“THE MURRAY RIVER FROM SOURCE TO SEA”
By Kevin Moody
In 1979 I was working as a Cartographer with the Division of National Mapping in Dandenong Victoria. This Commonwealth Department was responsible for the initial mapping of Australia at scales of 1 to 100k and 1 to 250k
As part of this program my section were involved in the compilation of the 1979 Edition of the 1:100,000 map sheet Jacobs Creek which covers the source of the Murray River.
Many years later in 6/85 when I was asked by a visiting V.I.P. from our Canberra office- “What is the legal description of the source of the Murray”?- I was able to scratch the head and reply- “The Murray’s source is considered to be the start of the tributary of the Murray which is closest to Cape Howe.” This answer was too simple for the V.I.P. so I agreed to send him more precise information a few days later.
I then rang the Head of the Survey Department of R.M.I.T. who referred me to the Survey Journal “Traverse” April ‘85 edition Pages 8 to 13 (See attachment 1) In short these pages state:-
Commencing at a spring in Lat. 36 degrees 47 minutes and 57 seconds and Long. 148 degrees 11 minutes and 58 seconds which spring is the source of the River Murray nearest to Cape Howe; thence bearing S. 63 degrees 01 minutes 50.58 E. to a point on Forest Hill called station No.1 marked with a pile of stones 9 ft. high.
Before forwarding this information to our Canberra Office I checked to see how the upper Murray was shown on other maps of this area. I was surprised to find that the Upper Murray above Bringenbrong Bridge (near Tawonga) was shown as the Indi River on many of the other maps. Reference material in the form of a Canoeist’s guide also referred to the Upper Murray as the Indi River (See attachment 2).
This would explain why numerous adventure seekers like Eric De Red, Hepworth and Hinde of “Around the Bend” fame, some swimmers and many canoeists all commenced their “Whole of the Murray” travels near Bringenbrong. Newspaper coverage of these adventures is of great interest but doesn’t ever mention the other 125k’s of the Murray between Bringenbrong and the Murray source high in the Great Divide near Forest Hill (See attachment 3).
I now began to wonder if indeed anyone had ever traversed the whole of the mighty Murray. I knew a few Survey Students who as part of their studies had visited the Cowambat Flat to Source area from time to time, but I had not heard of any students who had then traversed the steep stony areas from Cowambat Flat to Tom Groggin and then on through the white waters of the “Murray Gates” to Bringenbrong. Likewise I had not heard of any “Lower Murray” adventurers who had bothered to travel the more difficult 125k’s of the Murray upstream from Bringenbrong.
So I thought what a great adventure it would be to traverse the whole of the Murray, source to sea, and decided to discuss the idea with my adventurous ex Nat Map friend Lou Sommer at an opportune moment in the near future. Such a moment arrived a month later 7/85 as we sat around a log fire at a ski lodge in Thredbo. We were having a few beers after a hard days skiing, and as we rambled on about some past adventures like rafting the Franklin and climbing Mts. Bogong and Feathertop, I casually asked “What do you think our next adventure should be Lou”? To my surprise he said “Let’s go down the Murray”. “All the way” I queried “Why not” he said, and so planning for our traverse of the whole of the Murray began that very evening.
Our journey was undertaken in 6 stages but not in sequence, to suit work commitments, back up crews and ever changing water levels of the river. For convenience I write these notes in a “source to sea” sequence.
Source to Round Mountain 22-25 April 1988
In preparation for this short rugged section I collected maps and air photos of the area and Lou hired a Toyota 4WD. Lou and I drove the 4WD with Gillian and Myrie on Friday 22nd a sunny autumn day, to Omeo. Graham Lawrence a work friend also drove to Omeo with his wife for he had volunteered to drive the 4W.D.
After a pleasant night in an Omeo Motel, Graham drove Lou and I with our wives to Benambra then on a reasonable dirt road toward Suggan Buggan before turning North onto a rugged fire trail to Cowambat Flat.
Then while our wives admired the wild flowers on this flat grassy plain Graham drove us over a shallow Murray River into Kosciusko National Park, for about 2.5ks. We could see on our 1:50k Topographic Map that if we left our vehicle just after the fire trail turned north and rose more steeply we could walk easterly at approx the same level to arrive in the first shallow valley slightly upstream from the source. We did this then walked down this dry creek bed to shortly arrive at a damper area of higher grass and reeds around a small spring- “The source of the Murray”. As we commenced to follow this small trickle which divides Vic. from N.S.W. we caught glimpses of a cairn of stones on Forest Hill, the first station of Surveyor Blacks Border Survey, from the source of the Murray to Cape Howe.
After following this small waterway and sometimes standing in both Vic and N.S.W. at the same time we finally emerged from this lightly timbered area onto Cowambat Flat again, where we enjoyed a tasty cut lunch with the ladies (our wives). During our absence as well as wild flower survey the ladies discovered the remains of an R.A.A.F. Dakota which had crash landed on the Flat in 1954. This wreckage was incorrectly shown on our map as wreckage of the Southern Cloud.
We returned to Omeo early in the afternoon after enjoying a few drinks in the old Benambra Pub on the way. The old lady owner had us in stitches as she told us stories of her exploits as a young country girl in Melbourne during the second World War.
The ladies stayed at Omeo while Graham drove us back to Cowambat Flat for an early start on our hike or swim to Round Mountain. We made quick progress for the first half k before the scrub thickened and the river banks steepened. After our ankles became sick of bending towards N.S.W. as we were walking in Victoria, we would spent some time in N.S.W. so they bent the other way. Horse trails provided some relief from the dense scrub but after a couple of hours we decided to seek relief and swim or wade through the Murray’s cool waters. Very cool we soon found and we were pleased to wear the Long John wet suits, we had carried in our packs for warmth and protection.
Progress was then slow and tiring but I knew we must be getting close to Round Mtn. and its 4WD Fire Trail when we rounded a sharp steep section of the river to be confronted by a couple of trout fishermen casting their lines towards us. We weren’t so surprised to see them but they were sure surprised and a little angry to see us. I tried to spare a thought for a pair of rich yuppies with an expensive 4 WD and the best of fishing equipment who had travelled to the most isolated of natures sacred fishing havens only to have their awaited catch scared away by a couple of silly “old buggars” clad in Red and Blue wet suits! “Walk around there” they said “ can’t you see we’re fishing”? “Hold your lines” we said “can’t you see we’re swimming”! I was still smiling about this incident when we met up with Graham in our 4WD at Round Mtn. I smiled even more when Graham, considerate bloke that he is, produced a couple of cold cans!
Round Mountain To Tom Groggin. Jan ‘88.
This section of the river was covered in a partly failed attempt to travel the Murray from its source to Tom Groggin.
Our plan was to leave Melbourne with two cars, park mine in the Reserve at Tom Groggin then continue in Lou’s car to Dead Horse Gap (near Thredbo ski village). From D.H.G. we hoped to hike to the source then traverse the Murray back to my car parked near the river at Tom Groggin. In our search for detailed information about this section of the river we had little success. Not surprising I suppose when I read in an Outdoors Guide Book “There is no record of any trips upstream of Tom Groggin but if access were possible it would be most exciting”. I made a stereoscopic scan of aerial photos of the area at my work but the photo scale was too small to tell much about gradient changes, rocky stretches or log jambs. However these photos did clearly show that from its source near Cowambat Flat the Murray flowed its bendy way through steep and deep thickly timbered gorges until it reached some flatter ground near Tom Groggin. It would be very difficult to turn back once the river trek was commenced.
At a weak moment, after looking at the aerial photos, I became more safety conscious than usual and decided to enlist some help from Wildtreck, a professional rafting operator who ran rafting tours through the Murray Gates immediately downstream from Tom Groggin. Their chief guide said most of our area of interest was unknown to him except for 10-15ks upstream from Tom Groggin which they had found to have numerous rock or log jammed stretches unsuitable for their inflatable rafts. “Good luck, but no thanks, we are not interested in being a paid member of your adventure”!
A bit deflating but better news was to follow when a short while later we met an old skiing mate- Michael Grant. Mike, we found had become a “serious” hiker with Melbourne Bayside Walking Club and had led hikers through the Tin Mine Creek - Tom Groggin areas. He was able to give us an accurate description of river conditions from a point about 46ks downstream from the source to Tom Groggin. To our surprise he recommended lilos as the most suitable craft for river travel in these parts.
They would certainly be easier and lighter to carry than rafts or canoes and as well would be convenient to sleep on if there was enough sun to dry them out each night after river use. However when I recalled the trouble I’d had previously trying to remain balanced on a lilo in our swimming pool I was a bit suspicious about this suggestion.
