Monday, 7 January 2013

Day 9: 1325 to1261 km to the sea: Tooleybuc to beach campsite.

Day 9: Monday 26/11 
Tooleybuc to beach campsite.
River markers: 1325 to1261 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 64 km.
Total distance travelled:  451 km.

Today I began with a short three kilometre tootle into Tooleybuc in search of sunglasses. I found the town enchanting and the locals very friendly. It was quaint in an old fashioned sort of way. There were buildings from every decade going back into the 1800's, with most still in use and essentially unchanged. Last week, the bridge keeper died and the whole town turned out for the funeral. His job was to wait for paddle steamers and to raise the central span of the bridge so that the paddle steamers could pass. The whole town identified with the paddle steamer trade. The bridge keeper’s house is now the central feature of a community park along the river and the main feature of the kids playground was a paddle steamer shaped adventure playground. 

Tooleybuc Campsite
Tooleybuc bridge.
The paddle steamer in the Tooleybuc playground shows how strongly the town identifies with the steamers that used to ply the river.
Tooleybuc boat ramp, the cracked mud showing how much the river has dropped in the last weeks.

Tooleybuc bridge's single lane draw bridge is a reminder of the river trade of former years. It was the bridge keeper's job to keep an eye out for passing paddle steamers, much like the Lockmasters do at the weirs today.

The Lockmaster's house. Since the chimney faces the river and might otherwise block the view, the lockmaster had two windows built into the chimney. He passed away shortly before I passed through and the whole town turned up to his funeral.
It is easy to make friends in Tooleybuc, an elderly gentleman in the cafe asked me about the trip. Everybody waves. The bald headed owner of the cafe made me a coffee, he didn't have sunnies to replace my broken ones, but suggested I talk to Mavis next door in the post office. Being an old fashioned shop and not set up for self-service it was no use looking for the sunnies, so I asked Mavis, who pulled out a dusty box with the comment that "things look a bit grim, I'm waiting for more". As there were only big horn rimmed leopard-skin like frames, I decided to rely on my skills as a jack of all trades to fix my old ones. 

One last hope was the Tooleybuc garage. Wandering in I found the mechanic and his dad, one in a recliner chair and the other on a swiveling office chair with arm rests. Behind them was a pot bellied stove and scattered bits of their work in varying states of completion. They did not have sun glasses. “Things are a bit quiet in Tooleybuc at the moment”, they said. Seeing this as an invitation, I asked about the river. “It's rising,” said the older man, “I am watching it every day, because I am waiting to get my barge off the river” In Echuca the river has been falling for weeks, this means I have caught up with the rise we had before that. Good news indeed. I can do with every little but of help I can get. Just then the fellas jumped up - a customer! “He's here! He made it, the old bastard!” Pushing his flash red sports car into the garage and across the busy highway was an older gentleman in a polo shirt and a tweed drivers cap. They teased the gent, hoping he might leave them some if his money. No chance of that. Time to move on.

I met a young family in the park whilst writing my journal. The dad explained to his son that river they can see now is the same they used to live near in Albury and the same as is near Adelaide where they are moving too. "The river goes from one town to the next and eventually it gets to the sea." For so many people, the Murray is a connecting influence. For this young family, it helped make the move less daunting and the new home a little more familiar.

Down the river a bit from Tooleybuc was a settlement by the name of Goodnight. The bus service between Swan Hill and this town goes by the name of the 'goodnight express'. Apparently when the paddle steamers passed in the evening a Shepard who made his camp on the river bank at that place would call out "goodnight" without fail. The station that was later built at this place took on the name Goodnight, and the little settlement which formed around the station also. The banks were too steep in Goodnight to allow an explore.

The river between Tooleybuc and the Wakool Junction was very windy, it had fast currents on the corners and slow spots in between. The old paddle steamer skippers called these Cosgriff bends, though I do not know how they earned the honour of that name. In any case, if you don't watch out, you suddenly find yourself headed the wrong direction. At times the river became as narrow as 25 meters. It hardly seemed like the Murray. About twenty kilometres downstream from Tooleybuc is the infamous 'Bitch and Pups', a section of river said to be impassable at low water because of the many reefs and a tangle of snags at the downstream side. The river charts warned of rapids. After my experience of the same at Murphy's island cutting, I tried to think of contingency plans. If things got dangerous I decided to head for the reefs at the side of the river and beach the boat. I tied on my map, my only loose item, and positioned myself where the main channel should have been. However, the river was much higher than the situation described in the charts and it was plain sailing all the way through. Murphy's cutting was a different story, but having seen what the placid old Murray can do, I decided to be on my guard. 

The infamous Bitch and Pups reef. Impassable at low river due to nets of snags. Not a problem today, however I was on my guard after Murphy's island. 
Town water supply structure downstream from Goodnight.

For much of this early part of today's journey it rained. I was soaked through, but still warm. I had wet weather gear, but as I was not cold, kept going. The air was still warm, even though it was raining. Soon after the rain stopped I reached the next highlight of the day, the Wakool junction. I am uncertain of where the Wakool comes from in NSW, but I did know that the Edwards flows into it. The Edwards is the old course of the Murray before it broke through into the Goulburn after the Cadell Uplift (tilt) blocked its course and formed a super lake which stretched from Echuca to Deniliquin. Where the lake once was, now grow river red gum forests and these, along with the Barmah and Millewa Lakes are a Mecca for bird life. The Wakool was much wider than the Murray. Paddling downstream of its junction was like going back in time, before the earthquakes altered the river’s course. In times of floods more water flows down the Edwards than the Murray. Not being in flood, very little water came out of the Wakool. I was a little disappointed, but it made sense. All the same the river channel was majestic and I can just imagine how dramatic it would look when in full flow. 

Wakool junction where the Edwards enters the Murray.

After the Wakool junction the river widened and deepened. In the thirty kilometres since then there have been few reefs, the river banks cut through red Sandhills more often and its channel is wide. I can understand why they call this the 'big Murray'. One hundred and fifty metres wide and with long sweeping bends, few under a kilometre or two in length, it is a stark contrast to the twisting narrow river I had been on for the last 300 kilometres. In this section of river everything takes a little longer. It takes longer to get round the corners and if there is a headwind in the straights you need to be both patient and determined. Tailwinds, on the other hand are to be enjoyed. A last note. The beaches are huge! They rival those of Cobram. The biggest difference is that there is nobody here. In the sixty kilometres of river travel today I saw two fishermen and one ute! There still are some very quiet places in Australia.

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River landscape — at Big Murray, downstream of Wakool Junction.
The first of the red rocks that are a feature of lower down the river. —  Murray River, downstream of Wakool Junction.
River landscape. — Murray River, downstream of Wakool Junction.

More swallows' nest under a clay ledge on the river bank.
Spiral clouds... Nothing came of it, but I was wondering for a while. — Murray River, downstream of Wakool Junction.

Dinner is looking good.
Camp for the 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. Wikipedia:   Edwards River, Wakool RiverMurrumbidgee RiverMajor Mitchell
  2. Discover the Murray: Captain Charles Sturt discovers the Murray River Jan 14th 1830
  3. Wakool Shire Council:  Wakool River (in crisis after last drought)
  4. Major Mitchell Trail: PiangilExpedition notes
  5. P.S. Adelaide: Echuca - Mildura - Echuca for P.S. Melbourne centenary celebrations BlogFacebook
  6. Barry and Maureen Wright's River Murray Charts
  7. Environment Victoria: The Living Murray 
  8. ABC Mildura Swan Hill: News and Community Events

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