Day 18: Wednesday 5/12
Mildura - Wentworth - Darling Junction - Beach Campsite.
River markers: 882 to 812 km to the sea.
Distance travelled today: 70 km.
As I set off this morning there were pelicans on the beach, about 10 in all, cruising gracefully back and forth near to the water's edge. I get excited when I see pelicans, because it seems to mean to I am getting closer to the sea. I saw many pelicans during the course of the day, though usually they flew off too early to allow me to get a photo.
|Day 18: rough weather|
My first goal was a cutting about twenty two kilometres out. On the charts it was marked as shallow, but if passable it would save me eight kilometres. The day was windy, with rolling waves on the longer straights and bends. It was also pretty fresh to begin with, as I hit the water just before 8 am, it was still only 10 degrees celsius. Being wet in that kind of weather soon leads to hypothermia, so I had full wet weather gear, including my ocean spray deck. This tummy hugging spray deck made of wet suit material is heavy and warm, but in this kind of weather was just right. Using a tip on technique from a friend shared via Facebook, I managed to avoid the pains in my shoulders that had been troubling me the last few days - despite much more testing conditions. I reached the cutting in two and a half hours. It looked promising, but something must have been blocking it because not much water was flowing through. I advanced gingerly. I could see the exit, however I also saw the problem. Standing in the middle of the cutting, right where a fast flowing stream should have been, were 4 pelicans, their bellies well clear of the water. Just after this I came to a grinding halt - literally. With only 50 metres to go I decided that I was going to make this one way of the other. I succeeded in lifting the boat off the reef by pushing down with my hands on both sides of the boat. This action enabled me to move about twenty centimetres. not that impressive. I reconsidered my decision, but kept trying. Sometimes the movement was even less, however I was progressing. The pelicans had seen enough and took off. Eventually I got to deeper water, was stranded once more, but got off more easily this time. After five minutes and a lot of wiggling and lifting I was through. Success!
|Houseboat with wood fire stove.|
The next straight, was full of houseboats. There are so many are around Mildura. Some look like pensioned off hire boats, however others were distinctly homemade. While some people like absolute luxury, with BBQ's like designer kitchens, others were very basic. one that appealed to me had three reclining lounge chairs on an open back deck, with a pot belly stove between them. Many had elements of paddle boats about them. The number of small paddle steamers impressed me - each a connection with our past and as individual as their forebearers. As I got further and further away from Mildura, the number of houseboats, and people living along the banks of the river, got less and less. Gradually the bush took back over, the number of birds increased and I was on my own again.
|Abbotsford Bridge, connecting Yelta Vic, with Curlwaa NSW 1927.|
|Fishing boat in front of the wreck of the PS Sapphire.|
From the cutting my next goal was Wentworth and Lock 10. This was a further twenty-two kilometres away. Originally I had planned to stay overnight at Wentworth, because I was worried about the strong winds and unsure how I would fare. I began to snack my lunch early to keep energy levels up and aimed to make Wentworth by 1 pm. Depending on how I felt I could decide whether to stay the night once I arrived. Feeling good, I arranged with Lockmaster Danny, to go through at 3 pm. This gave me enough time to walk into town and have a look around.
|Day 18: Counter Meal specials, Wentworth Pub.|
The first thing I found was a bakery and ordered a pie and Big M. I love bakeries, they are traditional hubs in communities. In European villages, farmers families would bring in their flour once a week to be milled and then would bake their bread together in a communal, wood fired oven. This started early in the morning, well before dawn and would have finished late in the day. Everyone contributed flour, everyone shared the work and received bread for the week. My father-in-law’s grandmother, her sight failing, once took the wrong sack. Instead of flour, cement was added to the communal mix. The villagers never let her forget it! The staff told with me where they had been in their tinnies and barbie boats when exploring the river, shared their favorite places, stories of floods and droughts and recommended a route for me to walk around town. I loved the verandas on the shops in the main street and the quirky seats with metal castings of native fish as back rests. The route took me by a small museum which was based on wooden models of paddle steamers built be a retired fellow called Rodney. They were amazing! One of his collections was of the paddle steamer Marion. Rodney had built a metre long model of every change in design that the Marion had ever had, from starting life as a barge, through to being a working cargo boat, to a whole range of ever more luxurious passenger carrying and entertaining features. We swapped some stories and then it was time to move on.