We decided to have a trial run, so Lou, equipped with a new heavy duty lilo recently purchased ($30) from a disposal store and myself with a more standard lighter model, I had for years, tried to negotiate some of the faster moving stretches of the Delatite River near Gough’s Bay. With our packs weighing about 35 kilos. And mounted across the lilos headrest area, our trials began to the amusement of our wives and the disbelief of local fishermen who watched and shook their heads. No wonder, as my lilo proved to be pretty useless and would barely stay afloat under the combined weight of body and pack.
Lou’s heavy weight Hungarian model was much better, remained flat with the rider clear of the water line when weight was evenly distributed and only buckled about 10 centimetres or so with Lou in a sitting position. Bigger bottoms cause bigger buckles so Lou being a few kilos lighter than me was able to negotiate the shallow stretches more quickly with less scraping of a protruding under section on rocks and gravel. To minimise the risk of punctures we tied light weight covers, also purchased from a Disposal store, over the lilo. This seemed to work well, as though the cover appeared scratched and rubbed, after numerous scrapes on shallow rocks, the lilo’s surface remained unworn. We decided the covers were likely to become torn after a day or two on the river and added a couple of rolls of waterproof tape to our ever increasing kit list for cover repair. We also agreed that the light weight paddle we used during this trial provided greater control in fast water, was definitely better than just hands or feet to propel our small craft through still water and also provided a useful “third leg” when stumbling through shallow slippery rock areas on foot.
With our river craft successfully tested we set our minds to organising food, tents, clothing and carry packs. To minimise weight, dehydrated food was selected for main meals, cardboard packaging was replaced with a variety of plastic bags and clothing was kept to essentials. But, even so, we could not get our pack weights below 35 kg’s. With regret I decided not to take any of our favourite beverages - my O.P. rum stayed at home!
Mike Grant followed our preparation with interest and eventually became so envious that he decided to join us for this adventure along with three other members of his bush walking club - Kate, Kent and Bill.
Finally with all food and equipment prepared it only remained to sharpen up our fitness. This was done by trudging around our local parks (Brimbank and Jells) for an hour each day with our packs loaded with bricks and books to equal 35 kg’s. After 2 weeks and the loss of a few cms from the waistline we drove to Dead Horse Gap on Friday 22 Jan’88 to commence our trek to the source of the Murray on Sat 23. My car was left in the reserve at Tom Groggin, Mikes was parked at D.H.G. where we spent a most pleasant evening camped under a dazzling starry sky on the banks of the Thredbo R. A great night with an adequate supply of tinnies with the only problem being the sudden unexpected arrival of a willy-nilly which blew our camp fire into a clump of thick dry grass which burnt off the lower section of my left trouser leg while I was trying to stamp it out.
We were all up early on Saturday 23rd. to make the most of this cool mountain air and with enormous torso sized packs secured on backs we commenced out trek. The well surfaced fire trail followed the north side of the Thredbo R. as it flowed through a broad grassed valley before crossing it and rising more steeply to disappear into heavily timbered ranges.
Lou the oldest member of our party also seemed the most fit and led our group for most of the morning. I brought up in the rear slightly ahead of Kent who had a fitness problem greater than mine. About 9 km’s down the trail we were all very tired with the sun keeping our necks warm from its position high in the cloudless sky. Cascade Hut appeared and we were pleased to remove packs and rest there for 20 minutes or so.
This hut initially constructed and used by the original “Mountain Men” was in good repair and also boasted a toilet with a door which was permanently inclined to hang open. Just as well for through that open door a glorious view was available to the occupant of the warm wooden seat. A real luxury not ever found in suburbia or expected in the bush. The highlight of the day!
With a lighter load we continued our trek and were grateful to find for the first time that the trail was now as much down as up hill. Even so no one complained when we stopped for an early lunch of dry biscuits, cheese and a few slabs of salted meat. Lou boiled the billy for tea with water from a small stream close by. After lunch it was difficult to be enthusiastic about adding a heavy pack to a tired body, but after a few grunts and groans we were mobile again. Some were more mobile than others, as our once closely grouped gang began to spread with the space between the leading and rear walkers ever increasing.
I selected a pace that initially put me towards the rear of the field but at this “comfortable” rate I was able to stop less frequently than the faster walkers. This system worked well and I started to spend some time in front of the pack.
On one occasion from this front position I could hear the dull thuds of footsteps of the other walkers fast approaching from the rear. The trail was flatter than usual and I had just been refreshed by some cool misty rain so I took a few deep breaths and began to walk faster not wishing to be left too far behind.
After about 20 mins of speedier walking I slowed at last to let my companions pass. To my surprise I was greeted by a couple of male hikers with light weight packs who said “G’day, thought we’d never catch you. Are you by yourself or with that group at rest a couple of ks back?” By the time Lou arrived I was well rested and decided to continue while Lou waited for the rest of the group to catch up.
In the steeper sections of the trail it is convenient to walk with the body bent very forward from the waist. From this position I didn’t see much except the stony red brown surface of the trail frequently decorated with piles of Brumby poo and occasionally a glistening black snake slithering in front of my boot into the safety of trail side grass.
But now within 5k’s of Carter’s Hut the trail was flatter and I was able to walk with a more erect stance and admire the beauty of rugged horizons, white trunk Mountain Ash and fine looking long tailed Brumbies, black, white and brown, happily grazing on native grasses.
Finally I arrived at Carters hut at about 1700 hrs. Like many cattlemen’s huts in the High Country it was situated in the middle of a grassy plain 10 metres below the fire trail on the ridge. The area was deserted so I was able to claim the Hut as accommodation for Lou and self, have a bath in the cool clear waters of nearby Ingeegoodbee River and boil the billy before the rest of our group arrived.
Carters Hut is one of three buildings that are the remains of the Mount Pilot Tin Mining Company that operated early in the 1900’s. After the mine closed Charlie Carter, a brumby runner and fossicker made the best of these huts his home. Charlie would have a good catch if he were here today for I could see about 10 fully grown Brumbies and a couple of foals enjoying a drink from the river nearby. After they drank, some would throw their heads back sharply and remain still for a second or two as they could smell the smoke that I could see above a quiet red glow on the horizon to the south east - a fire in Mt. Kosciusko National Park
With Lou and I comfortably set up in Carter’s Hut, we volunteered to cook the evening meal for all while they were busy erecting their small tents here and there on the grassy flat or having a bath. Then after what you might call an adequate meal, it was early to bed for we were more than a bit stuffed after our 26k trek from Dead Horse Gap.
I slept very soundly until wakened by several loud claps of thunder, then, as flashes of lightening were repeatedly visible through the narrow slits in the wall near my bed, heavy rain began to drum loudly on our rusty tin roof. Between the thunder claps I heard other noises, and on opening the door to investigate I glimpsed the fury of nature and the fury of wild horses in a grand performance. As frequent forks of lightening spread their twisted silver or red hot fingers from the heavens toward our grassy plain, night was turned to day in a flash! Then darkness, then yet another illuminating flash, each to reveal the rapidly changing positions of a dozen brumbies as they tried to match the fury of the heavens in their mad gallop round and around again Carter’s Hut and its small circle of tents. Then just as suddenly as it started, the rain stopped, clouds parted, to reveal a sky sparkling with stars and the brumbies just disappeared into the darkness of a quiet night.
Sunday 24th Jan ‘88.
Was I dreaming or was there really a wild stampede of brumbies here last night? Kent didn’t believe us for he, being totally stuffed last night, had slept through the whole show. He changed his mind when we showed him the dozens of hoof marks close to the rear of his little tent.
By popular vote we decided to rest for the day to catch up on sleep, rest the limbs and allow today’s showers to put out the fires still burning in the direction we were headed.
Monday 25th Jan’88.
After an early start on a cool fine day we headed south west bound for Cowambat Flat and the source of the Murray nearby. By 1100hrs we had walked a long uphill section on the north side of The Little Pilot Mtn to arrive at the junction of the Snow Gum and Cowambat fire trails. We could see the grassy clearing known as Cowambat Flat below us about six ks south, but, as we were now a day behind time we set off on the Snow Gum trail - with the hope of reaching the Murray at Round Mountain which was 18ks closer to our final destination, Tom Groggin. No worries for the first 7ks for the trail was clearly dozed but then as the ridge dropped very steeply, the trail stopped just as it’s shown on our map. After a careful study of the map we proceeded along the steepening ridge line for about 2ks and when we reached a small saddle we followed the ridge to the north-west.
I was comforted by the very occasional sighting of a small piece of pink plastic tape tied to the branch of a Snow Gum - the only remains of a proposed trail originally marked with red tape to join the Snow Gum and Round Mtn. fire trails I assumed. No wonder it was never dozed, only a tank could travel these steep slopes.
