Monday, 23 February 2015

Goulburn River Paddle Day 5: Old Toolamba - Maneroo Rd bush camp.

Goulburn River Paddle
Day 5: Old Toolamba - Maneroo Rd bush camp
238 - 298  (60 km)

Click on the red pins for information on a feature from today's leg of the journey.

It had rained all night, but despite heavy falls in other areas, the rain where I camped had only been gentle, steady and soaking. My tent was well and truly wet, but it had done its job and kept me and everything else inside of it dry. Whilst price is usually a good indicator of quality, this little Aldi tent has been fantastic. It has kept me dry on all my journeys and although it is starting to look a little worse for wear, I have a difficult time parting with it. It has become like an old friend, a place of comfort and security to retire to after long days on the river. Like my boat, my tent has become an extension of self, it is a cocoon to recover in, a safe place to unpack and spread out all the gear that I have worked so hard to keep dry, and in the evening, a protective bubble to keep out the ever present mosquitoes.

My trusty green tent: cheap, but well designed and constructed.

Waking around sunrise after a pretty broken night, I wished I could have another two hours sleep. The thought of a whole day paddling in the rain may not have helped either. I decided to look on the bright side; canoeing in the rain is very peaceful, (there is no one else on the river - why, I wonder), and when the rain eases there can be a gentle mist rising. I also told myself that it wouldn't be as hot as the last few days. I put on my only fleece jumper and my gortex jacket. It was going to be cold and I was tired, however, there was nothing to it; I had agreed to meet my fellow canoeist, Barry Bell of the Shepparton Canoe Club at a bend just after the Toolamba bridge at 8:30 am. This was 15 km away and I still had to get there yet.

I hit the water at 7:17 am, snacking on fruit, muesli bars and nuts as I went. My arms still wouldn't work. They were stiff and tired. I remembered a similar feeling the night I had accepted cheap red wine from supportive campers near Wentworth on the Murray. A penny for your thoughts, so to speak. On that occasion, I paddled bravely out of sight and then limped for the first 5 kilometres till everything had shaken off the short night and accepted the task ahead. It was no different this time. I arrived at the Toolamba bridge site at 8:45 am, a picture of fitness. It was just a pity that Barry was already on the water and ready to go, as I had used too much energy keen to make a good impression with that fast arrival!

Once underway, the night's stiffness slowly disappeared and I allowed myself to be absorbed by the beauty of paddling on a river patterned by raindrops. These are quiet times. Birds go silent in the rain, only to sing all the more loudly immediately following it, the sounds of their calls echoing off the wet foliage, as if in a rainforest.

 Beware of the crocodiles: one fisherman's way of keeping his favorite spot. 
Near Toolamba on the Mooroopna-Murchison Rd.

There are plenty of potential beach campsites in this stretch of the river.

Toolamba Rail Bridge 1.5km South of Toolamba. In the foreground is one of the original brick pylons, with the concrete supports of the 1963 Goulburn Valley Railway in the background. The Goulburn Valley Railway connects Shepparton with the Sydney to Melbourne Railway at Seymour. At Toolamba, a branch line heads via Kyabram towards Echuca. It was reopened in 2011 (article) providing an alternative route for rail freight from Denilquin (especially the annual rive crop) to reach the Port of Melbourne. Up until that point rail freight from these areas could only travel at night as it disrupted passenger services between Bendigo and Melbourne.

Toolamba Bridge. Source: One story I read about this bridge was told by a farmer who had property either side of the bridge in the 1970's. They used to drive their herd of milking cows across it. They said that it was an old bridge, even back then. Toolamba has a population of around 900 people. It has a general store, a kindergarten and primary school, the Junction Hotel and a Bed and Breakfast (wikipedia).

Barry Bell from the Shepparton Canoe Club kept me company for the 24km into his home town. Barry was the only person to paddle with me, and almost the only canoeist I met on the entire 470 km journey.

The junction of the Broken and Goulburn Rivers. The Broken River originates on the slopes of Mt. Buffalo passing through Benalla, it meets the Goulburn at Shepparton. It is called the Broken River because, before regulation, it was more often a series of waterholes than a river (ref). The Broken creek which diverges off the Broken River shortly after Benalla is the original path of the river. It flows through Numurkah and Nathalia before reaching the Murray upstream of Barmah.

