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The Lower Murray. A great river is born.

This is a talk given by Mr Vic Forrest to the University of The Third Age, in Sale
Whilst every endeavor has been taken to keep information factual, the author cannot
be held responsible for any errors or omissions.

RiverboatsThe Lower Murray. More than a hundred million years ago a great river was born.

Settlers carved a niche out of semi arid country against the incredible odds that had to be surmounted last century. No ordinary people could have survived the trials and tribulations of nature and market forces over the years. Mark Twain compared it favourably with the Mississippi River when he visited late in the 1890s. And indeed, a decade or two before he came, it seemed as if the Murray might well become another Mississippi.

Paddle steamers plied its full length, carrying wool, wheat and goods to and from the settlements along the Murray’s banks, sometimes as far as the Darling Junction. But little by little, the railway took away the business, and the river never quite made it as a highway of trade. Then came irrigation, introduced to the Riverland in 1887 by Canadian George Chaffey, it transformed the northern section of the Murray into a lush paradise.

First Renmark appeared, followed by community-based settlements at Pyap, Lyrup, Berri, Barmera, Loxton and Waikerie. Soon the Riverland had become South Australia’s Orchard, it remains that today. Today the Murray meanders through South Australia’s heartland to the sea giving its modern day explorers unforgettable encounters with abundant wildlife, historic towns, rich vineyards and orchards. The Murray River flows 650km through South Australia, and is tapped to provide domestic water to Adelaide and country towns as far away as Whyalla and Woomera.

My story will begin from Mannum, S.A. where I lived for some time in the 1980’s. While living here I had a job with Commercial Motor Vehicles at Regency Park a northern suburb of Adelaide and travelled daily to and from work. Mannum has a population of approx 2050 and is 84km east of Adelaide. The name comes from the aboriginal name Manyum or Manump. And is situated on the broad reaches of the Lower Murray and is easy accessible by road, either along the South Eastern Freeway from Adelaide and through Murray Bridge (110km) or through the scenic routes through Gumeracha (Very large wooden Rocking Horse here) and Birdwood, or Gawler, Williamstown and Mt Pleasant.

This easy accessibility makes Mannum one of the most popular day trip venues in South Australia, and with its natural beauty, unique history and heritage, the area offers visitors the opportunity to relax in a pleasant friendly environment. There are many historical sights to visit throughout the town and surrounding areas. For example, the paddle steamer P.S. Marion, a restored and heritage listed vessel, is open for inspection daily and public cruises are available at specific times. The Noa-No landing, only minutes from Mannum is a historic landmark and has an on-site recording of its significance. It was here in 1853 that William Randell launched his Paddle Steamer “Mary Ann” and in doing so, opened up one of the most romantic areas in the history of Australia. The Mary Ann was the first paddle steamer on the Murray River in South Australia. The boiler of this historic vessel is currently preserved and on display, in The Mary Ann Reserve which provides the ideal location for picnics with its open lawn areas, on-site barbecues, boat ramp and kiosk.

Randell transferred his operations from Noa-No to the present site of Mannum during 1853 when he built a wharf, goods shed and cottage, and from this small beginning, the present township evolved. The river trade opened up a transport network for goods and services along the entire river system, and in 1877 David and John Shearer established a blacksmith and implement business in Mannum and used the River system to market their range of Agricultural products. This Company (now Horwood Bagshaw Ltd) remains today, the mainstay of Mannum’s economy. The rural areas of Mannum were, until the early 1870’s, controlled by pastoralists who ran large cattle stations. However, in the period 1872 to 1883 many new farmers, principally of German stock, settled the land to grow cereals and for sheep production. These settlers provided the town the economic boost required for development, and trades persons, butchers, bakers, banks and other services established businesses to swell the population to approximately 770 in the early 1880’s.

In 1884 residents and horses of Mannum were startled by the appearance of a puffing, clattering horseless carriage making its way at the pace of a hand gallop along the main street.

A rare sight anywhere in the world, the horseless carriage was then regarded as little more than a novelty, only a handful of far sighted people seeing it as a coming revolution in transport.

Among them was Henry Ford, but the vehicle that so amazed the inhabitants of Mannum pre dated his efforts by ten years. Mannum, therefore, can justly claim to be one of the first automobile manufacturing centres of the world. Designed and built by David Shearer.

