Our Murray River journey continues…

From Barmah National Park we headed through the town of Moama to the beautiful town of Echuca.

Moama is Echuca’s twin town across the border in New South Wales and another lovely Murray River town albeit not as exciting as Echuca.

Moama was originally located 2-kilometres upstream from Echuca and developed around Maiden’s Junction Inn and punt, which were established there in 1846 by James Maiden to service overlanders on route to Deniliquin and beyond.

However, 2 very severe floods, in 1867 and 1870, wiped out the old town with the 1870 flood reaching a height of 13-metres above water level. Consequently, Moama was relocated on higher ground at Horseshoe Lagoon, and was served by 2 wharves; 1 on the Murray River and the other on the lagoon, where there was a Customs House to deal with interstate trade.

Long-term settlement of Moama followed the railway line, which was opened in 1876, and later the Deniliquin Road, later Cobb Highway.

The name ‘Moama’ is derived from the local Aboriginal language and means ‘place of the dead’, referring to the nearby sandhills where the Aboriginal dead were buried in the years before white settlement.

The historic Port of Echuca literally means the ‘meeting of the waters’ as it sits on the junction of the Murray and Campaspe and just downstream from the Goulburn River.

I love Echuca not only because it is such a lovely, vibrant place but because I have fond memories of reading ‘All the Rivers Run‘ written by Nancy Cato back in the 1980s. It was a delightful story of the escapades of a fiery young woman and her steamboat exploits on the Murray River. Cato brought the characters and scenery to life in this book in a colourful manner and I often felt like I was travelling to the places that Delie was travelling too.

The story follows the life of English girl, Philadelphia Gordon, from the time when she was shipwrecked and orphaned off the coast of Victoria in 1890. She spent most of her life around Echuca and invested some of her inheritance in a paddle steamer called PS Philadelphia.

An Australian television mini-series, based on the book, was made in Echuca in 1982-1983 and the paddle steamer used as the PS Philadelphia in the film was the paddle steamer ‘Pevensey’, named after a sheep property on the Murrumbidgee River called Pevensey Station. 

Today the Pevensey is known to people all over the world for its role as ‘Philadelphia’ and still works as a tourist boat at the Port of Echuca. 

Even the movie left a lasting impression on me with the movie equally as good as the book thanks to actress, Sigrid Thornton, who played Delie Gordon.

Echuca’s claim to fame was as an inland port in the mid-late 1800’s with the paddle-steamer days from 1865–1910 a boom time for this little town. It was once the centre of the paddle steamer traffic on the Murray and is now a big tourist area with rebuilt paddle steamers plying their trade for tourists instead of merchants.

Echuca was founded by one of the most enterprising characters of the early colonial days, an ex-convict by the name of Henry Hopwood.

In 1850s he bought a small punt, built his first slab Inn, and worked to establish a town originally known as ‘Hopwood’s Ferry’. The ferry operated across the Murray near the Campaspe junction.

As the town grew its name was changed to Echuca and when he died in 1869, he left a thriving town where nothing had existed 16 years earlier.

The Port of Echuca became the largest inland port in Australia, with a riverboat trade of national importance having opened up inland Australia for settlement, thereby increasing the county’s production of wool.

When a rail link was established with Melbourne in 1864, and with Echuca the closest point on the Murray, the town grew rapidly.

Paddle steamers plied their trade along the Murray- Darling Rivers, bringing wool from isolated stations in outback Australia to the railhead at Echuca, that was then transported to Melbourne by rail for eventual sale and shipping overseas.

For many years Echuca was also the main ship building centre for the river transport industry and as the ship building industry grew, so did the demand for River Red Gum as a strong timber for wharf pylons, railway sleepers and building materials.

In the 1870 the district supported over a dozen mills with timber harvested in the Barmah, Moira and Perricoota Forests surrounding Echuca.

The riverboat days boomed at Echuca until the introduction of railways that extended into New South Wales thus the need for the paddle steamers decreased dramatically and so did the importance of the ports. The Port of Echuca was obsolete by the 1920s with the wharf and original buildings left to decay.

We had been here before on a previous trip and after booking in to the Discovery Caravan Park we set off to explore and reacquaint ourselves with this lovely town.

Apart from a nice shower and a toilet that flushes, one of the best aspects for us when staying in a caravan park is the camp kitchen. It is one of the first things we ask about when checking in, and the first thing that we check out as soon as we arrive at the park! I love a good camp kitchen and sometimes it is the thing that makes or breaks our visit to a caravan park!

We have found camp kitchens to be the centre of the camp ground and a great place to meet like-minded travellers. We love to chat to people around the bbq, sink or the table and we love to hear their stories and share hints and tips on travelling. We have made great friendships in camp kitchens… welcome to our blog Gillian and Murray.

