Wednesday the 31st of January: 151-110, Garmin 41 km. Off at 08:00 with a reasonably tranquil day heralded, and so it turned out, mostly. The banks are now virtually completely covered with willows or shacks making access difficult. We have decided to troll as much as possible today so the fridge is off and contains only our toasted sandwiches and the butter and cheese. Get through 18 km. by 11:00 with an hour of trolling at 6 kph. Lunch at a reserve in Mypalonga and a loo break. In the afternoon the wind increases from the south west in spite of predictions fort a south easterly but the sun is shining and we snatch another 1 1/4 hour trolling from the battery making about 12 km. free; of course, we charged the batteries full on the previous off day. Still, the trolling is great and relaxes one especially as we have special kosher photons and not petrol (but more of that later). The last pull into Murray Bridge is full into the wind as usual and the caravan park is above a marina. Fortunately, we get help from the oner with her ute for the portage and she gives us a powered site for $17.50, why we do not know. Friends Peter and Lassa arrive and we head into town and the pub for some refreshments and food and a chin wag. Fortunately, they will be on hand for problems in the next few days.
Thursday the 1st of February. After a great sleep in 'till 08:00, Rod goes into town to get the 2 HP Johnson outboard we had ordered. After all the terror stories of the Lake we have decided to be prudent and get across as quickly as possible and to hell if it is not under our own steam. He worries that the pitch of the propellor is not right for the resistance of the boat and its possible highest speed. After the transaction the motor is taken to the boat and magically, it fits on the little aluminium adaptor that Peter had made for the trolling motor at the stern of the canoe. But, as we all know, there is always a bite in the tail and Rod got it in aces as an acute pain stabs him in a left forearm. Looking down he sees the telltail sting like that from a bee. Unfortunately, having brushed it out, he notices a carcas lying in the canoe and it is about the size of a bee but with a bright yellow band and a black band closely resembling that of the European wasp. His arm gradually swells as the reaction takes hold but he feels no pain so we continue. As the motor needed to be run in we could only go at half throttle but that got the canoe up to 12 kph, a very respectable speed and right to specs with the pitch of the propeller. Off to the pub for the last meal before the lake entrance and Wellington where we must decide to do it or not. A rather worried sleep followed.
Friday the 2nd of February: 110-76, Garmin 34 km. Off at 08:30 with a really strong nor westerly, at last but we had given the sail to Peter and Lassa to take back to their place along with the fridge and the solar panels. Oh, well, we paddle down the river which now is flanked with willows, the red gums having been burnt in the boilers of the river boats a century ago. The distance decreases and we take a quick lunch at Tailem Bend under the pub before arriving in Wellington around 16:00. Moor below the pub and find that the caravan park is just across the road so we portage the gear and get an old "A" frame cabin which was great. Supper at the pub brings the same stories of the dangers of the lake which does not buck up our spirits. As the weather forecast is for strong sou west winds we do not intend to paddle tomorrow but to wait and see what the future will bring!
Saturday the 3rd of February: 76-71-76-71-76. Strong sou westerly winds so we decide to give the motor a few hours testing prior to a possible assault on the lake. We discover that the integral tank of the motor contains only 1.5 litres which will give us about 15 km of travel hence we would need to refuel at sea as it were. Hmmmmmm, a bit worrying. After motoring up and down the river for 3 1/2 hours and making 35 km. enough to get to Point Sturt and thence to Goolwa and safety. But it was not to be. The 18:00 news broadcast had the weather moving to the south east with a strong wind warning for the southern coast associated with seas up to 2 metres. No bloody way so we finally decide to call it off and head for the pub for a rather sad supper, although we have done the rivers we have not arrived at the sea. Ah well, so it goes. During the afternoon, a wood fired paddle steamer has made it down river towing a barge fitted up as a paddle steamer for a 36 hour mini (!) series. They are based at Goolwa and will brave the lake tomorrow. Rod visits the boat and tells them of the forecast which does not spread joy and happiness to say the least. During the evening, one of the crew comes across and jokingly suggests that we could put the canoe on the steamer and they would take us there. Oh joy, to be plucked from the jaws of despair. But, he has to ask the president of the club that runs the steamer so we spend an evening on tenterhooks. It turns out to be cool under the slab economy and we trot off to the cabin full of gratitude for the great Juju who must have been ignoring the curses aimed at him over the past couple of days. Most things get packed as we have been told to be at the boat by 06:00 (SA) so once again we spend a fretful night but one of anticipation rather than worry.
Sunday the 4th of February: 76-10. Garmin 65.6 Km. Up at 04:45, pack up the rest and portage everything across the road to the river. It is still dark and the boat is hidden below a steep grassed bank. Approaching it Rod cannot see either the boat or the small wharf. Closer inspection shows the wharf but no boat, oh woe. But wait, this is silly, the bloody boat could not have pushed off during the night but still the gut wrenching fear writhes in the pit of his stomach, like seeing the phantom tiger on the back of a bedroom chair at 4 in the morning. Slowly the phantom warf solidifies into the superstructure of the boat and all is well. The canoe is removed from the river and placed on the foredeck, the crew putting a large holed tarp over it so that the sparks from the funnel do not burn anything. Last night the guys had been getting wood, mostly pine and railway sleepers and had parted with two slabs for the priveledge, so our two slab contribution sort of made us the providers of the energy for the trip. Shortly after 06:00 (SA) we set off down the river into a strong sou easterly but now safely way above the waves. The paddle steamer "Oscar W" named after a son who died in WW1, has a 16 horse power Marshal two cylinder steam engine drive side paddles which allow a rudder to be fitted and giving considerably more manouverability than a rear wheeler. The captain takes us down river at 5 to 6 knots and we pass Brinkley station near the 72 km. point where we gave up. Coming out of the river we proceed down a 10 km. stretch like a small gulf to Point Pomanda and into Lake Alexandrina proper where the waves have grown to a nasty 1/2 metre chop. Standing at the rear of the boat we see the reason for the tarp on the canoe. There are sparks falling on us and our clothes so we move up to the bridge until the wind is strong enough to blow the incendiary material clear of the boat. The crew. who are in a club "The friends of the Oscar W", are a jolly bunch who have joined the steamer in Murray Bridge to help in towing the film set barge back to Goolwa but due to the high winds, it is left in Wellington for the time being. The course is set for the south west and we puff puff across the lake feeling very pleased with how the chance encounter in a pub can lead on to better things. In the centre of the lake we can see virtually no sign of the shore as the wind has brought clouds and some rain. Still, eventually, Pt McLey looms ahead and to starboard we can see Point Sturt, hooray, which is the entrance to calm waters. A quick turn to the right and we steam eastwards and soon pass Clayton and approach Goolwa proper with its contentious bridge. The trajectory is around 65 km. in 6 hours and 48 minutes and we are glad not to have done it in the canoe. To grasp serendipitious fortune by the short and curlies and ride it into the setting sun is a chance which seldom arises. For Mic, the kayaker who passed us before Mildura, no such opportunity presented itself and one fine morn he left Wellington, having slept on the court house lawns, only to return two days later having missed the entrance to the channel which passes by Point Sturt. Our only news subsequent to his return is that he was trying to get a lift to Clayton. Good luck Mic! We also have luck in finding a room for the night as a large paddle wheeler, the River Murray River Queen is being used as a floating motel so we book in and portage all the gear from the Oscar W, down the wharf, across the railway tracks, along the Goolwa Station (which has occasional trips to Port Elliot along the first (horse drawn) railway in Australia, and steam trains to Adelaide in winter) and back to the wharf to the River Murray Queen. Interesting that the Oscar W is berthed next to the River Murray Queen, the great Juju has a sense of humour. We are really knackered so move off to the pub around 18:00 for a whiting dinner for Rod and roast pork special of the day ($7.50) for Christine. The plan is to get to the mouth tomorrow in the canoe or, if the wind is too strong, walking the 12 odd km. The forecast is for strong sou easterly winds (bloody hell, do they have anything else down here?) but we can always hope.
Monday the 5th of February: 12 km walk to 0. Fletcher Christine is manifesting mutinous intent in the morning as the wind is still up and all that can be seen across the river toward the last barrage is whitetops on the waves which are not too large but very choppy. Captain Bloz believes that it is still possible to thrust through the chop and take the canoe to the mouth but mutiny is formenting and the Cap'n, realising that prudence will dictate a peacefull house for the next few months capitulates and we decide to walk to the mouth. Still sort of kosher as we will not have used the petrol motor for any part of the trip. "Two stroke for sail or tent,.......". Sorry about that but I could not resist it. Walking the 4 km. to the barrage we notice that the waves are dying down and it is only on the other side near the town proper that the length of water is sufficiently long for a decent chop to build up, showing that the instability is mainly convective rather than absolute. At the 19th beacon we head across the dunes to the southern ocean which was the end of many square riggers as the wind is always onshore. A brisk 7 km. trot along the beach, avoiding being run down by 4WD, and we arrive at the mouth. After 3 months without any decent walking, Christine's legs are aching like hell. Off with the shoes and into the briney sea for our baptism. Well, that was it, an adventure down the Murrumbidgee and an expedition down the Murray.
The whole story started about a year ago when we made the decision to do this trip. Unfortunately, there are always deep and profound psychological profundities hidden in the innocent statement preceding this rather pompous explanation. In fact the whole thing was a plot of such daring magnitude that even Rod was taken unawares. Christine had cunningly drawn upon the memories of Rod's youth in South Australia in springing the craftily constructed question: "Why don't we take a boat down the 'bidgee and Murray rivers". Without reflection, Rod automatically answered in the affirmative, forgetting his long tradition of only taking a week or so of holidays a year and often canceling well laid plans with only a few short weeks notice because of some academic emergency. This sort of anti-social behaviour is not particularly uncommon among academics and those in business. The reason is simple: they are driven. The result is inevitable: a rather tense cloud of resentment exudes it's cold grey rain of exasperation on a previously happy couple. Well, anyway, experience has taught Rod that resistance is useless and he was rather taken by the idea.
The concept of retracing the footsteps, or paddle strokes, of Sturt as he daringly rowed down the Murrumbidgee and to relive his joy as his boat "hurried into a broad and noble river" was close to the hearts of many South Australians. Thus it started.
