Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Day 14: 1057 to 984 km to the sea: Beach campsite 8 km past Wemen -Colignan

Day 14: Saturday 1/12 

Beach campsite 8 km past Wemen - Colignan
River markers: 1057 to 984 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 73 km. 
Total distance travelled: 728 km.

Rob and Phill from Bendigo.

After a cuppa, I bid farewell to my Bendigonian hosts and hit the water. It was 7:30 am, a good early start. I really could have done with a sleep-in after such a short night, but getting on the water early gives more opportunities for rest during the day and I could take it easier. Time on the water; time paddling, is more important than speed in order to get kilometres done. On a training run in the preparation phase for this trip I had wanted to catch some kayakers who had gotten on the water five minutes before me. It had taken half an hour and six kilometres of hard paddling. Five minutes earlier is six kilometres of easy paddling. I needed that this morning. My muscles were stiff and seemed to have no energy and my head was giddy with tiredness. Despite my shoulders screaming,I kept going till I was around the bend and out of sight until I stopped, stretched, adjusted things and then got going slowly once more.

Impression is everything. Before I left, I had asked Rob and Phill whether I could take a photo for my blog. Rob give Phill a hard time because he wanted to take his jumper off and be seen sitting in his billabong singlet, tattoos showing. He had wanted to show that it was nice and warm at the beach, even if it was cold now. Photos leave impressions, they tell a story. In composing them we get them to tell the story that we want others to hear. I sided with Phill on this one. Rob kept his jumper on. 

I told them how when we I trained the school Murray Marathon team, how I said to the kids that it is important that they look good at the finish. No-one knows how hard you have been working the whole time. If you drift through, paddle and then rest because you are exhausted, the people watching will think that is how you have been paddling the whole time. So, however you feel, however you have paddled, when you see that finish, or you know it is around the corner, get your timing right, show your best technique and put on a show as you come in. If your arms are to tired to hold up, rest around the bend, but put in a good finish to show the people how hard you have worked. They never failed to deliver. I was proud as punch of the St. Joseph's Kayaking Team kids. Each gave everything they could and then something more. They showed leadership, supported each other and put in  very impressive finishes. I am affected by my own mantra. I kept going till I was out of sight.

Spark's Reef, one of the rare occasions where you will see real rocks jutting through the river bed.

Paddling gingerly, I soon got to Spark's Reef. The reefs here are made if real rocks. I didn't expect real rocks in the Murray. This valley is so old it does not look like a valley anymore. It looks like a plain, and the Murray snakes through that plain searching for the easiest way to the sea. Rocks, remnants of the mountains that once lined these valleys have been skated over so many times by the river that they have all been worn away, or dissolved. Were these outcrops the last remnants of those great hills, or like the clay banks and red sandstone cliffs, a product of their erosion - young rock formed under the weight if other sediments, or welded together by iron rich ground water? Spark's Reef is one of those impressive reefs that covers half the river. I knew that navigating the Murray was tricky around Echuca for the paddle steamer captains, but down here it was downright dangerous. As the Adelaide passed through here, it would have moved gingerly. You need all your eyes on the river and another set if eyes on the charts, the sum of knowledge of 150 years. The charts show the things you can't see, they suggest that that swell or ripple is not as harmless as it might seem. They show that although the river changes a great deal in some ways, (like when it cuts a new course through the narrow part of looping bends), its dangers remain. The reefs are named after the paddle steamers, or the skippers that hit them, an example of black humour. So too are the snags. Red gum lasts almost forever underwater, so many of the snags that holed the paddle steamers are still there. It is chastening to think of what has passed before me over time in this river.

Salinity monitoring station.

I passed another massive set of pumps, too big an investment to be from private hand. Change is happening. We are learning to manage our resources better. Our western civilisation is still on its ‘P plates’, but like a young driver we are learning. Was this centralisation? A move away from the current situation where every farmer has their own (series) of pumps. Along some stretches of river you might see 49 pumps. Apart from the birds, their whirr is the dominant sound on the river.
Irrigation infrastructure upgrades as part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
This facility is designed to bring water to the Hattah Kulkyne National Park. The redgums and wetlands in the park suffered badly in the drought. Water from natural sources never reached the park.

Park Notes: Hattah Kulkyne National Park
Fisherman's hut.

