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|News from Downunder 2004 - Part 5
Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road and on to Adelaide
The camp site was another Big4, very expensive at $31 a night but close to the city and on a bus route where one could get a one day unlimited pass for $5.80 - there is also a free circular tram route round the CBD (Central Business District) of Melbourne. Melbourne is a city built on Gold. Gold was discovered and produced fabulous wealth to the young colony of Victoria and in particular to its capital Melbourne and the city was determined to show off its wealth by building solid large buildings in its central area which is laid out on a grid exactly a 1 mile long known as the golden mile. Melbourne was also the major port for shipping wool as well as gold to the rest of the world although there were a few problems staffing ships for the return journey. At one point a captain got agreement to crew with inmates of the jail in exchange for a free pardon but all but 6 of the inmates preferred to stay so they could get back to the goldfields. The journeys from England were arduous - the Marco Polo in 1852 made the fastest passage from Liverpool to Melbourne in just 68 days but even so a passenger died almost every day on route, quite normal.
We first headed to the Opal dealer to further investigate Pauline's Opal - she will write more in due course - then we went to the Treasury Building, one of the first and most solid of the buildings built to demonstrate the stability of the new Victoria which had only split from New South Wales a month before gold transformed it from a penniless new colony to the greatest of them all. The Treasury also had some interesting displays including some on the architect J. J. Clark who was only 19 when he undertook the design and that of many of the other major and enduring landmark buildings in the CBD. He had left school at 12 and arrived in Australia at 14 and worked and trained in one of the major firms. There are examples of some of his architectural plans of Liverpool completed at 13 which have to be seen to be believed.
We then took a free tour on the tram and stopped off at the brand new Melbourne Museum, a glass monstrosity alongside the beautiful old Exhibition Building which probably houses all the interesting exhibits. We, or Pete anyway, is somewhat conservative and likes museums to contain a few real items with good explanations rather than video displays and loud music even if they sometimes can be thought provoking as some were in this museum. It is the 150th anniversary year of Melbourne and they had a few special 'real' exhibits from their archives on display which showed what one was missing and they included a model made in 1859 of the Port Phillips mine at Clunes, probably to show to potential shareholders. This was very appropriate as we had visited the site and read about it the previous evening and The Port Phillips and Colonial Company had played an important role in the goldfields story as we explained above. The information sheet was missing which led us to their Info Centre where we gained a few more insights and discovered a free source of internet access but too late to make use of it as it was closing time so it was time for the bus back to the campsite.
We left Melbourne for the final leg of our trip back to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road which hugs the coast most of the way from Melbourne to the South Australian Border just short of Adelaide. It has the reputation of being one of the 'must do' trips in Australia and is supposed to be a spectacular drive along a stunning coastline. We joined the coast and the Great Ocean Drive at Torquay having passed through Geelong. Torquay is known as the surfing capital of Australia. Geelong is a major grain exporting port and is also the site of 100 or more carved and vividly painted carved people along the beachfront. We did not go through and stop in the towns as our interest was the scenery and we were not disappointed. Lookout after lookout revealed better and better views of red cliffs above white beaches, black rocks and roaring white surf.
The Great Ocean Road Trust started as a citizen's initiative to provide work to returning servicemen. Building work started in 1919 and proceeded in stages as money and workers became available. A total of 3000 men worked with only pick and shovel using the natural materials available in each area. From when it opened in 1922 through to 1936 travellers paid a toll at a point now commemorated by a wooden arch over the road. The road fulfilled a dream to link the seaside settlements and open up the coast for development whilst providing the motoring public with one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. It now stretches from Torquay to Nelson and attracts 1.2 million travellers each year to enjoy the vistas and activities along the road.
It is pointless to try to describe all of our stops in too much detail - we have selected a few and we just hope our pictures will do them and all the other marvellous views justice. The first of our longer stops was to admire the Split Point Lighthouse and walk a short section of the cliff paths to several viewpoints giving us views of Eagle Rock and Flat rock alongside. The second gave us a half hour walk inland beside a stream to the Sheoak Falls which were well worth the trip, despite our fears that there did not seem to be much water coming down the stream. The third significant break was at the point where the sailing barque, the W B Godfrey came aground, without loss of life at the time, but 5 seamen were lost in the three subsequent attempts to salvage her. We were fortunate it was low tide as could still see the winch and parts of the anchor. One could also see the signs of an old petrified forest in the rock plates, whilst I was examining them Pauline who was standing up on the viewpoint watched two large sharks cruise by just outside the line of surf - it puts me off swimming a bit.
