into their rails along a concrete lip on the river bed. Most of the weirs on the river are like this. Torrumbarry was replaced with a more modern system of electronically operated gates after the river began to undermine the original construction. The other lockmasters think that Allan has it a bit too easy. In the two high rivers we have had over in the last 12 months, water flowed straight over the top of the weir at Euston. Going off the marks it had left on the poles beside the lock, it had been one metre higher than the top of the wall. Works were in progress to raise the wall but the high river had disrupted that twice. Ray said that they hoped to finish the improvements sometime next year. He said that each time the crews pulled out because they were unable to work in the conditions it cost another 1.2 million dollars. At the weirs you can find out how much water is flowing down the river. At Euston it is currently 12,500 megalitres per day. This compares with the flow around September of around 70 thousand mega metres. Although this seems like a lot of water, it pales in comparison with the 1993 floods 300,000 megalitres per day - you would not even have seen the weir because it was three metres under.

Unlike downstream of the Torrumbarry weir, the river still had quite a bit of flow and the banks were vegetated. The water level changes so much below Torrumbarry that nothing can grow. Here, the well watered vegetation and the tall red sandstone cliffs made it positively pretty.

It was nice to be on the way again. I concentrated on my technique, got the boat moving again and settled into the day. The first break would be at around 20km and lunch at 40. That was the plan.

Towards the end of the first 20 km, I snuck through a cutting. It was not a big one, saving only a kilometre, but short cuts are fun. There were a few snags, so I built up speed to improve my steering. Unlike in a car, when you turn in a boat that is also being driven by a current, you are actually bring driven sideways. The faster you go, the less of an issue this is. So, by going faster you can keep further away from the snags. In the process I bounced off a flat log that had not been visible underwater. Had I been in a fibreglass boat, this may have cracked the hull, particularly given that fully loaded my boat weighed about 180 kg.

Emerging from a cutting downstream of Euston Weir.
Two fishermen had moored their Boat at the place where the water from the cutting met the river once again. Places like this are popular with fishermen because the fish come to feed on whatever has been stirred up. They had caught a yellow belly so far, but everyone was practising for the opening of cod season tomorrow. There were fishermen everywhere. Their camps were on every decent bend, and in the good stretches, like behind Danger Island, it was not uncommon to find three or four boats. There were much fewer carp than upstream of the weir and the further I got the better it went. I wonder why?

The red cliffs are more frequent and taller with every passing kilometre.

At my 20 km break, I met Angus and Isaac, two young National Park Rangers who were driving along the river banks checking that campfires had not been left unattended and clearing the tracks of branches that had fallen as a result of last night's storm. For the next hour and a half we kept bumping into one another. At one place I passed them and suggested that this was because they liked talking to people too much. Angus said he just wanted to make me feel good. 

I spent my lunch break lying on a log looking up into the canopy of a big old river red gum, watching swallows darting in and out of their nest as they returned again and again with the insects they had caught I the air. Their nest was in a hollow branch, formed in such a way as to give it a slight overhang. It seems that swallows prefer homes with a verandah. Murray Rosellas also chatted to each other high in the tree branches, but compared to the swallows it was as if everything they did was in slow motion.

Wemen: I was thinking of climbing this cliff for an icy pole and a big m,
but the lack of a place to pull up and the condition of the sign were not encouraging.

Are you my mother? Lunch break day 13.

Chill-laxing under shady tree. Ahhhhh. :)

It was difficult to find a camping site at the end of the day. All the good ones seemed to be taken by fishermen out in force to be 'there' for the opening of cod season. I must have paddled past at least 4 beaches - an extra five kilometres - and was getting tired. I pulled into one promising spot, but found it too unsafe. As I drifted down from this site, past a beautiful beach with a couple of groups of campers on it, one of them waved me over. This was the beginning of a fantastic evening. Rob and Phill from Bendigo took me in as their guest and showered me with food. Two lamb chops, potatoes, broccolini, pumpkin... and a couple of glasses of wine. They told jokes, hunting, camping and fishing stories, where the most incredible things happened, and they had a go at each other again and again. They thought what I was doing was great and wanted to show their support. Rob made double portions for me and was up early in the morning with a kettle of boiling water ready for a cuppa. Both had retired from high pressure jobs and had been coming to this beach for years. Phill described the Murray as the biggest pool in the world. Indeed they had spent much of the 45 degree day yesterday sitting in it. We watched the sky light up with a beautiful red and orange sunset and reflected on how important it is to get away from the everyday to realise what is important in life. It is so easy to get stuck in a rut they said.

Rob and Phill from Bendigo: homegrown philosophers and comedians at the best pool in the world.
If only we could hear the cricket!

Rob and Phill, two great blokes from Bendigo - who spoiled,
entertained and encouraged me and became friends.

It is not unusual for there to be a thunderstorm following a hot and humid day, and despite the red sky in the evening, we were not disappointed. From 11 until 1am lightening flashed around us. One, bright as day was followed by a crack of thunder that was so close that we all jumped in our sleeping bags. All the big brave men on the beach :). They are a wonderful thing, scary, but wonderful. I'm not sure for which if those two reasons, but I did not get much sleep that night.

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, Adelaide joins river celebrations
  4. Port of Echuca: PS Adelaide steams to Mildura

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