Unfortunately for himself and his country, David Shearer’s sole aim had been to prove that the horseless carriage was a workable proposition, and with that accomplished he turned his attention to the manufacturing of farm machinery. This rich and unique heritage has provided Mannum with the opportunity to become known as the “Birthplace of the Murray River Paddle Steamers.”

The town provides a host of convenient services and recreation facilities. And look no further for your shopping needs, Mannum has a large range of craft shops, take-away food outlets, supermarket, chemist, delicatessens and coffee shops. The sporting facilities are excellent, with clubs and venues providing bowls, tennis, golf and a range of activities at the Mannum Community Centre (including a gym), not to mention the ample water sport possibilities.

But to get away from it all and get back to nature, a visit to the Mannum Waterfalls Reserve. This geological phenomenon, with large granite outcrops rising from the plains around Reedy Creek, provides a beautiful natural waterfall, and is located only 9km from Mannum along the Murray Bridge road. Some of the most scenic drives along the Murray are found in the vicinity of Mannum. Follow the Purnong Road and take in the river lagoons which provide a home and breeding ground for many species of native bird-life, or visit the scenic lookout at the northern extremity of the town (photos), which is 200 metres above the river valley and provides visitors with an uninterrupted 6km panorama of the River Murray Valley and the Mannum township. There is another way to take in the beautiful Murray River scenery at your own pace and that is on a houseboat.

Mannum has perhaps the best cruising waters on the entire Murray system and so has many hire boats moored in the area. Taking a houseboat is the ideal way to take in the beautiful river bank scenery as it changes from willow lined banks to mighty cliffs then back to magnificent gum tree lined banks and natural scenery. For all there is to see and do, it’s an ideal place to spend some time. Mannum has three caravan parks located in and around the township. A motel with a range of units, full restaurant and convention facilities are also conveniently located. And for something a little more romantic, there are five bed and breakfasts to cater for your individual style. There is plenty of houseboats available ranging from 2-12 berth.

Whilst in Mannum I will mention the Restored PS Marion Experience.

The Paddle Steamer Marion is unique, she is the only vessel of her type left in the world today, and she belongs to the community of Mannum, and in turn to the people of South Australia. Her restoration now complete, Marion is capable of surviving for another 100 years. We say another 100 years because this year Marion celebrates her centenary. What an achievement.

Six years ago and many tens of thousands of voluntary hours of labour later, estimated to be in excess of $500,000 in value, who would have believed that this icon of Australian River history would be back on the Murray River as a passenger carrying vessel, able to accommodate 30 people overnight, carry 100 cruise passengers, structurally sound and in full survey. By design and deliberate intent Marion will not be over exposed nor will she be overworked. The Mannum Dock Museum Board has been entrusted with the task of operating Marion in such a way that she will be able to fund her own maintenance, which is expensive, without compromising the essence of “The Conservation Plan” that dictates Marion should still be operating in 100 years time for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

The chance travel on the Marion should be considered as an experience to be remembered and revered; not just a boat trip on the River. Unlike most boats available for such excursions, Marion is indeed very different. Prior to cruising, usually 24 hours beforehand, the work begins preparing her to “steam up”.

The wood for the boiler needs to be collected, cut and stowed aboard; the fire lit and steam generated in plenty of time to ensure proper performance. It’s not just a matter of hitting a starter switch and getting instant response from a modern diesel motor or two, this is a labour intensive program

And this is the legacy of what Marion represents. Marion is exactly what she is intended to be. A faithfully restored original piece of Australian history, a natural treasure to be treated with the care she richly deserves and to be shared by all. Overnight guests are advised that there are no ensuite facilities or air-conditioning on board.

Although Marion is run on 100% voluntary labour the associated running costs are quite horrific. In the event that extensive repair is required, it is imperative that there be sufficient funds available to carry out this work. The project is not supported by external funding, and Marion must pay her own way in regards to repairs and maintenance. For example major boiler repairs can cost almost $100,000.

The Marion was first registered in Sydney in 1900 and registration transferred to Adelaide in 1928. Length 107’ 11”, Beam 27’ 7”, Depth of hull 5’ 3”.

Today the PS Murray River Princess a rear wheeler makes regular trips up and down the river from Mannum.