Mike Lieberman, a friend from the UC Berkeley, was with us on sabbatical and searched the ANU library for a copy of Sturt's diary which he copied and gave to us sometime in July 1999. We were surprised to learn that Sturt travelled by foot and wagon from Sydney via Yass and did not enter the "Morumbidgee" until his land route was blocked by reeds around Balranald. He feared a swamp similar to that which apparently terminated the Darling. As well as assembling the whaleboat they had been carrying, his team built a small dingy from available materials. Our main aim was to navigate the river from Canberra and so a bit of research was necessary in the book section of Jurkiewicz, our local camping store in Fyshwick. There are a number of good books available. We also saw an add on the notice board regarding trips down the river with a chap called Chris Bellamy who has survived the whole trajectory to the confluence and returned to write it up in "WILD" magazine. He suggested two person kayaks as they were fast, strong and held quite a lot of equipment and so we set out to look at a number of shops around Canberra. During a week end at Broulee (Canberra-le-sands on the coast about 150 km. from Canberra) we tried a K2 sit-on along the Tomakin river with both canoe and kayak paddles. The double kayak paddles allow you to track better, but you get continuously wet hands from the water running down the paddle shafts, and have the problem that your arms are generally above your shoulders. As we did not wish to feel that we were painting the ceiling for 3 months, canoe paddles were pretty much decided on. The next step was joining a club and trying stuff. Having seen a note for the Burley Griffin Canoe Club at Jurkiewicz, we rang up the Pres. and toddled along on a sunny Sunday morning (well, rather nearer mid-day actually). It was here that we met David Tongway, a CSIRO landscape ecologist, who strongly suggested a canoe as it was easier on the arms and was less boring paddling, as you had to change sides every now and again to keep the beast going in a reasonably straight line. So it was that we took out Huf-n-Puf, a 5 metre Harrison TC2 (Touring Canoe Class 2), a canoe reknown for its speed. And nervous stability as we quickly found. Steering became the next hassle with the canoe moving sinusoidally down the river and a certain amount of dissention and tension developing between the captain and the crew. The crew's job is to paddle in front, define the cadence, check for snags and balance the boat. The captain in the back has to steer and follow the timing of the crew and if necessary, call "change" or "hut" for the more experienced paddler. The canoe is very sensitive to the strokes of the rear paddler. Unreasonably so. We decided for Christine in the front and Rod in the rear (although, later, we swapped about in a form of cross paddling). It takes a lot of getting used to and we found that we settled down to 10 strokes on each side with the captain practicing 'J' strokes for steering. Initially we took over 40 minutes (with Xtine cactus in bed for the entire afternoon) for the 4.5 km. time trial at Molonglo reach but we soon got that down to 37 minutes with a PB of 33 minutes which knackered both of us.
Looking for canoes took some time and vascillation and was initially carried out on the WEB although we did play with the idea of an Australian design and manufacture. We wanted a large vessel, one in which we could stow all the paraphernalia associated with a big trip but still portage the 6 weirs on the 'bidgee with comparative ease. Christine declared that the maximum she could lift would not exceed 15 kilograms which made our potential canoe around 30 kilos. These two constraints removed the Harrison (too small) and the plastic Australians, such as the Wobbygong, as being too heavy. Since we had to go to the USA for 3 months from April to June 2000, we decided that we wound get a kevlar canoe there, probably the Horizon from Mad River Canoe or the Minesotta 3 from We-no-nah. This process was also starting to define where the voyage would commence. We hoped to start from near Canberra, Uriarra crossing for example, but the concept of a 1 metre drop with a "stopper"! convinced us that it would be more judicious to start from Chidowla, a few kilometres downstream from the Burrunjuck dam. A rapid 'reccie' showed many grade 1-2 rapids which we did not want to navigate with a heavily laden kevlar canoe so the plan rechanged to embark at Jugiong.
During the last week end (21-22 October) we assembled the two solar panels on the Itasca, connected them to the 24 AH battery (well, nearly connected as Rod had underestimated the necessary wire length), and set up the sail and rowing kits. The wind on Lake Burley Griffin was about force 2 with occasional gusts to 3 over Finnisterre who crewed from the bow. We sailed from Molongolo reach to the site of the soon to be Museum of Australia and back in about 2 hours, a distance of about 8 km in quite fluky conditions. Maximum speed, during a gust measured with our eTREX GPS, was 8.4 km per hour. As a canoe is not an ideal design for sailing, the crew needs to balance the boat by sitting on the gunwales, also not an ideal position for sitting. Upon return to shore the crew showed a reticence to sit again for some hours. We decided not to use a rudder for a variety of reasons, the main one being inconvenience with a tiller and the fragility of such a system, hence steering was accomplished by positioning the lee boards about 6 cm. astern of the mast allowing a slight weather helm (boat turns into the wind if no steering). A paddle was then used behind the skipper only to take the canoe away from the wind.
The following week end the electrical system was tested with the small (12.5 Amp) trolling motor, the battery being charged by the two 53 Watt Solarex panels assembled on the Itasca along with the mast and the lee-boards. We managed to suck out about 20 AHours and did 4.5 kilometers with an average speed of 3.5 kph. More information on the electrics and the Itasca will come in the technical page.
Wednesday the 1st of November. As the info we had on the Jugiong to Gundagai section claimed a rapid, and we did not wish to ding the immaculate Itasca,a Wobbygong plastic canoe was hired from Jurkiewicz for the first week of the trip ending in Wagga Wagga. The dreaded Wednesday the 1st of November sprung upon us and with the ever helpful Peter volunteering to take the Jag. back from Jugiong we set out from Canberra at 09:41 arriving Jugiong at 11:30. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. In spite of raining cats and dogs for the last x weeks there was hardly any water in the bloody river. Bloody hell. Still we started at 12:30 on the 68 kilometers (claimed by the books) to Gundagai. Strangeley enough it was quite warm for most of the following week although the heavens opened up in Canberra-Queanbeyan, the Sod 'em and Gommora of Australian politics. Our intrepid adventurers soon found the rapid 1.5 km. from the start, and a simple little unit it was: little did they know that rapids immensely superiour to this one were slowly but surely making their plans against them. Despite the canoe books mentionning that single rapid 1.5 km from Jugiong we actually went through a good dozen of rapids during the first 20.4 km, our distance for the day. Christine made the first mistake in the first rapid (we managed to escape sideways before the "horizontal tree", pulled the boat upstream and started again) and that made us highly focused all afternoon until we found a wonderful camp site. There was no shouting in the canoe and we were really proud at the end of the day. We made a camp fire and watched the stars.
Thursday the 2nd of November. Thursday was marked by a rather sudden storm. Rod had good wet weather gear but Xtine got drenched in no time in her useless french raincoat. She should have brought back from Brittany a proper raincoat. Having invested in many dry bags prooved to be a success. Our life as "pigs in the mud" started then.
Friday the 3rd of November. We arrived in Gundagai on Friday the 3rd of November at 14:00 in the afternoon after 3 days of wonderful scenery and wildlife. We paddled the total distance of 65.5 km. (20.4, 22, 22.5 km.)in very temperamental weather conditions (cloudy, windy, rainy, sunny, cold, hot...). By then we had tested most of our equipment (tent, stove, water filter... and our stamina!). A problem with the water treatment was solved by Rod on arrival in Gundagai. We saw a platipus, a fresh water cray, an azure kingfisher, a dragon, 2 black swans, an eagle, parrots, lots of egrets and tens of cockies.
Saturday the 4th of November. We left from Gundagai on Saturday the 4th of November and arrived in Wagga Wagga on Monday the 6th of November in the evening 3 days later (4 to 5 days advertised in the books) without pushing at all except on the last day when we did 54 km. From Gundagai to Wagga we settled down in a solid rhythm for the total distance of 123.5 km (31.5, 38, and 54 km) and were lucky enough to find some beautiful camp sites. The first day we avoided a shoal right in the centre just after the main (and last) bridge in Gundagai. Lunch on an island and a short siesta before setting out for another couple of paddling periods of about 7 km.each. Around 16:00 we sighted an ideal camp site on the slow corner of a meander and made camp about 5 metres from the shingle beach.
Sunday the 5th of November. The following morning the water was only a couple of metres away from the tent as the river had risen at least 20 cm. And was still rising. Interesting but not funny! Getting away about 10:30 we passed through regions with earthen banks where swallows lived in small communities of mud nests stuck to the bank. The cockies still seemed to be following and waiting at each stop. Our aim had been to get to Sandy Beach for lunch which we achieved, beached the canoe on the mud and made for the loo. Hay was being cut in the adjacent paddocks as a harbinger of things to come. Pushing on to a reserve about 2 km. after a bridge and 12 km. from Sandy Beach we found a group of 3 chaps already ensconced so we pushed on after they told us that the Blowering dam on the Tumut had been releasing about 15:00 MegaLitres, explaining the rise and the rapid flow of 4 to 5 km. per hour. Half an hour later we happened on a small casuarina forest between a dry anna-branch and the river which afforded excellent shelter and a high, flat site, 38 km. from our morning start.
Monday the 5th of November. The following morning dawned to the sound of snuffling and a humungeous belch near the tent at 05:30 which woke Rod who peered out, clapped his hands and stampeded them away. An hour later Christine arose (with some help) to find a line of 30 cattle, and a beeeeeeeg bull, lined up 10 metres away regarding the site somewhat quizically. Rod was helped awake around 08:30 and camp was broken at 10:30. The story now becomes a bit sad for one of the protagonists. The smell of cut hay was increasing and 15 km. further downstream the lunch break saw a Rod starting the long slide to perdition (although being a typical male he ignored the warnings). Another 10 km. and a short rest under a casuarina in a hay paddock was adding fuel to the inflamation. The intention was to camp at Oura Beach, about 30 km. before Wagga but it had just cut grass, basically the last straw, and the decision was taken to make for Wagga. It was 15:00. Bloody great storm clouds are sweeping in from the east with thunder and lightning so we stop to don the wet gear. The storm strikes at 17:00 and Rod is starting to kark it but we continue non stop for another hour and stop for a reccie thinking we have overshot Wagga. Much panic but of course it turned out to be around the next bend. Wagga welcomed us with a (mud) Sandy Beach and a great double rainbow celebrating our survival and the 54 km. we made during the day. To hell with the tent: we booked a cabin immediately and had a hot shower, and Rod, well, he had a couple of wee whiskies.
Tuesday 7th of November. Picked up by Peter in Wagga caravan park and back to Canberra to swap canoes.
Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th of November. Bring the Wobbigong back to Jurkiewicz. Upgrade the GMT website. 2 days of total frustation trying to get the infrared link to work between the laptop and the mobile phone. Ended up abandonning the Nokia 7110 after they suggested finding another alternative which we did. The Ericsson 320 was tested and worked with the Mac so it was bought on the last day in Canberra. At that stage we did not realise how bent was the spatio-temporal continuum. Start packing the Itasca to see if everything will fit in.
Friday 10th of November. Load up Jag and drive to Wagga. Rod gives a talk of the Mount Erin Senior School while Peter and Rhys set up the Wedge in Mount Erin High School hall.
