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Murray River timeline from ancient lands to 1900 brief history

Our Murray River lands are ancient. A slow moving river system
that's been carved over millions of years. The diversity of the river's
landscapes is truly'll embrace Murray's ancient stories.

You'll enjoy our character and community as the world drifts by.
Relax, experience and connect with the peaceful beauty of Australia's
great river and the life that depends on it.

Discover Murray River - One river, many lands

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The story of Australia's Murray River 60 millions years to 1900

60 millions years to 1900
1900 to 1950
1951 to Current

60-32 million
years ago


Murray Basin takes shape


32-12 million
years ago


Sea levels rise, flooding the western part of the Basin

  • Creation of the Murravian Gulf and Riverine Plains


6-2 million
years ago


Sea invades and retreats


2 million - 500,000
years ago


Lake Bungunnia is formed


The last 500,000


Cyclical wet and dry periods


200,000 - 125,000
years ago


Rainforest disappears

Time of the Megafauna


125,000 - 70,000
years ago


Climate warms


70,000- 55,000
years ago


Climate begins to cool and evaporation is reduced


years ago


A time of plenty

Aboriginal settement

Climate becomes drier


years ago


Cabell Tilt Block diverts Murray River


years ago


Last ice-age produces a cool arid phase

Megafauna become extinct


years ago


Re-vegetation of the landscape


years ago




New course for the Murray

River red gum forests created

Temperatures and sea-levels rise




Captain Cook discovers Australia and Europeans begin to settle




Blue mountains crossed

  • Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth find a way across the Blue Mountains and provide access to the vast inland plains of the Murray-Darling Basin.




Europeans sight Murray River

  • On 16 November, Hume, Hovell and party become the first Europeans to see the Murray, near Albury
  • The river is given the name HUME, in honour of Hamilton Hume's father, Andrew Hume.





  • Sturt and Mitchell explore the Murray and Darling.
  • Captain Charles Sturt names the MURRAY RIVER on 23 January 1830, in honour of Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies. The ceremony takes place at the Murray-Darling convergence near the present town of Wentworth.




Traditional Aboriginal society begins to break down

  • Between 1830 and 1860 Aboriginal population of the Murray is decimated by introduced disease such as measles, influenza and smallpox, for which they have no immunity. Direct conflict with Europeans occurs. The most notorious is the Rufus River Massacre near Lake Victoria in 1841. Squatters take up land for sheep and cattle grazing. During the gold rushes of the 1850s, Aboriginies replace European workers on many Murray stations. Land is fenced. Governments establish Aboriginal settlements.




Stock route created to South Australia

  • The Murray is followed by drovers or "overlanders", taking sheep and cattle to the newly-established town of Adelaide.




Economic depression




Squatters settle

  • River frontage land taken up by squatters
  • Sheep and cattle are introduced to the Valley.
  • Squatters from the Murray near Euston, Edmund Morey and John McKinlay (later to become an explorer), visit Adelaide in 1848 to lobby the Governor and businessmen to put steamers on the Murray.




New South Wales-Victoria border defined

  • The whole of the Murray watercourse is declared to be in New South Wales.

Australian colonies Government ACT

  • Colonial parliaments given the rights to impose customs duties on goods coming from other colonies.

Prize offered for first paddle steamers on Murray

  • South Australian Legislative Council offers a prize for four thousand pounds to be shared by the first two steamers to navigate the Murray to the Darling convergence.




Gold rush

  • Murray stations are left without labour or means of getting supplies in or sending wool to market
  • Large markets for food and other supplies emerge on gold fields
  • Favourable conditions are created for the commencement of river trade.




First paddle steamer launched at Mannum

  • The first paddle steamer on the Murray at Noa No Landing, the "Mary Ann", is taken for a trial run upstream of Mannum in South Australia on 19 February. William Randell is her builder and captain
  • First Murray River Flag flown on the Eureka barge and was hoisted on the arrival of the Randell brothers to Goolwa. It was the third flag flow in Australia
  • Captains Randell and Cadell begin commercial navigation on Murray. First steamers are P.S. Mary Ann and P.S. Lady Augusta
  • 28 September, the first wool shipped on inland rivers is collected by the P.S. Lady Augusta and the barge Eureka from Poon Boon station on the Wakool River
  • Goolwa, near the Murray Mouth, becomes the main "bottom end" river port. Mannum also becomes a port
  • Heavy, bulky and fragile goods are transported far inland to pen up large areas for settlement. Wool from inland stations is carried to market much more efficiently than by bullock wagon.
  • Wire fencing begins on a large scale
  • Snagging begins, to improve navigability of the River
  • Timber cutting begins along river banks for fuel and boat building
  • Steam engines are taken into the interior.




First railway link

  • Goolwa is linked by a horse-operated railway to Port Elliot, providing an outlet for produce from the Murray-Darling Basin.




Paddle-steamer reaches Albury

  • P.S. Albury and her barge Wakool, under Captain Johnston, reach Albury, on 2 October. Albury is the upper limit of Murray navigation, 2,195 kilometres from the mouth.




Inter-Colonial Conference on River Management

  • Representatives from New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria meet to discuss the utilization of rivers, especially navigation. the Conference concluded:

"...the commerce, population and wealth of Australia can be largely increased by rendering navigable and otherwise utilizing the great rivers of the interior such as the Murray, Edward, Murrumbidgee, and Darling..."




Echuca linked by rail to Melbourne

  • Railway link greatly stimulates "top end" rive trade and establishes Echuca as a major inland port.




Major Flood




River Survey

  • First comprehensive survey of the bed and banks of the Murray River is carried out between Albury and Wentworth.




Major Flood




River trade reaches peak

Mallee clearing commences

Rabbit Plague




Railway links Wodonga to Melbourne




North-West Bend Railway to Morgan

Deniliquin and Moama Railway Company




First road bridge across the Murray at Murray Bridge




Severe drought




Wetlands reclaimed for agriculture on Lower Murray

Railway links Albury with Sydney




Work commences on Torrumbarry system




Victorian Irrigation Act

Railway extended to Yarrawonga from Melbourne




Large scale irrigation commences at Mildura and Renmark




Cobram linked by rail to Melbourne




First N.S.W. irrigation on the Murray at Wentworth

Major Flood

Swan Hill linked by rail to Melbourne




Economic depression




First map of Murray-Darling Basin




Settlement of the Victorian Mallee




Corowa linked by rail to Sydney




Corowa, "The Birthplace of Federation"

Communal irrigation settlements in South Australia

Renmark Irrigation Trust established




First Mildura Irrigation Trust established

Overseas expert provides advice on irrigation




Severe drought


60 millions years to 1900



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