Camp kitchens are very popular nowadays and there aren’t many parks that don’t have one… but be careful if you are basic camping and ask the questions, especially if the weather is bad, as they all vary from park to park.

Some are quite a distance from your campsite, some have very basics facilities… and others have so much more – protection from the weather, comfortable tables and chairs, lounges, tv, a fridge, a stove top, bbqs, an oven, microwave ovens, kettles, toasters, a sink and most of the time they provide wash up liquid and tea towels…. and sometimes an instant hot water system so you don’t have to wait for a cup of tea!

We have a couple of rules when we are travelling. Firstly, we must find somewhere to camp by 4 in the afternoon and secondly, we go to a caravan park with a camp kitchen if the weather turns bad… and the location of the camp kitchen and the amenities are usually our deciding point.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a few creature comforts every once in a while!

There was plenty to do at the Port of Echuca and I was amazed at the number of paddle steamers moored at the port, and then a little further downstream, the huge number of house boats either owner occupied or available for hire.

Part of the Port of Echuca’s charm is that the community has tried really hard to recreate history with a small but beautiful historic street housing a blacksmith, wood turners, people in costume dress and of course, horses and carts and as we strolled through the historic town we came across an authentic cargo shed, paddle steamers, the dry dock, the 1890 footbridge reconstructed using the original plans, a wharf, steam pumps and engines on working display, and the original Evans Sawmill.  

We visited the restored buildings, which were an extraordinary insight into the river’s pioneering days, and to add to the mystery of this beautiful town we soon learned that Echuca was not always the delightful place it appeared today. 

In the river trade days, Echuca had a very colourful past with Victoria’s only classified brothels. There were 70-brothels in Echuca in the late 1800’s… that was until all the inns and hotels were de-licensed because of the bad behaviour that went on within the town!

This however, did not stop the Star Hotel who continued to illegally service their patrons by establishing a secret underground bar complete with an escape tunnel that could be used by clients from the Star and Bridge Hotel to avoid police. It is well worth a visit to this pub for a beer and a quick tour of the downstairs drinking room and tunnels used by ship crews and port workers after the hotel licence was cancelled.

We found the best camping and caravan store and spent some time browsing through the crowded dusty shelves then back at the caravan park we walked the river tracks and enjoyed the seductive tranquility of the quiet, peaceful waters and bush land that surrounded us.

Echuca was the perfect place for us to relax, catch up on things and watch the many paddle steamers travelling up and down the river… and we liked the many coffee shops in town.

The main purpose of our extended stay (2 nights) was to meet up with friends we had first met in Kalgoorlie in 2017… so we made our way to ‘Johnny and Lyle’s’ coffee shop on High Street where we spent a lovely couple of hours laughing and enjoying their company. We finally left with the promise to meet up somewhere on the road. Welcome to our blog again Denise, Barry, Bev and Peter. 

Our next stop was a supermarket to stock up on fruit and vegies and a caravan outlet to have our gas cylinders filled before heading on to another free camp… only problem was we couldn’t find our way out of Echuca.

The road ‘Nav’ wanted to take us was closed with detour signs seeming to point us in the wrong direction and after half an hour of driving around and around we finally conceded we needed to head to the Tourist Information Centre… thank heavens for Tourist Information Centres.

Finally leaving Echuca we set the cruise control on Harry Hilux and followed the Murray Valley Highway in search of a free camp for the night and after consulting our faithful ‘Wikicamps and CamperMate’ apps our next destination was set for Gunbower State Forest near Cohuna.

Our journey took us through kilometres of flat, dry countryside passing what seemed like endless fields of sad grapevines, while occasionally catching a glimpse of the Murray.

We passed through Torrumbarry a small rural village 25- kilometres from Echuca. Torrumbarry was named after the Torrumbarry pastoral run (1842), which was possibly a derivation of the name of an Aboriginal woman who accompanied the exploration party of the New South Wales Surveyor General, Major Thomas Mitchell, who journeyed to western Victoria in 1836.

Cohuna was next on our map and is situated on the banks of Gunbower Creek, an important branch of the Murray River. It also has some great town based free camp sites close to the shopping centre and alongside the weir which directs water up the various irrigation channels we had been passing of late. At this camp spot there is a very generous 72 hours stay that allows plenty of time to relax and explore the town and surrounding area but we chose to head further afield.

The camp ground we were heading for was located on Gunbower Island, which is claimed to be Australia’s largest inland island. It has a water frontage of 130 kilometres and is mostly covered by native forests and wetlands.

Squeezed between the Murray River and Gunbower Creek there are some great spots for camping, fishing and just relaxing. On the bends of the Murray River there are 114 river and 25 creek camping sites, each with at least 1 fireplace. 

Dust storms had been building north of Echuca as we drove away but by the time, we arrived at Gunbower State Forest the wind had picked up considerably and it wasn’t long before we had a dust storm of our own to contend with.