Soon after commencing this steep 4k decent to the Murray my legs started to complain. Knees ached and toes were thrust forcibly forward leaving toe-nails with no where to go except further back into their now tender sockets of skin. I relieved this problem by walking a zigzag route across rather than directly down the ridge which confused those following until I told them what I was about.
After a couple of hours of steep descent the ridge flattened and Round Mtn. came into view across a now shallow valley. Pleased to be on flatter ground again we had trying times with some very deep log littered gullies which I crossed most uncomfortably by side stepping along fallen trees that spanned them. At last we waded through the cool clear and cold waters of the upper Murray to set up camp and prepare for tomorrow. Oh for a beer, staminade will have to do!
Tuesday 26 th Jan ‘88
After a comfortable sleep under a starry sky we were all up early to start the next stage of our travels, liloing 66ks down the Murray to my car parked at Tom Groggin reserve. It was good not to have to deflate the lilo as usual and stuff it in the pack, but instead inflate it just a bit more and tie a protective cover over it to minimise punctures on the river. Lou and I also tied small oval shaped pieces of plywood we had carried with us to each end of a small sapling cut from the bush with a rope saw. These would be our paddles.
After tying our still heavy packs to the rear end of the lilos with light nylon rope we set off. Progress was more difficult than expected with long stretches of shallow stone littered water just a bit too cold for comfort. I spent more time walking than floating while trailing the laden lilo behind on a rope like a large loony dog. Maybe I was the loony one. As I staggered down the river with my Dunlop Volleys randomly sliding to an unintended position to complete each step, I felt like a pissed pensioner strolling through a rock garden!
By 1600hrs we started looking for a suitable camp site. We knew it would take some time for our now very wet lilos to dry out for use as beds and we were certainly leg weary. No grassy flats were to be found, just thick tangled scrub below aged gums. With no alternative we chipped and smoothed some of the lower ground cover and slept within a tangled mess of scrub after repairing our lilo covers with water proof tape.
Wednesday 27th Jan’88.
Day 2 on the river was much the same as the first, more walking than rafting. Occasionally our progress was slowed even more by large head high logs or a tangle of fallen boughs lying across our path. Instead of boiling the billy for tea we made up time by drinking more staminade which surprisingly seemed to increase our energy levels. If I needed encouragement to press on down stream I only had to look at the dense impossible to walk through scrub on either side of the river that shielded from view steep rugged slopes of the Great Dividing Range like those we had descended on Monday.
About 1300hrs we were lucky to find “in N.S.W.” a bark strewn rocky beach in front of a flat grassy area where we set up camp. No shortage of fresh water or dry fire wood when Lou cooked the evening meal of soup, rice, and salted meat. It must have at least smelt tasty for it attracted a wild dog for a brief unwelcome visit. While Lou cooked I made a leisurely inspection of our waterproofed map, to estimate the position of our camp-site. As we had only passed Rough Creek about 1400, we were only about 22ks from where we’d started at Round Mtn which still left us with a further 44ks to reach my car at Tom Groggin. 44ks in two days? Could take some doing?
Thursday 28th Jan’88
With a huge task ahead we launched our lilos early at 0700hrs and with the Murray’s waters finally deepening we began to enjoy more floating than walking. We passed Tin Mine Creek before lunch to find its cooler tannin stained waters made the Murray even more chilly on this cloudier than usual day. We also glimpsed some large trout, both Brown and Rainbow in some of the deep still pools and it took some straight talk to convince Michael that we just didn’t have the time for him to extract the fishing rod he carried in his pack, and catch our lunch.
We did stop early for lunch though, mainly to warm up. The combination of cooler waters, a dull day and less exercise for floating rather than walking had produced “vigorous shivering or hyperthermia” particularly with our skinnier members. I was thankful to be wearing a Long John wet suit and not be affected by the cold.
After some lunch with cups of sweet black tea and half an hour sitting in some hot sun we were fit enough to resume our journey. Still more floating than walking so we were less fatigued than usual at days end.
Friday 29th Jan’88.
The Murray became more interesting for liloing. Some broad slow flowing deep sections where it was a delight to lay back on the lilo; rest the head comfortably on the pack; casually flip the paddle in the water when you felt like it; watch the birds above in the overhanging trees; admire the soft balloons of cloud beyond them and consume long moments of natures paradise without a thought for the rest of the world. A paradise that changed in form as deep sombre pools quickly changed to narrow, noisy, fast then faster flowing rapids and deep contentment is replaced with excitement-excitement with the challenge to remain aboard your lilo.
Finally I failed like everyone else, on a particularly narrow flute of a rapid not much wider than the lilo. I was unseated, “deliloed” and submerged into a deep cool pool. Most enjoyable, so I didn’t worry too much about loosing my paddle which quickly floated off downstream while I swam to catch my lilo.
We continued to move quickly in clear water or rapids till mid afternoon when unfortunately we came across long stretches of shallow rock studded water. After a couple of hours walking our lilos through these stony shallows we arrived at Top Groggin, a flat grassy point, on the Vic side, that was once an outstation of Tom Groggin cattle station.
We gave our tired limbs a rest and camped at Top Groggin. It was good to feel less confined by steep ranges and enjoy the more spacious feeling of this grassy flat, the size of a few building blocks, rather than the kitchen sized camp sites we had “enjoyed” for the last three days.
While Lou and others spread their wet clothing on low shrubs to dry out in the sun I returned to the river for a swim and wash. Very refreshing. Then I sat on a comfortable chair sized stone and with my feet cooling in the slow moving Murray I began to reflect on our adventure. The long walk to Carter’s Hut, the steep descent from the top of the range to the Murray, hard times on a shallow river and the thrill of deep faster water liloing we had enjoyed this morning.
I also gave some thought to the co-operative attitudes of my fellow adventurers who were able to combine their different natures to form a happy gang. Lou who liked to lead, Mike, the macho man; Kent just kept going from the rear; I just looked at the maps and Kate showed great spirit to endure the hard times and always remained positive.
Talking about spirit reminds me of a strange (?) experience soon to follow. As I turned my mind from dreams of the recent past to the present I shifted my gaze from the peaks on the horizon to the slow moving waters just ahead of my toes - thought I might see a trout or two. Then I wondered if God in his wisdom was to reward me for my week long sobriety for there in the water in front of my feet was a full bottle of Johnny Walker Whisky! After my surprise shock and joy were under control I lifted Johnny Walker from his watery storage with a steady left hand, then just as the eager fingers of my right prepared to unscrew the sealed top a logical message from my brain said “stop”. “Stop o.k. good, but why?, the label on that bottle is still intact, so it hasn’t been in the river for more than a few hours, so whoever left it there isn’t very far away and could return within the hour.”
I put Johnny back in his watery home and returned to the small grassy plain called Top Groggin. As I walked around the perimeter of Top Groggin I found what I suspected, a two man tent almost hidden from view in the shade of a leafy shrub. Then as I ambled back to start a camp fire a couple of visitors (the owners of the two man tent) walked onto our grassy flat from the river below. They were carrying about 12 good sized rainbow and brown trout and just one bottle of Johnny Walker.
After we had cooked and eaten our evening meal, our visitors - John and Gus appeared from the shadows to ask if it was o.k. for them to cook their meal on our fire. “No worries mate, make yourself at home” I said. Then with envy and surprise I watched our friends from Khancoban sip their whisky and cook their fish. They didn’t have any pans or grill frames, but not to worry they just wrapped each fish in about five pages of wet newspaper, twisted together at the ends, then placed these wet parcels on the coals in front of the fire. We watched as these wet parcels became drier and steam ceased to rise as the outer sheet turned brown just before igniting. Then Gus - the master chef retrieved the now dry paper parcels from the glowing coals.
After they had eaten their fill of fish they still had enough left over to give us one each which we also cooked wrapped in wet paper in the coals of our beautiful fire. Then just as I was about to sample my cooked fish Gus became even more generous and gave me a small glass of whisky. Was I in paradise? - for a short while anyway; or as long as it takes to eat tasty trout and drink a small whisky while sitting under a starry sky in front of a camp fire.
As we found later Gus had migrated to Aus from Hungary in the 60’s and had run a butcher shop in Kew before retiring in the mid 80’s and moving to live in Khancoban. His young friend John had just obtained a Diploma in Forestry at R.M.I.T. and hoped to obtain work in the Khancoban area.
Saturday 30th Jan ’88.