We passed a campsite at Marengo as we were leaving Apollo Bay which looked very appealing as it was right on the coast. We looked round and decided to stop early and found a spot right on the edge of the site just above the rocky plateau with a spectacular view and settled to down to have the crayfish we had bought on our way with a glass of the Angus Brut we fortunately had cooling in the chilly bin - definitely the life. As we sat a bright blue 'Fairy Wren' came to join us and as I am writing these words he returned and hopped under the table a few inches from my feet with his more dowdy partner and what I assume are a couple of his juveniles close by - magic which the camera missed but fortunately Pauline got a picture earlier. They are different to the ones we saw on the Margaret River with Di - just as bright but only the upper part is blue in this case; the contrast making the blue seem even more iridescent. As I continue to write the sun is falling lower and the shadows are revealing fresh detail in the rock pan below
. In the morning Pete was joined by the Fairy Wrens in the kitchen whilst Pauline had a Scarlet Rosella on the rail beside the van. Pete later sat drinking his coffee in the van when there was a big furry shove against his legs and as he looked down he found a cat called Lucifer had leapt into the van and was starting to make himself at home on the bed. He belonged to the campsite and was eventually ejected. We walked over the rock shelves below our pitch and found some fascinating structures in the rocks and still have no idea how they had been formed, some looked like rocky sponges. We drove back into the town of Apollo Bay, mainly for an ATM but also to look at the wooden sculptures beside the information office in the new waterfront they have recently created. Normally we are not impressed by such things but these are well worth a stop. It was then along to the little harbour where they have an outlet for the freshly landed fish and seafood - we got another Cray for supper, somewhat more expensive as it was larger than the last one and intended to provide supper rather than an afternoon snack.
The Great Ocean Road has a number of sweeps away from the ocean inland and we stopped in the Otway State Park for a forest walk at Mait's Rest, an excellent short walk up a gulley in a cool temperate rainforest in the Otway ranges. There were lots of the magnificent Myrtle Beeches and tree ferns that used to be common in the area. The trees seem much higher than in the New Zealand forests we are more used to. The walk had boardwalks in many places to protect the tree roots and lots of interpretation boards. It was surprisingly cool and quiet as few of the tourists penetrate such places and one could listen to the stream and the considerable birdsong. The walk took one through the transition between the rainforest in the cool deep gulley and the Eucalypts higher up and explained the role of fire in determining the boundary - Eucalypts are very much more inflammable with their gum and survive fires and in fact need fire to germinate their seeds whilst the rainforest is less likely to have fires but are devastated when they occur. The balance periodically changes and the Eucalypts advance and are forced back after time has passed. It was very informative and a real highlight to start the day. Our next stop was nothing like so successful. We took a sidetrack to the lighthouse at Cape Otway - having travelled a long way from the main road, the last bit over a road which was the worst we have found and should never be in use for visitors, we found that the whole area was closed off and you had to pay to get to the coast on the furthest South point or to get a view of the lighthouse which is all we wanted - we left in disgust after a short walk which gave us a view over the top from part of the Great Ocean Walking trail. It is described as a Reserve on the maps but commercial pressures seem to have prevailed - we can understand a charge for entry to the light-station buildings but to cut off the whole reserve on the most southerly tip of Australia seems bizarre.
After that the day improved with a stop for ice-cream at Lavers Hill followed by another rainforest walk at Melba Gully State Park. The whole area was laid out for visitors with picnic tables and free barbeques as well as another first class walk round Madsen's track on the line of an old tramway from the timber felling days, which took us up beside the Joanne river to a sparkling cascade and then to the edge of the rainforest to see the 'Big Tree', an Otway Messmate, a cross between a Messmate and Mountain Ash. These trees used to cover most of the Otway ranges but most were felled by the early settlers. The one we saw was over 300 years old with a girth of 27 metres - one could see how it had been damaged in many fires and re-grown to become one of Australia's giants.
We were soon back to the coast for perhaps the best known stretch of the Great Ocean Road in the Port Campbell National Park on a section known as Shipwreck Coast. A curtain raiser for the main show is at Gibson's steps where one can climb down 93 steep steps and ramps to the sandy beach 70 metres below to look up at the cliffs and get ones first look at the end of the line of the huge rock stacks rising 65 metres from the sea. It is one of the few places where one can get down to beach level in the area. Pete went down and took some pictures. The view from the beach was quite different as there was a slight mist or possibly spray over the sea giving a very atmospheric view.
The Twelve Apostles lookout: It was then on to the Twelve Apostles lookout, the most visited place on this wild windswept coast - you arrive at a huge complex containing little but toilets and parking for dozens of tour buses full of the usual Japanese tourists gibbering like monkeys with their excitement. You walk under the road in an underpass to series of paths and viewing platform and then it all becomes worthwhile - it is an awe inspiring sight. The twelve stacks known as the Apostles started life 20 million years ago as soft limestone cliffs originating as the build of marine creatures. As the seas retreated the limestone was exposed and the ocean storms and blasting winds formed caves. The caves eventually became arches and collapsed leaving the rock islands 45 or more metres high isolated from the shore. They change with the light and sea to form a view which is for ever changing and never boring. On future trips we will try to come at dawn and dusk as well as during the day.