The sky quickly turned an eerie reddish colour and we had just enough time to grab everything and jump in Harry before the storm hit resulting in us having to postpone setting up camp and waiting it out in the car until it was almost dark.

It blew so hard through the night that at times it sounded like a freight train was tearing through the trees.

We were camped in a dusty camp spot amongst a forest of River Red Gums and close to the reeds and waters of the wetlands and billabongs, home to a myriad of birdlife. There were good long drop loos and a few fishermen who appeared to have set up for the stay.

Fishing is one of the Murray’s classic experiences and the legendary native Murray Cod, Australia’s largest, exclusive, freshwater fish is what most anglers are after.

This elusive fish that featured in Aboriginal mythology and made a big impression on early settlers who were amazed by the sheer size and abundance, is apparently a prized catch these days with the dreaded ‘European Carp’ unfortunately a common catch in Murray waters.

Carp are the scourge of the Murray River and classified as a noxious pest and although they provide good sport, because they were bottom feeders, they were not for the dinner plate.

They are a horrible fish and if caught it is illegal to return them to the river meaning once caught they have to be disposed of responsibly… and that doesn’t mean dumping them in pot holes on the track around the campground so when people drive in and out and over them, they explode making a terrible noise. They might be a pest in the river ways but it doesn’t take much to dispose of the fish litter and bury it!

It was a lazy wind and freezing cold when we climbed out of our tent the next morning, one of the coldest mornings we had had on the road to date, so after a quick breakfast we packed up and hit the road early.

Heading toward Kerang we passed through very dry, flat farmland, although some had canals running the length of the fence line.

Kerang has a variety of small lakes and other bodies of water which make it ideal for irrigating and the land appeared to be a little more fertile here because of these channels. Just add water and everything changes but apparently all the plantation owners out this way do need to purchase a ‘water licence’!

We passed numerous orchards, which were mostly citrus fruits then fields upon fields of olive trees and different types of nuts. This stretch of land is also a popular wine region so there was an endless number of cellar doors to visit.

Continuing on we passed Lake Charm, a small town on the side of a very large lake, one of a group of shallow natural lakes that are situated between Kerang and Swan Hill.

Lake Charm is said to have strong links to the indigenous community and the Lake takes its name from a former local indigenous tribal Chief, Chief Cham.  It was thought that the ‘r’ was left out and it became known as Lake Charm. 

Kangaroo Inn (Scantleton’s Hotel) was originally built as a changing station for Cobb and Co and the village also boasted a railway station, which in its heyday in 1942-43 dispatched more cases of citrus fruit than any other station in Victoria. This little village now has 2 caravan parks, a public hall, a general store and a motor garage.

We passed the turnoff to Mystic Park where a great caravan park, Kangaroo Lake Caravan Park, is situated at the north end of beautiful Kangaroo Lake just off the highway.

Further on we passed the turn off to Lake William then stopped at Lake Boga for a toilet break.

There was another great caravan park here, set between the highway and a lovely lake with the only stretch of green grass we had seen for quite a while.

We pulled in at the roadside stop, which also doubles as the amenities for the park, and we were surprised to find free showers. When your free camping it’s a bonus to come across free showers.

The Catalina Aircraft Museum was just along the road.

Lake Boga is home of the No 1 Catalina Flying Boat. This remote flying boat service and repair facility was established for the Australian and American forces in 1942 during World War II to service the Royal Australian Airforce and the Dutch and American flying boats.

The story of Lake Boga really has its origins in Broom WA where devastation was caused by a Japanese air raid in World War II.

Broome was the base for a fleet of Catalina flying boats which had been used by the Australian Air Force to evacuate people form Rubal and parts of New Guinea as the Japanese army advanced. Up until the bombing, this had been a successful base then it was decided that a new safer base for the remaining Catalinas should be built, and Lake Boga was chosen… a secret base. So secret, it appeared apart from those who made the decision, no-one, including the American aircrew knew where they were flying to. Lake Boga wasn’t even marked on a map.

Lake Boga was chosen as it was far enough inland for the planes to be safe from enemy attack while they were out of operation and it was also a natural lake, and an almost perfect circle with a 3-kilometre diameter so they could always take off and land no matter where the wind was coming from. Why it’s a complete circle, no-one seems to know!

There is 1 remaining PBY-5 Catalina left on display at the lake and the old communications bunker is now a small museum and it was not difficult to imagine what it must have been like during the war.

One of the things I found interesting was that the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Airforce) played a huge role in the functioning of this depot and there were several photographs of the ladies working on the planes.

On our last trip we had pitched our tent at the ‘Swan Hill Pioneer City Tourist Park’.

This sleepy little town is nestled on the Murray in the heart of a very rich fertile region with magnificent orange groves and beautiful Jacaranda trees. It’s not a very big town with its main attraction, the authentic ‘Pioneer Settlement Village’.

