Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Talmalmo Station

The locals say the water is much better than it used to be, Jill and Geoff, the artist and farmer, who live in the beautiful Original homestead of Talmalmo Station and run Talmalmo Cottage, where we are staying, say that there are less carp than there used to be, so they must be doing something right. "In 1994, when we moved here, I was caught 90 cm long carp, really big ones, regularly. You don't see them anymore." I remember those carp from my childhood. The carp took over the Murray in the wet years between 1974 and 1976, when we had some of the biggest floods on record and a constantly high river. When the river went down to its normal level again, the banks were littered with dead carp of around a metre in length. We reasoned that, unable to forage on the floodplains, there was not enough food for them to eat and they starved. I can still remember their rotting corpses. There were too many to clean up. The riverbanks stunk. We didn't go near them again for months. Why the large carp persisted for another 20 years in the Upper Murray is a riddle to me: perhaps the constantly changing water levels in the Hume dam provide them with a niche environment which they are able to exploit better than any other fish. Trout Cod have been sighted again and the river is regularly stocked with juveniles of trout cod, murray cod and rainbow trout. These are all predators which would enjoy young carp as a meal. The pelicans, standing where the river shallows, like to catch the carp as they swim upstream, though some are too big to tangle with. Leaving snags in the river causes swirls which create holes in the river bed, including deep holes in which the predators like to hide. So although carp may travel up the Upper Murray from the Hume, it is a dangerous place to breed.

The stone re-enforcement of the river banks, so common between Bringenbrong Bridge and Jingellic have been put in place and paid for by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric scheme. Water is released from Khancoban reservoir when it reaches capacity, or is needed further down the Murray. Khancoban was built with the purpose of assisting in the management of water flow, however it's limited capacity makes this difficult. Local farmers tell that during peak load times, like when everyone turns on their air conditioners in summer, releases happen which can raise the river level by a metre overnight. It can also have to do with the days of the week - presumably reflecting power usage patterns - so that at some times of the year the water level will rise by one metre overnight on a Monday (for example). Water will also be released when reserves in the mountains have reached capacity, even if this contributes to flooding downstream. These regular large changes in river level make it hard for riverbank vegetation (other than willows?) to settle, leading to massive erosion problems . A farmer I spoke to said that every time the river rose he lost three to four metres of land. The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority is responsible for the maintenance of the river between Bringenbrong Bridge and Jingellic, which is why the bank stabilisation is so common there. For canoeists, it means choosing camps which are more than a metre above the river's current height and making sure that you have tied your boat up well.

According to a local farmer we spoke to, the section of river between Jingellic and the Hume is controlled by the Victorian North East Catchment Management Authority, the same that controls the Kiewa, Mitta Mitta, Ovens and King rivers. He said that the NSW parliament does not seem interested in their plight and that several local members have been elected with that mandate, but been unable to change a thing. Power for NSW inhabitants and services such as education, also seems to predominantly come from Victoria. I read an account in a local paper (The Border Mail, Saturday December 13th, 2008) from an elderly man, who lived on the NSW side at Talmalmo Station. When he and his brother were considered old enough to go to school, their father made them row him up and down the river for hours on end. They then rowed the boat across the river to where they kept their bikes and continued the ride to school. This they had to do rain, hail, or shine, whether the river was low or in flood. They were only four and five years old when they began to do this by themselves. This seems to be the plight of many NSW border towns along the Murray, they are so far from Sydney that they don't seem to be worth the investment. In Echuca, one of the main incentives to build that town's second bridge (the original was built in the 1860's - before the Titanic and Eiffel Tower), is that the 7,000 people in Moama would have no access to public hospital and secondary education services should it become impassable.

Talmalmo's School Bus Driver / Racing Car Champion.
The winding river road on the NSW bank is home territory to rally car champion, George Fury. Fury, also known as 'farmer George' was multiple times Australian Rally Car Championship, twice runner up in Australian touring car championships and the holder of pole position in the 1984 Bathurst 1000. Racing biography. When not racing cars, George was a school bus driver. Source. I'm sure the ride to school was an interesting one.