Being a day behind schedule and remembering the shallow waters of yesterday afternoon we decided with regret to walk back to my car at Tom Groggin. Gus and John had given us clear instructions about the sometimes hard to find track we were to follow, so we set off early on a sunny soon to be hot day. This was the first time I had put the pack on the back for four days and I was surprised to find I had to tighten the belly band by 3 centimetres to compensate for lost weight. I was soon to loose more as our track moved away from the river to steeper ground infested with blackberry vines all eager to catch the clothing or scratch the leg. Who bought this mongrel plant to Australia? Stupid bastard!
As we glimpsed the Murray from time to time we were pleased to see broader deeper
water than we expected. Maybe we could have liloed to Tom Groggin, at least we would have avoided all these bloody blackberries.
After we had completed about half of our 12k trek we were pleased to cross the Murray to N.S.W. and walk on a well defined vehicle track across undulating grasslands which joined the Khancoban- Threadbo road about a kilometre north of the Tom Groggin Reserve where my car had been parked for the last seven days. With about 5ks to go I gradually became more, then more concerned about my old red Holden and wondered if it still had four tyres. So with this concern providing some extra energy I strode off in front of the pack to reach my “just as I left it car” about 1200hrs. I picked up Mike Grant at the track and road junction and continued to drive up the steep winding road to Dead Horse Gap where Mike collected his car.
I drove on to refuel at Threadbo Village as my fuel gauge was showing empty. To conserve fuel I turned off the engine and coasted for all the downhill slope to the village. Just as well, for after I restarted the engine to negotiate the streets of Threadbo, it gave a cough and spluttered to off, just as I cruised on a slight downhill gradient to the fuel pump at the only service station in town. Next to the service station I could see happy groups on the balcony of the nearby Threadbo Hotel where I had spent many short but pleasant moments having just one or two on the way back to the lodge, after a hard days skiing. So I called again for just the one a Toohey’s Old!
Back in Melbourne my bathroom scale showed I had lost 5 kilo’s in weight and I was as slim as in Army days. We did have trouble with infected toe nails though, with Lou loosing three and myself two. During the steep descent from the ridge top trail into the Murray, with heavy packs on our backs, our feet had been thrust forward into the fronts of our boots so that slightly protruding toe nails were forced backwards into their sockets causing some bruising and bleeding. These minor infections then became more serious ones with our feet being continuously wet during our days of liloing!
The final section of Stage 2, Top Groggin to Tom Groggin was eventually rafted on lilos on a sunny weekend in Feb ’89.
Lou and I drove my old red Kingswood up to Albury where we collected Lou’s brother Jack, who was pleased to join us for this short section of liloing. After a night at the Khancoban Hotel’s fishing quarters we drove through the high country to the small tourist park on the river near Tom Groggin station, where we parked our car. Then loaded with lilos and camping gear we set off on the three hour walk to Top Groggin.
The first section being an old 4WD track was easy to follow, but after we crossed the river the trail now a foot track was difficult to find through vigorously friendly areas of blackberry vines. The sighting of a couple of glistening black snakes made us more cautious as we walked over clumps of blackberry.
Finally after much time was wasted following wrong tracks, we were happy if exhausted to arrive at Top Groggin an hour before night fell. Time enough for a dip in the unexpectedly cold waters of the Murray, a barbecued steak and a few O.P. rums around our campfire.
Next day it didn’t take long for us to launch our lilos. The Nikonos camera I usually wore around my neck attached to a couple of ski floats was difficult to carry in this sort of faster flowing water, so I packed it loosely in the top of my carry bag, which was tied to the back of the lilo and served as a head rest. Good rains in the high country had now swelled the river to be ˝ metre higher than when we first visited Top Groggin in Jan ‘88.
Progress was very swift in some sections and I sometimes wished I was wearing a life jacket as I spent much time swimming to catch my runaway lilo. This was by far the best of the 8 days we spent on lilos and we were able to reach our destination two hours ahead of time. The only down point of the day was the loss of my Nikonos, during one of my many dumpings into the river.
In hindsight the Round Mtn - Tom Groggin section was the most exciting part of our Murray Traverse. Some 4WD enthusiasts have driven to Round Mtn. and Cowambat Flat and many survey students have visited the legal source of the Murray near Cowombat flat, but I doubt if any of these adventurous people ever ventured into the unknown ruggedly beautiful Murray between Round Mtn. and Tom Groggin.
Tom Groggin to Macguires Bridge, Coleman Bend with Wildtrek 38 k’s. 24/11/85.
This 38k stage of our journey passes through Murray Gates Gorge. The undulating plains of Tom Groggin station are suddenly replaced with steep slopes leading to 1400 metre mountains and a peaceful, slow flowing river becomes a roller-coaster of white water said to be more challenging than the Franklin River.
Obviously this was not the sort of water that would suit the lilos which had worked so well on stage two. Another safer mode of travel was needed, so after some indecision, we decided to join an “adventure tour” with Wildtrek.
The meeting point for this tour was the Hotel at Khancoban where on a sunny afternoon, after driving from Melbourne, Lou and I met the other six tour members and our tour guides.
The senior guide was a forestry graduate who preferred white water to wood and his assistant was in his final year at of a Phys. Ed. Course at Footscray’s R.M.I.T. and had special skills in canoeing! Four of the tour members were young carpenters from Adelaide and the other two were from Melbourne, one a manager of a vehicle hire company and the other the lady manager of a worm farm. No one seemed to care very much about what people did for a living and our common interest in tomorrow’s adventure was the main topic of our conversations. After dinner at the Khancoban Hotel and a beer or three, we retired to our unusual accommodation next to the pub, the one time hospital built by the Snowy Mountains Authority during the construction of the nearby Snowy Mountains projects.
Next day, Saturday, the tour guides, who to this stage had been very much in the background, cooked up our breakfast in what used to be the hospital’s kitchen and issued each of us with a wet suit and a water proof bag that was barely big enough to hold our clothing and sleeping bag. The top of the water proof bag was to be sealed by sliding a length of heavy duty plastic tube with a narrow slit along its length, over the tightly folded bag opening. This was a difficult task with such stiff tubing and eventually the only way I could seal the bag was to hold it in one hand, the tube in the other and apply pressure to slide the tube over the bag by firmly pressing the other end of the tube against my bicep. At last this worked, but I was left with a deep circular bruise on my bicep that proved to be useful two days later.
With equipment and food sorted, we set off from Khancoban about mid morning in a large 4WD. driving south past Murray Pondage, Scammels Spur Lookout, Geehi and the western slopes of Mt. Kosciusko and Ram’s Head, before arriving at our launching site on the Eastern bank of the Murray 2k’s south of Tom Groggin Station.
After a light lunch, the inflatable rafts were made ready for use, loaded with equipment, four crew and a guide, then our journey commenced. The sun was high and hot, but seemed not to affect the deep cool waters of the Murray, that only a month before sat upon the Snowy Mountains as snow.
Immediately after launching, the guide explained how his crew could help him steer the raft around obstacles and dangerous spots, by coordinating their use of paddles as he instructed. Broad sweeping paddling from those in the front of the raft could quickly change direction of the craft, while reverse or side paddling from those in the rear could also improve steerage.
The first real test of our new found skills came sooner than expected when we were confronted with the river spanning bridge to Tom Groggin Station. It was not until we were smoothly gliding towards this bridge, expecting to lean backwards and pass underneath its lower beams, that we realised the river was higher than expected and our raft would most likely jam under the bridge. After furious back and side sweep paddling, our craft slowly edged to the west bank, where we were able to land, unload and re launch on the north side of the bridge.
The remainder of the afternoon was peaceful as we did a slow glide through this beautiful country with steep timbered slopes to the west and low grassy hills in the east.
Unexpectedly these tranquil moments ended abruptly when we were attacked by madly screaming members of the other raft who used small bailing buckets to drench us with cool Murray water. We “returned the fire” immediately and the days rafting ended with a huge water fight.
We made camp on a small grassy plain close to the river, bladders of white wine were removed from their cardboard boxes for cooling in the river, a tasty meal was singed and as more wine was drunk, more stories were told. It was easy to sleep, but much harder to wake up the next day. But, as I soon found, it’s impossible to put on a cool very damp wet suit without waking up fully and being ready for action.
In no time our raft was at the start of the Murray Gates Gorge. The slopes either side of the river became steeper, as a more narrow, more violent, swifter flowing white mass flowed over or around stones and boulders. Fortunately the guides seemed to know what they were doing and with their skills and much luck we missed most of the obstacles we were supposed to miss.
