Monday, 27 January 2014

Hume Dam - Albury - Island Camp.





Bridge just below the Hume Dam.

River of islands.

The river is so different up here, fast flowing and low banks. Here we navigated two small islands in the middle of the river. From the air the river twists and turns. Billabongs are everywhere. It is a haven for wildlife. We saw flocks of black and brown kites, wedge tailed eagles, pelicans, ibis, rainbow bee eaters, grey tree creepers and at one stage flocks of low flying swallows which seemed to cover the river.

Its banks are lush and green. It feels as if it would be easy to pull up and camp anywhere. There is little or no housing development to be seen. This seemingly tame, rural environment is a stark contrast to the dry bush of further downstream. European trees are common, in particular poplars and willows. One island we passed was covered in elm trees and ivy, in the moist soil the forest looked like a patch of Europe.
Poplars and willows are common along the Upper Murray.

The river is swirly and fast. Care needs to be taken to steer away from willows well before the bends as the current often sweeps directly into and under their overhanging branches. It is also a good idea to have minimum gear on deck on these first few days: the likelihood of losing it is high.


Taking a break as the heat of the day settles in.




In this satellite photo you can see how the river twists and turns, abandoning old courses as billabongs and forging new ones. It is hemmed in by hills to the North and South. The Hume freeway in the South and Riverina Highway in the North run along the edges of those hills.


The Murray is a natural waterway managed in a human environment. Whilst the satellite picture that you have just seen shows how the river has changed and continues to change, the amount of water allowed to run down it and when that water is allowed to run is controlled in a bid to meet the needs of people all along the river as well as to keep the river and its wetlands healthy. At present, about 20,000 ML a day are being released from Hume dam, so the river is near the tops of the banks and most of the gravel races are underwater. This is because the summer months is when farmers irrigate. In the winter months, flow can be as low as 600 ML a day. This is in stark contrast to the natural patterns of flood and low river along the catchment. It has contributed to the demise of health of river red gum forests which depend on short, sharp winter floods to reproduce and rejuvenate the soil. In the last drought many wetlands and lakes were filled or allowed to dry out depending on the effectiveness of lobbying from groups and states concerned about them. The communities of Lake Boga and Pyramid Hill almost disappeared when the water they depended on did. The new Murray Darling Basin Plan contains strategies to ensure that these areas are not forgotten. It is motivated by the stories of real people and real places behind the controversy. 

The basin plan is an attempt to make the way we use water in the Murray Darling Basin sustainable. The Living Murray Initiative in addition identifies six icon sites as being of particular significance and focus. One of these is the river bed itself, others are areas which the river supports, like the Barmah-Millewa Redgum Forests. Wetlands and lakes can now be filled using systems of channels which run off weirs like Yarrawonga, Torrumbarry and reserves like Lake Victoria. They keep the river alive and help us to grow enough food for our increasingly urban populations. Improved systems of dams, gates, channels and levees in the red gum forests mean that these can now be watered at the right time, whatever the level of the river (Barham Koondrook Perricoota Forest Works. Updates).

Whilst the management of the Murray River and its flow are a necessity for the populations that live along it, it is refreshing to find an unregulated river. The Kiewa river may flow through farmland for much of its course, but it is still wild. It enters the river quietly most of the time, but can be a raging torrent. It is easy to paddle past and not recognise its significance: one of the last free mountain catchments in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Kiewa River Junction.
The junction of the Murray and Kiewa rivers. The Kiewa, Ovens (and its tributary, the King river) rivers remain undamed, the only mountain catchments to remain in their natural state. This means that they can flood quickly following heavy rain. Care needs to be taken when camping on their shores. The Kiewa has its headwaters around Mt Bogong, whereas the Ovens begins near Mt. Buffalo. Both are very pretty valleys, are heritage listed and are very popular amongst fishermen. There was not much coming down the Kiewa today, but there were times when it was in flood last year. Things would have looked different then.


Goulburn Murray Water: Kiewa river.
Goulburn Murray Water: Ovens river management plan.