Imagining those two boys in their rowing boat, prompted me to consider, once again, what the ideal boat for this section of the river might be. Whilst sea kayaks are great for keeping gear dry, are a fast expedition boat and do not catch the wind as much as a Canadian canoe, the later may be better in these conditions. Sea kayaks are difficult to turn and even more difficult to get out of. Canadians are stable, turn quickly and could not be easier to jump out of to push yourself off a gravel race, or to investigate a potentially tricky situation. This means that it is also easier to pull up and assess rapids, snags, or tight corners (which also means that you are more likely to do this). If you capsize you are out in a hurry, which can be very important where there are snags which could catch your life jacket and hold you under. Importantly, when you capsize out of a Canadian canoe, your life jacket and head do not go underwater, they do in a sea or whitewater kayak. So there is less risk of you being caught on a snag underwater when you tip out of a Canadian canoe than when you are sealed into a sea kayak. If you would like a taste of the Upper Murray, the Upper Murray Resort can provide boats gear and advice on where and how you can do this safely. If you are doing the whole river, consider ditching the sea kayak for this section.

If you have the opportunity to get out of your boat and explore the Upper Murray valley by road, then travel to one of the many lookouts and take in the magnificent views of Mt Kosciusko and its companions. They form an impressive bulwark at the head of the Murray Valley: sentinel guardians of a river that provides nutrients and life to so many in its three month, two and a half thousand kilometre journey to the sea. It feels like a pilgrimage and I suppose it is one of sorts to see these mountains. From the lookout near Tintaldra, they stretch further than the eye can see. Kosciusko is so high, it has formed its own clouds and was hidden by the rain within them. Almost all of the water that flows down the Murray comes from the high country, rainfall and runoff is much lower on the plains. This is unusual for a river. It heightens my appreciation of the water that I have been kayaking on in the Upper Murray these last few days. This is all there is, there isn't anymore. We now have the job of sharing that water with the seven or eight million other people who depend directly, or indirectly on its water, produce or life giving properties.

‘Look after the land and rivers, and the land and rivers will look after you’

Sitting on the balcony of our riverside cottage, watching the sunset, the stars rise and the river travel ever further towards the sea, I already have a plan to return, to accompany it on that journey once again. It is always a privilege.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tintaldra - Jingellic - Talmalmo Cottage

Dawn is breaking. There is now enough light to check the river height. A few noises from that direction, probably a cow going for its early morning drink, but potentially the sound of my boat moving around in the current, prompted me to suddenly jump up and make sure. The river has risen at least half a metre overnight. I am glad I took the trouble to drag my boat up high enough. The ground had been just firm enough to walk on. It was coated with a thin layer of silt, a tell-tale sign that the river had recently risen and then dropped quickly. I chose the campsite because the thinly coated beach reached all the way to the top of the bank, meaning that I could pull the boat up without too much hassle. I took as much of a run up as the river would allow and launched the boat far enough up the bank to step out onto the shore. Rose Fletcher got an awful shock once when the solid looking shore turned out to behave like quicksand. It can happen when rivers drop quickly. I was relieved when the ground held under my feet. The river's character does not seem to have changed. At least at my campsite it continues to slide quietly past. My gear is also still there. Cows can be curious beasts. Although they did a lot of sniffing in the night, it seems that they didn't do any tasting. My spray deck, life jacket and paddle are still whole.

After a wet night where things refused to dry, I donned my damp thermals and layered up and was soon warm once again. The beenie my brother Laurie had left in the car before moving back to China became my lucky charm; it certainly kept my head warm. The rain stopped just long enough for me to pack my boat in the dry. A piece of bread, an apple, a pack of diced fruit and a snap lock bag of muesli for brekky and I was off.

The noise that awakened me with such a start, turned out not to be caused by cattle but the sound of air rushing out of yabby holes on the opposite bank. There were hundreds of these and as the rising river filled them, they were behaving like little blow holes. Amazing.

On the water at 7:30, the rain has settled in again. I'm interested to see whether the river behaves any differently with a bit more water in it. It should actually be safer, as I can now paddle above the snags, rather than through them. I had some pretty hair-raising experiences yesterday. The Upper Murray is not by any means a safe river. Make sure your skill levels are up to the challenge and you have the right kind of boat. A white water kayak or other kind of boat that can turn quickly, would be more suited than a sea kayak.

So far it's much easier than yesterday, the gravel races are a little more like Islands. 50cm of water makes all the difference; yesterday, they blocked the river and I was forced to paddle the races where the current ran. This meant negotiating willows and finding ways through snags, with very little room for manoeuvring. With the gauge at Bringenbrong Bridge reading 130 cm instead of yesterday's 80, I have a lot more choices.

My old friends, the pelicans.

River bank works put in place by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectricity designed to limit erosion following the regular high flows associated with hydroelectricity generation.

