Sunday, 9 April 2017

Murray River Paddle 2016 Day 1 Hume Dam to Dights Hill (d/s Albury) Oct 16

First day on the river in my paddle to the sea.

Hume Dam: ready to go.
There were times today where I thought I must be mad. Why am I doing this again? It hasn't gotten any easier, that is for sure. The truth is that living on the river and paddling the length of the Murray back in 2012, I thought I saw patterns of decline. The questions that have come out of that trip eventually morphed into this trip, the data gathering part of a PhD looking at the resilience of the river banks of the Murray River.

Where there is a will there is a way.

Food planning: each pile is one day's food.

Back in 2012, the millennium drought had come to an end, and much like now, there had been a high river and, in some areas, prolonged flooding. And yet the river red gums did not seem to be recovering. Was it climate change, collapsing banks, river regulation, or lack of natural flood events that was causing this? The jury is still out, but it makes for an excellent pub conversation. Everyone has an opinion, some insight, or some concern. What it does show is that the issue is important to people. Rivers are our lifeblood.

If I could identify patterns and back this up with evidence, then perhaps we could respond to and care for the river in a way that shows respect for its grandeur. I don't mean to argue against change, or for looking areas off from the public, but perhaps we could be more clever in how we run our river, support its recovery and use it in a way that does not degrade it.

Longitudinal studies like this are rare. They tend to cost a lot and tend to involve a fair degree of discomfort. Given this, I focussed on two things I really enjoy doing, canoeing and photography. I would create a photographic record of bank condition (with an emphasis on river red gums) from Lake Hume to Lake Alexandrina. It sounded good to me. Today I began to realise how hard it was, especially in the twisty, turny river that the Murray can be up here.

I decided to try and write a record of the journey. This is the first of those records. How it will differ from the last time I don't really know. For sanity's sake and out of interest I want to keep writing about the people I meet and the things I see. I would like to delve more into the history too.

These descriptions match the photos I have uploaded with this post.

Water being released from the Hume is all going through the hydro valves, causing a massive spray on the downstream side. The river has dropped about a meter and a half. Most of the banks are intact, though a lot of trees are down, their roots unable to hold the weight in the soft soil. Current is fast, helped by water draining back out of the billabongs and wetlands back into the river. I found a nice spot to camp on high ground just beneath Dights Hill, about 50 km downstream from the Hume. It is a grassy island, which remained above the high water level in the recent floods. it is also relatively free of trees, which, given the thunderstorms and wind gusts tonight is a good idea.

At the base of the Hume.
I have included a few shots from the day so that you can get a feel for what the river looks like post high water. The river varies from wide sedentary stretches to fast flowing channels around islands. It is a much more cultivated landscape than further down the river, with tall poplars and willows a feature of the area. The later, although initially stabilising the bank, eventually seem to strangle the gums. Trees nearest billabongs and floodplain mosaics seemed to be in the best condition, whilst those closest to Albury appeared to suffer the most. I can't explain this, as it was not always a question of how high above the water they grew, which is what conventional wisdom will tell you.

Running for a number of kilometres downstream of Albury is a walking track, along which artwork reminiscent of how indigenous people used the landscape. The large fish basket is an example of this. All along the river people seemed to be breathing a collective sigh of relief, and at the same time were keen to get out on and near the water again. In Albury, 5 boys swam loudly in what really is still a pretty cold river. Around the corner music from a river-side swimming carnival echoed through the trees long before I could locate where it was actually coming from. From Hume to Albury was full of fishermen, one determinedly, if not that successfully, casting into the wind.

Fish trap sculpture honouring the aboriginal use of the land.
That same wind turned me round a few times when I paused to take photos. The great thing about this boat is that its stability means that I do not have to focus whilst taking the photos of bank condition which is what this trip is all about. It also packs a hell of a lot of gear without too much fuss. It does catch in the wind though, and it takes a long time to get going again.

Behind the wind were rolling dark clouds. With these approaching I was happy to reach the spot I had planned to camp and had time enough to eat a hearty meal and, explore my island. It really was quite remarkable watching the water drain out of the wetlands and back into the river. The strength of the flow made it clear how much water is stored there in flood times. They must have a moderating effect, protecting communities downstream from flood peaks as well as providing habitat and summer pasture.

Tomorrow I hope to make it to Howlong. Hopefully the rain will ease and the sun come out like it did at times today. Howlong will it take me... I don't know. I guess I'll get there when I get there. Sorry - couldn't resist that dad joke :)