Saturday 11th to Monday 13th of November. Wedge open to the public over the week end and to the school on Monday. Very popular. More problems with the digital picture transfer to the computer and computer taken back to Canberra by ground crew. Also problem sending emails with Microsoft Outlook express and Dynamite using an infrared link, probably due to the moving IP address. Using Telnet works but necessitates having the connection on while writing the email. Xtine getting restless and trying to overcome food poisoning from a (never again) Subway sandwich. Rod not recovering properly and it is time to move away from Wagga.
Tuesday 14th of November. Paddle 41.2 km. to Kohlhagen Beach. RAIN, HUGE RAIN and MORE RAIN...Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. I bit my arm, I sucked the blood and cried why are we here...Needed to bail water out of canoe. Rod crook.
Wednesday 15th of November, 30 km. paddle to Currawananna. WET, MORE WET. Great campsite achieved by scaling mud bank [yuck]. Rod crooker. Double dose of prednisilone. Consider giving up and employing plan B: surfing at Byron Bay. Lamb cutlets for supper. Rod improves during night.
Thursday 16th of November, on the way for 8 hours. Fred the sacred kingfisher following us all along: 39.3 km. paddle.
Friday 17th of November, Rod now helping with camp, river has dropped 60 cm., mild day and no rain. Using solar panels as UV indicators. Arrive at Berrembed Weir "Danger weir 1km. ahead". Actually bloody weir was only 300 m away. Quick Uee against current and find possy in willows 200 m upstream. Portage to weir campsite. Gasp, sweat. Beautiful beach downstream of weir. Gorgeous sunset. Christine eaten by flying ants in the evening. 35.7 km. paddle
Saturday 18th of November. Reload canoe and 37.3 km. to Buckingbong reserve 20 km. upstream from Narrandera. Fred returns to see campsite. Eat risotto and SB from fridge for diner. Rod is feeling better and better the more we move from cattle to state forests.
Sunday 19th of November, relaxed breakfast, Rod washes, strange smells disappear. Everything outside to dry for UV treatment [poo]. Bloody great goanna [1.5 m]. Midday start walk to Narrandera. Picked up by ute after 4 km. in the heat and driven to Narrandera visitor center. Decide to stay in Narrandera while waiting for computer to arrive poste restante from Canberra. Lunch at bakery where Rod notices a chap regarding him, if not quizically, then rather queerly. A conversation eventuates and chap claims to have heard of us a few weeks ago from someone he knows. Subsequent to much umming and ahing and pounding of the brow he remembers that it may have been someone in Albury. Aha thinks Rod, time for the silly long shot: "Not my cousin Col?". "Yeah, that's him, he used to drive me in the school bus from Yackandandah to Albury!". If we cannot get a car he proposes to take us to the campsite to pick up the necessaries. Book in to cabin at camping ground over looking Lake Talbot [brum, brum]. Supper at ex-services club, good nosh and not expensive. Cannot finish the bot of red so ask the girl at the bar if we can take it with us who replies that it is forbidden so she will have to put it in a brown paper bag. Nic the baker takes Rod to campsite to pick up clothes while Christine (and Nick's wife Margy) watch Seachange. Rod and Nick back to his place for a beer and to check out the maps of the rivers. Nick offers Rod a glass of amber fluid from a 'goon which someone gave him. Turns out to be (probably) a Tokay, and rather good actually.
Monday the 20th of November. Call McIver in Canberra for another script of Prednisilone and negotiate with chemist for its delivery. Peter has sent off the computer which Andrew Lambert (Foot to his mates) has been beavering away on in a vain glorious attempt to get a USB/serial hub, the GPS interface, the IR link and the USB flashcard reader working, and it may arrive Tuesday morning but nothing is guaranteed in the bush. The blokes in the pub last night and those we see bemoan the wet weather as they cannot harvest their hay, hooray says Rod. Seems like more is on the way with flooding up north NSW so we should have fun when the Lachlan and the Darling join the system. Eventually got car and took a drive to check out the weirs at Yanko and Gogeldrie which, according to the locals, used to be the picknickers delight. Ah, but with economic rationalism all that has gone by the board (who were extravagantly paid for being a bunch of semi-intelligent incompetent sycophants)and we met much the same as elsewhere. Gogeldrie does have a good picnick site but it is separated by barbed wire, razor wire, a moat and two trained alligators named Rick and Jim who carried themselves with a somewhat truckulent air. It was also on the opposite bank to the portage. These weirs are not river folk friendly. Darlington Point was a jolly little village with a beach giving onto the camping ground, a pub and a general store. We returned to find that Rod had missed an interview with ABC radio program "Drive" but this was recorded the next morning so no major angst. Supper at the Narrandera pub at he south end of East St (hmmmmmmm!). Typical Aussie country pub, 4 metre wide verandahs with iron lace work. Ceilings if 4 to 5 metres and made of patterned tin. Very good food and lots of it. Ann, the landlady joins us later and tells us about the hidden problems of the town. Christine spies a joanna in the corner and decides to tickle the virginals. A pleasant evening.
Tuesday the 21st of November. After stretching and showers we zoomed off to the post office and, miracle of miracles, santa has been, leaving our Mac. Christine gets down to testing the system and finds that the HTML texts can be sent as can the thumb nail piccies but the full 150 kB pictures crash leaving the blue screen of death. Leave depressing message for Andrew who has had enough of this and is in hospital with Donna for the birth of their daughter. All doing well!! Rod biffs off to Griffith to see what Walter did with 'little Canberra'. The plan looks great with the grand canal around the city but somehow, the present city has lost the plot of the original plan. A thriving city nevertheless surrounded by orange trees and vines, the rice paddies being closer to the 'bidgee. A quick visit to DeBortoli's to check out the latest sticky and to buy a couple of 2 litre chateau cardboard for the trip to Darlington point. Supper again at the Top Pub and packing.
Wednesday the 22nd of November. Up at sparrow's fart, Rod gives a talk to the Narrandera High School year 11 pupils and flashes back to help pack the car and take everything back to the river. Back to Narrandera and Mark, of Riverina World Travel, takes him back to the camp site to peruse the kit. We are away at 13:30 and spend a leasurely 2 hours trolling, at last!!! Actually make 11 km. and the distance and time pass quickly. Paddle the last 9 km. to a great beach in the Narrandera State Forest and set up camp having made only 20 km. Off with the clothes and into the river with a chilled tinnie. Yahroooooo! Supper of cheese and pasta with a couple of water biscuits and a rather nice stilton polished off with a shatter card.
Thursday the 23rd of November. Lazy start as we had decided to get to Yanko weir and portage to a camp so we only had between 15 and 30 km. to do depending on who you trust. Visitors on the left bank so no lascivious besporting as of last night. Set up Mac in the shade and tapped out a couple of hours common page and send it off. Those of our lecturers who are disturbed by the lack of picture behind the thumb nails, do not be afraid. We have mailed off a ZIP to the lab so they will appear soon. The right bank cleared around 11:00 so off with the gear and into the water. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. Great day, clear sky and cool temperature, 24 degrees. Lunch and off at 13:30 with the wind up a bit and from the south west, where we are heading (more or less). Trolled for an hour and a half but with the head wind the dear wee motor was not happy and had to be helped removing it's raison d'etre somewhat. Up to Yanko weir and our a couple of hundred metres before to scout. Two large sluices with a gantry on the right branch. What we saw the other day was the left branch. Decided to move the canoe closer to the weir by hand and then unloaded the tent and portaged 200 to 300 metres to a site. Set up the tent, table and chairs and waited a half hour or so for the temperature to decrease. Whole lot done and soup on the stove by 19:30 having arrived at 17:00. Dinner of lamb cutlets, rice and veggies following a couple of tinnies from the fridge. Bloody things were still frozen! Some more stilton with fried bread this time, a glass of wine and chocies. Cool night with clear brilliant sky unsullied by the moon. Christine spots two satellites but Rod gets the shooting star which covered about 20 degrees before burning up. Getting cooler and into a warm bed after paddling the magnificent distance of 17 km.
Friday the 24th of November. Up a bit late , 08:15 and a hot day coming. Portage the equipment across to an earth bank of about 3 metres and gently get the canoe down and into the water (mud). Away at 11:30 and decide to go for the Euroley bridge, about 15 km. distant where there is an excellent beach and an agricultural college. Get there after 13 km. at about 13:15, beach the canoe and get into the nosh, cold meat, salami and bread rolls. And tea. Both of us went for a dip, this being Christine's baptism. About 1/2 hour after quitting the bridge we were trolling around a bend, Christine horizontal in the bows and Rod with his feet up in the stern when lo and behold, a man bearing a strange device, or rather, a strange device bearing a man. It was Klaus who we had been waiting to meet for some time, Christine especially. He was surrounded by a family of well wishers on a lovely beach. We pulled in and exchanged greeting cards and the jolly Bavarian greeting "Gruess Gott". He had been on the river since January, starting in Lake Alexandrina (South Australians have a soft heart for Queens!). The most recent stretch he started in July having spent 3 months in Mildura working and taking in the good life. His craft consisted of two of catamaran pontoons about 4 metres long separated by a couple of metres and covered with a semi-cylinder of shade cloth beneath which he sat, or rather reclined, in a sort of Chaise Longue whence he could pedal the two pedalo paddles in front. On one side was a complete swag of the water proof variety and arranged around, a single burner stove, a small solar panel for a light and the radio, and his dog. Rod dug a beer out of the fridge and we shared it while recounting tales of the rivers. He had also been down the Darling to Wentworth a couple of years ago and sang for a German band in the Barossa Valley (probably knew our revered director, Erich Weigold who hailed from the same region). After this pleasant interlude we headed of for Gogeldrie Weir, apparently a formidable portage since the river friendly department concerned has recently added automatic machine gun posts using cruise missile electronic recognition systems to spot canoes. We sunck along the left bank 'till close to the weir, pulled the gear out and got the canoe on the bank under a beaut casuarina where we pitched the tent. The weir is for the Sturt Canal which feed rice fields on the right bank, truly a strange site in the desert. So, being rather knackered, we had the leftovers from yesterday for supper, the cutlets and rice heated over, with a couple of chillies and the odd glass of red. Christine into bed around 22:00 and Rod gets out his super lamp to check the maps and see where we would be on the 14th of December, the day of the dreaded invited talk at the Australian Institute of Physics meeting in Adelaide. At the moment, it seems to be Maude Weir, so no hope of using the bloody mobile which we have spent so much time on, so we will probably resort to the old POTS. Into the pit before 23:00 having put another 28 km. behind us.