Active steps are being taken to improve the catchment health of both basins. Fish are being used as indicators of the river quality, in particular the presence of cod and trout cod. The following oral history was is an exerpt from True tales of trout cod: River Histories of the Murray Darling Basin: Ch 11, Kiewa River Catchment. You can read more at Australianriverrestorationcentre.com.au.

OH 95


Bill Murphy of Kergunyah was interviewed in April 2008 at an age of 73 years.

I was born in ’35. I remember my uncle went down here and all the lobsters were in the back of the Ford. I saw the lobsters; they were coming out of the river after the fires. He was fishing down here and there was a 70 pound cod dead, down near Doug Austin’s. Cliff Cooper told me there was cod all the way up past Tawonga before the fires. Apparently there was a few about 90 pound caught around here. There was an old bridge just below my boundary; there was a 90 pounder there. There used to be a few Catfish here, my father used to catch them in ‘the old river’, where it cuts through the paddock. He also talked about getting some other type of fish there. The Blackfish were in the little creeks, some people used to get a feed of them. There used to be some in the Bells Creek and the Running Creek. There were no yellowbelly here, not as I remember, and grunter, no.


When I left school the river was full of trout, you could catch them on worms up to 11 pound, then they started to disappear. The redfin then used to be thick, then they disappeared with a fish disease. I saw them dying in the river about 25, 30 years ago. I haven’t caught a carp for two to three years. I once saw six about 10 pound each eating the leaves off the willows. Now the river is full of small cod, though they get a bit of a hiding. Felix Carmody was a character and a well-known poacher.. He used to catch black snakes and once he tipped one out in the pub, that soon cleared the bar!
Ref: True Tales of the Trout Cod: River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin: Ch 11 Kiewa River Catchment.


The Red Eye Cicada can be very common in one year, with thousands of individuals in one tree and completely absent the next (ref). Different cicadas emerge at different times of the year.  They make good, although short-lived children's pets (ref).
This little fella was too big for the camera. Almost broke the lense. The cicadas are enormous up here... And loud. We had to abandon one potential campsite because we thought we would not be able to get to sleep with the noise. The cicadas answered each other on different sides of the river; one side would listen whilst the other would perform, before performing itself. They make their loud noise by rubbing thick chitinous plates on their abdomen together. These vibrate as they pass over each other causing the noise - much like finger nails on a black board. Later, we were told that cicadas are only noisey in the daytime, that they are quiet at night. Potentially we could have kept that first campsite, but we would have needed ear protection if they hadn't quietened down... and we would never have found the lovely island campsite that we eventually found for the night.

If you have really had enough, I found out that cicadas may be eaten, they were on the menu in China, Burma, Latin America, the Congo and in a single batch of ice-cream at Sparky's in Missouri, Columbia. They were warned by health authorities not to make a second batch and complied.

Cicadas spend most of their life feeding on the roots of trees, they emerge en masse to overwhelm predators.




Island campsite.

Cooling down after a long day in the sun.

We eventually found a nice spot a little over 50km down from the Hume. It is a small island, which is nice. I like camping on Islands. The current is fast here. Not even sand can settle. There are little trails of sand behind the tree trunks from when it has been covered by flood waters. All around the island are pebbles and gravel races.

Other paddlers have since told me that they too had camped on this island, however no trace of their passing could be seen. This is the way it should be. We should strive to leave so little impact that the people who follow experience the environment in as good, or better condition than we found it in.

More and more people want to enjoy our rivers, which is great, however the very people who love the environment can destroy it. Outdoor education teaches mantras such as leave only the lightest of footprints, take only photographs. As canoeists, our touch should be particularly light. Make it a challenge.

This website from Backcounttry Atittude outlines steps you can take to minimise your impact. It starts with good planning. Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics & Skills For Outdoor Users. Many families who camp along the Murray pick up rubbish left by less careful occupants. It is a good example to follow.

The Murray River Guardian is a free magazine put out as a cooperative project between Parks Victoria and NSW National Parks. It is a guide to camping along the Murray in both of those states and contains practical tips and valuable information. It is worth getting your hands on one before you paddle.


Parks Victoria's website on the River Murray Reserve provides up to date information on changes in conditions along the river. Check it out.


Evening light from our river island.







Evening light on our island.

Dinner.