Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Day 26: 359 to 302 km to the sea: Riversleigh beach - Morgan - PelicanPoint.

Day 26: Thursday 13/12 

Riversleigh beach - Morgan - Pelican Point.
River markers: 359 to 302 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 57 km. 
Total distance travelled: 1410 km


Day 26: The storms were quite a contrast to the morning's sunshine.

With the weather expected to reach 40 deg celsius and strong winds predicted in the afternoon I got off early again, but this time with breakfast. Everything survived the night. The close lightening strike may have been to the tall power poles at the end of my beach. I had not seen them yesterday, but this was one of those few places where power crosses the river. In any case, there were no charred trees, my boat was fine and only needed the rainwater sponging out of it, and my paddle had not blown away in the wind. It is an enormous sense f secure to have a spare paddle strapped to the back deck - barge pole that it probably is. It was a broken one given to me by a friend. Tim and I found a way to join the two halves together (and take them apart again for storage) using irrigation pipe joiners. It would be so easy to snap a blade by jamming in a snag. It happens.

The light was pretty, but the water not quite as calm as yesterday. I came across a straight with a row of old red gums. Their roots matting the bank, weaving in and out until nothing else could be seen. It is funny how things are unique, each bend, each tree, each cliff. You just need the right light to notice them. Tis morning the sunlight was virtually shinning a spot light on these amazing roots, screaming out to me, 'take a look! Take a look!'. I did, photos are a great excuse to stop paddling, take it easy and soak in what is around.
Day 26: Old trees in the sunlight, I was captivated by their strong twisted roots.

The big excitement of the morning was arriving at the North West Bend (twice). There are actually two bends given the privilege of this name. One just before Cadell and the other just before Morgan. At this point the Murray ceases its north Weston journey and heads South towards the sea. I have explained some of the geological reasons for this in an earlier post, but a just as fitting explanation comes from a book I have at home about the Murray. 'When the Murray reached Morgan it knew that it had found the perfect spot, it could turn south now.'  Coming up to the North West Bend at Cadell there were at least three wrecks on the Northern shore. Had they not heeded the warnings and ran into the cliffs? I actually have no idea why the collection is there. I have photographed them, and if lucky with my connection, will upload them today. Something else caught my eye. In the middle of the bend, growing out of the cliff, its roots embracing every contour of stone was a red gum. If ever a tree looked like a wizard, this one did. It was like Gandalf in Lord of the rings, 'you shall not pass'. The captains of those wrecked steamers and barges obviously did not know that wizards can take on many forms. :)

Day 26: "You shall not pass!" The wizard like tree protecting the cliffs which send the Murray Southward again at the Northwest Corner.

The North West Bend just before Morgan is not as dramatic, but it has the biggest and quietest pumping station I have ever seen. Here, water is taken from the Murray river and transported in a pipeline to Whyalla, an industrial centre near Adelaide. The South Australians have a way of making their public pumps very quiet. This one did not even hum and yet, going off the size of the buildings - as large as a school - a lot of water leaves the river here.
Day 26: One of three wrecks that I saw at the NorthWest Corner. They never made it! 

Day 26: Another quirky little paddle steamer: this one was actually a stern wheeler, though I did not pick that at first. Stern wheelers were introduced to the Murray copying the American tradition. Two things stopped their spread. Stern wheelers lash their barges to the sides and the Murray is too narrow at times for this, particularly when there was oncoming traffic. The other reason was that if they were towing a barge and had to stop, the barge sometimes rammed into the paddles, smashing them.

Day 26: Houseboats are everywhere now, but many are kind of cute, looking like little ships a- this one in need of some TLC.

Day 26: Local paddle steamer. I like photographing these. They are someone's dream. A blending of past and present. A gateway to tradition and an invitation for stories.

On sending a picture home to show that I had arrived safe and sound in Morgan, I realised that it may not have the calming effect I was after. My hair was wind tossed and styled with sweat and river water. I had a four day growth and the caking effect of sunscreen on my skin. I looked as if I was going progressively mad. Concerned and slightly embarrassed by the situation I set off in search of a wash basin and on finding one in the public toilets, rinsed and combed my hair and dragged my now rather blunt razor painfully through my stubble. After about five minutes and no visitors I was a lot more presentable.