Saturday the 25th of November. Seeing as we only intended to do about 20 km. during the day we had a quiet morning until the portage started seriously having taken a number of bit up to the level of the weir. Another 150 metres, a 3 metre rock wall, mud flats, mud and then the river, or what was left of it. A small amount of water was let out from two sluices during the night but this morning there was barely a trickle. Got the canoe on the mud normal to the river and loaded rather quickly, pushed across the mud and into the water, for 500 metres! Christ, there was no-where to go with snags blocking the whole river. Christine suggested pulling across about 40 metres of low sand bank and the canoe was unloaded by about 50 kilos before the great effort. After the count of three we run like buggery pushing the canoe, knowing that to stop would be not to go again. Surprisingly, we succeed and reload the canoe and pull it to deeper water. In the first two hours we make 7 km. with all the stopping and pulling. Quick lunch and a swim and off again with a gradually diminishing river. Decide to call it a day after 17.5 km. at 17:00 and find a good beach with overhanging gums for shelter the next morning. Set up tent, relax, swim and wash and then a BEER! Christine does a bit of Chi-Kung but the mozzies are getting viscious in the evening so we start on food around 19:30 with a tomato soup, a pea and ham soup, rice and veggies and all the fillet steak so there would be some for tomorrow lunch. The mozzies have now concentrated all forces on us and, for the first time, we retreat into the vestibule of the tent for some peace. We decide that if the river has fallen still further then we will remain here 'till the irrigators stop sucking the blood out of our river.
Sunday the 26th of November. A watched river never rises. Well, during the night the river dropped about 30 cm. and we saw no way of continuing so with considerable resentment and chagrin we set about a rather maudlin breakfast. Rod felt it worst as, according to Christine, all was now out of his control, and so he busied himself with the tea, toasted muffins and the washing up left over from last night. All morning the river continued to drop at a depressingly steady rate and as the day got seriously hot we fell into a regime of reading (The Explorers for Rod and Lionheart for Christine) and then into the river for a refreshing dip. Fortunately, the tent was well situated under the riverside gums and the sun did not directly strike it until mid afternoon by which time it was like a sauna. Sounds of light planes for most of the day: apparently the rice is sown by plane so our lack of water may be the flooding of the rice paddies, hopefully it will not take long. Christine takes an interest in our riverine chums and catches a few shrimps using a mozzie net and some chicken skin. A quick boil or half of them (since the other half jumped out of the bucket and grilled on the sand) and they were really rather nice and sweet. Rod estimates the flow to be a couple of thousand litres per second, not very much. At about 17:30 the shade of the gums on the far side of the river moves across the water (a couple of metres) and starts to move along our sand bank toward the tent, a sign to move the table to the water's edge and the relative cool. The humidity seems to be always up both day and night. Soup by the river and then creamy carbonara with salami sticks, a surprisingly tasty dish. We try to do all the cooking and eating in the haitus between the aggresive biting blowies and bloody mozzies which have formed a loose coalition between the stupid stealth variety and the Zero attack bomber variety. Ten minutes of this and we are inside the vestibule again seriously considering plan B again (surfing at Byron Bay), at least until there is a guaranteed depth. Rod starts to calculate the price of hiring a light plane for the trip north but gives up and returns to punishing the red (with a rather nice chunk of rum and raisin). Many thought letters are written re the state of our river system and what are the rivers for, the people or the irrigators. Strangely enough, we have fresh Griffith orange juice in the fridge so the irony of the situation does not escape us. Last check on the river shows the same slow decrease although, perhaps, a little slower. We are finally decided that tomorrow we will walk into Darlington point and ring up to find out the plans for the river and water releases, especially from Gogeldrie Weir.
Monday the 27th of November. Woke at 06:30 and we both do our stretching exercises in bed. Out to check on the river and it is a couple of cm. lower than the last reading last night. Oh well, resigned that the die is cast we prepare for the walk across about 3 km. of bush to the road where we hope to hitch into town. For this hike we plan to take more drinking water than the previous time when we walked to Narrandera in the deadly heat. But, of course, the Great Juju has other plans for us as the river makes a startling volte face and begins rising like the clappers. At about 3 cm. per hour. Reassesment of plans and a quick reccie of the river downstream convince us that a wait 'till around early afternoon may well allow a recommencement of navigation. At 12:30 we have the canoe loaded and with the river about 10 cm. higher than when we arrived we scoot off for Darlington Point, 29.5 km. distant. The day is very hot and every hour or so we pull into a sand bank and swim fully clothed. It rapidly becomes clear that without the extra water we would not have been able to pass. Arriving at the camping ground at 18:30 we find all cabins booked (chiz chiz) so set up the tent in sweltering heat, take a cold shower and head across the bridge to the Punt Hotel, cold drinks and a late supper. Apparently it had been 39 degrees in Griffith and the pundits were laying odds for 41 in Adelaide in the morning.
Tuesday the 28th. As we have decided to take this day off we get up late at 08:00, shower and slowly move across to the pub for breakfast and the papers. The pub actually has good rooms for about $35 a double including breakfast. Order meat at the butcher to be frozen and picked up in the morning around 08:00 for the 8 to 10 day trip to Hay. Excitement at the pub as a helicopter hovers overhead and then circles the area. A drug bust apparently. Rather ominous clouds gathering for the forecast thunderstorms. Christine gets the thumbnail resizing of the photos ready to download at Hay in the comfort of the air-conditioned pub lounge. The locals seem to call the 'bidgee, the drainage ditch which goes up and down. Rod eventually gets the public phone to accept a phone card and checks out the lab and makes sure that Rhys is getting on with his masters thesis on stereo video over the web. He also rings Gogeldrie Weir to find out the release volume and is given the number of the chap with the COMPUTER which runs the whole schmozzle. It appears that today they are letting out 2.8 Glitres and 1.8 Glitres a day for the next 3 days which should be enough to keep the river navigable. At supper at the pub we fall in with the group from Lands and Water who are investigating the nocturnal habits of frogs in billabongs. Well, we have a considerable experience between us in the frightfull changes the evening wreaks in your typical frog but they were uneasy in sharing this information. They also suggested that the river could be called the irrigation canal. Now we have heard of colonic irrigation but it is likely they were alluding to something else. A really stinking, humid night with the kookaburra mozzie driving us mad. Xtine's grumpiness to its highest with the heat and subsequent stinking headache. We have a brief respite from the biting march flies and the mozzies evening and morning for an hour or so; they just arrived says the propriator of the caravan park.
Wednesday the 29th of November. Wake up at 06:00 and moving about at 06:20 for showers. Breckie, move everything out of the tent and start packing. Rod trots over the bridge to get the frozen meat and frozen chicken and some butter, cheeze etc for the fridge. Unfortunately, we had parked the boat in the shade and there were few ergs left in the battery causing the fridge to have a conniption and refuse to accept even the poor weakened electrons the battery could furnish. Away at 09:00 on a falling river with the intention of making 40 km. while we still had water. Current of 2 to 3 km. per hour and we average about 6.8 km. per hour as usual. Paddle for 2 hours (13 km.) rest with tea from the thermos and a swim, lunch at 25 km and another swim. At 39.2 km. we find a great beach around 17:00 and set up camg in the best spot yet. Dinner of crumbed lamb cutlets and fried rice, better than we make at home. Clouds hovering about the horizon and lightening with rumbles in the later evening. The temperature at 18:00 was 34 dropping to 30 degrees for most of the evening (stinking hot in the tent), this being governed by the water temperature of 30 degrees. Very hot and humid evening which cooled by false dawn.
Thursday the 30th of November. The false dawn at 05:00 also ushered in a storm and the rain started. Bugger, bugger, bugger. Oh well, lie back in the cool and wait 'till 06:00 to see if it has eased off. Of course it has and all is brightness and light in this greatest of all possible worlds (thanks for the quote Bertie). Up, up and away at 08:40, a record and into a grumbly sky which sooner rather than later fulfills its promise and pours on us. On with the wet gear and start roundly cursing the great Juju. Oh, and the god of wind too. Things settle down around midday and we have lunch and a swim and paddle off to a fate nearly worse than death. Which occured toward the end of the last paddle when we were negotiating a particularly nasty snag, or a bunch of them actually, they are very gregarious, snags. Christine sweeps left, Rod powers right and a quich block to the left and we are through a small opening with only a few twigs in Rod's angelic face then suddenly, the canoe lifts, Christine throws her paddle in the air and jerks backward and Rod's plan B passes before his eyes as a nasty graunch type sound moves down the hull. Oh shit, now we are for it! Christine screams that she did not see the snag and neither did Rod even with the knowledge that it was there as we passed. The water was flowing at about 2 km. per hour and very turbid with a visibility of 5 cm. at best. Sneaky bastard of a stealth snag, worse than the traditional stealth snag which hides itself in the barby on the last picnic of the year only to welcome you with a wrinkled grin six months later. We pull into the closest sand bank and send down an investigation team who discovers a new rail along the bottom about 3 mm. Deep and a cm. wide pushed into the kevlar/foam ribbing. No break however, even in the gel coat so we have a celebratory cup of hot tea and a couple of chockie biscuits. Into camp on another beach at 16:45 having covered 39.8 km. Camp all up in 3/4 hour with the soup ready. Receive a visit from a couple of fishermen who are getting ready for the opening of the season on Murray Cod. Pleasant chat which is somewhat enlivened as Christine has been relaxing a bit without trousers and is surreptitiously trying to slink into a pair of shorts without being noticed. Dinner is the last two crumbed lamb cutlets and fried potatoe slices with the six other cutlets being cooked for tomorrow. Great warm evening and a last legal fire before the general ban starts in December.
