Communing with the Murray River

I had not expected the Murray River to be this spectacular. I love waking up and watching the hint of a fog swirl over the surface of the river and listening to the rustle of the wind in the gum trees. The calls of the Galahs, Cockatoos and the hundreds of other species that roost in the River Red Gums are often my inspiration for getting out of bed and going for a walk, even before I’ve had my first cup of tea.

The peaceful scene that awaits me forces me to slow down and meditate, as do the colours of the sunsets at the end of the day. I feel at peace, as one with the universe and am beginning to understand why our ancestors chose to be nomadic for thousands of years before the first settlements were constructed. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever go back to life in a suburb. Following the Murray is, I reckon, one of the most relaxing journeys you can undertake. There are some spectacular free campsites along the way with many opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, photography or just watching the world go by.

I’m also learning a lot more about the river and the history of the towns we have passed through. Howlong, Corowa, Yarrawonga, Mulwala, Tocumwal, Barmah — the names of the towns we have passed through hint there was vibrant life along this river, long before Europeans discovered these parts. The river itself is millions of years old and the biodiversity astounding.

We loved camping in Wiradjuri Country and the Wonga Wetlands! Wiradjuri People lived along the rivers of the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and MacQuarie for more than 40,000 years. In the last 200 years and since the building of the Hume Dam and the regulation of the river many of the wetlands in the floodplain dried out.

The creation of the Wonga Wetland is an attempt to rehabilitate and repair the environment using reclaimed water from Albury City Council’s treatment facility. We found the wetlands teeming with bird life. When the project commenced only the older River Red Gums were to be seen. With no cattle and people around the younger trees are sprouting in the thousands. It is a peaceful place and a sanctuary for the more than 150 species of birds that now call it home. It is also a great example of that phrase, “if you build it they will come”!

Lake Mulwala is a man–made reservoir created through the construction of the Yarrawonga Weir across the Murray River. It is a magic place. The colours of this photo taken at sunset has not been adjusted. It was absolutely spectacular, given it was an overcast day. Waking up to the sounds of the birds was just as special. It was amazing to see them preening each other and getting ready for another day. When the river red gum forest was submerged, the vision was not of just an irrigation facility but also of a picturesque lake. While the environmental effects of submerging a forest are many, it has certainly created a different sort of habitat!

I had not realised the Murray was the third longest navigable river (after the Amazon & the Nile) in the world, when we set out to follow it from its origins in the Snowy Mountains to its mouth in South Australia. I’ve learnt that it is 2,520 km long and that the River Red Gums traverse it on both sides, creating a wonderful forest habitat. It’s catchment area is one seventh of the Australian landmass, which also makes it the third largest catchment on earth — amazing given we are the driest vegetated continent on the planet.

I am surprised to find out that the border between NSW and Victoria is the top of the bank on the southern side, which means none of the river is actually on the Victorian side. As a catchment manager, I find the placement of borders one of the most meaningless obsessions of the ‘civilised’ world! It is no wonder then that Corowa, hosted the people’s convention in 1893, and is now hailed as the ‘Birthplace of the Federation’. I am not surprised to learn that environmentalist and farmers have heated arguments about water allocations and other matters concerning river health. The politics surrounding this river are divisive but it is the lifeblood of this region, so that is not unexpected.

There’s still a long way to go but today we were thrilled to see koalas in the wild on the beach at Tocumwal. I reflect on the life that was lived in these parts as we spend 2 hours on a boat on the river at Barmah State Park.

Here are some words to ponder from a Yorta Yorta Elder:

“The dreaming gave us our lore that binds us to the land through fundamental values passed on by our creation ancestors. They explained to us how the natural world was created and how the geographical features were formed and must be cared for. To this day our spiritual connection to the waka (land) and walla (water) continues. As keepers of the land we are bound to continue to preserve our cultural connection.”

First published by www.polisplan.com.au on 14 November 2015

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