Along the banks of the river brightly painted bollards had been erected to recognise the colourful characters from the riverboat past. These colorful posts were once used to secure riverboats when in port.

The border to New South Wales was only 5-minutes away on the other side of the Murray so the opportunity for a trip across the really old one lane bridge was too great to resist.

The 116-year-old bridge looked like it was on its last legs, and even though very old and rickety and in serious need of repair, judging from its age it seemed to be lasting surprisingly well…although to us it was quite amusing to think that in the city of Swan Hill people have to queue up to get across the river.

We came across another monument relating to the Burke and Wills expedition. They crossed the Murray at Swan Hill and camped on the northern bank. They used the punt which crossed the river where this bridge stands today. Burke and Wills travelled over 3,000-kilometres from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in less than 6-months… a huge feat considering the barren land they had to cross.

Back on Victorian soil we stopped at a beautiful park by the river for a cuppa and the sight and sound of hundreds of cockatoos swooping along the river banks and screeching into the dense foliage of the trees soon had us moving on fairly quickly.

Everyone walks faster or runs faster on the paths along this part of the river and it wasn’t because the temperature hadn’t risen over 15-degrees and they needed to keep warm… and you definitely don’t look up.

Now we all know that Australians are hooked on ‘Big Things’ – there is the big apple, banana, bottle, bull, cow, crocodile, galah, guitar, gumboot, kangaroo, koala, lobster, orange, pelican, penguin, pineapple and rocking horse and the list goes on… there are dozens more, and at Swan Hill it’s Arnold, the gigantic, spotted, blue-and-green fish with gigantic corrugated iron fins that has everyone hooked.

Now let’s all be clear on what constitutes an ‘Aussie Big Thing’ and the agreement is that the object must fulfil 2 criteria.  It must be man-made and it must be larger than it would normally be… and Arnold certainly fitted the criteria!

Arnold measures in at 15-metres long, 5.2-metres wide and 3-metres high and owes his existence to the necessity for a giant aquatic prop for the movie ‘Eight Ball’. He played an integral part in the movie, uniting the two central characters. One of them, Charlie, is an ex-con working on the huge cod, the other, Russell, a young professional who chances upon the cod, and Charlie. The two hit it off on the basis of a shared interest they discover when they strike up conversation… and you guessed it, it was ‘eight ball’!

Following the shoot, the film’s producers donated the $35,000 fish to Swan Hill, and after some minor indecision as to where Arnold should live, he was finally unhooked near the railway station behind the town.

Setting off on our merry way and still following the Murray Highway we headed towards Mildura only stopping occasionally for a cuppa or to enjoy the peaceful and idyllic surrounds as the river weaved its way through the countryside.

Groves of oranges, mandarins and olive and almond plantations now shared the very dry soil with grape vines… all looking very much in need of a good drink!

It was hard to believe dry countryside could still produce many of Australia’s dried fruits, grapes and citrus as well as most of the country’s almonds, pistachios, olives, carrots and asparagus to name a few. A good rain was all it needed to return it to its once beautiful, fertile countryside.

Further on we came to Beverford. Beverford is only 14-kilometres from Swan Hill and is in the Torrumbarry irrigation district, which began with the completion of the Torrumbarry weir near Echuca in 1924.

Beverford was also the childhood home of one of Australia’s most infamous bushrangers, Ned Kelly. Ned (1854-1880) , lived here in the house built by his father John ‘Red’ Kelly in 1860s.

Vinefera was another location that we whizzed past and was named after Vitis vinifera the common grape vine, when grapes were originally planted here.

Next on the map was Nyah West and Nyah. Nyah and Nyah West are only about 3-kilometres from each other and only 25-kilometres from Swan Hill.

Nyah West is on the railway line from Swan Hill to Piangil and is the larger of the 2 towns. It is thought the name was derived from an Aboriginal word describing a bend in the river.

We had received great reviews of the camp area at Nyah, which was located beside the Nyah Harness Club, so that was where we were heading to check it out.

The town of Nyah only asks for a donation for this camp and it is a huge area with toilets and a dump point and drinking water. It was another spot to mark on our map.

There was also riverside camping where the Murray River broadens its banks for a few kilometres. This camping area, shaded by the River Red Gums is almost right in the heart of the small town and offers over 100 campsites.

If you’re driving in the Nyah region you will almost definitely see some tall old-style people staring out at the Murray River.

Like Swan Hill these large posts are painted up to represent characters from the colourful riverboat past in the area. The original bollards were posts used by riverboats to tie up when in port and are placed at various points between Swan Hill and Robinvale. 

We had noticed an ever-increasing level of orchard production from Nyah to Robinvale with one continuous orchard stretching for at least 10-kilometres.