Broken River: Source Wikipedia. When the Broken River is in flood it is said to be the fastest river on the plains of the Murray Darling Basin.

Flood Map for Shepparton when both the Goulburn and Broken Rivers are in flood. The blue area indicates areas inundated by water at 12.3 m on the Shepparton Gauge. The Broken River and Seven Creeks join the Goulburn River south of Mooroopna and Shepparton and make the area very prone to floods. Flooding in the area has affected people, property, businesses and livestock since 1870. The Goulburn River catchment collects rainfall from the Seymour area, the Great Dividing Range and water releases from Lake Eildon. The Broken River and Seven Creeks catchments collect rainfall from the Benalla, Euroa and Strathbogie areas. Floods in these areas often result in floods in Mooroopna and Shepparton. Mooroopna and Shepparton are also at risk of flash flooding after heavy rain because the land is so flat. Source: Local Flood Guide for Shepparton and Mooroopna.  

ABC News report from the 2010 floods in Shepparton.

Wet, but toasty warm from the work out it took to keep up with Barry. No danger of a flood today. Although the rain was steady, it was not heavy. All the same it pays to have a working radio tuned into local news to be sure that you know what is happening upstream on the tributaries which contribute to the river you are paddling on. This is especially important when making camp.
"Your looking good, let's go" said Barry. Barry was on an OC1, a racing boat. Having seen the speed I arrived at he continued at a similar pace, which he described as leisurely. Keeping up with Barry was a challenge, which is all the more impressive if you consider that he is also between 15 and 20 years my senior. Luckily Barry allowed me to slow down a bit and have the odd break. All the same, the 25 km we paddled together was close to the fastest I had paddled on the trip.

After the Mooroopna Railway Bridge, the first obvious sign of Mooroopna is the industrial landscape of the SPC Ardmona fruit company. SPC stands for Shepparton Preserving Company. It's fortunes have long been a bellwether for those of the region. Locals identify so strongly with the company that threatened funding cut backs in Feb 2014, became a national political issue with the sitting liberal member Sharman Stone, standing up to her own party and eventually winning (smh article).

On the right hand bend, just before the Kialla Road Bridge is the site of the original Punt Crossing on the Goulburn River (1875 – 1877). When the river is low enough, you can also see the remains of the Mooroopna Wharf and the barge C1877. Kialla Bridge which was built in 1877, originally had a drawbridge in the centre to allow steamers to reach the wharf. Barry showed me the 'shoot' on the left side of the river as you go under the bridge. It is the fastest patch of current in the local area. He described how local paddlers like to see how fast they can go there. Keen to give it a go with Barry, I saw his boat disappear into the distance.

On leaving Mooroopna, the Goulburn snakes for 5 km through a native flora and flora reserve known to locals as 'The Flats''. As with most of the nature reserves along the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin, the Flats are floodplains. It does not pay to build anything permanent there. The open space and rich environment did attract members of the Yorta Yorts aboriginal community who walked off Cummeragunga Station in 1939 in protest over conditions. They stayed on the Goulburn, which they called Kaiela, until the 1970's.  A September 1946 police report listed 130 people aged from 8 days to 80 years living on the ‘flats’ with a third of them less than 15 years of age. Lodgings consisted of 29 dwellings, 22 being assortments of tin or hessian bag huts and the rest tents. The river provided abundant food including crayfish, red fin, yellow belly, cod as well as possum, turtle, turtle eggs, swan, duck, crane and other birds and their eggs. The women predominantly fished whilst the men would hunt for rabbits.  Every year the river would flood, causing the residents to move to higher ground on Daish’s paddock, now home to KidsTown Adventure Playground (mmg article).

During the Queen’s visit of 1954, when hessian bags were placed along the causeway to prevent Her Majesty from seeing the humpies and tents. ‘‘Everyone was waiting for the Queen to come through so she could see,’’ Mr Turner said. ‘‘People thought they might get some help out of it — but it wasn’t so. ‘‘The hessian sacks stayed there for weeks.’’ (mmg article).
Source: Goulburn: Talking Fish: Making connections with the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin
It was nice to have company and with Barry as guide, I saw a side of Shepparton that I had not seen before, like the 6km walk from the pool and gym at the lake, which takes you over the Goulburn River on a suspension bridge and to the Giants kids playground in Mooroopna; the 6 km of riverside walk and the rock wall rapids downstream of the Goulburn Valley Highway road bridge.