The rain has cleared and the colours of the countryside are emerging as soft greens and yellows. This is in part due to the dominance of European trees, like the poplar and willow, but also because of the effect the clouds have on the Autumn light.

The flat and broad valley I have been paddling through since yesterday has begun to run into hills - at times literally, causing an abrupt change of course in the river. At these points, the granite bedrock becomes exposed. Usually though, they flank the river, creating scenic backdrops reminiscent of classic paintings. The lushness and greenness takes some getting used to as a resident of the inland planes. I know the Murray as a brown, and at best, green stream which winds through grey green river red gums. Once a year, the shores are bursting with golden yellow, as the wattles flower. But I am not used to green. Here the grass is green, the shrubs are green and the trees (at least at the waters edge) don't look like they could ever grow fast enough. The cattle have a good life too, plenty of food, protection from predators and paddocks with a view that is hard to rival. Paddling past them, I sense that they think they have the better life, and perhaps they are right - just don't tell them what is at the end of it.

2.5km before Tintaldra Bridge, there is an island where you can go left or right. Whichever channel you choose, the island is precarious, as the current slams right into a thick band of Willows. It is worth pulling up at the gravel race beforehand to have a look and then take your pick. Once you are at the island it is too late. I got through ok, but not without an expletive when I realised my predicament.

2.5 km before Tintaldra there is an island with a very difficult sharp turn into it. I came through without mishap, but next time, will be pulling up on the gravel race and scouting beforehand. Once in the right channel, the passage is easy.


Tintaldra is a quiet town which had a promising beginning. Following earlier land claims by the Shelley family, the land was given out to selectors looking for land following the 1850's gold rushes. It suitability as a crossing point led to the establishment of a customs house and a store which served the entire region. This store with its redgum floor and yellow box beams is still standing today.  At this stage Tintaldra was the only crossing on the Upper Murray.  It had a doctor, a wheel right, a policeman, a post office and a blacksmith.

The freeing up of the land was achieved through the Duffy Land Act of 1862. The State Library of Victoria explains: ' the 19th century land was a way of retaining and generating wealth. The problem in the early days of the colony was that most of the best farming land had been locked up by squatters in long leases at generous terms... From the Victoria’s earliest days a battle raged between the powerful squatters who wished to maintain their extensive land holdings and those who advocated for small-scale agriculture and housing... The Land Act 1862 (known as the Duffy Act) made 10 million acres (4 million hectares) of land- about 20% of the state- available to selectors. The government considered it a compromise between those who had been calling for years to release land for the poor man and the business interests of the wealthy squatters.'

As other crossings were built along the Murray and the surrounding towns developed their own services, Tintaldra's significance declined. It received a boost when following World War 1, 2000 acres of the Tintaldra run was purchased for soldier settlers, however, the town was burnt to the ground in the 1939 and 1952 bushfires. Sources: WikipediaSydney Morning Herald article.

More info about Tintaldra: UpperMurrayBusinessDirectory

Tallangatta Information Centre

Tallangatta Information Centre

Tallangatta Information Centre

Tintaldra Bridge

Good photographs depend on the equipment working, as well as the subject being interesting. Lately I have been having some issues with water droplets on the lens, so last night I treated the lens on my GoPro and Olympus Tough with a product which is meant to cause water to bead and run off. However it was so humid in the tent with all my wet gear that moisture must have gotten into the GoPro, fogging most of the pictures. Luckily the small Olympus functioned well and you will be able to get a feeling for how beautiful the country is, when I have enough reception to share.

The light was stunning after Tintaldra Bridge. Whilst the valley was bathed in sunshine, the hill tops were covered in cloud. They give the landscape a tropical atmosphere. Sitting in my kayak, rugged up in thermals, waterproofs, life jacket and beanie, it doesn't feel tropical, but the sight of hills with their heads in the clouds reminded me of my times working in the Daintree.

Cudgewa Creek

Cudgewa creek junction: just upstream of marker 391: two kilometres downstream of Tintaldra.

Cudgewa Creek Catchment:
Goulburn-Murray Water
Goulburn-Murray Water

At times it feels like I'm kayaking down a mountain stream with rapids and gravel races around every bend, at other times it feels like I'm back canoeing at Studley Park on the Yarra - the water is so still.