33-kilometres from Swan Hill we came to ‘Gillicks Landing’ on the ‘Major Mitchell Trail’. This landing was about a kilometre off the Murray Valley Highway and clearly signposted through a gate and along a dirt track to the river where Mitchell camped on the 18 June 1836. Today campers can still pitch a tent at this secluded site.

Lying alongside the Murray River between Swan Hill and the quaint town of Robinvale are a number of small reserves in which bush camping is permitted.

Wood Wood was another small town. Here there was an easily identified, isolated, Aboriginal Canoe Tree, which has been identified by the Victorian Archaeological Survey as a scarred tree. From such trees the Aborigines made canoes, shields, containers and shelters.

This is a good example of a scarred tree!

Further on at Boundary Bend we pulled in on a rough dirt road that led to the river where we stopped for lunch. We had considered setting up camp here but it wasn’t very sheltered and the wind was gusting and blowing up lots of sand so we decided to move on.

From Boundary Bend we headed into more serious fruit and nut growing country with large almond and olive operations and massive orange plantations. Vineyards that supply the wine cask industry stretched to the horizon.

With ‘Nav’ set for Mildura we continued west. We passed a turnoff where a sign pointed in the direction of Tooleybuk and Sydney and further down the road we came to a rather unique plantation of closely planted willow trees. At first, we were quite stumped as to why these trees might be here, then fortunately we came to a sign that read ‘The Australian Cricket Bat Willow Plantation’.

Our journey continued through a very fertile area, and with irrigation, was a productive area.

We passed more almonds, avocado, apples, vegetables and vineyards. Robinvale produces the scarlet table grapes for Australia.

It is also the location of a large fish breeding centre for stocking the river with Murray Cod, Silver Belly and other fish. This breeding centre is located at Euston Weir.

We passed through Robinvale and crossed the Murray where we continued along the Sturt Highway.

It was amazing how the countryside changed after we crossed into New South Wales. Passing through Euston we followed the long straight bitumen road through dry mallee bush country – a stark contrast from the crop district we had just travelled through.

Following the directionson our ‘CamperMate app’ we turned off the Sturt Highway continuing down a dirt track for a couple of kilometres to Bottle Bend Campground, another great free camp on the banks of the river.

There were quite a few spots to pull in to here but no facilities, which meant it was back to the bush toilet for us… trouble was trying to find a secluded spot where no one could see you.  There were a few caravans parked up and the vegetation was quite sparse.

The evening was very still and even though slightly chilly we were now quite accustomed to sitting outdoors to eat our meal while listening to birds, watching the wildlife, appreciating the natural setting and enjoying the solitude as the light faded.

The bush camp sites here were mostly separated from each other by trees and bushes so we had some privacy but of course there is always the security concern being so close to the bigger towns or cities, namely Mildura.

With a 4WD moving through the campground several times that night it was a little unsettling in what we had originally thought was an orderly camping ground.

Next morning, we were woken by the increasing volume of screaming cockatoos gathering in the nearby trees.

Moving on, our morning ride took us past more vineyards… kilometres and kilometres of them, then passing through the outer suburbs of Mildura we crossed the Murray back into Victoria.

Now speaking of ‘Aussie Big Things’, Buronga, on the opposite banks to Mildura, was home to a ‘Big Wine Cask’ when we travelled through this area before. An 11-metre long, 8-metre tall and 7-metre wide ‘Big Wine Cask’, which could, in theory, hold 400,000L of wine… and it  came complete with a push-tab tap. The Stanley Wineries water-purification plant was once an unsightly corrugated-iron structure until it received a cask-like coat of paint and now it’s an Aussie icon.… but unfortunately, there was no wine, as Australia’s biggest cask wine packaging factory closed its doors in 2017.

There are ‘Big Things’ all over Australia and being the nutter that I am, I love taking photos of the ones we come across!

Crossing the bridge into Victoria we finally arrived at Mildura.

Mildura has long been known as ‘Australia’s food bowl’ and on every bend in the road we had travelled so far, there seemed to be a property producing fruit, vegetables, oils or cereals even though it appeared very dry country! It was just staggering the area under intense cultivation.

Before European settlement, before irrigation and before vines and orchards, Mildura supported one of Australia’s oldest known cultures.

The river, wetlands and plains of this vast region were once home to many Aboriginal tribes including the Latje Latje and Paakantyi people. It is believed that the Latje Latje gave Mildura its name which translates as ‘Red earth and dust’. The Aboriginal word for red is “mil” and their word for earth is ‘dura’.

From this once arid Mallee bushland, Mildura was brought to life in the 1880s by the Chaffey Brothers’ clever Murray River Irrigation Scheme.

Later it attracted a cultural identity of post war migrants from Italy, Ireland, Greece, England and Yugoslavia who settled in the region and brought with them cultivation skills that have been passed down through many generations.

Mildura is a major town that boasts many nice cafes, bars and restaurants.