The Goulburn River upstream of Shepparton flows through state park. It's banks are covered in beautiful native tussock grasses. In the rain, the gold colour of the mature seed head carrying stalks and the green of the young shoots becomes more vibrant and I cannot help but admire them. This is what Australia Felix must have looked to Mitchell when he first ventured into the interior in 1836 and told tales of rich and promising pastures. There is a movement back to using native grasses for pasture. Apparently they are richer in nutrients than non native grasses and are preferred by sheep and cattle. Being deep rooted, they are more drought resistant and can also recover from bush fire. They do not cope with being trampled, or over grazed. Those farmers who have successfully experimented with natural pastures say that in order to manage them effectively, less stock can be put on the land than with introduced grasses. I hope that more take up the use of these impressive grasses. The land, cattle and wildlife would benefit from such a move. (Native pastures info DPI, ABC, Landcare ).

River Red Gum; Image source: Jess Gibbs

Greater Shepparton Council (biodiveristy statement)

Shepparton is a town which reflects much of what Australia dreams of being. It has always been home to migrants and it seeks prosperity through agriculture. In Shepparton's case this was not on the sheep's back but through dairy and fruit. Both have struggled with structural reform of farming in Australia and recurrent persistent drought. It is constantly seeking to reinvent itself - expressed though this creative Stegosaurus cow at the town's information centre. Source
The birds that seem to enjoy the rain most were the kingfishers. I have never seen so many on one stretch of river. Sacred kingfishers with their white bellies sit higher above the water than their Azure cousins, but both enjoy fishing. Sacred kingfishers fly to redgum forests in the south of Australia all the way from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to breed in the tree hollows. The azure kingfishers are smaller and look as if they have no tail. With their reddish bellies and white streak behind the ears, they definitely look like they are wagging school. When seen, the usually fly low over the water, ducking under logs and flying through snags, till they land on another good place to fish undisturbed (please). Sorry little kingfishers.

Sacred Kingfisher  (Todiramphus sanctus) Source: Arkive

The diet of the sacred kingfisher is quite varied, and includes a wide range of insects and other invertebrates, such as spiders, centipedes, worms and crustaceans. It also preys on small vertebrates, including fish, tadpoles and frogs, lizards, snakes, birds and mice. Sacred kingfishers can be quite territorial, often calling and aggressively chasing away intruders, including other bird species... it is thought that breeding pairs return to the same breeding and non-breeding territories year after year. The breeding is between September and January or March, with the exact timing depending on the location. Sacred kingfishers usually nest in a tree hollow or in a tunnel excavated in a bank, cliff or even a termite mound. Source: Arkive

Azure Kingfisher: Ceyx azureus. With its combination of royal-blue plumage on its upperparts contrasting with orange on its underparts, the Azure Kingfisher is one of the smallest and most dazzling kingfishers in Australia. This diminutive species inhabits the vegetation beside waterways and other wetlands, where it often perches on low, overhanging branches, searching for its prey of fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects, captured by shallow plunging into the water. Anglers on lonely rivers are sometimes surprised to find an Azure Kingfisher perched quietly on their fishing rods instead of a branch. Source (picture and text: Birdlife Australia).

Downstream of Shepparton, litter pollution is an issue, both in the water and on the land at the frequented camping spots. It is better to seek a lesser used spot as there will usually be less rubbish. A canoe or kayak traveller, needs little more than a flat spot of ground to set up tent and there are plenty of these. The rubbish catches on snags in the river, like the special booms that are in city rivers. I would rather see the bottles, balls, tv's and inflatable toys in these than in the snags on the river. Perhaps it would be a good idea to install these. Lobby your local council. Protect the bush.

