That Mighty Murray River .....

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: That Mighty Murray River .....
From: John Gamblin <>
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 2001 20:22:06 -0800 (PST)
Sid and Sharon Genaux <> wrote:

Hi Everyone were up here now so thought you might like
some info on this very unique area.

From: Sid and Sharon Genaux <>
Date: Sat, 06 Jan 2001 00:52:26 GMT

We are staying at Echuca on the Murray River about 150
km. north of Melbourne. Echuca was once the second
largest port in Australia, even though it is inland. 
In the late 1800's, it was the major shipping point
for wool from the outback stations all the way from
Queensland through New South Wales and Victoria. It
was shipped to Echuca and then taken overland to
Melbourne to be sent to England. The Murray River
originates in the Australian Alps in Victoria and
empties into the ocean 2500 km. away in South
Australia at Goolwa, south of Adelaide. Along the way,
it is joined by two other
major rivers: the Murrumbidgee, which runs through New
South Wales and the Darling, which originates in
Queensland. This Murray-Darling River System is at
least as important to Australia and the
Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri system is to the US. It was
a vital transport route during settlement and prior to
the introduction of motor transport, but it's major
economic value now is as an irrigation source. The
Murray supports about half of Australia's cultivated
crops, much of it's meat production and 40% of it's
wool clip annually. It provides the lifeblood of
agriculture on this dry continent.
      The Murray was discovered in 1824, and was
originally called the Hume River. Later the name was
changed to the Murray after George Murray, the British
Governor-General of Australia. Most of the border of
New South Wales and Victoria is set by the course of
the Murray River. In our travels around Australia, we
have crossed the Murray three times. Here in Echuca,
have had a chance to spend a little time cruising on
the river. We took a one-hour cruise on a
paddlesteamer called "The Pride of the Murray"
yesterday. It sets out from a mooring near the Old
Port of Echuca and goes
upriver under the bridge to New South Wales. We got to
see the huge old Redgum Dock where the paddlesteamers
have tied up in Echuca since the 1850's. It is only
about a fifth the size it was in the heyday of the
paddlesteamers in the late 1800's. Locals used the
wood from the rest of it once the river traffic
lessened.  At its peak, Echuca "boasted" 80 pubs and
30 brothels. Mike Fink and Mark Twain would have been
right at home! 
The Old Port area is a lot quieter and more
respectable now but it is a window on the world of the
past. There are three authentic oldtime paddlesteamers
tied up to the Redgum Dock. The oldest is the
"Adelaide", which was built in the 1880's. The other
two, the "Pevensey" and the "Arbuthnot" were built in
the early 1900's.  They carry passengers now, but were
mainly freight carriers originally. Their decks were
loaded with wool
bales and supplies and they towed up to three barges
full of freight behind them. We really enjoyed sitting
in the Redgum Dock Restaurant having Devonshire tea
and watching the boats going by. There were the big
paddlesteamers, houseboats full of tourists, canoes,
and powerboats. Afterwards, we strolled through the
old port looking and listening. The sounds are
wonderful.  There is the clip-clop of hooves and
jingle of harness as the carriages pass, the music of
a concertina played by a street busker, the clang of
the blacksmith's hammer and the buzz of the saw at the
woodturners, the voices and laughter of the tourists
and thier children and above it all of course the
piercing blast of the paddlesteamers' whistles. We
marveled at the size of the wood and leather bellows
at the smithy, laughed
at the antics of the ducks fighting the wakes of the
boats in the river, and smiled at the children gazing
up in awe at the huge, quiet coach horses with thier
polished hooves, soft noses, and gentle brown eyes. 
There are wonderful smells too: leather and horses,
hot metal from the smithy, smoke from the wood used to
fire the boilers of the paddlesteamers, flowers in the
gardens of the cafes and restaurants, and the sharp,
fresh smell of the gum leaves in the heat. The Old
Port of Echuca is a lively, interesting place to spend
some time. Later, we saw the Murray in a quieter, more
natural area. We took a cruise through the Barmah
Forest National Park. Barmah Forest is the largest
stand of River Redgum in Australia. Part of each year
at times of flood, these big, old trees stand with
thier feet in water. Whistling Kites, White-bellied
Sea Eagles, herons, and other birds build nests in
their branches. The beautiful Superb Parrots and
possums and sugar gliders live in cavities in their
     Kingngfishers nest in the dirt caught in the
roots of fallen trees. At places, the river spreads
out to form shallow reed-lined lakes and swamps filled
ducks, herons, ibises, egrets, and spoonbills. 
Migratory shorebirds from as far away as Siberia spend
time here feeding and resting before flying back north
for the brief breeding season. Beneath the surface
live eels, yabbies (a sort of freshwater crayfish),
mussels, and fish. The largest of the fish is the
Murray Cod which can be up to 5 feet long.

Sad to say but unfortunately, the Murray Cod has
become endangered by pollution, dredging, and the loss
of water to irrigation. But the amount of pollution
has been reduced and they are leaving more snags in
the water to provide shelter for the young fish. 

They are also looking at more efficient methods of
irrigation to cut down on the amount of water needed,
as well. Maybe, things will get better for these
unique creatures.

>From here the Murray River swings to the north and
west and we will follow it up to Swan Hill today. From
there we may go on to Mildura if it is not too hot. It
has been pretty warm since New Years. The temperature
here in Echuca has ranged from 35 to 39 degrees
Celsius. If you remember that normal body temperature
(98.6 Fahrenheit) is 37 degrees Celsius, you can see
how hot it has been. It can get as warm as 50 degrees
Celsius in Mildura so we will see how it goes when we
get closer. We have acquired an appreciation for just
plain cool water over here. Everyone, even repeatedly
John, reminds us to drink a lot when they hear our
American accents. Many tourists get dehydrated because
they are not used to the climate. Well, we had best
get on the road. Thanks for your e-mails.

Hugs to all,
Sid and Sharon


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