Leaving Mannum we are now traveling down the Murray River and pass the small towns of Caloote and Wall Flat on the starboard side and Pompoota on the port side before coming to Mypolonga to starboard, and then its onto Murray Bridge, with a population of approximately 13,500. Murray Bridge was previously known as Edwards Crossing where sheep and cattle were swum across the river prior to the building of the bridge. All the willows and pepper trees are introduced species. The area bordered by the railway yards and the river was known to the local Ngarrindjen people as “Pomberuk” and was one of the last traditional trading camps in the lower Murray area. Long Island is a spiritual place to the Ngarrindjen representing a lentlin (spear) thrown by Ngurunden at Ponde (the fish) as it made its way to Wellington creating the river. Prior to 1900 dolphins had been seen at Murray Bridge. Nowhere between Blanchetown and the mouth is the riverbed above sea level. Hume Reserve named after Hume Brothers, whose factory was on this site. They were world leaders in cement pipe construction in the 1920’s.

The railway working party reached Murray Bridge in 1884 with the first train arriving on December 26, 1885. The railway line across the river was placed in the middle of the Road Bridge. The foundation stone was laid in November 1873; this was two years before tenders were called for the Echuca Bridge. The bridge at Echuca in Victoria was completed in December 1878 and opened in the following March. The Murray Bridge was still the first to span the Murray River also opening in March 1879 and is over four (4) times the length of Echuca because it traverses swamplands.

The Roundhouse adjacent to the bridges, West End was built for the construction manager and was the first stone building in the area.

During the construction of the bridge the super structure was strengthened to cater for the railway. By 1921 the bridge would carry up to 15 heavy goods trains per day. Murray Bridge became the main locomotive depot and administration centre between Adelaide and the Victorian Border with a large engine shed and turntable. The turntable is still in place opposite the grain silos. The turntable was built in 1883 by the Edgemore Iron Co of Delaware USA and was installed circa 1884. A large brick crew barracks replaced the timber building in 1915 the original station was included in the refreshment rooms and the new railway station was built.

Construction of the new Railway Bridge commenced in 1924 and was finished twelve months later. The Bridge was designed, manufactured and assembled in South Australia. It is the largest Rail Bridge still in use in S.A. and is able to take all the newest heavy locomotives! – FORESIGHT! The third or eastern span is the longest – 240ft as against 185ft of the two (2) western spans, resulting in a different design to maintain the required strength. The longer span passes over the navigational channel – on the other side of the river to the wharf – to give clearance between passing traffic and steamers and barges unloading at the Murray Bridge Wharf. From 1926 the Murray Bridge division of the SAR was formed with a train control and administration centre, the largest centre outside Adelaide until closed in 1993.

Railway lines were laid to the wharf in 1886. During 1910 over 35,000 tons of freight was trans-shipped across the wharf between railway and boats. On occasions freight transfer resulted in 16 trains leaving Murray Bridge in the one day. During the 1920’s and 30’s Murray Bridge became a popular destination for both local and interstate marketed co-ordinated Rail/River trips, with the PS Marion being based in Murray Bridge and also periodically the PS Gem and PS Ruby. The Rail/River co-ordination was also operated in the 1970’s with newer boats and is sure to happen again.

River Trade: The Port of Mobilong was declared in July 1886 and was to become one of the 3 largest in the Murray Darling Basin along with Morgan and Echuca, leading to the demise of Mannum and Goolwa as major river ports. The total length of the two level timber wharf was 620ft (190m) along with a further 450ft (145m) of sheet piling face to the bank at deck level totalling over 1070ft (335m) all serviced by two railway lines along the entire length extending from between the two bridges downstream. More than 6 cranes were used at the wharf for the transfer of freight. In 1813 the area was lit by electricity and the wharf was equipped with two rail mounted electric wire type cranes. Before the end of the 1899 up until 1907 the local Church of England Diocese based its 2 Etona mission boats in Murray Bridge.

From circa 1919 to 1940 milk boats were used from the dairies for delivery to the milk factory which was just down stream from the wharf, a use believed unique to Murray Bridge. From circa 1910 to 1940 Murray Bridge was the base for the Government fleet of over 12 steamers and barges.