Our rafts were the same as those we had used on the Franklin trip, but these had a major advantage having a small rope loop sewn onto the floor in front of the each of the crew. The idea was to put the front half of the foot into the loop as one sat on the wall of the raft, to prevent a backward fall into the water. Even so, after an exaggerated rebound from a boulder in a shute of white water, my top half fell backwards out of the raft, while my right foot remained in the loop attached to the floor. With waves of white water encouraging my head and shoulders to leave the raft, I didn’t quite have the strength in my anchored leg to lever myself back onboard. Fortunately my burly mate, the S.A. carpenter, who was now lying on my tethered leg, instead of sitting on the other side of the raft, saw what was happening and used his massive mit to grab my bicep and pull the upper half of my body inside the raft again. With no time to reflect on the lucky escape I tried ever harder to remain on board during these exciting moments.
By mid afternoon, just as the long stretches of white water became more subdued, the opposite side of the raft from where I was sitting was punctured by an old pointed stump, which ripped a foot long slit into the inflated shell. My rescuer mate sank into the Murrays cool water and I was pleased to be able to haul him to my still inflated side of the raft.
We were lucky to have half an hour of sun on this cloudy day, which dried the area to be patched and we were in our repaired raft within half an hour.
Later in the afternoon our progress was more leisurely with almost no white water, we were able to relax and enjoy the last of our river’s natural bushland. Day 2 Camp was in a small clearing in dense scrub close to the river. We had been wet all day and were looking forward to some dry clothing, but as it started to rain we stayed in our wet suits to set up camp, boil the billy and cool the wine. Thank goodness the rain stopped just before sundown and our exaggerated stories were repeated until eventually only the soft gurgles of the river could be heard.
Day 3 was fine and sunny and within half an hour our rafts had passed through the northern boundary of the Murray Gates. Suddenly we were back with civilization, steep natural bushland one glimpse, then undulating grassland the next. Hereford cattle, a homestead or two and without warning, we are at our destination - MacGuire’s Bridge, near Colemans Bend. Our white water adventure had been completed.
A couple of waiting 4.W.D’s drove us back to the Khancoban Hotel, just in time for lunch and some fond farewells. My carpenter mate insisted I should buy him a beer for retrieving me from the white water. I had to agree, though I insisted he should also buy me a beer for causing the now huge and colourful bruise on my bicep! The bruise was really self inflicted when I was sealing my water proof bag, but he didn’t know that. It was very noticeable that as we gathered in the bar area, the rafters spoke with their fellow rafters and the rafting guides, who for our time on the river had been in complete control, were now not as important as they used to be and stood apart from the main group, waiting for their next group of rafters to arrive. Lou and I drove back to our wives in Melbourne, well pleased with our white water adventure through the Murray Gates.
Macguires Bridge to Hume Weir Wall.
This section of the Murray River was travelled between Saturday 15 th November and Tuesday 18 th Nov 1986.
After purchasing a small second hand Toyo inflatable raft and trialing it on the Maribyrnong River, we spent Friday night with Jack Sommer in Albury, before Jack drove my faithful red Kingswood to Macguire’s Bridge on Saturday.
Lou and I launched our inflated craft about 1140hrs, while Jack followed our progress from my car. Immediately we had to negotiate a number of newly fallen trees in the river, so we didn’t start the small 2 horse power engine until we reached clear water.
Being November, the recently melted snows from the high country had swelled the river to a high level and swirling currents caused our small engine to rev unevenly. Occasional sections of agitated white water were treated with great caution and were negotiated in “motor off” mode.
Often lush green cattle country was hidden from view by numerous water hungry willow trees that completed aggressively with native trees to line the river bank.
We made Bringenbrong Bridge by mid afternoon and camped at 5.40 pm close to the road where Jack could find us at Corryong Creek.
Sunday 16th November.
Jack drove my Kingswood back to Albury and Lou and I pointed our small craft downstream at 8.30 am.
Just before Tintaldra the Murray which since its source had been following mainly north, now flowed to the west as it meandered through lush, sometimes flood plain country. The once clear tannin stained waters of the Upper Murray now began to show the very first signs of pollution, an ever so slight green tinge in some of the numerous still water billabongs where cattle, grazing too close to the river donated their droppings to our most important river system.
It rained heavily early in the afternoon, so we parked our craft on the flat reserve below the Jingellic Pub and waited in the Pub for the rain to clear before setting up our tent.
Just an ordinary country hotel except the locals had a strange habit of somehow wetting dollar notes with beer and sticking them on the ceiling. I asked the barman why there was a large hole in the ceiling near the bar? He explained that someone had stuck a $50 note near the hole which used to be the home of a ceiling fan. A thirsty drinker who had run out of money stood on the bar and using the fan for support grabbed the $50 note from the ceiling. Alas, he collected the money, but he also collected the fan which was ripped from the ceiling as he plunged to the floor. Some folk will do almost anything for another beer.
Monday 17th Nov.
After a wet evening, we were pleased to be on the river again on a fine cool day. I followed our progress on my map very closely for I had been told by my mates from work that a visit to the Dora Dora Hotel built close to the river in this area was a must.
About 10.30 I guessed the roof top on the north side of the river, near a small creek was this famous pub, so we turned up the small creek at slow speed and landed nearby. Sure enough, this was the locally famous Dora Dora where immediately upon entering its bar, we met its locally famous owner - Alfie Wright. After we ordered a beer Alfie said we were dead unlucky, for beer was free yesterday and would be free tomorrow! We assured him we didn’t mind paying and had money, so our long lunch began.
The bar was small, so was Alf, but he had a deep happy voice as he described some of the hundreds of artefacts, curios, trash and trivia that were cramped together to decorate every square centimetre of wall space. Boomerangs, spears, swords, blunderbusses, stuffed birds, lizards, claws of crabs and numerous American car licence plates. Alf soon tired of telling us about his treasures and said “Ya know I’ve won the Upper Murray Lie Telling Competition every year for the last five years, didn’t enter this year, but they’re always after me these days!” Then, after almost no encouragement at all he proceeded to keep us in stitches with his Dad and Dave specials.
When I told Alf I was visiting his hotel because it was recommended by his nephew who worked with me in Melbourne, he smiled broadly and shouted us a beer. Then he disappeared out back to return with a collection of wigs, hats, glasses and false noses pretending to be any one of his half witted brothers, uncles and nephews! After a final beer on the pub veranda with Alf, it was with some regret and alcoholic satisfaction, we returned to the river. When we got underway, I suddenly realised that we had such an amusing time at the pub, that we had forgotten to eat anything. Who cares, I prepared sardines a la biscuit for us, while Lou made up some lost time driving.
By mid afternoon we were in the upper waters of Lake Hume. The confused meandering Murray gradually disappeared to be replaced by broader lake-like expanses of sometimes rougher waters. Occasionally we saw homesteads now deserted because their original access roads were now deep below the waters of Lake Hume.
We set up camp on the deserted Wymah Reserve about 5pm, before our prizes from the Dora Dora became overheated.
Tuesday was windy and wet. We arrived at the Hume Dam wall at 12.10pm and were very pleased when Jack arrived in my car to pick us up.
Stage 4, over an ever changing section of the Murray River was now completed. Our thanks to Jack for all his help.
Albury to Mildura 1st. To 7th. March ‘86.
Boat- Savage Streaker 60 & 6 H.P Johnson Outboards.
Car Supports- Wendy Sommer and Sue Cobden.
Saturday 1st. March.
1 pm I could smell the inviting aroma of sausages and onions as they sizzled on the numerous barbecues in the caravan park near the spillway ramp of Lake Hume. We had just driven from Melbourne towing Lou’s Streaker with my Kingswood. Wendy and Sue unpacked our cut lunch while Lou and I readied the boat for take off about 2 pm.
With lots of water on a now broad river, we reached Lincoln Bridge in quick time but here our progress was stopped for the launching of a small new paddle steamer. After this unusual delay we camped at Moorefield Reserve, near Howlong, 1329 miles from the river mouth. We had only travelled 50 river miles. The girls swam, Lou skied and I cooked a barbie and arranged liquid refreshments.
Sunday 2nd March.
We made an unhurried start at 8.45am on a fine clear day. I followed our progress on river charts which seemed sensible with the water inclined to be opaque from mud or algae growth. Numerous snags or stretches of shallow water, marked on the river charts could not be seen but could be avoided. The charts also showed miles from the river mouth. This was convenient for when we arrived at Corowa ramp, shown as 1249 miles up stream at 9.50am, we could calculate that we had been travelling about 20 m.p.h. since leaving Howlong. Not that we had thought about it at the time, with the Murrays total length being about 1600 miles, we had travelled only 306 river miles, from the source and still had 1294 much easier miles to go.