The next stop was at Loch Ard gorge - the site of one of the better known shipwrecks on this coast known as the shipwreck coast where estimates vary between 100 and 500 ships being lost. The Loch Ard was three months out from England in 1878 when she ran onto the Mutton Bird reefs with 54 people on board. Days of fog and haze had prevented Captain Gibb from determining his position for the critical pass into Bass Straight, a 90 km passage between the coast and King Island known as threading the needle. The seas were rough and when land was sighted the Captain dropped anchor to steady the ship and while the sails were set to clear the coast but they dragged and the ship was crushed against the reef. Masts, rigging and rocks crashed down trapping some whilst many were washed overboard as the ship sank. Only two survived - Tom clung to a lifeboat and was washed into a deep gorge that now bears the name Loch Ard. Tom saw the other survivor Eva, a non-swimmer, using a spar to keep afloat and swam out and dragged her ashore. One can now walk down to the beach and see the cave where they sheltered. The day was very hot and Pete had his first swim of the year, very refreshing however the water was too cold to stay in for long.
We then walked to the nearby Blowhole where a narrow cave connects to a huge hole isolated in the bush. It was once a cave but the roof has collapsed and the cave continues for an estimated 100 metres further inland. After the wreck 11 bodies were sucked into the Blowhole and pounded to death. The hole apparently glowed at night for many weeks as the hole was filled with the Phosphorus from the cargo of matches the Loch Ard was carrying. There are many other interesting features in the area and we got some magnificent lighting for some stunning pictures of 'The Arch' and 'London Bridge' and by now it was quiet to admire them as the tourist busses had taken their inmates to their coupes for the night. 'London Bridge' as one would expect from the name used to be connected to the land but in 1990 the limestone bridge suddenly and unexpectedly crashed into the sea leaving two astonished visitors completely cut off - they were eventually lifted off by helicopter.
We stopped at Great Ocean Road Tourist Park at Peterborough, its cabins all seemed to be full but we were the only people in the unpowered sites. They had a camp kitchen with electric barbeques and a large open fire. Only one of the barbeques was working well and we ended up sharing cooking with 4 other groups before we had finished. In the morning we continued and looked at the viewpoint into the bay of Martyrs which supposed to be spectacular in the rising or setting sun - it was good even without sun. The Bay and the Point get their name from the time when early European settlers killed a group of Kirrae-Wurrong Aborigines by driving them off the cliff. There was no mercy or protection as in New Zealand for the indigenous races. The Bay of Islands was again magnificent but the lighting was less good than at the Twelve Apostles - sunrise and sunset are supposed to be the best times when deep brilliant reds and glistening yellows daub the rocky outcrops as the sun sparkles on the sea.
Tower Hill Reserve: It was then time to head inland again and we stopped at Tower Hill Reserve - we had not intended to stop but came upon the sign and were very glad we shrieked to a halt and turned off. It was the site of an old volcano which is now a huge lake with a series of old cones and vents rising out of the middle and a high ring round the outside perhaps 4 kms across. The central 'island' is connected by a narrow causeway and is an animal sanctuary - we stopped to view some Emus as we drove in and then took an energetic walk to the top of the cones. As we drove on towards the information centre we noticed some people with cameras and found they were photographing a Koala Bear - the first we had seen. We stopped to pick up some information and whilst Pete was sitting at a picnic table he was joined by two Emus. We drove round the rim after we left and found a couple of excellent lookouts which really brought home the scale of the old volcano.
Grampians National Park: We decided to change our routing and head further North and go into the Grampians National Park where we had a walk to the Silverband waterfall which is unusual as the water comes down the face in a narrow band and disappears into a pile of loose stores and then travels underground for a considerable distance before emerging alongside the path. We stayed at the Smith Mill camp site which was one of the parks sites - it seemed fairly full but everybody came back and left because there had been a total fire ban declared for the day up to midnight because of the high temperatures and dry conditions - they are only declared on a daily basis but even an gas stove is prohibited when they are in force so it was corned beef and baked beans from our emergency rations instead of barbequed steak with all the trimmings. It rained before midnight!
We made Coffee early before another day of total ban was announced and left to see the sights of the Grampians which have some of the most rugged ranges we have seen so far. We walked down to the bottom of the Mackenzie Falls which were the best we have seen so far and back up, they described it as arduous and Pete counted 260 steps as well as the rest of the gain, all in just over a kilometre. On the way down we saw a couple of black wallaby in the bush, they are much smaller and travel closer to the ground than the kangaroos we have previously seen. We then looked at the two of the best known lookouts, Reid's Lookout which was right beside the car park and one described as 'The Balconies' which has two rock plates hanging out over an abyss as well as a better protected viewing point which was a kilometre or so from the same car park. We were however looking for the one which is on all the brochures so we tried the Boroka Lookout which was a 6 kilometre drive off the main road and we could see that the view was almost correct looking into Fryan's valley which is dammed and acts as a reservoir but it was still not the one. We scanned with binoculars and finally saw where it was but we were then faced with finding it.