During the 1920s and 1930s more wheat was trans-shipped across the wharf than any other port in South Australia, except Port Adelaide, and it was not uncommon to see up to 20 steamers and barges at the wharf at any one time. Atypical load of grain for a steamer and barge was 8000 bags of grain. River trade died out in the early 1940s with the last steamer leaving in 1962, the PS Kookaburra.

In 1976 Murray Bridge held the first official paddle steamer race in South Australia this century (1999), when the PS Enterprise, PS Oscar W and MV Coonawarra raced for the William Randell Cup. The restoration of the Oscar W undertaken at Murray Bridge and subsequently at Goolwa was the forerunner in the state to other restoration of genuine paddle steamers. There are over 9 steamers and barges sunk between Sturt Reserve and just upstream from the bridges. The depth of the river varies from 25ft (8m) to 60ft (18m).

Continuing downstream the river passes beneath and traffic on the Princes Highway or Highway One travels over the Swanport Bridge, and on to Tailem Bend with a population of 1600, and is a railway–workshop town at the junction of the Dukes and Princes Highways and 107kms from Adelaide. Tailem Bend has some excellent views across the Murray as the river bends sharply towards Wellington. 5kms north of Tailem Bend is Old Tailem Bend Pioneer Village. We now pass Wellington east on the port side, before arriving in Wellington on our starboard side, and here we have an old restored courthouse complex (1864); which includes cells, stables, post and telegraph office, courtyard and kiosk. From Wellington the Murray River only has a short distance before it flows into Lake Alexandrina, which is the largest permanent freshwater lake in Australia (50,000ha).

Now well into Lake Alexandrina and getting closer to the mouth, but we will make a detour as we reach Malcolm Pt; vehicles can leave the Princes Highway at Ashville 32km from Tailem Bend cross on the free ferry to Narrung then drive around Lake Albert, and rejoin the Princes Highway at Meningie a very pleasant drive. But as we are travelling by boat so we turn to port at Malcolm Pt and enter the Albert Passage, which leads into Lake Albert, which is also fresh water. Ahead we come to the town of Meningie, with a population of approx 900 and is at the northern tip of the vast saltpans of the Coorong National Park, 159km from Adelaide. Over 40 professional fishermen are employed on the lakes and Coorong; fishing is a significant industry in the town. The area abounds with birdlife such as ibises, pelicans, cormorants, ducks and swans. Sailing, boating, water-skiing and swimming are popular. We now head back the way we came in and once back in Lake Alexandrina we turn to port and around past Point McLeay, heading west passing two points of land, if we continued on one would think that eventually we would arrive at the mouth of the Murray, but this is impossible for between the main land to our left and Tauwitchere Island is a barrage.

There is another barrage at the other end of Tauwitchere Island and Ewe Island, with another on the other side of Ewe Island and linking Mundoo Island with the last, in this area on other side of Mundoo Island to the eastern end of Hindmarsh Island.

These barrages prevent salt water entering Lake Alexandrina and they can be driven on acting as a bridge which link Goolwa in the west to Meningie (Princes Hwy) across to Coonalpyn (Dukes Hwy) which is much shorter distance for people on the southern end of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Beyond the two large barrages lies The Coorong, derived from an Aboriginal word karangk meaning narrow neck, is one of the most breathtaking national parks in Australia. A long finger of land stretching 145km from the Murray mouth to Kingston charts the Coorong. Kingston is the home of “Larry the Big Lobster,” it is a centre for rock lobster fishing and the annual Lobsterfest held in 2nd week of January. And this is the only time that the historic lighthouse “Cape Jaffa Light House” is activated. The Coorong, a series of lagoons is separated by the hills of the Younghusband Peninsula (more commonly known as “The Hummocks”) from the Southern Ocean, a place of beauty where the only sounds are those of the sea and the cries of more than 240 species of native birds many that migrate annually from Siberia, Japan and China.

This natural sanctuary is a breeding ground for giant pelicans, wild duck, shags, ibis and terns. For 6,000 years the home of the Ngarrindjeri people, the Coorong is of Aboriginal significance and renowned for its archaeological sites. Perfect beach fishing, canoeing and yachting, there are beautiful campsites, often off the main road. A permit is needed for camping. All attractions are accessible by walking tracks, bush trails or 4Wd marked tracks. “Storm Boy” a film about a young boy’s friendship with a pelican, and based on a novel by Colin Thiele was shot on the Coorong.

