Monday, 7 January 2013

Day 11: 1191 to 1124 km to the sea: Beach campsite - Robinvale


Day 11: Wednesday 28/11 
Beach campsite - Robinvale
River markers: 1191 to 1124 km from the sea.
Distance travelled today: 67 km. 
Total distance travelled: 588 km.

Sunrise at my beach campsite.



Last night I did not sleep well, the hot weather hung around like an old friend until I was too tired to cook. I snacked on nuts. Snacked is too polite. I ate heaps. By the evening, through the night and into the morning I felt like a walking tub of peanut butter. My mouth tasted of it, my breath smelt of it. Yuk!


Sunrise and ready for an early start - with a 40 deg day predicted.

With hot temperatures predicted again for today (39 degrees celsius) and very hot weather (45 degrees celsius) for Thursday, I decided to make for Robinvale and rest out the heat in a cabin. As usual this would also give me a chance to recharge my electronic devices and upload those photos which had so stubbornly reused to do so and had drained my battery power over the last few days. I was up before the dawn. The dawn chorus was quiet today. Perhaps the birds had sung themselves out in their screeching before the thunderstorm and their rejoicing in the luscious, rainforest like atmosphere afterwards. After having been lazy and suffered for it, I cooked a proper brekky. I like to have as big a brekky as I can to keep me going through the day. I haven packets of pre-mixed oats, milk powder, sugar and raisins which cook up to a filling porridge. The oats and raisins provide fibre and a source of slow releasing energy through the day. The sugar helps get me going. Over the past week or so, I have been having fried eggs with tomatoes and onions as well, which is delicious, but takes extra time to clean the pan. I was getting a bit sick of this heat and wanted to get off early, so today I tried boiling my eggs. To save the metho which I use as fuel for my trangia (camp stove) I popped them into the kettle which I was using to boil water for a cuppa. This gave me a chance to check whether they were still good. If they stand on end in the water, they are starting to get old and won't taste the freshest, if they float then they can't be trusted any more. They tasted great, but were quite a challenge to chase around the trangia lid. It was as though they did not want to be eaten. :)


My kayak's wake catchiing the sun's rays.





I have a fair share of dried instant meals, soups, noodle and rice mixes, as well as packaged, ready to go foods, like diced peaches in syrup, but my favourite foods are those that come in nature's packaging. Eggs, apples, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, carrots, onions, garlic and ginger. These are refreshing rewards during the day, or tasty additions to the evening meal. Added to the health benefits, they are also biodegradable, so I don't need to turn my boat into a floating rubbish bin.

I was packed and ready by dawn. Just time enough to photograph the morning light. The beach I was camped on was almost like an island. It had a little bit of river, like a stream separating it from the main beach and was covered by a scattering of young trees. It was amongst these that I had set up my tent. The perfect cracked and curling edges of the rich silt that the river had left on the beach told me that I was one of the first big living creatures on the island. Only a kangaroo had been there before. 

When young trees emerge from a flood, many of their branches die. Many look for all intents and purposes, dead. However, as the rising sun shone through their skeletal frames, it reflected off young green shoots sprouting from the trunks. On closer inspection, these were covered in green St Andrews Cross insects, enjoying the sweet sap which the trees had stored in their roots all this time and were now using to help their young shoots grow. Invisible in normal daylight, a myriad of fine spider webs also became apparent. When I see the old river red gums, with their hollows and generous branches, home to so many things I often find myself thinking of the expression 'Tree of Life'. This morning I realised that the right to this name is not the exclusive right of old trees. 


Getting closer to Robinvale, the banks are covered in forest once again.
Today's stretch was mostly forested, it did not take me through any towns. Again I saw no boats and only a few fishermen. As the day heated up there was good reason for people to be indoors, especially now that there is air conditioning. As a kid growing up in a small country town, I remember when air conditioners were a luxury. Not everyone had one and the ones that we had were not all that good. The local barber, Doughy Elliot, like so many others, used to put a sign up on his door, "Closed due to the heat. Gone down the river." And if you went down the river to look for him, you would find half of Echuca there. People had there favourite spots, the pontoon was where the teenagers hung out, swimming from one side of the river to the other to watch each other, or out to the passing paddle steamers, hoping to grab onto the rudder and get a free trip upstream and a refreshing float down. The paddle steamers used to gun it through this area, so grabbing hold of the rudder was some feat. Families would be at one of the many beaches, deck chairs in the water at the edge of the river and kids playing in the sand. Others used boats to enjoy the cooling breeze off the river. These days the pontoon is gone and although people still use the river to cool off, they also have their air conditioners and we constantly hear the warning, "stay out of the river" it is dangerous. It is dangerous, for sure, but you'd be a fool to ignore the beauty at our front doorstep. I hope to be able to share some of that beauty through my photos, amateur as they are.
Meilmann Station shearing shed.

