Sunday, 6 January 2013

Day 4: 1545 to 1489 km to the sea: Barham-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest: Murrabit, Mud Campsite.

Wednesday 21/11

Barham-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest: Murrabit, Mud Campsite.
River markers: 1545 to 1489 km to the sea
Distance travelled today: 56 km
Total distance travelled: 223 km.

My power monkey extreme has now operated without fault for three expeditions over two years. The trick is to charge whilst paddling... and in order to do that, it needs to be in a waterproof map bag.

Morning light. One of the most beautiful times of the day.

 Fried eggs for brekky... Mmmmm. At this stage in the trip I was still entertaining the idea of a large cooked breakfast to keep me going through the day. As the weather got hotter though, i abandoned this idea, preferring to get off early to beat the heat.

There have been spectacular reefs and drops, like little Murray River waterfalls. Well, ok, that might be a bit dramatic and generous, but you can see the drops and there is rough water and heavy swirling afterwards. Can I add that they are also fun. In a shallow draft boat like a kayak, or a canoe, which is also at the mercy of the water and limited in speed by the strength of the paddler, they give a sudden burst of speed - sort of a little Murray River roller coaster. They were not fun for all boats. it must have been a real nightmare coming through here in a paddle-steamer - especially towing a barge. One reef is named after a luckless paddle steamer captain that ran aground there. It seems he never did hear the end of that one.

Part of the Gunbower Perricoota Koondrook Forest works. This is an outlet channel, designed to bring water from Torrumbarry Weir which had been used to flood the forest back into the river.
The remains of a paddlesteamer landing from earlier days. In those times, the sound of a steam whistle meant company, supplies and news from the outside world.

In the zone!
Stranded tinny. The locals say that the river has dropped quickly.

Tall red gum forests on a bend in the river between Torrumbarry and Murrabit.

River landscape # 2 

Day 4: Spoonbills and cormorants Barham 

The stretch between Torrumbarry and Murrabit has spoilt me with its beautiful wilderness qualities. I mentioned the trees and birds in my last entry. This time, I will mention the snags. 

Snags are another name for trees that have fallen in the river. After a while all the branches fall off and they are like solid logs lying, for the most part, just below the surface, waiting to catch the unwary traveller out. Red gum does not rot in the water, which is why it was chosen for the hulls of paddle steamers. Many of the later paddle steamers, including the P.S. Pevensy have steel hulls above the water line and red gum below. It is as hard as steel, but can take more of a knock. Never-the-less paddle steamers were often holed by snags. One course of action was to stuff the hole with flour bags until a tarpaulin could be slung under the boat and over the hole. I digress... but there is a reason... in the old days snags were removed to make the river more navigable. One of the first paddle stammers built in Echuca was the Grappler, it's sole job was to hoist snags out of the river. They obviously haven't been here for some time. Snags pass from one side of the river to the other on numerous occasions, making it almost impossible for a boat larger than a tinny to get through. Even then, you would have to be every careful of your prop. In September, the P.S. Adelaide steamer from Echuca to Mildura to celebrate the centenary of that town's paddle steamer, the Melbourne. Even though the river was higher, they must have taken a chain saw.

Wreck of a barge #2, twisted hull amongst the roots.

Wreck of a barge #1, section of the hull.

Wreck of a barge #3, cross frame.

That this area was isolated in the old days can be seen in the remains of old jetties and the wrecks of paddle steamers and their barges. How long would help have taken to get to them if they were in trouble? I wonder. There is a story of a paddle steamer that travelled up the Darling River in search of trade when the river was in flood. Unfortunately, they lost the river and were stuck in a forest when it went down again. Being the resourceful people they were they converted the boat into a saw mill using the engine for power, and suitably better informed, steamed back out on the next flood ten years later. You can see that the people who live in this area are proud. They love the forest, the river and fishing - everyone fishes! Many houses have been rebuilt after the floods, and in their places stand tall impressive buildings. All have a second floor, which is good to look at the river from, but also to go to if the rest of the house is under water. Many also had some kind of a barbie-boat, one even had a paddle steamer under construction. I am sure these are viewed not just as pleasure outing transport, but also as life rafts. It's area was badly flooded when the Murray and Loddon Rivers came up and they stayed under water for almost a year. As I paddle along the river I am reminded on every bend how high the river was then. Centimeters separated some places from the swollen river water, others would have been inundated. You can tell this by the muddy stain the river has left on the trees and the erosion of the banks. Yet they came back. One simple brick home, which looked like it had been converted from a dairy said as much on the sign hanging from its wall, "Paradise Bend".