As we are heading for the mouth of the Murray we must continue by water in a north west direction and leave Reedy Island behind us to port and with Long Island to port and the main land to starboard we enter a narrow passage which takes us past many small islands between Long Island and the eastern end of Hindmarsh Island. Hindmarsh Island is the largest of the islands in Lake Alexandria and are all to port of us. We now pass Clayton to our starboard which is on the mainland, and shortly after we enter the Goolwa River before tying up at the wharf on the starboard side in Goolwa. Stepping off our boat we are on a wharf which has a computerised display of the river and district before European settlement, and the impact of development.

Leaving the wharf we cross railway lines and a road before coming to a very impressive building which is Signal Point Murray River Interpretive Centre, which has all the information that the visitor to Goolwa requires, including a cafe with terrific views of the river, the pelicans and gulls as they dive for food, the comings and goings of the paddlewheeler Mundoo and the motor vessel Aroona and if one is really lucky they may see the `The Cockle Train’. This is a steam train restored from the original line, and runs to and from Victor Harbour, and what a breath taking journey this is, leaving Goolwa one may get a glimpse of the ocean, but from Middleton, through Port Elliot and into Victor Harbour the line runs very close to the banks of Encounter Bay and the Southern Ocean. Port Elliot has a very nice caravan park, a bowling green, a safe swimming beach, a kiosk and a life saving club all around Encounter Bay.

Goolwa has a population of just over 3000, is 83km south of Adelaide and 19km from Victor Harbour and 16km from the mouth of the Murray. Australia’s first public railway, horse drawn, was opened in 1854 to connect with the Murray steamboat system, thus connecting river traffic at Goolwa with the ocean port of Port Elliot. This was Australia’s first example of an integrated transport system.

Goolwa Maritime Gallery: It was in 1988 that Goolwa locals, Chris & Jude Crabtree, put an application into the local Council to establish a maritime gallery on the river upstream from the Goolwa Wharf. Five years later they built the jetty and purchased a WWII ammunition barge, which would be restored to become the floating gallery for maritime art. They had obtained the Richmond River tug boat `LEO’ (circa 1882) in 1991 which since has been totally renovated together with the Victorian line boat `TOFUA’ (circa 1911).

While investing in the infra structure they were also collecting art chandlery and maritime memorabilia both in Australia & Europe. Their interest and promotion in Goolwa’s river history is well known and includes the photographic exhibition “GOOLWA & WOODEN BOATS – the passion’, which is used not only to promote Goolwa, but more specifically as a focus for The Goolwa Wooden Boat Festivals, (an experience not to be missed). In 1992 Chris applied to lease the Chart Room, the last remaining structure of what was Graham’s Patent Slipway and Foundry, which operated in the 1800’s and was reputed to be the only location on the Murray-Darling system where paddle steamers were totally assembled including steam engines. The building had been neglected for years and was last used by the PS Murray River Queen as a cruise provision store. The building has now been basically restored and is the core of the new gallery, housing maritime artefacts, ship models, chandlery etc, as well as featuring a stunning blowup of the building & slipway circa 1925 courtesy of the Mortlock Library.

Part of the investment in the gallery’s future was the purchasing of the PS Capt Sturt for demolition and the restoration of `Hector’s Shed’ – the land base for one of Goolwa’s well known Lakes & Coorong fishing identities. This has enabled the gallery to commission furniture and boat models using recycled material from the historic American 1911 stern wheeler as well as being able to create a display which celebrates the vessels importance in the Murray’s past.

This new complex, reflecting the art & history of maritime involvement is SA and the South Coast in particular, is a unique addition to the tourist attractions of the region. The Goolwa Maritime Gallery consists of two land-based buildings and three water based vessels. It is located just upstream from the Goolwa Wharf.

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Captain P.S. Sturt: This famous Murray River stern wheeler based on the Mississippi steamers, she was built in Cincinnati, Ohio USA. Imported to South Australia during 1915 in sections & it was assembled at Mannum. Used by the River Murray Commission to build locks and the barrages using barges, which were pushed rather than towed in the normal manner. She finally came to rest on the bottom at Goolwa in 1940 after acting as the barrage steam plant; it is estimated the vessel moved 220,000 tons of material during her working life. Construction: steel hull & timber super structure, 135’ x 27.5’ x 3.3’ draft fitted with 200hp steam engine giving max speed to 10 knots.