Beach at Meilmann Station. Full of corellas.


At the 1174 kilometre mark I passed Meilmann Station. Like many isolated stations, it is its own community. It seemed as though each of the kids and their partners had built their own homes there, each in their own style. What caught my eye, however, was the old shearing shed,neither its corrugated iron chimney. Like the one I had seen a week earlier, this one also backed onto the river. Shearing is hot work. Unlike the other it was silent. I drifted past, enjoying the view, imagining what it would be like to live there, admiring their choose of ground high above the floods and listening to the corellas which had occupied the just as impressive beach on the other side of the river. The name 'Meilmann' was painted roughly, with a large broad brush on a water tank near to the river. Beside it a new pump hummed.

Not the oldest of stations, Meilmann was established in 1925 by the Gorman family. They still own the station, which in a time where properties change hands very often and especially between generations is quite something. The name Meilmann equates the local aboriginal word for 'place of many frogs'. Since 2001, Meilmann has also been producing wines. A Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are available. They have a frog on their label. On their website, http://www.meilman.com.au/ the family show their pride in maintaining wildlife in the red gum forests and wetlands on their farm. I knew there was something that appealed to me about this place.


Snags in the cutting from the last photo, usually accompanied by strong currents as the river drops faster than if it went the long way.


The river was rising constantly now, not because of rain, or releases from upstream reserves, but because it was now under the influence of the Euston Weir. Euston is the neighbouring town to Robinvale, like Echuca-Moama, each is in its own state and the competition between those states even today, affects their history and psyche. It was hard to put a figure on it, but every 10 kilometres or so that I paddled the banks were about 40cm lower. This may not seem like much, but by the time I was in Robinvale the river had almost reached the top of the bank in places. Nothing like Torrumbarry mind you, where if a person was to sneeze the river would flow over the bank, but high never-the-less. The high river meant that the snags disappeared into the murky deep, but it also meant that with less current it was harder to spot them. I had a number of surprises as my boat passed over, or just by looming snags. The slower current meant less help and I pushed hard, careful, even in rest stops, to keep the boat moving. If my tail wash (the pressure waves that follow a boat) overtook me then I had stopped too long. The tail wash travels in both directions at half the speed  that the boat was travelling when it made them. It is embarrassing to be passed by one's own tail wash. :). Like Echuca, the high water makes water skiing very attractive: The Robinvale-Euston Classic is Ski Racing Victoria's premier event http://www.waterskiracing.com/ and like the Southern 80 is also 80 kilometres long and brings tourism dollars to the town. 


This beach was huge, and so inviting that I took a break under its cool shady trees. Near Robinvale.
Forest invading the beach.
Kangaroo footprints in the cracking river clay.

Since the current was slowing down, I was on the look out for any short cuts. I found one at 1169, a snaggy young cutting with lots of current (but nothing like Murphy's Island) that saved me 2 km. I took some photos of what it looked like on the river charts and in reality to share with those at home. I snuck through another, log hopping through its marsh like waters at 1155 to save another kilometre. This one did not really save time, but exploring these backwaters is fun and makes a change of pace from paddling on the big river. At the 1144 kilometre mark, a promising cutting turned out to be blocked by snags; even the water could hardly get through. I turned around and went out again, startling a few carp in the process who had been feeding in the warm shallow water. The biggest cutting, the pièce de résistance, was a cutting saving 10 kilometres just before Robinvale. By this time, in the heat of the early afternoon, anything that saved energy was welcome. I located Riverside Caravan Park just before the mammoth new bridge and pulled in.


All that remains of a river side saw mill. Here the logs from barges were pulled up the bank by winches to a  saw mill.

Ruins on the water's edge. Unknown origin.
Red cliffs near Robinvale.