The streets are very wide and like Echuca, the Murray is obviously the centre of attraction for this town, only here the river is tightly regulated by locks and weirs so it is a very popular place for house boats.

The river is very wide and picturesque at this point and is lined by either parks, wildlife reserves or just natural bush land but it is not just about horticulture, cafes, house boats and parks, there are also a number of historical paddle steamers on the river and just 13-kilometres south of Mildura is the small settlement of Red Cliffs where an interesting piece of history is housed.

After the World War 1 the Victorian Government chose Red Cliffs for soldier settlement farms. It was the largest such settlement in Australia… and a barren land of mallee scrub.

The clearing of the forested areas of Mallee scrub to provide 700 Soldier Settlement blocks for veterans of World War 1 was initially left to these settlers.

In early 1915 a man by the name of Frank Bottrill commenced construction of a prehistoric tractor to replace the camel trains which carried wool and other heavy loads in the sandy terrain.

Big Lizzie was a single cylinder 45 tonne diesel tractor with a top speed about 2-mph.  It would take 2-years for her to travel from Melbourne to the Wimmera.

After failed attempts to cross the Murray at several points, one being Echuca, Big Lizzie eventually arrived in Mildura in 1917 to find the Murray River in flood.  Without a bridge to cross the river, completing the journey was out of the question for Bottrill so he sought work in the Mildura area to compensate his exhausted funds.

In 1921 Big Lizzie commenced clearing scrub for the proposed settlements of Red Cliffs and today Red Cliffs, its name coming from the 60-metre high cliffs along the Murray River a few kilometres to the east, is a major citrus and grape-growing district on the Calder Highway.

Back in Mildura and after a look around the foreshore we crossed back over the border into New South Wales, and headed for the historic town of Wentworth.

We passed a lovely little caravan park just over the bridge that we had stayed at last trip.

If you are looking for a peaceful park with large grassy sites away from the hustle and bustle? Then look no further, because the Curlwaa Caravan Park is set in 8-acres of quiet, shady, spacious grounds alongside the Murray on the New South Wales side.

Wentworth is a beautiful village, with century old Red River Gums nestled at the intersection of Australia’s 2 longest rivers, the Darling and the Murray.

History tells us Captain Sturt sailed down the Murray arriving at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers in 1830 where he was confronted by aboriginals, armed with spears and weapons.

Luckily for Sturt, the 4 aboriginals who had befriended the party on their journey and followed them on foot along the river, intervened and negotiated on Sturt’s behalf thus the ‘intruders’ presence was accepted.

Captain Sturt named the Murray River on that day, at the point where the two rivers converged. It was named after Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

With the arrival of paddle steamers in 1853, these rivers were the pathway for development in this region and the life line for almost everything that happened for many years as paddle steamers plied their trade carrying supplies to stations on the Darling River.

In its heyday Wentworth was such a busy river port the small settlement found itself ideally situated as an administrative and commercial centre for the untapped wealth of the vast outback and because of its rich history was even considered as a possible site for the nation’s capital.

It has proudly kept its heritage with many historic buildings still remaining including the old gaol, which is now open for the public to wander through, the courthouse, the convent and the customs house.

We came across the paddle-steamer ‘Ruby’ that was undergoing restoration. 

The Ruby was built in Morgan in 1907 and transported passengers and cargo between Echuca, Mildura, Wentworth and Goolway. She eventually ended her days as a houseboat at Mildura.

The Rotary Club of Mildura purchased her in 1968 and she was dry docked in Fotherby Park in 1995. They then handed ownership to the Wentworth community and in 1996 a restoration committee was formed.

6-years and 1000’s of volunteer hours later, Ruby had a brand-new hull and she was returned to the water in a dock pond, all steamed up and ready for her 100th birthday in 2007.

Restoration work still takes place on various days and we were just lucky enough to be there while a volunteer was working on her.

Further on an observation tower has been erected on the bank overlooking where the 2 rivers converge then following a path across wetlands to ‘Weir 10’ we sat on the bank and watched the water go by.

A short drive from town are the Perry Sandhills and we couldn’t leave without checking them out. 

Located about 6-kilometres out of Wentworth, on the Old Renmark Road, there are 10- hectares of sand-dunes to explore that were once used for bombing practice during World War II and are also said to have featured in ‘The Man from Snowy River 2’, ‘Flying Doctors’ and ‘Boney’… and well worth a visit!

When we first pulled into the car park it appeared quite barren and deserted and didn’t look much at all, however once we climbed the first sand hill we found that there were sand hills for kilometres that made us feel like we had stepped into another world!

There were also some magnificent River Red Gum trees that grew along the dry river bed and revealed the resilience of nature in this harsh environment, forming a perfect backdrop silhouetted by the cloudy sky and red sand… and of course it wouldn’t be an ‘Aussie outback adventure’ without the ‘Aussie fly’, hence the continual ‘Aussie salute’.