Friday the 1st of December. Wind up in the night and the temperature down. Up just after 06:00 with a cool clear day which changes to a windy cloudy day. The solar panels are proped up to get the morning sun and unfortunately one catches the wind and rips the rivets out of the mount leaving a single mount holding the panel onto the universal receiver. Will have to see to that tonight. Strong southerly with high cirrus zooming across the sky. After this rather ominous start the tent gets blown down and the water bucket goes into the river with Christine having to retrieve it with her shoes on, Rod being occupied with the web page. By 08:30 there is a general grumpiness all round which is not helped by bashing into a second snag after about half an hour down the river. These are all stealth jobs as the river flows now at no more than 2 km. per hour, a great change from Gundagai where we had up to 8 km. per hour. Where has all the water gone, long time a passing, Where has all the water gone, we have no flow, Where has all the water gone, Gone to irrigators by the ton, When will we ever learn When........ The next slews us sideways and the next two just give a big bumps. The kevlar seems to be holding out anyway. Paddling against the southerly is tough as it is a 2 to 3 gusting to 4 and perhaps 5 pushing up some good waves. Xtine gets hyperfrustated by the wind channeling between the river bank predominently against us despite some Pi changes of direction in the meanders. We get to a beaut little beach close to Carathool at Pinkers Beach and get the tent up with 38.5 km. done in rather trying conditions (that day we surely went up a level as canoists). We passed a lot of fishermen all trying for cod but no one with any luck. Ashore at 17:00, we are trying to do a 9 to 5 on the water, we get the tent up, the soup on and, having decided to glue the hinge back onto the panel, hitting it with the leatherman not working, the repair kit is pulled from the bottom of the green everything bag and a brew got up with the resin using a lot of accelerator. Onto the hinge and lo and behold it seems to work. It is back on the boat after an hour. Get the dinner started, fried 'tatties with dried veggies (rehydrated) and the chops from last night reheated. Halfway into this culinary delight a group of three guys pull up in a boat (fortunately, Christine has her dacks on) and by pressing large amounts of stubbies on Rod (and a soft fizzy drink to Xtine), get a guided tour of the facilities which pleases us both to have people take an active interest. They push off around 19:30 in search of supper promising to return later. We have our waiting nosh and decide not to waste the good beer which providence has so kindly provided while awaiting our benefactors return. Thanks chaps, it was really appreciated, may your cods be enormous. As this does not eventuate by 22:00, we hit the sack, sure enough to be awakened 3 1/2 hours later by the brum brum and searchlight of our chums. Well, there is a limit to neighbourliness, to I perused from the shadows while having a pinkel and checked the water level. Our stick showed that there had been a drop of about 10 to 15 cm., not the 8 inch rise direly predicted by our chums, thank god.
Saturday the 2nd of December. On each packing, a tent increases in volume by delta t. Up just after 06:00 to a bright cool morning with the sun still below the river bank. Rod moves the canoe and props up the solar panels (which seem to have accepted the repair) to catch the first rays as the Mac needs some new electrons. Light easterly blowing and narry a cloud in the sky or upon our brows. Bloody mozzies everywhere though. Decided to profit from the great conditions and paddle for 2 1/2 hours and get 15 km. away before we halt at 11:00 for the blessed cup ot tea. The thermos was a seriously good thing to take with us as it contains 1.25 litres and we both share the sweet black tea at breaks. We pass a variety of animals, a lot of feral sheep looking severely crook with their tails not docked, birds everywhere and Fred has returned along with duck, duck duck and bubbles a menage a trois of wood ducks which have stayed just ahead of us for the past three days. A cloud of eagles (or kites) arise from the trees on seeing us, must have been about 3 dozen. The spoonbills tag along although the crested grebes have forsaken us, preferring their willows to the gum trees which are our constant companions now. As it is the week-end we pass numbers of fishermen in boats and camped in large groups on the high banks, their aluminium boats (caisse a savon) pulled up on the dry mud. The forests of river reds pass and occasionally we see huge grey kangaroos which bound off before we can get the camera out of its wet bag. Around a bend and we surprise a family of foxes which do get photographed. Australian fox tails were highly prized in Europe in the '70s and the necessary hunting helped keep the population down until BB (bloody berk) got the "Ban the Animal Skin" movement going and the hunting stopped and fur coats were not kosher. Of course, without the fur, leather jackets were now becoming all the rage. It's enough to make you spit! Passing the campers a group of children swim out to the canoe and ask if we are paddling around the world. We answer, "No, only through Australia to Adelaide" and they reply, "can we come with you" swimming like crazy to try to catch us. But Rod, ever ready to repel boarders (or even day boys, you know what private schools are like) slips the mighty Itasca into hyper drive, revs up the neuro-gluon plasma thrusters and zooms into Gamma Sector (why oh why is it always Gamma Sector Cap'n?). Four more scrapes on snags but we are becoming rather sanguine now and biff on regardless. The draw bridge at the Carathool road is worth a look if you happen to be passing, it must have been made for the navigable period and still seems to be in good nick. A similar bridge was to Darlington Point 'till the '70s when it was removed to the caravan park (!) and a new boring concrete bridge constructed to take the considerable semi trailor trafic to Leeton and Griffith. After paddling 37.5 km. we find an east facing beach and start pitching camp around 16:30. We are into the 4th night and look like getting to Hay with one more bivouac so we decide to cook the rest of the meat in the fridge which is now marinating in a pool of blood. Pump up the Coleman, get out the steaks, Hey Diddle Diddle, Spagetti al Dente with Parmesan cheese (next sentence censured by Xtine). All day we have been plagued with the sound of a crop plane which seems to have been following us since Narrandera. The mysterious booms continue also, we guess to keep the birds away from the aerial seeded fields. A small comfort fire and a couple of glasses of red keep us happy as we watch the sky in search of a satellite and meteor, a ritual we do every evening, even at the coast. As it turns out Rod spies a magnificent meteor, tells Christine who sees it destruction into two balls and then extinction. We chat about the great cosmic all (awl?) 'till 23:00 and pack it in.
Sunday the 3rd. A north easterly blowing with a bit of force which will be at our backs. As it seems clear that we can reach Hay in 6 days (5 nights) we start splurging with the stores and get stuck into the Goulburn Valley Fruit Salad packs and the tetra packs of OJ. Early morning paddling we notice that Fred is back and Rod notices that his right ankle has cancer or is trying to grow another foot but this, however, is an old injury resulting from a lack of attention. At lunch, on returning from the boat with Rod's shoes, Christine steps on a bee and gets stung so we now are both lumpy in the foot department. The forests are thinning out and sheep are replacing cattle so the river banks, which here are about 5 metres high, are devoid of vegetation for the most part. On the tight side of the meander, the banks are low and muddy with the occasional sandy beach and it is in this environment we normally find a camping place. Christine has become expert in spotting probable spots on the map and generally she is spot on. Lots of large grey kankaroos in these areas and their tracks are quite plane in the sand. Try to ring ahead to Hay to get a cabin in the caravan park, but the vodafone has moved from "No Network" to "SOS calls only" which means "Silly Operating System" we assume. Vodafone have assured us that they are good then Telstra is bad and vice-versa. Sounds like a load of cobblers but I guess the sanctimonious people who staff "Human Relations" know what they are saying! Trolled for 1/2 an hour which was really fun but not much direct sun for most of the day and the panels were getting only 1/3 on the normal photon flux. Gamma sector on strike in all probability. As 17:00 rolls on we get a bit anxious in finding a sandy site as the meanders have wide radii and there are a lot of rather straight stretches. Finally, by keeping the faith, we chance across a possy with a westering aspect and laying our thanks before the keeper of divine intervention we bung up the tent in record time and settle down for a quiet read before nosh. Christine is reading Lionheart and Rod, The Explorers (which was LENT to him by Henry, not actually given), both of which are germain to our situation but in somewhat more dire situations. Supper is spag with the bol we made last night and very good it is too, we both eat large portions and get back to the books and read 'till the sun is really below the horizon. The mozzies from the two stagnant pools behind us start their initial attack driving Christine indoors and, eventually, Rod too. Today we travelled 38.8 km.
Monday The 4th. Another great day with NE to SE winds predicted and 32 degrees. The daily routine is settling into a rhythm with stretching for 15 minutes in bed and then Rod gets the stove out and puts on the water for tea while getting the OJ from the fridge (which is sulking as it has detected a battery voltage below 11.7 V and decided to call it a day until the new electrons arrive from the panels later in the morning). Christine deflates the mattresses and packs away the sleeping bags and PJs then we both get the gear out of the tent and onto a ground sheet next to the canoe ready for easy stowage. As the tea is brewing for the thermos we pump (like the Shadocks we pump) about 4 litres of water with the Katadyne filter. Tea away, it is on with the toast which does well directly on the griddle on the Coleman stove, Rod for Vegemite today and Christine for a huge lump of cheese in place of the jam and a piece of cake. Gradually get stuff to the canoe and at about 07:45 Rod gets the Mac and Christine starts her Chi-Kung for the next half hour. We try to get away by 08:30 but normally we drop about 10 minutes with mucking around, skin jel, and 30+ protection on all exposed parts. And then away with the speed of a startled turtle. The fridge desulks in about an hour with its happy hum of compressor. Clear sky looking at 33 degrees or so and the wind generally from the NE. We have estimated 44 km. to Hay which will make it a long day, probably arriving around 18:00 at the caravan park which we have been trying to contact for the last few days in order to reserve a delux super GT jaccusi (the French chap?) cabin. Alas, all this high tech kit was of little use as VODAFONE, which is an acronym for Very Often Doesn't Answer FONE, has a service coverage which beggars description. As usual, when the company is not Australian owned, they see little profit in providing service except to the high profit town areas. We have had VODAFONE for 3 years and although it seems to take two years for the company to get a return on each phone, their coverage seems to have remained constant at rotten. We troll for half an hour mid morning at about 4 km. per hour, having a flow of about one km. per hour, this being slower than our paddling which has improved to 5.5 km. per hour as our fitness increases. Still, it is great fun to biff along on the sun's energy and watch the forest go by at a slow trot, Christine especially appreciated the trolling as she is a child of the damp cold windy hills of Brittany whereas Rod was brought up to the north of Adelaide and is no stranger to the true Ozzy summer. As the sun is doing his job and pumping dem ole electrons in the panels we troll again for an hour in the early afternoon which is excellent for surprising the wild life and we managed a couple of fairly spiffy pics. Fred has returned for the last couple of days and we pass withing 3 metres this time. The Grebes also seem to be back, arising from the willows with squarks a bit like a chook. Christine spies a small red kangaroo which turns out to be a bloody big eagle having a stroll along the bank. Behind were a few grey kangaroos. The river is slow and seems to have fallen 30 cm. in the past couple of days, the mud which is deposited has a most curious pong which is vaguely offensive, like unwanted in-laws, or John Laws for that matter. As it turns out, we have overestimated the distance by quite a bit and we get to Hay after 32.6 km. Moor the boat on a mud covered bank and go searching for the caravan park which is about a couple of hundred metres distant and, hooray hooray, they do have the delux vans with en-suites so we snaffle one for $46.50 and Rod heads back to the river to get our bags and secure the canoe (by that time Xtine's has developed elephantitus from the bee sting). Rod sees a chap intent on the garden of a house he is building ajoining what looks like a reserve on the lower flood plain. As it turns out, he is a Hay boy who has been living in Forster for some years and is now returned to his "pays maternel" to build his dream house on the 'bidgee. Apparently, through ancient title he claims the bush (including the numerous venimous brown snakes) between his house and a line in the middle of the river. Curious. Anyway, he offers to take us to the canoe in his ute and help us back with the kit while we move the canoe closer to the caravan park and pull it up the bank onto his land where he reckons it will be safer. Into the cabin, on with the air conditioner and into the shower. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. The park owner is kind enough to take us the couple of km. to town for supper which he suggests we have at a pub/bistro where the owner owes him 50 bucks, but not to say who suggested it. Barramundi for Christine and sea perch for Rod, both very good. Later in the bar where Rod was having an espresso and a cognac a fellow at the bar turns out to be from Adelaide and works for Coopers, a family owned brewery most Australians are proud of. We return by taxi with a slab of VB to the cabin and settle down to a stay of a few days waiting for a ZIP to arrive from the lab with Rod's talk and the program for downloading the GPS tracks. This will be sort of the first w/e for a couple of weeks where we can put things in order, except the bloody Vodafone which has its traditional message at full strength now "SOS calls only". Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme bloody chose.
