Barham - Benjaroop 55km
I am camped opposite checkpoint alpha on day 5 of the Murray Marathon. Usually it is a nice little beach, but today it is in the form of its alter ego - a wetland. All around the bush is buzzing. The air is rich with the sounds of insects, frogs and calling birds. In the afternoon, as the mosquitoes get bolder, swallows swoop low over the water, picking up mosquitoes and other tasty morsels. They certainly are welcome to their weight in mossies every day and all the hollow trees I can muster to breed freely. I was going to camp at Alpha for nostalgia’s sake, but rain water has filled the wheel ruts in the tracks on the other side of the levee and grass was over a metre high. So, I paddled across the other side of the river and am camped on a nice broad levee bank. So long as the farmer doesn’t want to drive his ute along here, or a herd of cattle decide this is the way they want to travel, then I’m set. There is a huge old boiler discarded behind the levee. My guess is that it was used to drive irrigation pumps, before the advent of the small and more efficient combustion engine which has taken its place. In the riparian fringe of flooded red gums honeyeaters bounce off the water’s surface and then settle on a branch to complete their toilet. A fish came in and snapped at something before disappearing. Cockatoos are trying to dominate the evening chorus. It seems chaotic tonight. Perhaps that is because I’m on the edge between forest and agricultural land - or perhaps it really is the cockatoo’s fault.
Today’s paddle began in the forest. More correctly, it began in a forest town. The dominant sound in Barham is of the Arbuthnot Sawmills. The whine of the saw blade and the growling of the busy front end loader that rushes around feeding it. The saw mill is the last operating red gum saw mill on the Murray. There is more demand than they can fill. The mill cuts timber from the ecological thinning projects under trial in some of the river red gum forests. Should the removal of crowded saplings and trees be successful in promoting the regeneration of the forest, as is hoped, then they might soon more timber available. Our red gum national parks are dominated by one age group, reflecting the last timber harvest. Forestry workers have the tools and the experience to be able to reinstate that diversity. It is a change from what used to be done, but it is the road to sustainable local industry. Hopefully this cooperation between parks and industry will spread and we will see more local sawmills reopen along the Murray.
Out of the buzz and under the bridge. With one and a half metres clearance I made it easily. Larger boats need to give 48 hours notice for the central span to be raised. It wasn’t necessary for me. Once past the waterfront houses with their barbie boats, canoes and tarzan swings I was in the forest again. Unlike upstream of Barham, the water soon reached the top of the natural levees and was slowly spilling into the forest. There were the usual runners, but it was spilling everywhere. It was easy to imagine how these levees grew. With such thick grass growth, the water would slow and drop its sediment before continuing. It was 40 kilometres between Barham and Murrabit, most of it forest, and most of it under water. it was not as threatening as the Barmah Forest however, I could have stood up on the flooded banks had I wanted to. About 10 kilometres before Murrabit I heard tractors working the fields, I also saw the first pump irrigating crops. No shortage of water this year. Last time I paddled here it was low river. Today i could see the old farm houses with their beautiful rose gardens. I could paddle right up to the huge old shearing shed before Gonn Crossing and I almost could have paddled into the front yard of the house where day 5 of the marathon starts. Like so many other farmers, they had a tinny tied as close to the house as possible. In this case it was the garden gate.
I called into the Murrabit launching ramp for a break - first time out of the boat in 5 hours! It was good to stretch the legs. I was also curious to see how this would be for the start of day 5 in the marathon. All was good. Inadvertently I pulled up next to sign explaining navigation hazards on the Murray. It looked like I was one of them. Pulling into shore gave me a chance to look beyond the reeds, rushes and sedges along the waters edge. In the backwaters, water ribbon were growing after years of dormancy. Amazing how plants like these survive the many dry years.
After forest being the dominant form of bank vegetation for my first 700km I was enjoying the agricultural flavour. I had a look at the old pump houses, some of them clearly built to house steam engines, and tried to imagine what it would have been like in those times. I saw a settlers hut, falling apart now, but somehow survived the ravage of the years with its tin chimney. I passed by the site of the old Gonn crossing. In the distance you can see a wattle and daub building, now a ruin. Proud stations on either side of the river may have determined the punt’s location. Stations and farm houses often have all sorts of old interesting things lying around - but one of them had what looked like an old DC3 passenger airplane and a sizeable chunk of the fuselage of a world war two transport plane, shrapnel holes and all. It looks like both projects were a bit ambitious.
As usual, once out of town, the river was quiet. It is a work day, perhaps things will change as I approach Swan Hill, tomorrow’s destination. The river has dropped here, but only just. I wonder what it will be like at Swan Hill.
|The new wharf at Barham Koondrook. Due to be opened Nov 2016.|
|Row of old trees along the river bank.|
|A ruin at the site of the former Murrabit River Crossing.|
|This camp although inundated was still occupied by its owner.|
|Some farmers have rescued kilometer signs from fallen trees and placed them on their sheds.|
|Approaching Barham Bridge.|
Passing under Barham Bridge
|I know that farmers have a name for collecting things, but I was surprised to see a DC3 and a war plane wreck in the forest.|
|Shearing shed, pump and tinny.|
|Murrabit bridge. 1.5m clearance.|
|Water ribbon colonizing backwaters behind the levees.|
|Navigational hazards... had I become one?|
|Old pump house.|
|Every farmer needs their tinny.|
|Old tree with hollow base.|
|Cattle grazing in the forest.|
|Flooded forest on river's edge|
|Rushes thriving on the natural levees between Murrabit and Barham.|
|Levee bank at checkpoint alpha, day 5 Murray marathon.|
|Massive boilers which were used to drive irrigation pumps before the internal combustion engine.|