Now you have all heard of the Aussie salute and if not, it is an expression that has been born from the necessity to use our hands to remove flies from our face by swishing one hand from left to right or vice-versa in front of our face!

Display boards at the small shelter near the car park suggested that the Barkindji people had lived in this area since ancient times and apparently bones from kangaroos, wombats and other creatures that once roamed the region can still be found in the sandhills.

Named after George Perry the first land commissioner in the area, the sandhills form a desert of striking red sandhills that were once part of the huge Willandra Lakes System and date back to an ice age 40,000 years ago. Partially buried by the dunes is also a magnificent River Red Gum that is believed to be over 500-years old. At the car park an information board gives directions to this amazing tree.

After checking out the Perry Sandhills we headed back to the state of Victoria with Renmark next on our map.

The road we had travelled from Echuca and the places we had visited were familiar territory to us and we knew we would soon be crossing the border into South Australia and passing through a strict quarantine zone.   

After taking a back road to the Sturt Highway we headed through Culleraine where further along we turned off onto a dirt road to check out ‘Lock 9’.

After the establishment of the River Murray Commission in 1917, regulating structures including weirs and locks were constructed along the river Murray with the weir and ‘Lock 1’ at Blanchetown the first to be completed in 1922.

Other weirs and locks were progressively built, with Yarrawonga Weir being the last to be completed in 1939 and the only weir that does not have a lock.

The purpose of these weirs is to store water and to regulate river flow downstream thus providing raised river levels upstream of the weir.  This allows water to be diverted for agricultural, domestic and industrial use and to improve the navigation of the river. 

House boats and other water craft can navigate through the weirs via the locks although the weirs at Mildura, Torrumbarry and Yarrawonga were constructed primarily for water supply, rather than navigation. There are 14 weirs along the River Murray.

As our travelling route followed the river, we stopped often to look at a few possible overnight camp locations. Most of these consisted of dirt tracks along the edge of the river amongst River Red Gum trees and ‘Lock 9’ was another bush camp spot to go on our camps list if we were ever caught short. There were no amenities here and although not as good as our other camps we had been in, it was ok.

After a short break at the lock to check our quarantine list, eat our fruit and discard any illegal veggies we were carrying we continued on.

With bananas and apples on our lap we made our way to the quarantine station. We had devoured the tomatoes in a sandwich with the idea of dispensing what we couldn’t eat at the station!

With our clocks back half an hour to South Australian time we said goodbye to Victoria and headed into South Australia. We will definitely be back to the lovely state of Victoria. Apart from our adventure to the Victorian High Country to complete, there are still so many places we haven’t seen!

Crossing from one state to the next we pulled over to take photos of the ‘Welcome to South Australia’ sign and we passed dozens upon dozens of flocks of emus grazing on the dry barren land along the side of the highway.

If we had known there was a $300 fine just for arriving at the quarantine station with our uneaten fruit, we would have tossed them something to eat as there were certainly no crops out this way, only pastures of dry, barren, sandy land.

We had gorged on fruit until we couldn’t eat any more when we arrived at the station and as I was about to open the door to put the remnants in a bin, I was told promptly by the quarantine lady to remain in the car.

We didn’t know we were supposed to dispense of our fruit way back at the ‘Welcome to South Australia’ border sign where apparently there were bins… I guess I was too busy trying to take snaps of the sign that we zipped straight past!

Lucky for us the quarantine lady was distracted by a caravan alongside us… but unlucky for the occupants, they copped a fine!

We had a lovely man who checked everything, answered our queries, found an elusive capsicum (I had forgotten about) in the bottom of the fridge then warned us next time to dispose of food at the appropriate place back along the road, updated our quarantine list as it was out of date, warned us and waved us on our way! I’m sure it had something to do with our Tassie numberplates.

On the highway from Mildura to Renmark we passed more citrus, grape (both wine and table) as well as more almonds and other fruit orchards along the way.

On some stretches of the Murray River it was amazing country… as I have said before – just add water and everything changes and all the plantation owners needed was a ‘water licence’ and the ability to be able to pay for it!

Paringa was the next notable town we passed through just 5-kilometres from Renmark. 

Paringa is from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘big bend in the river’.

In 1913 Paringa became the first Murray town to become connected to Adelaide by rail. The Paringa Suspension Bridge was opened in 1927 and is only 1 of 5 spanning the Murray River in South Australia.

We had travelled this route before taking in the sights of Echuca, Wentworth, Mildura, Renmark and beyond so it was familiar country to us.

Last trip we had stayed at the ‘Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park’ but this time we found a very popular free spot only 4-kilometres out of town called ‘Plush Bend Camp’. It was an awesome place to camp and hide away along the Murray with ample places to camp on the banks of the river… and further down the track we even had the luxury of flushing toilets.