In this article by Environment Victoria, local paddler, Dianne Brown describes the joys and frustrations of paddling in the Goulburn around Shepparton. Whereas she saw balls and firehoses, I saw pool toys and television sets. Do they really all come from storm water? Do some people use and leave their flotation aids? Do people really throw their old televisions into the river and why? Shepparton's floating TV's accompanied me all the way to Echuca. Being a resident of that town, I had always wondered where they came from. It is not something that I have seen anywhere else in all my journeys in the Murray Darling Basin.

About 4 km downstream from Shepparton road bridge is a rock wall which is passable at high river but otherwise a portage is necessary. Another 2 km further is an even larger wall. Portaging here is made easier by a boat ramp just upstream and downstream of the wall. I managed to get through both, but make sure you check out the levels and know what you are doing before you try that. Err on the side of caution.

Shepparton Weir. The water was high enough to paddle through without touching the bottom. Another portage saved.

Video footage of passing through the Shepparton Weir.

Shepparton Town Weir at low water level, showing the step like construction which allows fish to move through it. Source

Beginning in Shepparton, the Lower Goulburn National Park protects most of the land either side of the river until it's confluence with the Murray River 160 km away. Many people say this is the most beautiful part of the river, due to its isolation and ecological integrity. I am looking forward to paddling through this area, a place I grew up in, but know so little about.

Lower Goulburn National Park Notes 

The Goulburn River is lined with River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and is an important wildlife corridor linking the mountains of the Great Dividing Range to the Murray River. The river is highly scenic with its narrow strips of riparian vegetation along its meandering banks. The adjoining River Red Gum forests and woodlands provide a striking contrast to the adjacent farmland. The Victorian Government created the Lower Goulburn National Park, along with other new and expanded parks, in June 2010 to protect and enhance the River Red Gum forests in Victoria.

River Red Gum forests have high natural, cultural and economic values. These forests are coming under increasing pressure from climate change, drought and reduced water flows in the northern rivers. Protecting this precious environment relies on balancing economic and recreational activities with preserving its natural beauty and values. River Red Gums line the Goulburn River for most of its length. These iconic trees have been known to reach 45 metres and live for more than 500 years. The trees need periods of flooding and can survive inundation for months. Their seeds are washed onto higher ground during a flood and germinate and grow before the next flood reaches them. Hollows and broken branches provide nesting for galahs, cockatoos, cockatiels and various parrots, while fallen branches provide habitat for other animals.

The River Red Gum forests and Yellow and Grey Box woodlands between Shepparton and the Murray River are notable in terms of size, lack of disturbance, diversity and botanical ‘intactness’. The River Red Gum forest with areas of grassy and shrubby understory, plus the large number of wetlands, billabongs provides habitat for a number of significant fauna species including Brush-tailed Phascogales, Barking Owls, Royal Spoonbills and Musk Ducks. Areas containing tree hollows and mature Silver Wattle contain habitat of national significance for the rare Squirrel Glider. Flora species of note include the endangered Grey Billy-buttons, Small Scurf-peas and Jericho Wiregrass. Reedy Swamp, north of Shepparton, when filled, is a haven for waterbirds including the Glossy Ibis and the Royal Spoonbill.

Unlike many Victorian rivers, the Goulburn River below Shepparton remains largely undisturbed. Instream debris and large snags provide valuable habitat for Murray Cod and other fish species.

Whilst it faces the challenges that all inland rivers in Australia face, there are some success stories really worth celebrating in the Goulburn River. I barely saw a carp before Shepparton and very few before the junction with the Murray near Echuca. Credit goes to the catchment management authorities, but also to farmers, fishermen and naturalists. One of the most interesting accounts of change, how the river used to be, and what we can aim for again is from 'True tales of trout cod'. This remarkable research uses the stories and photographs of old fishermen. It forms a valuable resource and provides an insight into the both the past and the processes that happen on the river. When we better understand the impact of our actions on the river, we can, in most cases modify our behaviour so that the health of the river improves.

Fishermen's tales

I pulled in early today. 8 hours of rain soaked paddling and a short night have sapped my energy. It has also meant that I was able to start my blog early, download the photos from my GoPro and hopefully upload them before evening. There are also devices to be charged. There was not enough sun today to charge my lithium battery, so I am using a sealed lead acid battery to do that job. With phone and cameras charged, blog written, wet clothes hanging between the layers of the tent to dry. It's time for a cold beer to celebrate the day!

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