I passed Tongar Downs, a station advertised in 1930's as having tall, lofty ceilings and magnificent river views. Like most old stations, it stood in high ground, well above the reach of any flood. There was a huge old windmill in front of the house, which would have pumped water into a tank on a stand to provide water pressure for the taps in the house. The building itself, however was new. It had a lowly angled corrugated iron roof and shade cloth lined verandas all around. It was not attractive, but probably very practical, given the heat and dust around here. In the front yard was a swing, what a different life a child would have growing up here to the city.

At Retail cutting, I stopped for a break. I had covered 23 km, was soaked from the dripping water from my own paddles and was cold. The goretex jacket I had swapped for my shirt at 10 km had stopped me from getting any colder, but now my body needed input. I pulled up at the beach at Retail Cutting, put on a cuppa soup and hung out my clothes to dry. With the sun out this did not take too long, but long enough for me to recuperate. Dry clothes felt good. 

River Red Gum in flower.
Retail cutting: downstream view.

River Landscape: cracked clay and gum leaves.

Stopping for a break at Retail Cutting.

Retail cutting was marked on the paddlesteamer maps.

River rat footprints.

This section of the river passes through Hattah Kulkyne National Park and although I do not get to see much of the actual park from the river, the difference between the condition of the land is quite stark. On the left (Victorian) side, there is a wide variety of smaller trees, shrubs and ground covers. With the smaller plants are many small birds. Since these birds need something to feed on, I imagine that there are many smaller things as well. It looks very healthy. In the right side (NSW), all of this is missing - although there is little different in terms of the soil itself and both have river red gums. What the New South Wales side has that is not apparent on the Victorian side is goats - and they seemed to have cleaned up everything they can reach. Again today I saw rangers moving through the park, looking after campers, checking that things were ok, providing cut firewood. I am impressed. 

Beaches were up to a kilometer long and 100m deep in this part of the river.

I finished the day at Colignan, a French sounding soldier settlement of about six houses. I was interested in visiting the Colignan shop but could not find a way to climb the steep banks. At Colignan the river splits around two islands, one of which is called St. Helens. It has an active river community, including three paddle steamers, a functioning slipway that takes boats sideways out if the water and two impressive barges. Colignan was one of the places that was chosen for soldier settlement - the scheme where service personal, returning from the First World War were given blocks of land and told to give farming a go. The blocks were too small to be viable and in most cases the original settlers moved away, replaced by another wave if migrants and irrigation. Now the area produces vegetables and avocados amongst other things. Their river, though, is their secret. It is beautiful,

Barges in Colignan.

The Mosquito.

The Impulse: Colignan.

Kangaroo tracks near my campsite.
Campsite at the water's edge. Colignan.

The campsite backed onto the Kemendok Nature reserve.
There was evidence of emus, kangaroos and the most beautiful birds.
I saw a red capped plover or double banded plover which ran quickly and silently on its small legs, almost
as if blown by the wind. Its camouflage was so good that when it turned its back,
it was almost impossible to see.
Double banded plover (Birdlife Australia).
Colignan and Nagiloc. Note the irrigated land on the Victorian side and Kemendok Nature Reserve,
Mallee Cliffs National Park and mallee sand dunes on the NSW side of the river.
Google maps.

The Mallee Cliffs National Park "...protects extensive areas of flat to undulating sandy red plains and linear sand dunes formed during arid periods from 350,000 to 500,000 years ago. The park contains a number of isolated, relict, plant communities that demonstrate shifts in the pattern of vegetation arising from long-term environmental change. Mallee Cliffs National Park is managed to protect the sand plain and sand dune land systems and ecological communities."
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
 The Kemendok Nature reserve contains more than half of the known nesting sites of the regent parrot in NSW.
Google maps.

Just downstream from Colignan the river braides through sand islands.
Pelicans stood in the shallow areas of high water flow, fishing. Google maps.
The launching ramp, one of the few places that you can pull out safely with a sea kayak, is just downstream of the islands on the Victorian side.

I had intended to visit Colignan, but the cliffs on the other side of the river made it difficult to do so.
The only way up was via a set of rusty steel steps, which finished about one metre
above present river height. There was also a boat ramp about a kilometre downstream.

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. Visit Victoria: Hattah Kulkyne National Park
  2. Wikipedia: Nangiloc, Colignan
  3. Nangiloc, Colignan and District Newsletter, History
  4. Robinvale-Euston Visitor Centre: Audio Tour of Wemen
  5. ABC Mildura swan Hill: The story of a man who built a paddle steamer in Colignan.

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