We entered Lake Mulwala to find grey sun stained skeletons of once proud river gums, decorating confused channels. A lone fisherman, with only a dog for a companion looked helplessly at water skiers as they skied at reckless speed around and through clumps of derelict trees. They knew more about this confusing look the same lake had than we did. Eventually after becoming totally lost, we studied the general direction travelled by groups of skiers and found our way to Yarrawonga weir. With no lock facilities, we had to retrieve our boat from the lake and relaunch below the weir at 12.40pm.
With the river depth just over 2 metres, we made 20 m.p.h. progress to make Cobram by mid afternoon, where if it hadn’t been for Lou’s quick action, we would have collided with a ski boat, which suddenly sped towards us around a sharp bend.
We camped at Morgan’s Beach (1153miles) at 6.30pm but couldn’t find our support team. Finally made contact with them on our CB radio. They were on the wrong side of the river and finally arrived with some food at 9 pm.
Monday 3rd. March.
We had a good run through Barmah Forrest. The water was just below the banks and it seemed as if we were driving along a road of water which provided a clear view of stockmen mustering Hereford cattle and timber workers harvesting red gum timber.
By mid day as we approached Echuca (1066 miles), houseboats became more numerous. It was indeed restful to lunch near Echuca Wharf and watch a mixture of Houseboats and Paddle Steamers wend their way up and down the river in slow unhurried motion.
Strange how the river can change from having an abundance of deep clear water at Barmah Lake to numerous shallow stretches 30 to 50 miles downstream, where on checking the prop we found it was slightly smaller than it used to be.
(1015 miles). At Torrumbarry there was not enough water to use lock 26, so again we retrieved the boat, relaunched below the weir, and camped in the nearby caravan park. It was good to make use of the showers and B.B.Q.
Tuesday 4th March,
We made an early start, but as water levels were very low exposing many snags, progress was slow. It took 4hrs to travel 68 miles to Barham, where the girls delivered a tasty salad roll and a diet coke - would rather have had a beer but it’s a bad habit to drink when trying to avoid river snags. Water levels didn’t improve over the next 70 miles and no wonder with numerous large pipes from pumping stations sucking water from the river. On some sections, with charts in hand, I sat on the sharp end, testing our slow progress with a depth stick, but even so, we managed to hit numerous snags. The engine started to run unevenly and after inspection we found some leaves of the prop had been “chipped”. Lou evened up this situation by trimming some metal here and there with a hacksaw and file so our progress was smoother but slower.
874 miles. We arrived at Swan Hill about 5.15 pm. And were pleased to camp in their neat caravan park. We had only managed to travel at 13 m.p.h. for much of the afternoon. It had been a trying day so we enjoyed an old fashioned steak at an old fashioned pub nearby.
Wed. 5th. March.
Remembering the shallow waters of yesterday we were first to arrive at the desk of the local irrigation authority when they opened at 9am. They had detailed information on river levels and fully understood why we had made slow progress yesterday. As they explained, the effects of the flow out from the Murray to the Edwards River west of Tocumwal had been disguised by the Torrumbarry Weir, but with no inflow and consistent outflow for irrigation, water levels would be as bad as yesterdays or worse until we reached Boundary Bend (763 miles), which would benefit from the return of the Edwards River to the Murray and the inflow from the Murrumbidgee River. We didn’t want a repeat of yesterday so we put our boat on its trailer and drove to Boundary Bend to relaunch in water not so much deeper than at Swan Hill, but deep enough to ensure our safe progress.
P.S. We returned to Swan Hill (874 miles) on 21 st. Nov ’86 when water levels were 4.3 metres higher than in March. After launching at 1.30pm we enjoyed superb water and good views of the now flooded country side. We arrived at Boundary Bend (763 miles) at 5.15 pm averaging 29 m.p.h. The beach where we launched in March was now under 4 metres of water. We retrieved our boat and drove to Mildura to start the final stage of our journey to the sea.
Wed. 5th (continued.)
763 miles - After a light lunch at Boundary Bend’s Café, we launched nearby at 1pm. The shallow waters gradually deepened as we approached Robinvale and Euston Weir. Lou took our support team for a ski at Robinvale before we passed through Lock 15 at Euston. The lock gates had to be operated manually, so it took the muscle of self and three locals to work the wheel that opened and closed the lock.
I should explain that a lock is an ingeniously simple devise that enables boats and paddle steamers to pass up or downstream through weirs. They are like a large box sited between one end of a weir wall and the shore. The wall that runs at right angles to the end of the weir wall and its opposite wall that runs along the shore line are both thick concrete structures. The up and downstream walls of this large box shape are really large doors that can be slowly opened or closed manually or in some modern locks, with electric motors. In our case, going downstream, we simply motored slowly into the lock, its water level being the same as the river above the weir. The up river gate is then closed and the down river gate slowly opened. As the water in the lock quickly escapes through the opening gate, our boat gradually sinks to a lower level, until finally when the downstream gate is fully open, our boat is now at below weir level.
I climbed down the ladder attached to the side of the lock wall to step into our boat from above and we paddled clear of the lock. We travelled a further 9 miles and camped on a deserted beach 690 miles from the sea.
We departed earlier than usual - 7.40am. Water was low to very low and we brushed the bottom many times. It was a very hot day and as the water became lower, the riverbanks seemed to become higher as we progressed with caution through a hot windless tunnel with a blue sky roof.
Rusting tentacles from numerous pumping stations on banks high above river level, relentlessly sucked precious litres of H2O, that may have been devoured by the irrigation systems at Mildura or Renmark, or been piped to Whyalla from Morgan or used to quench the thirst of children in a 40 degree Adelaide heatwave.
I could see from our chart that we had arrived at a small jetty below the Colignan Store and Post Office, where Lou had arranged to meet our support team. I climbed the steep bank to the store, while Lou remained with the boat. The store owner said that he had seen Wendy and Sue, but didn’t know where they were. While I waited, on a comfy seat outside the store, for them to return, a young Maori sat on the seat beside me and said “G’day mate ya like a beer”. On such a hot day how could I resist? It didn’t occur to me that the store sold beer. Some stubbies later, after my New Zealand friend had told me all about his job picking grapes, Lou joined us and we wondered, with some concern about what had happened to our support team. We told the store keeper about our problem and after leaving his wife to look after the store, he took us on a wild hair-raising drive along every bumpy riverside track between Colignan and Nangiloc, in his old loosely sprung Customline Ford. We didn’t find the girls, but even so we were relieved to return to Colignan in one piece. Then our storekeeper friend had a brainwave! He explained that as Nangiloc was really Colignan spelt backwards, maybe our girls had been confused by the unusual name reversal and gone to Colignan instead of Nangiloc. He rang the Nangiloc store and sure enough, they said they had seen the girls with a group of young grape pickers who were camped at the Nangiloc Riverside Reserve.
By the time we were heading downstream again towards Colignan, darkness was commencing to hide river hazards. We survived this 13 mile ordeal in 1˝ hours, by travelling with great caution at a slow speed, while I occasionally glimpsed the way ahead with a sweep from our strong beam torch.
Friday 7th March.
After a late night which ended with a refreshing cool swim in the Murray and a few beers with our next door neighbours - a group of pleasant young English migrants from Adelaide, who were happy to make a few extra dollars picking grapes, we set off for Mildura at 8.40am.
The low water we had endured for the last 55 miles gradually improved from the effects of Mildura’s Lock 11 and Weir. River boats and Paddle steamers became more numerous, while pumping stations did their bit to convert the fine dry desert sands, that surround Mildura, into a green oasis.
We arrived in Mildura about 1pm and after booking into the local caravan park, and mooring the boat beneath the curved leafy boughs of a willow tree, we sat at a bench by the riverside, eating a light lunch with a few stubbies. An older bloke with a small leathery head, having watched us moor the boat, approached our table and asked us where we were from. After we told him briefly that we were from Melbourne and hoped to motor to the Mouth of the Murray, he said he had already rowed the length of the Murray to the sea and was now rowing his clinker built row boat, from the mouth to the source. When we asked him where he started his downstream row from, he said Bringenbrong Bride near Khancoban. We didn’t bother to tell him that he had started his ‘all of the Murray adventure’ at least 150k’s downstream from the Murray’s source.
He further explained that he was raising money for a worthwhile cause and if we gave him one of our nice cold stubbies, he would record its cost as a donation to his charity. We gave him a stubbie and after listening to his life story, we gave him another, for it’s not everyone who can spend time conversing with the famous conqueror of the Mighty Murray- “Eric De Red”!
We met our grape picking friends that evening in a Mildura Hotel and returned to Melbourne on Sat 8th March. We didn’t achieve all that we hoped, but considering the extreme lack of river water, we did well, even if we did ruin one prop. Many thanks to our support team - Wendy and Sue.