We will require a vehicle to board the ferry so we can visit Hindmarsh Island. A river-bound island adjacent to Goolwa, reached by a free, 24-hour vehicle ferry. It offers visitors the chance to drive to the point opposite where the Murray River finally enters the Southern Ocean. Marsh land offers good aquatic bird habitats and the island is popular with bird watchers. Local Ngarrindjeri people have particular attachment to parts of the island.

Captain Charles Sturt used Hindmarsh Island as the highest point to locate the Murray Mouth on his epic journey down the River Murray in 1830. However it was named after Governor Hindmarsh in 1837 when the area was mapped. In 1853 Dr Rankins leased the island for grazing and in 1854 Charles Price came to the island with Shropshire sheep and Hereford cattle, being the first to introduce these breeds to South Australia.

The island is approximately 15kms long, 6kms wide and with a population of 400 it is unique as it faces fresh water on one side and salt water on the other. The remnants of a small cheese factory, flour mill, schoolteacher’s residence and school (still used as a community hall) can be found on the island.


Goolwa-Hindmarsh Island Ferry; a 24hr, free service.

2. Hindmarsh Island Caravan Park; cabins, vans etc, heated pool, BBQ,
kiosk, ice, LPG, licensed bottle shop, moped hire.

3. Narru Park Homestead; was the home of John Kennedy Oswald.
It has been renovated and is now a B & B accommodating up to 10 people.

4. Narru Farm: Historic cottages, bunk house & cabins to accommodate from 2 adults to group bookings. Horse riding, farm animals, milking cows, ½ court tennis, and paddle boats.

5. `Rankines Landing’ (in The Marina Hindmarsh Island); Waterfront tavern & restaurant, bottle shop, gaming room – open 7 days for lunch and dinner for meals and light snacks.

6. The Marina Hindmarsh Island: Boat ramps, wetberths, drystanding, yacht, cruiser and runabout hire, boats for sale, dockside fuel, ice, deli, public telephone, LPG, video hire.

7. The Marina Hindmarsh Island Barrage Lookout – no passage through the barrage.

8. Narineri (University of SA Magill Campus)

9. Monument to Captain Charles Sturt & Collett Barker; an information board about the island and extensive views.

10. Sturt Farm; 1853 – Pioneer Charles Price was famous throughout Australia for his stock. Now a superb

-Heritage style B&B.

11. Polish Memorial and camp (memorial to polish prisoners of war).

12. Hindmarsh Island Cemetery – resting place of many early settlers.

13. Old School House (Public Telephone).

14. Trig Point with spectacular 360 degree views.

15. Sugars Beach – boat ramp, fishing and public toilets.

16. Sugars Beach Lookout; lookout over the Murray Mouth.

17. Entrance to the Coorong National Park.

18. Mouth of the River Murray.

19. Mundoo Channel Shacks.

There is no passage or public access through the barrages from Hindmarsh Island.

Someone decided that it would be great for the Island if there was a bridge instead of the ferry to and from the Island. But as many of us would know it wasn’t to be as simple as was expected. There were a group of aboriginal women who said a bridge would destroy their tribes (Ngarrindjeri) sacred sites. And so a confrontation developed between those living and working on the Island and the aboriginal women.

And this fight was just about to destroy Tom and Wendy (former mayor of Adelaide) Chapman we actually lived in one of their houses in North Adelaide and my ex-wife Sheila did some work for Wendy and we would go next door some evenings to mind their three children. Tom Chapman had a successful business in North Adelaide, which is really the exclusive part of Adelaide. They also owned property in Victor Harbour and several times we were invited to their holiday home and a farm just out of Victor Harbour. I guess, (don’t really know) that when Tom retired and the children finished school, Tom and Wendy decided to build a Marina on Hindmarsh Island. But with the mention of a bridge this would prove to be very costly for the Chapman family.

For as the case dragged through the courts they had to sell off their properties to fund their part of the case, in fact they had to sell all their homes and property, which bankrupted them.