Cohuna wharf, from a time when paddle steamers were the main connection with civilisation. All along the river I can see signs of this sometimes forgotten past and the important role the river trade played in country people's lives.

This gravestone of a small boy who drowned in the Murray broke my heart. 18 months old. The gravestone e overlooks the river on a beautiful bend. I expected it to be a monument to an explorer, so took a closer look. The gravestone is new. I was later to learn that their are many unmarked graves from timber workers who died on the job - far from home.
Outdoor classroom? I love how people make spots along the river to sit and enjoy its breezes, atmosphere, or nature. Whether it is in front of their houses, or in a secret spot in the forest. As I approached Swan Hill, double seated tree swings became common. These are pulled up high into the trees when the family is not there to reduce the risk of kids hurting themselves.
Around Barham most homes had acquired a Barbie boat to both enjoy the river and to use as a get away vehicle should flood waters come again. Like this house, many rebuilt after the floods. The water marks on the trees show how close it got to the houses. 

Caught up with Ruth for lunch. Like the paddle steamers of old, Ruth brought me up to speed with what had been happening in the world and delivered fresh supplies. It was also a chance to compare notes and charge my devices.

Day 4: Passing under Bahram bridge. Was lively to catch up with Ruth today for a surprise picnic lunch. Planning a shorter day today after two 60 +. 

Soon after leaving Barham, I was back in the forest once again, paddling towards Murrabit.

Back to the journey. I feel that I am becoming one with the boat now (and although this grasshopper still has "much to learn") in the good, not so tired times it feels as if I am negotiating the river, moving with it, exploring it, having fun with it, not so much at the mercy of it - that's how I feel on the ocean! In this spirit I enjoyed startling groups of cockatoos to watch them fly down the river ahead of me and I stared in vain for where the pelican I saw might go, or where the white breasted sea eagle might have its nest. Pelicans are a rare sight on the Murray where I come from, but sea eagles even rarer. I have only seen the two in my life. According to Birds Australia, they do travel up the Murray. Well, there would be plenty of carp for them to dive on! Downstream from Barham the forest is lush and dense once again. It reminds me of the narrows, where the Murray cuts through the Barmah and Millewa Forests, except that the banks are much higher. The river travels so swiftly here that when I stop to photograph something or write down a thought, I invariably get turned in circles and keep having to look up to be sure that I do not drift down into a snag.

Day 4: Approaching Murrabit snags nearly crossed from one side of the river to the other.
Day 4: More snag photos. This one looked like a tree standing in the middle of the river, but was actually an old grandfather of a tree lying on its side.

Day 4: River landscape: approaching Murrabit.

At the decidedly pointy end of the boat is a decidedly bitey animal. So watch out!

Finding a campsite was difficult tonight. The river has fallen so quickly according to one local that the banks have not had a chance to dry out. What looks like it will become nice beach sand is more like quicksand when you stand on it. I just kept sinking and had to first kneel on my paddle blade and then crawl out. I am glad I had good river shoes on. I have lost more than one pair that way. Had I been wearing thongs, they would now be on their way to becoming fossils. Once I was out there was no way I was going anywhere near that water to wash. I had to let it dry out and scratch it off. I might have to try and slide the boat into the river tomorrow (what white water kayakers call a seal launch) just not sure if a sea kayak can do the same thing, or whether I can, for that matter. It could all go horribly wrong, but worth considering given that mud.

Day 4: It is not all jam donuts. Murrabit has mud - and lots of it. As I discovered trying to get out at this 'beach'. 

Day 4: Up to the knees in mud! In the end I had to crawl out... And dragged my boat with me too. Tomorrow tempted to try a seal launch... Anything to avoid the mud :) 

Evening light from my campsite. It took quite a while for the mud to dry off enough that I could scratch it off. Washing in the river was out of the question given how bad the mud was.

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