Mildura to Murray Mouth 22-29th Nov. 1986.
Boat- Savage Streaker 14 ft. 60 h.p. Johnson Outboard.
Team- boat- Lou Sommer, Kevin Moody.
Support team- Gillian Sommer with Magna car.
Day 1- 22 Nov.
After spending the night in beautiful Mildura, Victoria’s second largest river city, we passed through Mildura’s lock at 10.10am, only 550 miles from the river mouth.
Under a clear blue sky, we motored the 33 miles to lock 10 near Wentworth, passing many larger river boats and paddle steamers on this busy waterway. The slow flowing Darling River created no turbulence at all as it quietly merged with the mighty Murray ˝ a mile before lock 10 at 516 miles.
After spending ˝ an hour as lock 10 slowly converted our boat from up to down stream level, we resumed our easy going progress toward lock 9. We tethered our boat to a stately old river gum at 509 miles to enjoy some lunch in a lightly timbered river reserve. Then after passing a rusting wreck from the distant past, we met Gillian at lock 9 and erected a couple of small tents for an evening’s stay nearby. It was still only 2.30pm, so Lou and I drove south through numerous wheat properties past Lake Cullulleraine to the Werrimull Pub, about 20k’s to the South where we were able to collect some meat for a barbecue.
Werrimull is a small one pub town central to a post war grid of soldier settlement blocks that have not been as successful as hoped. Few of the original settlers or their descendants still remain in the area. I had an unusual introduction to the Werrimull Hotel when I first visited the area in 1959.
I was then in the Army Survey Corps and with an offsider we were doing a field check of all the roads on the Mildura 1:250,000 map. This map generally covers the area between Ouyen, Mildura and the South Australian border. After driving over all the dirt roads that divided the properties numerous mallee roots had punctured my tyres so often that I was forced to spend a night at the Werrimull Pub. The publican sympathised with my problem and even though he didn’t have any accommodation left in his hotel, he offered the use of his external wash house. The stretcher was almost comfortable but the mosquitoes, well they were just vicious and had a great night feasting on our exposed bodies.
No such worries in Nov ‘86, Lou and I enjoyed a few coldies in this neat country Pub before returning to cook a barbie at Lock 9. I noted that numerous fishermen near the lock, drove utes with old refrigerators lying on their backs, on their ute’s tray. When the fishermen opened the fridge doors upwards, I could see that the interiors of these fridges contained large blocks of ice. As one fisherman explained, the block of ice being in a fridge melted slowly and could be used for keeping drinks cool and fish fresh.
Day 2-23rd. Nov.
You guessed it- another fine day. I thought Queensland was the sunshine state. After only one hour and a bit, we had travelled 24 miles on a broad tree lined Murray to reach Lock 8. Strangely Lock 8 was open which meant the river level from Lock 7 to 9 was the same and we were able to motor through without delay.
It was about here that I noticed for the first time, that as well as the native birds, I could now see pelicans gliding here or flapping their massive wings to gain height, for a future glide. They were usually a bit distant but with the aid of zoom mode on the camera, I took numerous photos of these stately birds. I was distracted from bird study as we passed through lock 7, then crossed the Vic - S.A. border, clearly marked on a riverside signpost. Then new photographic subjects, in the form of numerous black snakes swimming across the river from N.S.W. to the Victorian border, claimed our attention.
We were pleased to see the last of the snakes as pelicans became more plentiful and flew closer to our boat encouraging more pelican photos. This beautifully isolated and tranquil section of the Murray between Locks 7 and 8 would have disappeared beneath dammed water, had the much discussed Chowilla Dam ever been built.
As we passed through Lock 6 at 11.20am, I could see clearly carved into the cement wall of the lock chamber, that it was built in 1928. It had provided 58 years of silent service to river travellers and farmers.
We slowed to walking speed as we passed through picturesque Renmark, another green oasis like Mildura, where with ingenious dedicated effort farmers from Australia and overseas have combined to make Renmark a successful wine and citrus centre. We could see parts of the majestic Renmark Hotel almost hidden from our view by riverside psalm trees and the most luxurious paddle steamer of them all- “The Murray Princess”. One day, who knows wife and I may travel on that piece of paradise. We booked into the Renmark Caravan Park at 1pm and enjoyed the clear view of the river while munching on a tasty salad roll, purchased from a nearby milk bar. I was enjoying this quiet rest on a seat that didn’t vibrate like the boat, when I had to spring in to action to get my camera. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or annoyed, for waddling towards me as if to say hello, was the largest, biggest billed pelican I’d ever seen. Pity about all those other pelicans I’d wasted film on! Maybe, with my protruding nose, he thought I was one of his mates!
Day 3 24th. Nov.
I won’t mention the weather - it was the same as yesterday, as we recommenced our journey. From Renmark the Murray flows into the Riverland, southward through Lock 5 and Berri, where the river becomes the eastern boundary of the Murray River National Park, before Lock 4 and Loxton. From the river, we enjoyed the tranquillity of the National Park, its ancient river gums and abundant bird life. We didn’t see much of the extensive fields of irrigation, but we knew they were there from the pumping stations we passed.
We decided to camp at Kingston on Murray and after much discussion about where the sun would be between 4 and 6pm so we could erect our tents in a spot with afternoon shade, we finally agreed it didn’t really matter and drove off to some nearby wineries. Lou’s family and mine had holidayed together at nearby Lake Bonney in 1973 and had then discovered a pleasant winery named Lubianos, where we sampled many great wines and bought loads of Rose’ for future enjoyment.
After a few wrong turns, we discovered Lubianos about mid afternoon. The white painted Spanish style, rendered brick home on the high side of the road, was just as I remembered it 13 years ago. We entered the sampling room as if our last visit was only yesterday and expected the dark eyed raven haired shapely form of Mrs Lubiano to appear, just like she used to, but no, there was a problem. A portly person arrived and told us that the Lubianos had gone to Adelaide to see the Pope and normal tasting had been suspended! “However” said the portly person, “my recently arrived Italian friend, who can’t afford to go to Adelaide to see the Pope, has just started to sell his wines from the block just down the road.”
We followed his instructions to arrive at a large old galvanised iron shed with a small bar at one end. The scruffy looking middle aged Italian behind the bar didn’t notice our presence, for he was intent on watching a small black and white T.V. while sampling a small glass of wine. Finally our “host” noticed us and poured us some whites to sample. Not bad at all, we thought as our host poured another. He was obviously very happy about something and when we asked him what was on the T.V., for I couldn’t see any horses or cricketers, he said “that’s a the Pope, he’s a in Adelaide ya know- he make a da big blessing at the footy ground - he’s a good Pope” Of course we definitely had to agree - he was definitely a good Pope. We weren’t Catholics, but the more we praised the Pope, the more wine he poured, not just the usual tooth full in a glass, but a very generous glass. An hour later, we were both Catholics and we needed to be, for without the Pope’s blessing (he blessed everyone that day), we would never have made it back to our tents at Kingston on Murray! Were our tents in the shade? Who cares. Was Gillian with us? I don’t remember- only she will know!
Day 4 25th Nov.
Considering our happy and heavy day with the Pope and his flock, we did well to dismantle tents and depart Kingston on Murray at 8 pm. I wished I’d stayed a Protestant all of yesterday, some religions do have their downside!
We passed through Lock 3 with the usual 20min delay, but time doesn’t seem to matter so much on the cool calm and slow moving Murray.
After a short stop in Waikerie to buy “supplies” we enjoyed the ever changing view of 30 metre limestone cliffs on the eastern river bank, which continue 150 miles downstream to Mannum. With the varying effects of sun and shade, these stately cliffs present different colours, sometimes a hot yellow or a gay orange, which becomes a sombre grey around the next bend. Occasionally we spy a neat homestead, likely built from stone hewn from nearby cliffs and featuring a German style, where the corner brickwork is of a different colour in a Herring Bone design.
After Lock 2 - at 225 miles, we pass the Morgan Ferry about 15 miles downstream, but we don’t see much of nearby Morgan, perched high above river level, which not surprisingly is low. It’s low because the larger than usual water laden pipes which leave the river here deliver their precious load to supply Whyalla and the Yorke Peninsula, with what they don’t have-fresh water.
The river broadened and became deeper before and after Lock 1 where we met Gillian who waved to us from a launching ramp. After some discussion, Lou and Gillian drove off to organise accommodation in the Blanchetown Caravan Park, while I was left to look after the boat and look at the river. It was hot, very hot without a breath of wind. I relieved my discomfort by observing the antics of a group of, not so skilled, water skiers, who drove their flash and fast boat up and down the river in front of me. Finally they’d had enough skiing and beached their boat on the sand near mine and opened a few stubbies. I tried not to look in their direction so they wouldn’t see my tongue hanging out, till eventually one of the young boys approached to say “like a beer mate?” How could I be so lucky?