Eventually we found in one book it was called 'The Pinnacles' lookout and that it was on one of the circular walks, the Wonderland Loop Walk which passed a picnic spot called the Wonderland Car Park so we headed there and were finally rewarded with success as there were details of how to get to the Pinnacles. It was however described as strenuous with moderate to steep grade with stream crossing and rock hopping with an overall climb of 280 metres in the 2.1 kms each ray. We looked at each other, looked at the time which was coming up to walking at the peak of the day and found our walking boots and loaded our pack with drinks and emergency rations. The route took us hopping from huge boulder to boulder up beside a stream, through an area with high rock walls described as the Grand Canyon, up steep rock slopes where one pulled ones self up with convenient rails, up ladders and steep ascents in the blazing sun. The sun was nearly overhead, the temperature kept rising and there was not a cloud in the sky.
We finally got some dappled shade and a small waterfall over a shady 'cave' where we soaked our hats and continued the climb into a fascinating ravine called Silent Street which we dragged our way up and finally climbed out on a series of ladders for the final amble to the lookout itself. It must have been the most challenging climb we have done but the view was worth every bit of the effort. The walk was not long in distance but even so it took us an hour up and a similar time down as one had to be just as careful down and it was worse on the knees. Perhaps the best bit was getting our boots off or maybe the huge ice-cream in Halls Gap! The last minute inclusion of the Grampians had been a good decision and next time we must find the 5 hours recommended for the full 9.6 kms from Halls Gap which includes the Elephant's Hide face and the Venus Pools and another 100 metres height gain.
We had intended to go to Mildura but we left much latter than intended after the unexpected hike in the Wonderland range. We travelled north on nearly deserted straight roads through the grain region with nothing to see but a few houses and a rail stop beside huge grain storage silos every 15 or twenty kilometres. The fields were so big one could not be sure one was seeing the end as there were no hedges and only the random tree. The crops seemed much shorter than we see in the UK and the combines we passed were enormous. We finally found fuel at Warracknabeal and the petrol station owner was a fund of information on places to go when we got further north, we thanked him for his help with another ice-cream and drove on. We did not make Mildura but stopped as it was getting late at a small but first class camp site at Ouyen - when we checked in at 1730 we commented it was hot and the gentleman checked his thermometer and pronounced that it was 36 in the shade and still rising - he said "we have a saying in these parts - its going to be warm when summer comes". The camp site had a small but fully equipped camp kitchen, more like home with fridge/freezer, microwave, full cooker, proper gas barbeque and a table with table cloth and a dresser full of cutlery, plates, glasses and pots and pans. We were directed to a shady site and told it would be quiet as we were the only people in the camping area so far! It was.
In the morning we adapted our plans as Pauline found a sheet whilst she was filing everything ready to post to the UK that talked about the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum where we had noted that they had a Catalina. It was near Swan Hill on the Murray River so it was not too far off course and would give us a chance to look at Swan Hill, another Riverboat town and follow the Murray back from Swan Hill to Mildura adding 300 kms or so but an interesting 300 kms. On our way across towards Swan Hill the fields of grain seemed even bigger and we stopped to get a photograph for the web site and also one of a number of salt lakes we passed - they seemed quite new as they still had some vegetation as well as many dead trees. We must try to find out their cause.
The Lake Boga Flying boat Museum has a complete Catalina airframe on display outside as well as a lot of exhibits in a grass covered bunker which used to be the communications centre. The visit was not only interesting for the flying boats but also the initial 22 minute video gave a whole new insight into how close the Japanese were during the war and what a real threat Australia was under. Until we looked at the maps and saw the results of the initial Japanese raids on Broome etc we had not realised. The initial raids destroyed almost the whole of the Northern RAAF bases and aircraft including most of the Catalinas flying boats - 16 were destroyed in the first attack. Those attacks made a Southern safe haven for flying boats and amphibians essential and the site selected for the secret No 1 Flyboat repair and maintenance facility was Lake Boga. Lake Boga was ideal as it offers 2.5 x 3 mile stretch of snag free water and clear of surrounding obstructions.
The main flying boats at Lake Boga were the RAAF Catalinas and those of the Americans but other aircraft included Sunderlands, Walruses and a few Dorniers, the only aircraft flown by both sides during the war. The Catalinas had many roles, they were thought of by many as intelligence and rescue aircraft but 70% of their missions were offensive against shipping and mine laying. They were painted black for night operations and known as the Black Cats. They were slow with a cruising speed of 112 knots (max 162) but had a long endurance and range carrying out raids and mining as far away as Hong Kong. We found the displays fascinating and it took longer than we expected to absorb all the new information, we also spent a long time at the end talking to Graham and some New Zealanders from Nelson who were also interested in vintage aircraft.
The Catalina outside looks superficially in a poor condition but when you look closely it is only bird damage to the paint and the structure looks remarkably sound. The engines and all the internal fittings and instrumentation are in safe storage and they are well advanced in seeking funding to put it under cover and restore it fully although the intention is not to go as far as flying condition - there are a few (4 or 5) still flying but I think Graham said none of that particular mark which was much used by the RAAF. Well worth the 300 km detour and visit.