With 40 deg and humid to boot, few people were on the street. I took a look around. Morgan once rivaled Echuca in terms of river trade. Rural produce from the Riverland, including the oranges that were exported to England from the first irrigated crops and made the area famous by taking out first prize in the London horticultural show in the 1890's. the wharf was 100 m long. It's connection to Adelaide by rail cut transit times necessary to get to England compared to Melbourne as it was 800 kilometres closer and paddle steamers did not have to backtrack. After the river trade ended in the 1920's, the Gem and the Marion continued to operate as passenger steamers from here until 1950. A resurgence of this type of travel is bringing new life to many if these towns and reawakening their pride in their association with the river.

Day 26: Arrived in Morgan for lunch and looking a bit too well travelled. 

Day 26: Scrubbed up and relaxing at the cafe waiting for the storm to clear

Ordering a milkshake from the local takeaway, I spoke to Colin, who used to run the supermarket. He likes the quiet nature of the town, the old buildings (most made of stone) and the affordability of buying one. Many of the homes and shops seem to have hardly changed since the beginning if the 1900's, even the wooden trimmings are original. Add the amazing view over the Murray  from the town centre and you can see why people love living here. 

On leaving town I got an insight into how many people do visit. The banks of the river were lined with holiday homes for 18 km.  Some were simple and modest, but most were extravagant, each better than the last. How they hit there us an interesting story. In the depression of the 1920's the government did two things to try and alleviate poverty. They allowed people to live in non-permanent dwellings along the river. Originally these were canvas draped over saplings, but soon gained walks from flattened kerosine tins and were lined with hessian. The idea was that people could supplement their modest unemployment benefits with hunting and fishing; living in the bush was free and people maintained their independence and dignity. Their buildings were known as shacks.

The second experiment was the foundation of communes, also along the river. Groups of 25 families were given land and encouraged to make a living from it. All proceeds from hunting, fishing and farming were yo be shared. Settlements included Waikerie, Kingston, Moorook, New Residence, Pyap and Lyrup. They eventually failed everywhere except for Lyrup were residents continue to have a strong community, but now own their own land. It became known as the communist experiment.

Day 26: Treehouse - but who was it built for? My guess is for dad. :)

The wildlife is different in South Australia: T. Rex in the undergrowth.

Campsite for the night.

Both these initiatives paved the way for building along the river. The buildings are still called shacks, but they are no longer a way out of poverty, rather holiday homes for people with very healthy incomes. The local building trade seems to be going very well. I was able to paddle to their music playlists as they hammered and constructed - however 18 kilometres of holiday homes is a hell of a lot. As Echuca is for done Melburnians, I have the impression that Morgan is becoming the Murray River playground for Adelaide.

Tomorrow, an easy paddle into Blanchetown for a rest day. I have a package to pick up from the post office, supplies to replenish, batteries to charge and an old friend of a friend who has paddled down the Murray from Myrtleford in his youth. I bet he has a few tales!

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. Discover the Murray: Morgan, Pelican Point
  2. Wikipedia: Morgan
  3. Metcalf: From Utopian Dreaming to Communal Reality: Cooperative Lifestyles in Australia
  4. Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World: Intensional communities in Aust and NZ: Communes formed in the 1890's.
  5. The Observer 1894: Village settlements
  6. Utopias and Utopians: An Historical Dictionary
  7. ABC PM: Illegal shacks threaten River Murray. Sept 2013
  8. ABC News: Lack of resources hampers efforts to ensure River Murray shacks compliance
  9. SA Historians: Susan Marsden: The River Murray region of South Australia – a short history
  10. Barry and Maureen Wright's River Murray Charts
  11. Environment Victoria: The Living Murray 
  12. Ecology of Floodplain Lakes and Billabongs 
  13. Geology: Murray Valley Geography (A geological timeline of the development of the Murray).
  14. Victorian Geology: Tectonic Framework of the Lower Murray. (from Red Cliffs).
  15. ABC Riverland SA: News and Community Events

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