Tuesday the 5th of December. Rest day so we gradually get out of bed and muck about in the cabin 'till midday then cook up some of the SB and do more on the web page. A quick swim in the pool and we start to walk out of the caravan park toward Hay around 18:00 and pass the owner who says, "Look I could take you into town but it would be much easier if you took the ute", he chucks us his keys and with a feeling of great thankfullness we proceeded into town. Rod had been in contact with the local newspaper editor who was also associated with Rotary who were luckily, meeting in the New Crown Hotel that evening and were at that very moment having a quiet beer before the meeting started at 18:30. Their pres., Ian Painter invited us to join them at dinner and to present a synopsis of our journey before the meeting proper. He was also the principal of the Hay Public School (primary) which had recently has an ISDN fast line installed which he invited us to use over the next couple of days. His wife teaches at the Hay War Memorial High School and Rod got her name for a visit the next day. The dinner went well with lots of questions from, surprise surprise, a number of the women members. Things have progressed. We drive gack to the cabin and Christine gets into the Mac to do her web page and Rod wanders over to a nearby cabin with a tinnie to talk to a couple of chaps who evinced an interest in our trip. Apparently the story had got around that a local land owner had run us off his plot most unceremoniously; the reality, of course was something else but this is a small town........ They are building a pool for someone in town so we get into the amber liquid for an hour or so before they notice they had not eaten. Rod, not wishing to lose such good drinking companions, offers to cook up the rest of the SB which they scoffed with relish. Not relish actually, but a bot of Poet's Corner, a not too bad red. As usual, the talk got to politics and religion but in one's cups all is forgiven (or forgotten) the next morning.
Wednesday the 6th of December. Receive a visitor from the Riverine Grazier who interviews us about the trip, life, the universe and everything. She then takes us the 3 km. into town where we ensconse ourselves at "Our Coffee Lounge" with the paper and some coffee and nosh. By the miracle of belief, the two ZIP discs which Rhys posted yesterday have arrived at the hyper cute post office so we kick of the day with major arse. Taking advantage of the kind offer of Ian, we move to the Public School and are welcomed and shown to a room with an ISDN line, wonder of wonders. Christine gets the Mac connected and starts her travail while Rod trots off to the Hay War Memorial High School to see if they would like a couple of talks over the next couple of days. The persistent Kate from ABC radio Victoria (except Melbourne and Geelong!) had left a message at the Public School but a digit was missing from the 8 necessary rendering the reply ineffectual. Arriving at HWMHS Rod is met with quizical regard by Anne Ovens, the wife of Ian with the news that the huntress Kate had even tried there only 5 minutes ago. A quick telephonic communication (POTS of course) allows an interview to be set up next morn at 09:50. The principal and Rod had been in contact by e-mail while Rod was trying to get some funding for outreach moving the WEDGE along with the canoe and demonstrating to the regional schools. Unfortunateley this fell through. "Chacun sa merde!". The principle proposed picking the pair of pooped paddlers at 08:45 so that Christine could continue with the Mac at the Public School while Rod addresses the pupils at the high school. Years 9 history and geography, year 11 physics and the school assembly (250 pupils) at midday. Oh my, what will he say? A walk to the railway station which ceased to operate in 1983 but has been restored by "Work for the dole scheme" then down to the amazing court house, an Italianesque brick cloister construction which is still operational; drink driving, resisting arrest, restraining orders, domestics, all the problems which become obvious in a small town but are commonly brought on by a lack of the readies and a social system which is being reduced by a powerful right wing government and a prime minister who will not even live in Canberra. Bugger 'em all we say. A quick nosh in the Riverina Pub of a great salad of king prawns and back early to the cabin for the web site. Interestingly, Rod finds that many know of Prednisolone in these outback towns attesting the power of the allergens generated in a farming community. These reactions are a true bastard and reduce one to a quivering heap ready to exchange anything for a clear lungfull of air as your partner watches you go white and then grey. Still, as Douglas Adams admonishes us, DON'T PANIC and you will survive. Probably.
Thursday the 7th of December. Cool cloudless day and we wait to be picked up. Arrive at the HWMHS for Rod and Christine toddles into town to do some shopping for food and to get back to the Public School and get on line again. The minutes skip happily away for the students of year 9 geog and history as they listen to the mad Prof. from Canberra explaining the EPR paradox and the various quantum concepts of reality, viz, does your grant go away if you close your eyes. Interrupted by a call from the ABC, he will be interviewed just after they finish with a slot on ecological flows in Australian rivers, especially regarding a recent report from Victoria encouraging more free flow. Then on to the paddling gourmet who blathers on for his 5 minutes of glory about the contents of the fridge, all thoughts of quantum electrodynamics gone. Then it is off to talk to the year 11 physics guys, 3 garcons et une fille. Used the canoe with all the high tech to talk about PVs and their manufacture using plasma processing, how a sail works, the GPS, the contribution of Arab intellectuals in 13th century France, blah, blah, blah. The school assembly is a midday but the school song is not sung as the singing mistress is away. The HWMH School is a living memorial to those who served in the first world war and was paid for by public subscription, the locals prefering a school rather than a memoral arch. Good thinking!! It is orientation day for the final year primary pupils (year 6) and they are amongst the 250 odd in the hall, all of whom are whipped into silence and given a pep talk about the history of the school. Then it is award of merit cards interspersed with skits performed by a couple of the young ladies. Rod gives a 5 minute condensed version of his philosophy and nips out the back way to pick us the ute and subsequently Christine who had been at the local hospital seeing a medico about her bee sting and spots on the hand. All was well and the spots were due not to the sun but to the 30+ used to block the sun. She is now back to zinc. The foot, unfortunately, had to be amputated but they had a very nice wooden one left over from a gymcana which with a bit of TLC came up a treat. Rod found her hobbling down the road clutching a bottle of formaldehyde containing the late foot. It had been with her for so long that she could not bear to part with it just yet. Hy ho and off to town for some lunch and phone calls. Bump into the editor of the Riverine who wants a photo of us leaving, preferably with the sail up. We arrange to meet early Saturday morning. Setting of a bit late we head to Hay weir and find it is not too bad. Half an hour later we are at Maude, a village of 60 pesons and find the razor wire back requiring a portage on the left opposite the beautiful picnic areas and facilities. Check out the general stoor and find they have basic veggies and frozen meat and then to the pub and arrange accommodation for a couple of days. Oxley is a name which holds great fascination, being on the Lachlan river with the association with explorers. It is actually not there really except for a hand painted sign about a restaurant which was not open at the time, two street lights and a Telstra telephone. Oh well, we saw the river anyway. The bitumen gives way to dirt as we head for Balranald, 90 km. distant. About half way we see a turnoff of the Redbank weir and head down for a squiz. The track leads through canals and beautiful wetland with tons of birds until we arrive at the weir, another of the concentration camp variety but with a gate this time which we can use. In one of the houses adjacent, a chap who is renting tells us that it is basically a PoP from Maude to the weir as the river is near the top of the banks and is easily navigable. It is getting late so we flash off to Balranald passing Lake Yango (fed from the 'bidgee) which was used for flying boat practice during the IInd world war. The van park is on the river and we quiz the owners about a cabin in a week or so. Difficult as it is high season we will have to see. Back to Hay to be a bit late for dinner with Ian, Anne and a couple of friends. The latter were organizing a tour of the outback for 22 people for 3 weks and had come across the problem which we all face in these circumstances: planning the hooch! As a minimum necessary to maintain life and sanity they had calculated 250 kilos of red, about the same of spirits for the aperitivs and the problem of the port had not yet been addressed. Rod commiserated and immediately started recalculating our rations for the trip. Off to bed a bit late and slept well.
Friday the 8th of December. Most of today needs to be spent getting ready for the trip assuming we buy very little in Maude. Shopping in the morning then Christine starts her battle with the Mac and getting all the photos onto a ZIP while Rod drives to "One Tree" a pub made famous in a poem by Banjo Patterson which is about 40 km. to the north. Apparently the present owners will neither restor it of let others do the necessary work so it has fallen into sore disrepair. The surrounding country is FLAT with virtually no trees and a soft brown soil supporting saltbush and spinifex but no sheep to be seen. On returning the car Rod finds that he was not told about the kilometre charge, another $55 on top of the $100 rent and the $60 for petrol. Christine has by now gnawed most of her leg off and the Mac has crashed more often than a Nobel prize winning hedge fund. Rod hovers. Off to town in the afternoon to post the ZIP to Rhys, have a coffee, check the email at the Public School and call to see if John Love is still OK to meet us at Hay weir tomorrow. Supper in a new roadhouse close to the caravan park, the owner once again lending us his ute, and we try the kangaroo filets in a port wine and mustard sauce along with Ruberto's Cab Shiraz, the local vigneron which though being a bit too stalky for Rod was a good drop. Suffered again later in the cabin as we tried to download the track from the Garmin GPS and find after a couple of hours that only the last 3 days were there and all else had been lost. The memory must have come from an Apple II. Bugger. Go to bed feeling frustrated. No kilometres travelled but the river has risen about 50 cm.
