Following the Murray River: Yarrawonga to Echuca

Tuesday 22nd May 2012

As you drive along the Murray River, you encounter twin towns.  One is in NSW, and the other in Victoria, and the only thing that separates them is a bridge across the river.

Well, actually, there are separate state governments, laws, regulations, taxes, fines, driving speeds, etc.

Other than that, things like language, landscape, and lifestyle are identical.

Well, actually, there is one lifestyle difference, which is particularly noticeable along this route. Because of the different laws from one state to another, Victoria is more restrictive about gambling on poker machines.  So there are more clubs with “pokies” just across the border in NSW, and they offer a free bus service to attract local people from just across the river. Go figure.

Now I think on it more, there is one other major lifestyle difference.  Victoria has FABULOUS bakeries.  NSW does not.

So yesterday we arrived at the twin towns of Yarrawonga (Vic) – Mulwala (NSW). They share a large and beautiful man-made lake, formed through the construction of a weir that holds the Murray River back.   This area attracts golfers, anglers, water sports fans, bush walkers and campers.  The “lake” is studded with dead trees which were drowned when the weir was built.  It makes a romantic sight with bare grey trunks reaching skywards, but it must also be a hazard for any boats in the area.  This area is also famous for fish such as cod and crayfish, even though we weren’t offered any in the local restaurants.   

Last night, Bill and I walked across the bridge at sunset.  The river was running high there – almost reaching to the lower part of the bridge.  I can remember the scene clearly, and I am so frustrated that I cannot find any of my own photographs.  I found these two from Tourism Victoria that illustrate the magic and mysticism of Lake Mulwala.

This morning, we took a walk around a wetlands area and tried to catch sight of the various birds of the area.  There is never any trouble finding the white cockatoo – they are a noisy bird with a grinding call and such a strong appetite you can hear them chewing on branches and other pieces of wood.  Others we could hear, but not always sight.

As we were leaving Yarrawonga, we drove across the bridge to have a look at a golf resort. It is very odd to see signs that you are entering New South Wales, or entering Victoria, when all you are doing is crossing a bridge!

Then it was back on to the Murray Valley Highway for a lunchtime arrival in Echuca. The highway took us away from the river’s edge and through farming country, mostly dairy in this area.  We have been trying our best to stay right beside the river, but the only way to ensure that is to be on a boat.  On either side of the river, the main roads sweep away from the water, making room for the farmland that depends on the river for irrigation.  The river has been dammed at several spots along the way and there is always negotiation about who has rights to use the water here for their crops, and/or whether there is enough water left for the farmers further along the route.

Then we arrived in Echuca (Vic).  Even though I have only ever been here once before, about ten years ago, this is one of my favourite destinations, a place that I hold warm feelings for. Not only for its beauty and charm, but also as the place that a dear friend and I shared five wonderful days catching up. She lived in Melbourne (200 klms away) and we in Sydney (800 klms away) – so it was not exactly a halfway meeting – but it was a perfect choice.

Echuca Weekend May 2003 161Echuca (twinned with Moama) was made famous in the 1984 film “All the Rivers Run”. Its claim to fame was as an inland port in the mid-late 1800’s when it ran wool and other farm produce down the river to Melbourne on paddle steamers.

There is plenty of accommodation in Echuca, but for me there was only one choice. The Steampacket Inn, a very old building with cute rooms overlooking the restored wharf area. Our favourite room, a large corner double with windows facing two streets, was Echuca Weekend May 2003 034already taken.  I recognised the room that we were offered as being that which my friend had occupied on our previous visit.  I grabbed it, hoping that for our two night stay I would regain some sense of her still being with us.  Sadly not to be, but you will see from her photos that I plan to post tomorrow, that her artistry will be a lasting memory. (Photos today are from our collection).

One thing that was there ten years ago, and is still now – the sound of cockatoos at sunset – fighting over which space they will take in the eucalyptus trees that line the river.  The beautiful river red gum that lines the banks of the Murray River.  Timeless and beautiful, this iconic tree is about my best-loved of the 800 or so species of eucalypt that are native to Australia.  It can grow extremely tall, and it sheds it smooth bark in long ribbons.  They grow straight and tall beside watercourses all over Australia.  However, the branches can become quite twisted in dry growing conditions, and it can be nicknamed the “Widow Maker” as they have a habit of dropping large boughs without warning.  And all along the banks you can see those that have become so top-heavy that the bank can no longer support them.  Their twisted, dead trunks are home to all nature of small wildlife.

Echuca Weekend May 2003 091

The sight and sound of cockatoos, galahs and parrots swooping along the river banks and screeching into the dense foliage of the trees, as the long shadows of twilight draw across the water, – as early as 5.30pm since we are now in autumn – this is something I will always associate with Echuca, and one of the reasons it is so important to me to be close to the historic wharf area, away from traffic and the modern buzz.

Road Trip 2012 003

Tomorrow: More About Echuca

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