We decided not to go on to Mildura but instead to stay at a Top Tourist Parks Caravan Site at Robinvale so we would have time to look at one of the Locks. They opened up the lower area facilities for us so we could have a pitch overlooking the Murray and we were conveniently close to the Barbeques. The Lock and weir 15 was right next to the camp site so we walked down before supper. The locks are very well spaced on the Murray Darling river network. We were 1110 kms from the sea and only 47 metres above sea level at Lock 15. The lock numbers are somewhat confusing as downstream the next lock is 11 and upstream it is 26 - overall the Murray is about 2500 kms long. The lock was large and modern with no sign of how it is operated or of a lockkeepers building - maybe he is called out from his house by radio. There were some exhibits of the old pre 1930 lock with part of the wooden gate made of ironwood and weighing 30 tons and the winches to open the gates and gear for the paddles in the old days.
There was very little traffic other than a couple of tinnies past the camp site and a 'houseboat' did a brief barbeque trip with a load of lads - they looked at the van and decided we must be OK and invited us along - we should have accepted although it would have been an entertaining evening especially with the amount of beer and the fact that it was just a flat platform with rails and a canvas top with a tiny engine somewhere. The river looked a murky brown but it must be deceptive as they looked as if they had been swimming on their return and all the campground taps are water pumped straight from the river and only run a light brown - drinking water is from tanks from the roofs marked rainwater! One notices everywhere one pauses by the river that there are little huts with pumps and big pipes into the river.
In the morning we looked round Robinvale and there was more than we expected for a town of 1750 - it must serve as a centre for a large farming and fruit growing area. We followed the riverside road through another FPA campsite which was even more on the river past a historic windmill by Southern Cross, looked back at the historic lift bridge and stopped at a viewpoint of where the new Cut comes in removing a large loop in the Murray River. It was then across the lift bridge where they were repairing the wooden planking to New South Wales and a quick burn down the Sturt Highway which was more like a vibration test to Mildura.
We got to Mildura just in time to get down to the wharf for the morning trip on The Melbourne, the oldest Steam paddle wheeler still with her original engine. The Melbourne's engine is a 25 horse power Marshall of Gainsborough portable engine fired, as usual, by red gum logs. The PS Melbourne was built in 1912 and still has some of the original red gum planking as well as being one of only a very small number with her own original engine. She was built as a snagging steamer and for public works along the river when owned by the Victorian government. She was fitted with a large winch for lifting fallen trees and snags which also made her invaluable in the construction of bridges and weirs. She was then used for towing timber barges. In 1965 she was restored and converted to a tourist vessel carrying up to 300 passengers although there were only about 20 the day of our trip. She is 30 metres long and 6.4 beam with 900 mm draught with a composite hull - red gum planking on iron frames.
The trip took just over two hours and took us down through Lock 11. The talk given by the mate as he was steering was excellent and filled in many of the gaps in our knowledge as well giving a lot of information about the wildlife. One of the more intriguing birds were the Welcome Swallows - they nest on the boat and swoop all round as she disturbs the insects as she passes. They were perched on the mooring line in the lock. Most of the paddle wheelers have at least one nest under the decking. We also passed the huge ragged nests of Whistling Kites high in the red gums and we watched them soaring overhead. We saw Snake Necked diving birds ??????s drying their wings like shags but with white necks - when swimming only the neck shows looking much like a snake which gives them their name.
We eventually started to understand more about the lock system and control of the rivers - the intention had been to build 26 locks and weirs but only 13 were finished so many sections are still difficult to navigate although the 860 kms downstream from Mildura offers few problems. The weir at Lock 11 is interesting in that the sections can be removed for maintenance and a spare set is kept on shore. In times of high water the weir is just taken out, board by board then frame by frame and navigation continues without impediment. Floods can be quite extreme and long lasting - the flood in 1956 lasted 10 months and parts of the Murray were 40 miles wide - finding the channel was challenging!
On our trip we saw many other steamers at the riverside including the Success which was out of the water starting restoration at the Old Mildura Homestead so we went round by van to have a look. The Homestead cost a couple of dollars into an honesty box to go round and was quite interesting in its own right with many restored/reconstructed building and a lot of information boards on the development of the area and the introduction of irrigation and production of dried fruit so it is worth a visit even if you have no interest in riverboats. The homestead was the home of the Chaffey brothers who founded the Mildura Irrigation Colony in 1887 and established the city of Mildura. Pumping and Irrigation changed the nature of the region from wool to fruit production with an emphasis on dried fruit such as sultanas.
We got a reasonably close look at the Success - most of the iron frames and bulkheads seem to be preserved or replaced and some of the red gum planking has been replaced, where necessary. It certainly showed the form of construction very well and also the amount of work required. The Success was a smaller and deeper drafted vessel than the Melbourne, also used for snagging on the Darling with her main role being towing wool barges. She was used to rescue sheep during the 1956 floods then abandoned at Merbein before being recovered for restoration in 1996. It is difficult to choose between Echuca and Mildura as a place to visit if you have an interest in riverboats; ideally you need to see both.