On my way into Wentworth, I had taken a short cut into the Darling River. The Darling joins the Murray at Wentworth. Two great rivers, said to be one river system, but both based on completely different climate patterns and flowing through different soil types. The big surprise is that the Darling is milky white: almost the colour of concrete. The Murray in comparison, was a dark green. We get used to calling the Murray dirty, but it carries a lot less clay than does the Darling. Where they meet, just upstream of the weir the two different coloured waters flow side by side. It is surreal. These then mix in the weir. As I went through the lock, foam from the water pouring over the weir blew up into the air and into the lock. It was almost like being at the sea. The Lockmaster, Danny said that Darling water tends to do that. I wonder if it was due to the water having a higher salt content than the Murray. In any case within a few hundred metres, everything had settled - but the Murray had changed colour.
Danny informed me that at the moment 19,000 megalitres of water were flowing through the weir. This was 7,000 more than at Torrumbarry and due to rising water in the Darling from good rains in central Queensland about six weeks before. Rises of seven feet were expected in the Darling, much less in the wider Murray. I pulled my boat up a little higher than usual and tied it on, just in case.
|Inside Lock 10.|
|Lock 10 Wentworth chatting with Danny.|
|Day 18: Below the point where the Darling River enters the Murray the river changes colour, taking on the milky white of the clays of the Darling basin. This colour remained almost until Lake Alexandrina.|
|Day 18: Wentworth's dedication to the humble grey Fergie that saved the town.|
|Day 18: Benches celebrating local fish, this one is a catfish.|
In 1956, massive floods came down both the Murray and the Darling rivers. The people of Wentworth, with a river each side of them were trapped. They managed to save the town by building huge levees all around. Local residents and farmers worked round the clock with their tiny Massey Ferguson tractors to build the wall, one little tractor scoop at a time. These really were small tractors, some people have ride on lawn mowers as big as a Massey Ferguson. It was a massive effort. In recognition there are monuments around town to the Little Grey Fergie and a garden memorial to it as well.
|Day 18: Rodney with his model paddle steamer display in Wentworth.|
Rod and Chris in the model paddle steamer display museum told me of the last two paddlers to pass through - it seems everyone stops at their shop. One was 18 year old Chris Hayward, (doing the length of the Murray), who want it or not, received a good dose of fatherly advice from the gents. The other was a fella who they thought might be 35, who had done the length of the Darling. He had dreadlocks, they said. I wonder if that is what the Darling does to you?
|Young emus coming for an inspection.|
I continued on another twenty kilometres to a comfortable beach at the 812 kilometre mark, exactly 900 kilometres from Echuca and back on schedule. I was really happy with today's paddle. Despite very little, or no current and a strong head wind for most of the day, I still managed to get my distance done. This helps me to feel more confident for the second part of the journey, where current is said to be almost non existent and head winds common.
List of crossings on the Murray River.
|Day 18: Camp between Mildura and Ned's Corner.|
More from this expedition:
More information about topics from this page:
- Visit Victoria: Mildura,
- Visit Wentworth; Visitor information
- Australian Explorer: Rodney Hobb's Paddlesteamer Display
- Wikipedia: Mildura, Wentworth, List of crossings on the Murray, The Darling River
- Discover the Murray: Wentworth, Murray River Lochs, Dams and Barrages
- Murray Darling Basin Authority: Loch 10
- Environment Victoria: The Living Murray
- Geology: Murray Valley Geography (A geological timeline of the development of the Murray).
- Victorian Geology: Tectonic Framework of the Lower Murray. (from Red Cliffs).
- ABC Mildura swan Hill: News and Community Events
List of crossings on the Murray River.