The family was renting a house on the Island when after at least five government inquiries and four court cases resulted in the go-ahead for a bridge, in the face of strong opposition from a group of Ngarrindjeri women. Work started on the new bridge on 5th October 1999. A Tavern has been built near to the Marina and after a tough day sailing crews can hit the tavern and drink or eat to their hearts content. While I was checking out the net for information on this talk, I found that the two eldest Chapman children have got a boat business, selling, buying and hiring boats, so I guess the family will be slowly getting back on their feet. Driving to the southeast corner of the Island one gets a great view, as we are only metres from the Mouth of the Mighty Murray River.

Retracing our steps we are back on the ferry and soon will be back on the mainland, where we decide to have afternoon tea or just something to eat. So our party heads for one of the many picnic tables and seats strewn along the waters edge. The grass area where the tables are located beside the road is well kept which is great for the ducks that come to visit you once you set out your food; it is so peaceful here as you watch the ferry on its back and forward run across to the island, PS Mundoo is moving past us with her decks lined with people as she heads for Lake Alexandrina; and the MV Aroona is still tied to the wharf. Of course there are other types of boats on the water and the bird life both beside you and on the water, too much activity to get bored. Walking along the wharf towards MV Aroona we come across a large number of pelicans in the water, and a man is throwing fish to them, we found out that he is there in the morning and afternoon and the birds start to arrive minutes before so you can set your watch to their feeding time.

We can now go aboard the MV Aroona and join those already on board for our trip to the mouth. A few more passengers come aboard and the gangplank is lifted out of the way, toots on the whistle, the lines are cast off and slowly we move away from the wharf. Once away from the wharf the skipper turns to starboard and we head east, and it is really ideal sitting in the sun with the wind blowing through your hair. The skipper announces that to port can be seen the Marina and the Tavern on Hindmarsh Island, and all eyes turn to the left. Someone in the bow says that there is something up ahead which look like a wall, and how will we get past it. Of course it is the Barrages, desalination points that prevent salt water from reaching the Murray. All on board are now looking ahead and the Aroona is heading for two markers; the one to the left or port is green and is in the shape of an upside down triangle; and on the right or starboard there is a red square, these markers mark the entrance to the lock. As we approach the lock we notice what looks like a solid gate sliding to port of course this is to let the Aroona enter the lock.

And what a tight fit this is as we make our way into the centre of the lock, and then the gate behind us closes; when it is shut the one in front is opening, and we can see on the port side a man in a glassed in room operating the controls. As we wait for the other gate to open we are welcomed by about four pelicans and they are huge; with the gate now open we pass through and are on our way as the gate closes behind us, and the birds take off from the water like huge aircraft and are soon out of sight. We have only been going for about five minutes when to starboard there are hundreds of birds of all shapes and sizes in the water and on the sand, also we can see an odd hut or house amongst the dunes, as we are now near the mouth.

The skipper continues on to the other side of the mouth as we enter the Coorong with the giant sand dunes and once again an odd hut or house. These are for the fishermen and their families although years ago it was like a little community here, but the government frowns on this type of living now. The bird life was just unbelievable with so many diving for and coming up with fish in their beaks it was truly a wonderful sight. We turned around and made our way back to the Barrage and through the lock once again, and this is really fascinating for those going through a lock for the first time.

Whilst in the lock we had a very good view of this barrage and noticed the structure of it, with very large timber blocks which I guess would be at least six feet high with portion of them fitting into the bed of the lake and butted together if their purpose was to stop the salt water entering the lake and river. Also noticeable on both sides of the lock running along the top of the blocks two sets of steel rails; one set inside the other, more on this later. Soon we were back at the wharf, after a very interesting boat ride. Back in our car we leave the wharf and drive through part of the town, as we want to travel in same direction as we have just done on the water and we pass a yacht club and shops with surf boards, fishing gear and even jet ski’s for hire.

It is easy to see that Goolwa once a key port in the golden days of the riverboats, the area still has a strong tradition of shipbuilding, trade and fishing; today, the lakes area is ideal for boating, fishing and aquatic sports and popular with bird-watchers and photographers. We come to a part where a track goes off to the right and I would guess one would get to the mouth on the sand, but we are continuing on and finally come to a parking area to our left.