On our way into South Australia we met our first full fruit fly inspection point - we had to declare all fruit and vegetables and the vehicle was carefully inspected - glove box, inside the back and in the boot area and cold box - ginger, asparagus and pre-packed salad was OK but our garlic was confiscated - we were warned however that new rules were coming and much less would be acceptable in the future.
We diverted a few kms to look at Lock 5 at Paringa where we found that there were a lot of information boards on the control of the river including some interesting boards on the various 'Salt Interception' (google key??) schemes that have been brought in to control the increasing salinity of the river since irrigation schemes started - we did not have time to fully understand it all but took a couple of photos so we can go into it more fully. On the way back to the main road we also stopped to photograph the lift bridge at Paringa before continuing to Renmark for our overnight stop.
We went into the middle of Renmark looking for a suitable riverside camp site close enough to town to eat out as it had been another long and very hot and humid day - the last couple of days have been up to the 40 centigrade (over 100 Fahrenheit) mark. We stopped at the information office where the Paddle Steamer (PS) Industry was moored and walked over her. She had a larger engine than usual which had been added during a refit in 1933 - we think it was a local engine from Bendigo. She had a winch and derrick on the front and had obviously been used for snagging and riverwork- we have seen some old pictures of her doing so. She has been restored by a group of enthusiasts and once a month they run a trip on her.
We selected the Renmark Riverfront Caravan Park for the night as it was the closest to town by the river and paid slightly extra for a riverfront pitch. The site had a lot of wildlife, there were groups of pelicans beside the tents looking for titbits one does not realise how big they are until you see the towering over some young child.We were visited by what we latter identified as a pair of rare Mallee fowl, a type of teal, with their chicks and Purple Swamphens were always nearby including one pair with chicks, the river however was quiet apart from a few water skiers. When Pauline visited the Ladies late in the evening she rushed back to report there was animal life - it turned out to be a pair of possums trying to get in - they were absolutely fearless and we have a couple of close-up pictures of them, especially with the red-eye from the flash. Overnight some hard rain reduced the temperatures which had been into 40s.
We continued following roads as close as possible to the river but often separated by a few kms from it. We followed a few side roads including one which promised a sandbar but turned back when it became unsealed and very rough looking. We checked in Loxton Information Centre, who were very helpful, and they said that if we had continued we would have come to a pristine white sand beach, a favourite of locals. We enquired about the Salt issues and they had no information but suggested a visit to Banrock Station, a winery which has done a lot of work on wetland reclamation and has a couple of trails you can walk.
We arrived at Banrock Station just in time for Pauline to try a tasting of some of their wines which reach the UK and the Reserves which are only available in Australia or at the cellar door. The reserve Chardonnay stood out at $12 and she had a glass of the reserve Shiraz 2002 with lunch but the reserve red wines, although good value, were not really ready for drinking and it was not clear how all of them would develop to Pete. He but not Pauline preferred the 2003 standard Shiraz for drinking now The highlight was the White Shiraz which was a light blush and would make an excellent picnic wine - we will look for it in the UK. We took time for a light lunch, Pauline had the lamb shanks and Pete the kangaroo tail stew which was good but fairly modest in quantity by Australian standards.
We only had time to do the shorter of the walks but even so it was very instructive and enabled us to add most of the remaining pieces to the jigsaw puzzle and understand the problems that the Murray River system has suffered since the introduction of pastoral, dry land and most recently irrigated agriculture over large areas of the catchment, floodplains and wetlands. The walk was called 'The Mallee meets the Valley Trail' and took us through much of the restored wetlands and woodlands with a large number of interpretation areas and with a guidebook ($5.00) which added information on another 30 or so points. It takes a little over an hour to do the 2.5 km flat trail justice. The longer trail is 3 hours and they have a sign in/out system and you are provided with UHF radio for emergency use on the longer boardwalk trail.
The shorter trail gives a good understanding of the original vegetation in the area which was known as the Mallee and covered the land either side of the floodplain. Mallee is an aboriginal word used to describe the multiple stem Eucalypt trees which were the predominant vegetation - about 80% of the Mallee has been cleared for farming, predominantly wheat. There are in fact four main species of Mallee Eucalypts but all have the same and unusual root structure with swollen lignotubers that store water and a root system close to the surface that is very efficient at collecting and storing every available drop of rain. When agriculture started in the area the Mallee had to be removed, this was carried out by techniques such as large rollers which crushed the bush and broke off the trunks of the trees followed by extraction of the roots with jacks opening up the land for grazing.
The changes to pasture and later to growing of grain had many unfortunate severe and long lasting effects. The surface of the land was originally protected from erosion by a thin layer of moss and lichen known as the Skin of the Mallee. Under this is about two metres of loose soil blown into the area 40,000 years ago, below which is a Mustard coloured sandy layer 2 million years old from sea. Below that is a hard layer, a limestone cap of Morgan-Mannum limestone which is full of fossils. When grazing started the Skin was broken through by hooves of the sheep and by the burrowing of the rabbits which had initially been introduced as game. This led to rapid erosion and we saw the effects and examples of the gulleys. The rabbits were initially brought under control by Myxamatosis which lost its effectiveness but the new super plague Calicivirus created by CISRO is now temporarily winning the battle. We saw how Banrock Station are experimenting with trench seeding of Mallee wattles and native pines to regenerate the land.