We set up camp amongst beautiful old knotty River Red Gums where we were privy to the constant sounds of birds calling from the trees surrounding us, it was just beautiful… and the next morning the sunrise was pretty special too! As the sun rose it cast a beautiful light upon the trees on the other side of the river.

We had really enjoyed visiting Renmark and we met some great people with some incredible stories!

On our last trip we met a lovely lady from Sydney. Lorna was 81and she and her husband were still enjoying caravan life. We sat and chatted to her for quite a while as she cooked a date and walnut slice in the camp kitchen. She really enjoyed telling stories of her life in Darwin in the 1940’s during World War 11 and she put us to shame with her energy running around the caravan park, although a bit disorientated at times and having to be directed back to her van. 

She said farewell to us the next day with her recipe for the slice, a sample of the goods, and her address and made us promise to visit her when we tour the East Coast of Australia.

Prior to European settlement the friendly Naralte Aborigines inhabited this area and Renmark was named after an Aboriginal word meaning ‘red mud’.

Renmark is Australia’s oldest settlement on the Murray River with the Chaffey Brothers, George and William, honoured as the founders – although there were other white settlers in the area prior to their arrival.

The Canadian born brothers, were invited to Australia to create an irrigation system at Mildura (as mentioned earlier), however the project was delayed due to political disputes. In the meantime, an agreement for the establishment of an irrigation colony at Renmark was signed in 1887.

30,000 acres were granted to the Chaffey’s, on which, to build the new colony with vineyards and fruit plantations slowly emerging throughout the district. Now the Renmark irrigation area is predominately horticultural.

During its brief history, Renmark has witnessed many changes and like other communities along the Murray, it too has played a major role as a port for paddle steamer.

The township has survived terrible floods, droughts, storms and the threat of bushfires but with each setback Renmark has recovered and grown.

Today it is another prosperous tourist town full of lots of history built on Aboriginal culture, explorers, bushrangers and cattlemen. This town has lots of wild stories about the famous ‘Ned Kelly’ (he was born at Beveridge) ‘Captain Moonlite’ and ‘Mad Dog Morgan’, as well as great Australian legends such as ‘Banjo Paterson’ and the ‘Man from Snowy River’.

After a quick visit to the local visitors centre we wandered down the extraordinarily wide main street then sat on the banks of the river and enjoyed the serene and idyllic setting as the river rolled by and the ‘locals’ went about their business… a family of ducklings who had made the park their home.

Leaving Renmark and turning off onto the Goyder Highway our journey continued on to Morgan.

We passed the turnoff to ‘Overland Corner’ with it’s historic ‘Overland Corner Hotel’ which still operates today… and its connection to ‘Captain Moonlight’.

We passed ‘Devlins Run’ turnoff then further on we travelled through Markaranka, just a small village with a few houses lining the highway and a few vineyard and olive plantations.

Up until now the countryside had been dry, barren land, mallee at times, but mostly red soil and rocks supporting a large emu population.

We finally made it to Morgan, just downstream of where the river turns and flows southwards.

Morgan is a beautiful little town… on one side is the historic village and on the other lots of new houses but there are no bridges over the Murray in this area with the crossing of the river accomplished on a ferry, here at Morgan and also at Waikerie and Cadell.

Morgan was founded in 1878 and at the height of the paddle-steamer era was the busiest inland port in South Australia, with 6 trains a day departing to carry freight from the Murray to the sea at Port Adelaide.

As with all these little river communities, once road transport improved through the early part of the 20th century river transport declined and the railway to Morgan finally closed in 1969.

We had lunch on the banks of the river then drove the almost deserted streets of the little village. The riverbank was a much busier location as there was a ‘houseboat owners’ meeting happening. It was houseboat heaven!

We wandered past a number of historic landmarks that revealed stories of the town’s past including the original morgue complete with a make-believe cadaver.

From the riverbank we could view the majestic cliffs that swapped from side to side as the river meandered downstream into the distance.

Morgan is sadly our last contact with the ‘Mighty Murray’ as it flows in its southerly directions towards Murray Bridge, to Lake Alexandrina and finally the Southern Ocean.

We have been so fortunate to experience the Murray River and follow its serpentine path from the mountains of the Great Dividing Range in north-east Victoria to the desert country and wide-open plains of South Australia.

There is certainly something special about ‘The Mighty Murray’- the beautiful ‘River Red Gums’, the friendly people, the gorgeous river towns dotted along the way, and so many amazing free river camps.

From Morgan our journey will continue west to Burra in the Clare Valley, a valley with a history of miners to master winemakers, then into the Flinders Ranges.

Our ‘Mighty Murray Drive’ is over and we have had one amazing time.

I really hope you have enjoyed our journey as much as we did…we can’t recommend this drive enough!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.