The people of Howlong lead blessed lives. It is a quiet little town on the road to Corowa from Albury. I have the impression that more people pass through Howlong, than stop there and at least some of the locals prefer it that way. They have their patch of paradise, perched on the edge of the ancient high banks of a river that formed before humankind began to make its mark on the world. Below them the Murray snakes through forests and woodlands. It rises and falls in yearly rhythm, not interrupted by politics, war, or other things that happen on the telly. Howlong is a fisherman’s paradise. Most people have a tinny in the driveway. It does have a modest caravan park; not too big lest it attract a crowd. When the crowd still comes (to the relief of local business, I’m sure) the fishermen can retreat to Black Swan Anabranch, its their secret river. Howlong has two commons, Fig Tree Common and the Howlong Common. The first is a designated camping site, but you have to get through a fence first and it feels like private property. It is also not connected with the river as suggested on the Access Map of the area. for this reason I camped on the later.
Ancient Redgum on Howlong Common, where the traditional grazing of river flats by cattle still takes place.
I should have guessed that the area of land between the Murray and its anabranch would be full of billabongs. It was wet from the recent high river and teeming with insects. Midges that look like mosquitoes on protein powder skated across the water surface like dandelion seeds in the wind. Thankfully they did not bite and even the mosses did not bother me that much. What the common did have was the most majestic old river red gums, hundreds of years old, perfectly adapted to their environment. Each a survivor of changes we can only dream of. Normally I get excited when I find one of these trees in the forest, or along the rivers edge. The common is full of them. It is also full of cows - normally - their footprints were everywhere.
Leaving Howlong I entered into the forest again. My third day with no-one else on the river since Albury. At the Hume people had been keen to fish. In Albury some people even sunbathed on the banks. People went for walks. Since then silence. Nothing but the bird call and a sign: “Please don’t shoot our cats, they are our pets!”
|Midges blanket the supports of a river camp.|
Today was squally weather. As each group of clouds rolled in, dark and threatening, alarm cries rang through the forest. Cockies screeched. Then the wind would come, warning of the rain that followed and finally the rain. When it does rain on the river it is a relief, the wind decreases and the drops make individual splashes on the water. their circles, initially distinct, intersect and are lost in complexity when the downpour begins, blurring the line between air and water. The water seems to be jumping. In my boat I am well protected, spray deck, jacket and multiple warm layers beneath. I am enjoying being in the rain, like a kid with a new pair of gum boots. Water droplets collect on my camera lens, but I am able to splash them off. Thank God for waterproof cameras. After the rain the air is clear and the colours more crisp. The leaves of the red gums appear more green and their bark more colourful. The river has a tropical feel.
|Wooden posts placed to reduce erosion of the river banks - no match for the river's currents.|
The banks of the ancient river seem to come closer together as the day goes on. In Corowa they form a bottle-neck for the river, backing it up from the town’s original, the narrowest point. 20 kilometres from Howlong the river is beginning to spill over into its floodplain. There are a myriad of streams, minor cuttings where the river takes a short cut. They sound like little water walls. Larger ones are marked with warning signs and buoys, but they are all best avoided lest you become part of the log jams that inevitably hide within them.
In this flooded landscape I found a piece of paradise: River Gold. Just the I needed a break it was there. A real men's den. A fishing hut with style, even old sofas - though they had seen better days. The hut itself was more of an open shed. It had a slab table, a sink for cleaning fish, no drain, just the sink, more tables, chairs and three big bottles of bleach. Fixed to one of the supporting beams was an angled steel pipe with a hook on the end for hanging fish. Just down from the hut was a sign “Ron’s corner”, in memory of a departed mate. Downstream was its earlier cousin, a weatherboard hut of the same name, but now starting to fall apart.
|Camp at Eleanora Reserve, near Corowa, at the top of the banks of an ancient and much broader Murray River within which the current river meanders.|
I kept paddling through alternating forest and farming landscape until I reached my camp, a picturesque public fishing reserve named “Eleanora”. To get to it you have to paddle through the trees for a short way and then climb the bank to pitch your tent, but the views are worth it. The ancient river bank I’m camped on is that high I can look out into the tree canopy from my tent. Yellow gums grow on the slope down to the river and wildflowers all over the top. Its the closest thing to a meadow I have seen outside of the high country. The camp is also tree safe, which, given the wind and the number of trees that have fallen over recently, is a good thing.
Sun is forecast for the next few days. It will make a nice change. Should make for some good photos too. I wonder what the river will do below Corowa, whether its character changes, or it remains the same. Not long until the Ovens joins, and then there is Lake Mulwala.