The walk continued closer to the river and got to the point where the name of the walk became clear. We changed from an area of predominantly Mallee to where we started to see the first River Black Box in gulleys where the seeds had been deposited in a recent flood. The River Black Box mark the outer edge of floodplain as they only germinate in areas where waters have receded after a flood. Many of the River Black Box we were seeing were 300 years old. Unfortunately woodcutters cut the Black Box and Mallee for fuelling Paddle Steamers as well as for fence posts. In other areas the same occurred with the River Red Gums. We continued to the edge of the Wetlands where river and land meet. The wetlands have been suffering from the control now existing over the river - large areas have been submerged by the forming of pools above the weirs and moderate floods are now fewer due to control and water use for irrigation. This reduction in flooding has reduced the cleansing of the wetlands and higher average levels held by the weirs have also prevented drying out which also cleanses out and keeps balance in wildlife, for example occasional drying out prevents carp flourishing to the exclusion of other fish. Bannock Station are addressing this with addition control structures to control the wetland areas they own and to bring in more variation as was present in the past.
This is the point where I really should talk about the huge problem of the increasing salinity of the Murray because of introduction of agriculture and in particular irrigation but it may have to wait till we get back to the UK. At present I will restrict my comments to say that Banrock Station do have some of their land under intensive irrigated cultivation of grape. The Vines are however drip irrigated just over the root system with complex monitoring in the soil of moisture levels. This allows the amount of water used to be reduced by 50 % and ensures that no excess water reaches or raises the water table which would increase the salinity problems. A very interesting and well interpreted walk which we can recommend. Banrock Station makes a good lunch and winetasting stop.
We passed the big gliding site at Waikerie - it held the first world gliding championships in Southern Hemisphere and was the site of the first two 1000 km triangles flown in the world. We did not have time to stop but Pete is keen to visit them next time.
We crossed the river on a free ferry, one of 6 on the river, and stayed at Morgan at the Riverview Caravan Park. We obtained an unpowered pitch right down by the river and were entertained by a large number of white parrots. Morgan was one of the most important of the inland ports as it was at the 'Big Bend' where the river bent away to the south after running west and its importance was even greater because it was a linking port to the railway running through Burra making it the ideal transhipment point for goods transported on the river from the east. We carried out most of a well signed heritage walk starting at the paddle steamer 'Mayflower' whose original master was the well known character Black Jack, one of the few black captains. The Mayflower was comparatively small at 14 metres length and was built entirely of wood in 1886. She has now been converted to diesel and only runs trips for groups by prior arrangement. We continued to the old station and wharf. There looks as if there is a nice country museum in the old railway buildings. There are a number of sunken barges beyond the wharf but only a few sections can be seen above water. We continued down the main street and looked in at one of the old hotels before returning to the campsite to barbeque supper.
We looked round a few more of the old buildings in the town in the morning then went back over the ferry. We stopped at the Pelican Point viewpoint before continuing to Lock 1 which is at Blanchetown - we first looked down from a bridge at the lock and weir then we found a way down to the lock through Blanchetown. We spent some time talking to the lockkeeper and were surprised to learn that there were typically only 4 boat movements a day, he was amazed to learn how busy the Thames was in contrast. The busiest lock, 11, has between 3,000 and 3,600 movements a year but that includes a trip boat that passes up and down twice a day. There were a large number of pelicans fishing below the weir, Blanchetown is famous for them.
We paused to view the river at many places including Swan Reach with its delightful picnic area with barbeques and boat mooring on the site of the old wharf with shady grass under old red river gums. We followed a minor road down to Big Bend and then stopped at a lookout to view the meandering shape of the Big Bend from above. We crossed the river on the free ferry at Walker Flat where the ferry had to wait for the large sternwheeler and hotel boat the Murray Princess to go by. We got an excellent view from the ferry and she was quite a sight to see. She was built in 1986 and is still the largest paddle wheeler ever built in the Southern hemisphere. She has three decks of passenger cabins and typically runs two and five day trips. She is 67 metres long x 15 m beam and is powered by twin 200 hp diesels.
Our final overnightstop before we returned to Adelaide and returned the Camper was at Mannum, another old riverboat town and perhaps the Birth Place of the River Steamers - the first paddle steamer, the Mary Ann was built in Mannum by Captain Randell and his epic journey up the Murray in 1853, which turned into a race with the larger Lady Augusta for a government prize for the first riverboat to get to Swan Hill was the start of the river trade. The camp site was good and we had a pitch only a few metres from the banks of the River Murray. Pelicans paddled in front of us and there were huge numbers of parrots walking round and flying noisily into the trees. We walked into town in the evening and ate at the Pretoria hotel where the mixed grill and steaks were tender and huge; it is not often Pauline uses a doggy bag!