Currawongs are calling to each other either side of the river. In Echuca, the Currawongs are winter visitors, coming down from the mountains to feast on lilly pillies, their calls echo through the moist forests and gardens of the town. Perhaps these Currawongs never leave, or maybe these are the mountain birds, about to begin their journey.

Australian Darter (male): Wikipedia

First darter sighted, perhaps this is a sign of the river is getting deeper. A mixture of basket willow, weeping willow, river red gums and plane trees line the river bank. Fire tail finches (red browed fire tail) flit along the shore in the cover of the sandy banks. Pine mountain, a 1000 metre high granite monolith, larger than Uluru, forms an impressive back drop. All just downstream of the 380 km river marker.


The river visibly banks around corners. It is forced up half a metre higher on the outside than on the inside of some bends. The water has momentum. When it hits an obstacle, like the outside of a sharp bend, it is forced up. On those same bends the speed of the river sucks the water away from the gravel races on the inside. The Upper Murray has its own shape, the water surface had its own contours.

Billabongs show where the river once ran.

Fertile river flats.
On passing Big Hill Flat Creek, about 12km downstream of Tintaldra, the river leaves the broad valley I have become accustomed to, and, most unusually for a river, it enters the hills again. Whether it carved its way through these hills as they were uplifted, or whether they dammed the river and it broke through is a mystery to me. It continues closely flanked by hills till well after Jingellic and makes for spectacular scenery and many small rapids.

Three kilometres after Big Hill Flat Creek, the River Road hugs the Upper Murray on the NSW side. If you get to explore this stretch in a car, this is a great lookout. The bank on the NSW side is granite and rises straight out of the river in many places.

A little further downstream, I came across an arboretum, a collection of trees from around the world. In the past, these were set up by forestry to see how well trees did in particular areas. It includes the most magnificent Sequoia dendron (a Californian red wood, regarded by many as a living fossil, as they filled the forests of the world at the time of the dinosaurs. There were also plane trees, a common feature of towns and cities in Australia today. For the next ten kilometres, plane trees covered the banks of the river; escapees.

Californian Red Wood.
A kilometre after the giant redwood the river runs abruptly into the granite face of Mt. Welaregang and doubles back on itself, one of the few times that it flows in an Easterly direction. Marking the end of the mountain which blocked its path is a small, but quick shoot, which was fun to kayak through at this water level (130 cm at Bringenbrong Bridge). From here, countryside opens up once more and small idealic farms and lifestyle properties appear on the high ground, including 'Ponderosa Farm.' They must have the most magnificent views.

Pine Mountain.

As the valley opens up A spectacular waterfall (Cudgewa Bluff falls) is running off the side of Pine mountain facing the river. It seems to come from the clouds, as the top of the mountain is not visible. From this misty source, the waterfall plummets nearly 100 metres over bare granite until it disappears into the bush again. From there, it runs into Cudgewa creek and then into the Murray. The air is so still that I can hear it tumbling down the slope, even though it is a good kilometre away. Pine mountain creek runs off the more Northerly slopes and is the next to enter the Murray. Both are just upstream of Ourie Creek.

Pine Mountain is in Burrowa National Park. Pine Mountain - this gigantic rock monolith isreputedly one and a half times as big as Uluru. The exposed, lichen covered granite slopes dotted with soft, green Cypress- pine trees imparts a special appeal. A walking track leads all the way to the summit. Geological and topographic differences within the park have resulted in a range of vegetation types. Pine Mountain is of great botanical significance because of the number of rare and threatened plant species growing there. These include the Phantom Wattle (Acacia phasmoides), Fan Grevillea (Grevillea ramosissima), Pine Mountain Grevillea (Grevillea jephcottii) and Broad-leafed Hopbush (Dodonaea rhombifolia). Black Cypress- pines and Kurrajongs also grow on the dry, rocky slopes. Park notes. More information, particularly about access at Upper Murray Waterfalls.

Pine Mountain: Access Notes:
Just after passing the 375 km marker, I reached Ourie Creek on the NSW side: one of the tributaries of more respectable size in this area of the Murray. The markers are yellow poles with numbers on them. They seem to be in kilometres and the distances they record might be the distance to Yarrawonga. They have been around for a while, as they are quite rusty, however, so far I have been unable to find an official explanation. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places.

There is a set of small rapids complete with pressure waves about 5 km downstream from Ourie creek where the river takes a sharp left around a rocky pebbly reach.

Approaching Jingellic (from the NSW river road).

As the river enters a narrow valley, rapids become more common.