Parking the car we alight, as from here on it is on foot, as we approach two brick pillars of the gate and a picket fence goes off on each side of a pillar. Stepping through the gate we are now on government property, with beautifully kept lawns, gardens and fountains with water flowing and water lily’s growing in the water. On our right are two houses and on the right the lawn goes right to the waters edge and the roadway is bitumen.

Further along we see a very fat sheep tethered on the lawn, a pet I guess. Still further along a very large workshop on the right with steel rails entering it, another building this time it is toilets with a smaller building which may act as an office with a grape vine covering the outside of the building. Just beyond this building we have one more building with steel rails entering it, it is much smaller than the workshop and appears just large enough to hold one piece of equipment. This building and the rails leading from it are directly in line with the barrage and about thirty feet from the front of the building the rails from the large workshop join up with the ones from this shed; we are now beside a very large stack of concrete blocks and for awhile wonder what they are for, we begin to walk along the barrage to the right of the rails along a footpath. Several pelicans are diving for fish as we walk towards the lock.

I have visited this site about 8 times and as yet I have never seen a boat enter or leave the lock and this looked as though I was not to see happen. So we turn around and begin our walk back to the mainland, and had gone about half way when we see two men walking towards us, it is the workers from this establishment, and the younger of the two said there is a boat approaching, and we turn around and follow them. We notice there are more people making their way along the barrage, so there will be an audience to witness this event. When we get to the lock we can see a small motor launch approaching; the younger of the workmen is now in the glassed in room on the opposite side of the lock to us. Of course he operates the opening and closing of the gates for the boats. The small boat is now in the lock and has cut its engine and a person on the boat grabs a rope, which is hanging into the lock and pulls the boat towards the gate, which is opening as the other closes.

On board this boat is a man and a lady and a golden Labrador dog and they have been fishing, and shortly after the lock is empty and all is back to normal. While this was going on we had only seen one of the two men, the one operating the gates of the lock. He comes to our side of the lock and starts to walk back to the land and slowly we follow, but he hadn’t gone very far when he turns and returns, but before he crosses the lock he bends down and flicks the dangling rope on this side up on top of the lock, then he crosses over and does the same to the rope on the other side, then he enters the glassed in room. We are intrigued by this event and wonder why? Looking towards the Coorong we can see a larger boat approaching and someone says it’s the Aroona, so it is certainly our lucky day, and soon the mystery of the two ropes are revealed. With the gate open the MS Aroona enters the lock and it is a very tight fit for the boat, if the ropes which I would estimate to be 1” in diameter then this boat would not be able to enter the lock.

The boat was just moving and as the back gate closes the front one opens and the boat is through and soon the lock is back to normal once again. We stop a while and notice the man moves from the room to a pedestal which is to the left of the glass room, he is doing something on the pedestal and slowly the decking he is standing on starts to move towards the lock, and we notice two sets of rails on this decking and eventually the decking comes to a stop as the rails on the decking line up with the rails on our side and the other side of the lock. We then hear a whistle and looking towards Hindmarsh Island we can see a big blue giant approaching; as it gets closer we notice it is a Kato mobile crane and it is towing a flat top truck. And another mystery is solved, that of the two sets of rails. The crane is now over and heading for the mainland and the other man returns everything back to where it was and he leaves his side and crosses to our side. One of the visitors asked him what the crane does and another mystery was solved, that of the huge concrete blocks near the shed.

The barrage was originally constructed of wooden blocks which over time have began to rot or be eaten out with Toledo Grubs and all are being replaced with concrete. And it is a very slow job as the bolts have to be removed and then the rails, the old wooden block then replaced with a concrete one. With this barrage being 680 metres long from the mainland to Hindmarsh Island the job will take some time to complete. The man operating the crane has had that job since leaving school and he retired shortly after I was there, so what a job that would have been driving and operating this toy all your working life. I would guess there would have been other workers besides these two that I saw. The small shed directly in line with the barrage is where the Kato is housed. It was really a great day with so much to see and as always one has to be in the right spot at the right time to witness certain things in life, and to have captured it on film was a bonus, and really made my second last trip to Adelaide and South Australia worth while.

Talking to local Adelaide people later who visit this sight regularly hoping to catch a boat going through the lock, and have not as yet seen one, is all the more enjoyable. We eventually made our way back to the car and back to Victor Harbour and the Caravan Park where I was staying.

Author: Vic Forrest



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