Sunday, 6 January 2013

Day 6: 1435 to 1412 km to the sea: Pental Island - Swan Hill

Day 6: Friday 23/11
Pental Island - Swan Hill
River markers: 1435 to 1412 km to the sea
Distance travelled today:  23 km
Total distance travelled: 300 km.

All scrubbed up and ready for civilisation at Swan Hill.

My campsite last night was on Pental Island. A parcel of rich farming land which was fought over by Victoria and New South Wales because an anabranch of the Murray runs around it. Since the Murray River forms the border between New South Wales and Victoria, New South Wales argued that their water flows to the South of it, so it was theirs. Victoria argued that more water flowed to the North of it and won the case. It must have been one of the first decisions about state borders that the young parliament made. Anyone know more about it?

The land was fertile because it is a floodplain. With each flood a new layer of fertile river mud was dropped on the soil and salinity flushed away. Looking over the levees that protect the farmers from the floods they still seem to be. I wonder why they made the levees around their whole farms and not just their homes. It would have been why've investment. Was it to protect the infrastructure (fences and irrigation channels) or so that they could farm uninterrupted year round, or something else?

Some of Pental Island is still forested and stock are allowed to graze there. I passed a farmer and his dog rounding up cattle. He was on his motor bike beeping his horn and dog running around making sure the cattle were moving in the right direction. The little motorbike horn can only have been annoying. They can only have feared the dog. Yet I heard it for kilometres, meep, meep, meep-meep. I had to laugh. If I was a cow I would not want to move out of the forest either. I passed several groups of very contented cattle lazing on the river bank. It is a pretty good life for them for a while.

The Loddon River flows into the Murray via this anabranch. I wonder if the levees or the small size of the little Murray (or the Marrador as it is also known), the flatness of the land between here and Barham, or a combination of all three made it so difficult for the Loddon flood waters to drain away. Many homes were surrounded by floodwaters for close to a year. Obviously this is a debate that will continue as long as people live in flood plains. It is not the water's fault. It just wants to get to the sea. Just like me.

It is amazing what sticks in your mind about the river. The last time I paddled this stretch was when I did the Murray Marathon in TK2 with my mate Mark, aka Sharky, We did the full 400 kilometres distance twice, once in 1980 and again in 1981. We gunned it. As 16 & 17 year old we kept up with the Air Force, who had pretty good teams back then. They used to race in formation, like a group of fighter planes and were remarkably disciplined. As I came into Swan Hill 31 years later I could still remember the bends, especially the last ones.

Not as fast now :)

Current is swift, except for when it pools, but you always get that. My favourite birds at the moment are the native hens. When they walk they have their tails up and turned sideways like a flag. They move through the shadows of the shoreline undergrowth in mobs, not in pairs like the ones Nat Echuca. When they are startled, they prefer to run, but if the ducks around them get nervous then they fly low over the water to a safer place. They fly very well, but look rather tasty, bit like partridges - hence the danger for them :)

black tailed moorhen running for cover

I rested under the shade of this majestic red gum. I wasn't the only one; its limbs were full of birds.

Happy cows grazing in forest land. If I was a cow, I would want to live here. :)

Prepared for every eventuality. Caravan to drive away should the river rise rapidly, houseboat as lifeboat and home for the times in between.

Also saw a wedge tailed eagle yesterday, being chased by two tree creepers. 
Brown tree creeper - tougher than it looks.

Wedge tailed eagle - misunderstood?

The toughest birds though are the willy wagtails. They are so proud when they scare away crows who come too near their nest and there is always one parading on lookout.

willy wag tail looking impressive

willy wag tail - even more impressive
This morning I saw three different types of swallows in one bend of the river.

welcome swallow
tree martin

High up in the trees and soaring at the level of the canopy were what looked like wood swallows, but they had orange chests, a black head and a white crown.

White browed wood swallow

Flying around me, as if curious, but more likely interested in the insects I stirred up by my passage, were my old friends the welcome swallow. The type we have in Echuca.. Also, flying low over the water were smaller white and black swallows. Beautiful! 

welcome swallows

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. Wikipedia:  Pental IslandLoddon RiverLittle MurrayAnabranch, Swan HillList of crossings on the Murray
  2. Swan Hill Rural City Council: Visitors to Swan Hill
  3. Discover the Murray: Swan Hill
  4. Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement
  5. RTA: Self guided driving tour: Bridges between Albury and Swan Hill
  6. An account of the race between the Mary-Anne and the Lady Augusta to Swan Hill in 1853.
  7. Sydney Morning Herald 1869: Pental Island: another boundary dispute
  8. GeoScience Australia: State and Territory Borders
  9. YMCA: Murray Marathon
  10. P.S. Adelaide: Echuca - Mildura - Echuca for P.S. Melbourne centenary celebrations BlogFacebook
  11. Barry and Maureen Wright's River Murray Charts
  12. Environment Victoria: The Living Murray 
  13. ABC Mildura Swan Hill: News and Community Events

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