Choosing a shallow path about 4km upstream of Walwa.
Fish use these to swim upstream... for this reason, they are also popular with pelicans.

In the last twenty kilometres of the day, hills flanked both sides of the river. It's course now seems to be dictated by the high ground on either side. What meanders and gravel banks there are are limited to the amount of room the hills allow them. For this reason there are many kilometre long straights and strange double backs around Jingellic. The rock that the river has cut through in forming this impressive bed is still visible as rapids and rock islands. The water backs up before these rapids and rock banks as long pools where there is little current, a stark contrast of what is to come at the end of them.

Walwa caravan park lies on one of these straights. Here the river is peaceful, a lovely spot to relax, fish, swim, or paddle. There is virtually no current, due to the inevitable rock wall at the end of the three kilometre long reach. Sandy creek enters the river, just downstream of the caravan park, and, true to its name, had pushed a small sandy spit into the slow moving Murray following the rains of the last few days. Walwa creek is at the end of the reach, but is far less obvious, as its entrance is hidden behind an island.


The first thing you see of Jingellic are the pylons of the old bridge, which have been left as a sort of industrial sculpture, a reminder of former times. Immediately after the bridge, there is an opportunity to pull in to the Jingellic pub, famed to have one of the best beer gardens on the Murray. Camping is free on the reserve in front of the pub. There are free BBQs and access to showers. I can vouch for the quality of the meals. The rest of the town is further inland, on higher ground, safe from the Upper Murray's powerful floods.

Approaching Jingellic Bridge.

Old Jingellic Bridge.

Good meals and free camping at the Jingellic Hotel.

New Jingellic Bridge.
I read a story of a man who grew up at the butter factory at Walwa. He earnt money for comics by trapping rabbits and delivering them to the pub.

Like Tintaldra, Jingellic is a picturesque small river town where it seems time stood still and development passed it by. However, their sleepy natures, beautiful settings and historical buildings have made them preferred destinations for travellers, motorcyclists and car rally clubs. Whilst most people head for Jingellic's famous pub (camping is free on the river banks in front of the hotel, hot showers are available and the meals are great) the rest of the town retains its quiet nature. The old school is now an arts and crafts building and the opening hours on the shop are more convienient to its owners than the public. The pub, which boosts one of the best beer gardens on the Murray, is just after the old bridge pylons. Inside the hotel, there are pictures and stories from the past. As in other river towns, the bridge is central to the town's identity and success. Before the first bridge was built, locals crossed the river at a ford at Horse Creek. Up until federation in 1901, Horse Creek ford was a popular smuggling point for locals avoiding the customs house set up on the Victorian side. In 1959 the new bridge was built downstream of town.

With the establishment of a butter factory in town, traffic increased making the old bridge unsafe. A new bridge was built downstream, causing a re-alignment of the road around town. Source

Log jams show the height and power of the river in flood.

I paddled around 70 km today, making it to Talmalmo cottage where Ruth was waiting. In doing so, I almost reached the front of the rising water. The water had only just begun to rise here. At the head of the surge water quality was decidedly less, as it picked up the fresh cattle droppings which pepper the river banks. Reaching the head of the surge near Jingellic, the river was white with tell tale floaties. Cattle have free access to the river for most of the Upper Murray and water quality suffers as a result. What should be the best water in the Murray is potentially the worst. Although there are cattle all along the Murray, for most of its journey to the sea it is buffered by natural environment. In the Lower Murray that natural environment is made up of the impressive sandstone cliffs, in the Murray downstream of Albury, it is forest. Both protect the river by limiting the number of access points available to cattle to reach the water and mean that there is less of the shore covered in cow pats. Catchment authorities and conservation groups are pushing for cattle access to be restricted. When I first heard of this I thought it a bit extreme, but when you can't drink the water in what is otherwise the cleanest part of the river, something is wrong. This water is so clear that you can watch the pebbles pass beneath you as you paddle, why is it not also the healthiest?

Talmalmo Cottage.

I am sitting on the balcony at Talmalmo Cottage, around twenty kilometres downstream from Jingellic. It is so peaceful. The cottage has a magnificent view over the valley. Magpies are singing and the pelicans moving to their morning's fishing spots. Sunlight has touched the top of some of the hills, but not yet all. It has a golden quality to it, as though it is gently waking all that it touches. Most of the valley is still in shadow. Soon it will be its turn. Until then, the already impressively long morning chorus will continue. It is so peaceful here. I think I might break the journey and savour it a while longer.