We spent some time in the Mannum Dock Museum which has the original square boiler from the Mary Ann on display along with a number of other interesting objects from the history of the riverboats. Outside the museum is the original Randell Dry Dock built in 1873 - it was originally a floating dry dock with a double skin and was positioned under a riverboat, the front gate floated into place and was pumped out. There were some problems with this system including moorings so it was converted to a conventional dry dock which is still in place and can be used to this day.
Moored outside the museum is the Paddle Steamer Marion, the last steam driven, wood fired, overnight passenger carrying paddle steamer in the world. Built at Mannum in 1897 she started life as a workboat and was converted to a passenger paddle steamer and finally a boarding house. She was purchased by the National Trust as a static museum in the dry dock until the Mannum District Council with a dedicated band of volunteers restored her to a pristine condition as she would have been in the 1940s carrying passengers. It took 100,000 man hours of work to carry out the restoration of the hull and original engine and she was re-commissioned in 1994. The engine is a Marshall & Sons of Gainsborough 'semi-portable' style engine but one which looks of a larger size than those we have seen. The drive to the paddles is by a huge spur gear. She is 107' by 22.5' x 5.25' with a height above the waterline of 30'. She now runs regular river trips but sadly only on a monthly basis at present as the trips are all run by volunteers. We however had a chance to see all over her.
We stopped in Mannum in the morning at the post office to ship out another package of books and brochures to cut down the risk of excess luggage which is extortionate at $40 a kilo. Sea freight for papers is much cheaper and we sent another 8 Kgs for $42 including the special box. We ambled round the town and then it was on to Murray Bridge, the site of the first bridge over the Murray River which is still in use. There is still a wharf but it is only for pleasure boats now and there are many markers along the riverfront showing where there are sunken riverboats - we could see no traces through the murky water at this time of year. We stopped to walk round the paddle steamer the Madam Jade which is now a static trading boat with a large stock of useful bric-a-brac and settlers goods as well as books - we bought a CD of river songs and a couple of books in the Australian Classics series, fortunately in paperback form as we had just shipped the heavy stuff. The 'Madam Jade' was custom built in 1987 and has a 1952 Dorman Diesel with hydraulic transmission providing independent control to each 12' paddle wheel giving great manoeuvrability and has cruised as far upstream as Renmark.
The last stop was at Hahndorf which was an early German settlement which is now a strip of dozens if not hundreds of German style restaurants and tourist shops - not a pretty sight although some of the buildings were interesting. It was then just the run down the freeway and into the Adelaide traffic to the campsite at Marion to unload and clean the Camper ready for its return to Wicked Campers in the morning. We have travelled close to 8,000 kms in the five weeks with our Wicked camper whose decoration has proved quite a talking point in many places. The most serious snag was at the last minute when the new CD of river music would not eject from the player but Wicked Brian quickly extracted it.
After returning the camper we took a bus into Adelaide where we went back into the second hand bookshop 'Adelaide Booksellers' in the Rundle Mall where we bought the first of our collection of Australian 'classic' books - they have an impressive collection of the sort of books which interest us and it was fortunate, or unfortunate, that we had sent our last package back to the UK. We however sold back one of our wine books which was too heavy to post at a slight profit which did not surprise us at it had been a real bargain at an Op Shop. We then spent a pleasant couple of hours round the Botanical Gardens followed by the , just opposite, and owned by the National Trust. They only do guided tours which take an hour and cost $8 unless you are a member or have reciprocal rights like us via the New Zealand Historical Places Trust. Ayers House is one of the last remaining grand 19th century homes that once lined North Terrace.
Henry Ayers came from England in 1840 as a 19 year old legal clerk. He was also an investor in the early copper mines and in 1845 he was elected Secretary to the South Australian Mining Association (SAMA) and became a very rich man with the discovery of the Burra Burra Copper mine known as the Monster Mine - readers may recall we spent some time at Burra and recounted the initial competition for the rights between the 'nobs' and the 'snobs' and we had not expected to come, by accident, another piece of the fascinating story. He became Managing Director of SAMA as well as many other influential positions including being the first Chairman of the South Australian Gas Company. Henry Ayers entered politics in 1857 as one of the first legislative Councillors in the new South Australian Parliament and sat continuously until he retired in 1893. He was Premier seven times in all in the volatile parliament and was knighted. He fought to the end for the federation of the Australian States but died a couple of years before it came to pass.
The house is a tribute to the work of the colonial architect Sir George Strickland Kingston and was influenced by Robert Kerr's publication, "The English Gentleman's House" which advised a very strict separation between the family and servant sections with separate access to both as well as placing importance on elegance as well as comfort. Much of the house has been carefully restored after a mottled intermediate period involving returning service men and 40 years as nurse's accommodation. There are hand-painted ceilings and extensive use of stencils rather than wall paper - they have been recovered and restored to their full glory despite being covered by five layers of white paint. An interesting and well spent hour especially because of his links into mining - a house built on natural resources bringing together several threads nicely in our last visit.
It is now time to contemplate packing and planning for the next trip
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