They were very interested in my story about travelling the length of the Murray and I was interested in their stories too. They were three young jockeys, who spoke almost reverently about their boss - Mr. Hayes. Their lady companion was a strapper from America.
It was still hot after lunch at the Blanchetown Caravan Park, so we visited the Blanchetown Pub high on the hill - it caught a breeze from somewhere and did look to be blanched to an unlikely yellow colour, with misshapen doors between misshapen door frames. But that didn’t seem to matter for the beer was cool and tasty and the company entertaining.
We met a couple of hostesses from the river boat Proud Mary, that had just parked - I mean berthed in front of our accommodation at the caravan park. A very well finished boat with a great menu, no wonder all the passengers looked a bit overweight.
We ate better than usual that night, when Gillian discovered a floating restaurant surrounded by a school of expectant fish waiting for their usual ration of fish food to be thrown overboard.
Day 5 26th Nov.
This fine day slowly deteriorated into wind and showers. The high cliffs on the eastern bank provided no shelter from a South-Westerly, blowing rain in our faces and causing yesterday’s mirror flat waters to be rough and choppy. Our progress was very slow and we were pleased to berth our boat underneath a leaning willow near the Mannum Caravan Park at 2 pm where we spent the evening.
Mannum, once a riverboat centre for a booming river trade, is still a popular home for many houseboats, that lie anchored along its shoreline, patiently waiting for their owners to arrive from nearby Adelaide to take them for a river cruise. In a dry year, water pumped from the Murray at Mannum provides about 90% of the water used in Adelaide.
Day 6 27th Nov.
We departed Mannum early at 6.35am. Being only 94 miles from the Murray mouth, we thought we would make the effort to get there before winds blew up some waves on Lake Alexandrina. We passed Murray Bridge an hour later, Tailem Bend at 8.25am and reached Wellington at 8.50 am. Still plenty of time to cross the lake, but as we slowly cruised to the edge of the lake, stronger winds commenced and a sea of white capped water lay before us. We waited for the weather to improve but by mid afternoon, we still saw white capped water so we booked into a couple of cheap cottages above the Pub, which stood on high ground with a view over the river.
Day 7 28th Nov.
Again the weather was windy like yesterday. The waters of Lake Alexandrina are shallow and it doesn’t take much of a blow to whip up a very choppy sea, which didn’t suit our sharp bowed boat. We visited one of the few tourist attractions in Wellington - a grand old sandstone building of some size, which was the areas Courthouse, Police Station and Telegraph Office in 1864. In those days Wellington was on one of the favoured routes between Adelaide and the Victorian goldfields.
By mid afternoon as we looked down on our boat from the terrace at the back of the Pub, the local ferry, laden with a semi-trailer carrying livestock, made it’s slow crawl across the river, while an ocean capable launch made a graceful curve in its course to anchor on to the other side of the jetty to ours. Our boat looked very much out of place moored next to this sleek giant, with the unlikely name of Cuddle Pie. Who would own such a thing we wondered? They must also have wondered - who would own such a small boat as ours, so far away from home? Later in the day as we were packing up at our cottage, a middle aged well spoken gent - the owner of Cuddle Pie, approached our humble quarters and invited us to dinner on the boat. We enjoyed a great evening with this friendly couple, who were holidaying from their usual work - running a motel in Adelaide.
Day 8 29th Nov. 1986.
It was dark at 4.30am with the leaves on trees surrounding our cottages still and silent beneath a starry sky. This was going to be a calm day, so we were up and away by 5.25am. The water was mirror smooth as we commenced our 40 mile journey across Lake Alexandrina, the graveyard of many small boats and ships.
I made some readings on our old Army compass and Lou adjusted his direction so we were headed along the shortest course to Goolwa. As we headed towards the centre of the lake and lost sight of land, a south westerly converted smooth into very choppy water. Too bad about the compass bearing and the shortest route, we changed our thinking and headed for the western shoreline, where land provided a little shelter from the wind. We were wet but relieved when we arrived in Goolwa at 7.25am and after a change into dry clothing, we passed through the barrage and Lock at 8am - only 6 miles to the sea!
We motored slowly along the Coorong, for this was a place for quiet reflection. The sombre grey skies of the dawn had blown away and bird laden tree tops were our near horizon beneath a blue sky. We passed a yacht with a billowing sail - a superior way to travel in the Coorong.
Gradually the flat tree covered banks were replaced with sand dunes decorated with salt bush and native grass. Suddenly, without any sign or warning, we glimpsed through a break in the South bank dune - the open sea. As we motored slowly toward the river mouth, we could see it was completely blocked by sand, except for a small channel, almost as wide as our boat. After beaching, we were able to use our paddle to broaden the channel just enough to reach the open sea.
The mighty Murray which began as a small trickle from a spring high in the mountains, had ended its 1600 mile journey as a small trickle into the Great Southern Ocean, but, what a great benefactor it had been to the many lives it had touched along the way.
Were Lou and I the first persons to have travelled the Murray from source to sea? Yes I think so, but it doesn’t really matter, it was a grand thing to have done. Many thanks to our support team - Gillian, Wendy, Jack Sommer and Sue Cobden. Special thanks also to my dear wife Myrie, who always tolerated my absence on river adventures with a smile!
Now 21 years since we travelled the Murray, our most important water source is still managed by four different State Government Commissions. They are expert at controlling water flows to suit their State biased needs, but seem to ignore the over all health of the Murray - Darling River System.
The Commonwealth Government has recently moved to relieve State Commissions of their powers and become the supreme controller of these resources. Heaven forbid! Leaving these rivers in the control of Canberra politicians could likely be a disaster.
No, what we need is a group of unbiased non-political experts, who will consider fairly and balance the differing requirements of industry, irrigators and the general public, to ensure a healthy river system for the present and the future.
From Dead Horse Gap the track follows the Thredbo River before rising more steeply into heavily timbered ranges.
No wonder I feel a bit stuffed we have walked 26km. today.
We make an early start from Carters Hut
After fixing protective covers, and our packs to our fully inflated lilos, we set off towards Tom Groggin.
Suitable campsites were sometimes hard to find.
Repaired plastic covers prevented lilo puncturing & plywood squares tied to a sapling made a useful paddle
My Dunlop Volleys and light weight Long John, suited the cold water and helped to prevent hyperthermia.
Finally some fast flowing deep water
We camped at Top Groggin, and enjoyed a spacious,grassy area to light a camp fire.
We revisited Top Groggin in Feb.89 , by walking upstream from Tom Groggin then on a trail through the hills.
After some confusion on the way,
We finally arrived to enjoy a camp fire a meal and an O.P.
That bucket of water missed its target.
Suddenly with little warning,
we were surrounded by the foaming waters of the Murray Gates Gorge.
At day 2 camp we hoped it would not rain again,
but it did.
Before changing into ‘river clothes’I inflated the raft.
We had to negotiate a number of newly fallen trees,
before reaching clear waters.
Cows donate their droppings and contribute to river pollution.
Bringenbrong Br where many commence their ‘all of the Murray’ tours.
Alf behind the bar of his Dora Dora Pub
We camped at Wymah Reserve,
and reached the Hume Dam Wall at 12 P.M. the next day.
We commenced Stage 5 from the caravan park,
near the Lake Hume spillway.
Mustering cattle in the Barmah Forrest.
Houseboat near Echuca
We used river charts and a depth stick to pass through shallow water,
approaching Swan Hill.
Numerous large pumps draw their share of water from the only source.
Lou inspects a damaged prop.
We re-launch at Swan Hill on 21-11-86,
there is more than enough water now.
We pass under the Tooleybuc Bridge.
Flooding near Wakool Junction.
Shallow waters gradually deepen as we approach Euston Weir
Our support team does not go without notice at Robinvale
Climbing down the wall of Euston Weir,
to paddle out of the Lock
We finally caught up with our support team at Nangiloc Beach.
Wendy and Sue park my old red Kingswood near the Mildura Bridge, and we arrived at lunch time.
The luxurious Murray Princess at Renmark.
near Mildura’s Lock 11
We stop for lunch,
near the remains of an old River Boat.
An old Distillery at 228 Miles
The old Courthouse -Telegraph Office - Police Station at Wellington.
We squeezed through the last Lock, into the beautiful Coorong
After beaching we used our paddle to broaden a small channel, just enough to allow us to reach the open sea.
After returning from the Murray mouth.
we hold a small party with Gillian in Adelaide.