Saturday the 9th of December. Getting everything ready is a bit of a strain but most is down at the boat by 09:00. Rod from the Riverine Grazier is there for a photo op. and watches other Rod stick his hand on a piece of (rusty of course) barbed wire. Ho ho, what a great start for the day. Off and away on a very high river, about a metre higher than when we arrived and the banks look completely different as all the mud is covered and the water is level with the grassy top of the bank. Like a normal river. Seeing as we have an easterly breaze, we hoist the sail and zoom down the river with the wind at our backs. Riverine Rod shoots off another couple of pics from a possy on the bank and we are back to the wilderness. The guys from Lands and Water we met in the Punt at Darlington Point wish to know how many trees have fallen into the river recently going down to Hay weir. We count about a dozen but none in the pool before the weir which was only installed 18 years ago. Previous to that date the water was transparent and sandy beaches lined the banks. The weir has provided continuous water but taken much from the river. Approaching the weir we see the wet lands and state forrest that were previously too high, or rather, we were too low and the scene is very pretty. We can actually moor the canoe for lunch and eat right next to it. Lunch on the grass as it were. Half sailing, half paddling we get to the weir before 16:00, portage the canoe and associated gear and set up the tent in the picnic ground. John Love, a colleague in Optical Sciences who has been working together with Rod for yonks arrives at 18:00 (with a bag of cherries and a loaf of Joe's bread from Canberra) and gratefull sinks a coldie from the fridge. He is on his way to Adelaide and will front Rod's talk in case of catastrophies. Whipping an old grey sock out of his bag he produced a 1990 bot of very good Cab. Sav. which was consumed with lamb cutlets and fried tatties. He bears interesting news from the ANU and that our student has been offered enormous sums of loot to go to Silicon Valley. Arrrhh. It wasn't like that in my day, you had to grovel and work like buggery simply to pay for the gruel and bread and dripping in the local doss house. We receive a visit from a tall gangly chap in a 20 year old orange Nissan. He does not like people so he comes to the weir but he had heard of us. One of his eyes is only operating at 20% he tells us. John leaves so as to get to Balranald at a decent time. Early bed with 27 km. traveled.
Sunday the 10th of December. Up a bit late as we have about 80 km. to cover to Maude and the talk is late on Thursday so we decide to take our time and cover about 20 to 25 km. per day. Wonder of wonders, there is a loo in the picnic ground which flushes and has paper. Thanks people of Hay! The rest of the portage turns out to be more onerous than expected and we are fairly covered with sweat when we check out the canoe and a few things we portaged last night. Deception!!!! No trolling motor, all the wet gear, both life jackets, Christines reef sandals and shorts, the tarp, 2 folding water buckets and 2 packs of orange juice ($900 all added up). To top this, the water below the weir is rather rough and the boat bucks about causing the repair on the solar panel to break. Finally get away at 11:00. Being robbed brings out the worst in one and evil thoughts filled the canoe. Christine surprised Rod with her absolutely fluent imitation of a warfie's reaction on being told he is not on a shift. The air was as blue with curses as the sky which had decided to turn on a hot one. Silence reigned most of the day but we found a reasonable sandy beach and settled in after 24 km. Grumble, grumble moan moan. The disbelief had moved through depression and rapidly into anger but now we were getting to acceptance. What would someone do with our stuff, flog it? use it themselves? It was not very useful as everything was specifically for a purpose so we thought that the poor ------- ------- (whoever it was) was a bit unhinged and consequently more to be pitied than censured: until we get to Maude of course when we alert the police, the Riverine Grazier etc. Hot night and more on the way.
Monday the 11th of December. My sister's birthday. Christine is weathering the loss of the kit better than Rod who is in a blue funk and will not get out of bed until the sun striking the tent at 08:00 makes it impossible to remain within. Breakfast and get away a bit before 11:00 into a warm day with a westerly which strengthens and gets warmer throughout the day. WE are paddling against it for most of the day and it becomes very hot requiring the putting on of water every 1/2 hour, which evaporated from our shirts and pants after 10 minutes. Having covered 23 km. we settle on camping high on top of the river bank which has a shelving muddy shore to haul the canoe onto. The latter is important as it allows us to pack and unpack with relative ease. Into the water and to hell with the mud, ah, lovely. By 20:00 we have finished dinner and the temperature is 38/39, after the sun has set, with a stinking hot northerly blowing from the centre. By 2:00 the temperature has dropped to 36 and we hit the sack all but naked with the lightning flashing occasionally.
Tuesday the 12th of December dawns cooler and clear. We sleep in 'till 07:00 and then get the show on the road for the last stretch to Maude where we have decided to stay with the canoe and the tent rather than going to the pub. The mozzies are still out in legions, last night was the worst so far and there were dozens in the tent vestibule. Wind from the SW to SE during the day and with the meanders we had more with than against. The day warms up and we have lunch on the top of the river bank which now that we are in the pond before the Maude weir is near the river level. Bloody mozzies though. The river is broad here with no visible snags and lots of abandoned shacks, one bearing the sign "Hotel". Approaching the weir after 24.7 km., there is more wetland and more dead drowned trees which stick up from the water like a skeletal hand searching Excalibur. A lot of scum on the water showing the lack of flow includes plastic bottles and the odd car tyre. Portage close to the weir and get camp set up by 18:00 then into the pub, a 15 minute walk along a track and over the bridge. Chat to the locals who have dire predictions about the amount of water below the weir and one chap, who works on an irrigated farm, says they can pull 500 Megalitres out per day. Fish squares, dim sims and a bowl of chips are rustled up for supper and then we move back to the tent with a beautiful sunset. Tomorrow will be an easy day as Rod has his talk Thursday at 17:15 Adelaide time (17:45 in Maude) at the end of the day as the organisers do not have great faith in the success of the project. A quick sip of beer and off to massage the mattress.
Wednesday the 13th of December. If a tree falls in a forest and no-one hears it because they have earplugs, will it kill you? Get up at 08:00, forget back exercises and decide to return to bed for more kip 'till 09:00. Get act together, position solar panels with battery and fridge, make a list to supplement the list we gave to the Maude store last night to buy in Hay today and trot to the Maude pub with all the electronics, the Katadyne and the paddles, once bitten........... Christine downloads the photos from the last few days and we decide which will go on the web while Rod has a shower in the ammenities associated with the pub. We call the Hay police who will return the call when they get back from a job! This turns out to be a long time and when Rod rings them back a few hours later they eventually come at 18:00, apparently they have a lot on their plate and are probably understaffed. Young Scott listens attentively and assures us that he will have a look at the scene of the crime and sniff about. During this time the pub had gone a bit quiet with the locals carefully not looking in our direction. Normal reaction to the forces of law and order from a small community which generally looks after itself. Earlier we had showered but the water pump was cactus so it was a dribble rather than a shower; still, a lot better than nothing. Same problem with the washing machine so most was done by hand. Christine battles with the web page and Rod gets the gos from the locals. A call to Boyd Blackwell for a test over the PA in the lecture hall shows that all is well except for a 1/2 second echo which buggers up the feedback circuit in the brain something terrible. Initially the gold Telstra phone was also crook but the great physicist, undaunted by this manifestation of Ziggy's country maintenance, gives it a christ almighty thump (having asked permission to carry out a small scientific test first) and receives a 50 cent and a dollar coin. Seeing he was onto a good thing, this precise manouvre was repeated a couple of more time with similar results resulting in a net profit of $3. Having been de-constipated the apparatus worked like a charm. Back to the tent in daylight and a relatively mozzie free night. Around 22:00 started a creaking which rapidly developed into a rending crashing smashing breaking bloody great thumping, the latter being a humungeous river red falling to ground about 60 metres away from the tent combined with the effect of a couple of pints of adrenalin pumping through our hearts. Rod refused to exit from under the sleeping bag (the temperature being quite cool actually) so the stalwart Bretonne did a Captain Scott and nicked outside for a squiz. There was no wind and this was not a result of riverbank erosion as the tree was some 10s of metres from the river. If the pesky Vodafone had been working we would have called any evangelical organisation and joined. As expected it wasn't so we didn't.
Thursday the 14th of December. Investigated the tree which actually had detached itself so was more correctly a branch. But big. About 1.5 metres in diameter big. In its progress to ground it knocked out another river red of 50 cm. in diameter. The whole scene was devastation over 500 square metres. And only 60 metres from the tent! This was all the talk in the pub later as Nola, the owner, had heard it fall from 500 metres away and was worried; the widdow makers they call them. The story goes that the will withstand all wind forces but when it is hot and still, craaaaaaack and down it goes. Worked around the house in the morning, Rod checking some of a student's thesis and Christine mucking about with the small necessaties which make a tent a ti-pi. Found that the handle for the fridge had split at the corner (actually both corners) so used a bent tent peg and a strip of kevlar tape to epoxy it back together, sort of. It works for the moment so we will see. Bad design fault though so we will have to abuse them when we return. Finished off the chicken for lunch and of to the pub for a shower. Picked up supplies from the general store, they had been to Hay the previous day to get them for us, and back to camp to cook up 1/2 kilo of mince into a good bag sauce which should last a few days. Cook rice and add corn and mushrooms for the salad for lunch. Back to the pub to prepare for the Adelaide talk; the call is received at 17:30 that we will be on the air in 15 minutes so Rod downs his shandy in one and quickly orders another. At the appointed moment (plus 5 minutes keeping Rod on tenterhooks) we start with an excellent connection and the talk goes well, John Love with his lap top showing all the viewgraphs and Boyd actually presenting the powerpoint slides through a projector. Numerous questions about the weather and a couple of serious ones from a large audience. Wow, that is now done and we are free. They are only letting out 380 Mlitres from Maude and about the same from Redbank so that there will be 300 Mlitres at Balranald. This is close to the navigation limit and the blokes at the pub all forecast dire results and suggest we stay there 'till winter and the river fills. Early back to camp, nosh the SB which is left over and spend a very pleasant evening, a cool one as the temperature falls to about 12 with a SE breeze.
Friday the 15th of December. Up at 06:30, pack, eat, get eaten by the mozzies and off around 09:30 with the aim of getting to Nap Nap homestead by evening: they apparently welcome travellers. The dire prognostications of the pub dwellers seem to have a soupcon of verity in them as we are pushing off sand banks for the first few kilometres. Also, there are clay shelves and shoals with embedded sharp stones which have to be watched for, especially with the low flow we have at the moment. The river soon settles down to be a very slow flowing pool interspersed with some nasty snags. Some of the snags have been sawn to allow passage, whether a few years or a century ago is difficult to tell. We get to Nap Nap around 13:00 and since all is going well we decide to fonce like the clappers, followed by a relation of Fred who is somewhat darker in the feather department. Eagles, kites, spoonbills, egrets, grebes, ducks, swallows, kookaburras and some bloody bird which goes "To to to toto toee" but slightly flat which drives Christine to distraction. She hopes it is not Fred,her favourite bird. Great day, clear with a sort of cool southerly breeze and we leave the noises of the road behind feeling we are actually in the bush. Lots of wild pigs and the intermittent boom boom which we have been hearing all along and which we now think must really be hunters. Saw Emus for the first time. Decide to stop around 17:30 having covered 36.4 km. in 6 1/2 hours of paddling at an average of 5.5 kph with a flow below 1/2 kph. We seem to have increased our speed by about 10% and the endurance by a factor of two. Once again we come upon a sand bank and there make our little nest, after a couple of choobs, icy cold from the fridge. Sunset is now about 20:30 and all is finished, washing up as well by 21:00, last light. Our trusty fluoro light is finally showing signs of exhaustion and will need new batteries in Balranald which we have great hopes of reaching in 4 days, as long as no-one starts playing silly buggers with the water. By taking a sock out of the shoe of the Man With The Grey Flannel Sock, we decide to put one of Rod's socks outside each of the Nalgene 1 litre drink bottles. Not surprisongly, the magic of latent heat of evaporation gets to work and we now have cool drinks during the day. The socks, unfortunately, gradually concentrate the essence of Bidgee, a pong referred to a number of times in this story. Thanks to John Love for the stimulation and the wine which he brings to Marinetti's Resto every Tuesday. In a grey flannel sock. Really!
Saturday the 16th of December. Alarm set to 05:50 so that we get off at 08:30 and not at 08:40. Stretch, decide bed is GOOD but arise to greet another clear cool day. Actually get off at 08:10 and paddle into a still cool day for 12 km., No flow now to speak of as we are basically in the Redbank pond. Our average is down to 5 kph at cruise mode although we could put that up to 6 kph for 1/2 hour or so. See lots of wild pigs, black buggers rooting around at the water's edge, black swans, emus, kangaroos, raptors, pellicans and Fred returns and is quite cheeky zooming in across our bows. Black Fred is also there. They seem to get on OK. Pass some sort of bush camp with cabins, caravans lights, may be for the workers in the irrigation fields. Once again it seems that we have overestimated the distance (along with the guide books) and we are nearer the weir than we think. The river is higher up the banks now and there are no more beaches of sand to lunch on so we pick a likely spot on the right bank, hot as buggery and a little shade. Eat quickly and get off again in 3/4 hour to a sweltering day with little wind, gasp, sweat. The highlight of the day is the junction with the Lachlan river which we find quite easily as it is where marked on the map. It is not really flowing but has a metre or so of water in it as far as we could see. We can not resist paddling up the Lachlan for a couple of minutes to take some pictures. So we are now with Sturt, though a bit slower methinks. Still, he did not have to try to get a digital phone and a computer to talk together or have so many pubs to check out. Rack up 34.5 km. and find a bank which has some promise. Tie up to the roots of a river red which seems not to be in a falling over mode and up with the tent at 17:30. A quick swim, having slipped through the mud, is wonderful and there is cold water occasionally eddying up from the bottom, top act! Nosh spag bol with a couple of glasses of red, too hot for more, and wait for the coolth which, as usual, comes in the early morning.
Sunday the 17th of December. No room at the inn. We are on the left bank of a north flowing river so the sun rises across a plain of saltbush and dry grass with a line of trees showing a distant meander of the river. As our navigator now estimates that we have only 17 km. to go we forego the pleasure of the cool start at 05:50 and doze on 'till 06:30 when the sun strikes the tent and then into high gear. Stretch, stretch, boil tea, collapse mattresses, pack bags, drink OJ and chocky milk, make toast, eat fruit salad, drink tea, ablutions etc. By 07:30 it is becoming really hot with a nor-sou-westerly warming up. The river is higher and the banks become smaller. We pass much evidence of logging in the past and the sound of a chain saw in the middle distance suggests that fire wood is being harvested. The right bank of the river is higher than the surrounding plain and has regulators leading out of the river. These are channels with a simple slat weir across, presumably to dump water in case of flood. We stop at a timber cutting area for lunch, it seems to have been abandoned for decades. There is no flow and we are barely making 4.8 kph in the stifiling heat. The river is now smelling of the sweet sticky pollen from the red gums which lies in large areas on the surface. Nearing Redbank we are nearly up to the top of the banks and can see the countryside which is red gum, pepercorn trees and some small shrubs and scotch thistle of course. At the weir we paddle cautiously round and notice that the right sluice is up, apparently it is being repaired and water is only coming from the central sluice at about the predicted rate of 300 Mlitres per day. Get the canoe out and portage to the picnic ground which has the operational loo. Soon an old guy appears who has taken lessons from a pommy shop steward: You can't camp there, who gave you permission, and on and on.... This tends to nark Rod who suggests he call the police and we can see then. Christine, meantime has struck up a conversation with the woman who lives in one of the houses next to the weir. She explains that there have been problems previously with campers, quite likely initiated by the old geezer who winds them up and then it is on. Actually, he is trying to protect her as they are living alone away from anyone. She will ring her husband and suggest that he not approach us when he returns. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. As it turns out all is cool and he rushes in to get some clobber for a spot of pig hunting. (Hmmmmmm Deliverance?). Christine moves across to the loos for a pee and dashes out a short minute later. "Rod, Rod, it was awful. They were everywhere!" Apparently, when she flushed the apparatus, half a dozen frogs leapt from the loo causing great surprise and consternation. The evening gets hotter and then windy as a front comes across from the south west. Bloody windy in fact as one of the guy ropes pulls its peg and Christine comes shooting out. Bash, bash, all the pegs are tightened and we wait outside while bits of bark and twigs rain about us for the next couple of hours until the front is well away. The wind persists but from the south east now and we are so tired that as the tent is still there, we turn in (midnight and exhausted). Only 20.4 km. travelled.
Monday the 18th of December. Wake up and decide to hightail it out of the joint asap. Cloudy and humid, fridge decides there are not enough ergs in the battery and goes to sleep. We see a couple of fellows who have a hut down the river and they wish us good luck and they will see us in a few hours as we pass. We ask about the snags and they reply they are not bad, but shocking! Negative bastards. As usual, the portage is tiring and irksome but we get under way at 09:30 into a low river with steep banks of about 6 metres on both sides, almost like a canyon. The weather has another surprise and in an hour is starts raining, increasing the humidity but not much else. Lots of shoals on the clay with the stones, graunch graunch on the bottom of the boat and lots of snags interspersed with long deep pools. Negotiating the bad snags is tricky, we go over them (graunch) and under them and around them and pull them to bits to get through. Christine has become quite adept in breaking through. The hidden snags under the water keep her busy too and it is quite a strain on the arms and shoulders pulling, drawing and stroking the paddles. There seem to be a number of pools constructed at the sharp meanders seemingly for the old paddle steamers to berth for the night or to overtake. The right bank hides wetlands which are quite beautiful if you care to climb the bank. The water level is 5 to 6 metres above the river so they must be watered from higher up. Anyway, it is a surprise to see this lush green in the middle of so much dry. We cover 29 km. at a slow pace as we are both getting stiff and starting to wonder if we really need to do all this. For the first time we are getting sick of the whole thing even here with all the beauty of the bush surrounding us. It is the worry of the low river, the recalcitrant fridge, the 36 degrees every day, the pumping and filtering of 6 litres of water every day, washing in a muddy river with things which nip you in unexpected places causing instant levitation and a shriek. Still, if you are hot and buggered, you will slip into a brown river with mud everywhere and really enjoy it. Finished off the SB and cooked the steak as a preemptive strike against the fridge calling a general strike. The air suddenly condensed the mozzies from their secret lair in cyber-space and we dash for the tent. Christine downloads the GPS track for the last couple of days into the Mac and Rod toys with a Melbourne. The evening is cooling so we will have a typical desert night of around 15 degrees.
Tuesday the 19th of December. Up on the bank we see that there have been people here before and there is a track around the wetlands nearby. The sun rises on the other side of the strange 'pond' which we now think is a natural phenomenon carved out by the river in flood. The problem with being away from the canoe is the carying which quite takes it out of one, both physically and psychically and this morning is no different. Fortunately, we get away around 09:00 as yesterday was the day of the fret grating away at our souls reminding us of annoyances and those philistines who perpetrated them, today would be the day providence returned from an overlong lunch. Lots of snags, oooooooh yes, lots of snags. Our technique is now to zig-zag through pushing off the big trunks and bashing the smaller ones. At one stage we were completely blocked by a branch 30 cm. above the water in a channel of about 50 cm in a large fallen tree, so Rod drops his duds and clambers along the trunk, steadies himself with another branch, grabs the offending one, tests its strength and tumbles backwards to disappear underwater holding the rotten branch in his hand. Christine is kacking herself by this time but keeps a straight face as the intrepid Rod Cousteau emerges from the brown waters spluttering and cursing. The dread channel of the river is showing signs of normalcy with a few muddy beach like areas which develop into actually sandy beaches, upon which we camp at 17:00 with another 28.9 km. away and only about 30 remaining 'till Balranald. It is the sand and the lack of carrying that revive our spirits so it is a happy couple who make their supper before the stukkas take over just after sunset. It is said that if the frogs leave the 'bidgee then a man is tired of life, or something like that. At the moment this seems unlikely as the bloody boat is full of them, along with a colony of dozy mozzies and a huge coakcroach. One unfortunate decides to make a break for freedom during the day and we find that the mighty Christine is a frogophobe and not simply self deprocating: shreik, eeee, eeeee, get it away!!!! Apparently a toad spat at her when she was little: interesting when you think of it how frogs and toads are doing strange things to little girls in those bizzare Swiss fairy tales. Anyway, the beast is removed after a chase, but this will be repeated as every morning the intrepid frog chaser Rod shoots them out of the canoe.
Wednesday the 20th of December. Clear day, little wind and off to Balranald. Having our dream beach for the night has calmed us down and the prospect of an easy getaway further levens the proceedings so it is with a song in our heart that we bid farewell to the last camp before Balranald. The temperature gradually climbs and once again, we find a sandy beach for lunch and leap immediately into the river which now has the new improved visibility of about 30 cm. The pong is returning as things warm up, a sweet decaying odour which remains in the nostrils for ages after. The river still has some surprises as we come face on to the worst snags yet which completely block the passage. Rod starts muttering naughty words and gets a verbal swipe from Christine "You are always telling others to be positive so shut up now and be positive". He buttons his lip. One log is right across the river and 20 cm. showing above the surface so we unload half the gear and push the canoe over in a more or less controlled fashion. Others were went under, broken through, removed but the mail got through!!! By this time the frogs have got the message that Christine is not a soul mate and are abandoning ship like rats in a research school. The GPS is significantly grumpy, having had a chat with the fridge, and both are now playing silly buggers. We loose some info but a simple reset threat gets the Garmin on line again. We hit Balranald around 16:00 with immense pleasure which is compounded when the caravan park has cabins with air conditioning. The owner helps us with the gear and allows us to put the canoe etc in the garage as we are staying for 3 nights. The idea of staying in the tent for the whole trip soon melts with the hear, 40 degrees today with a total fire ban in Victoria and bush fires everywhere. Off to the Ex Services Club for food and on the way pop into a garage to see if they have a phone card. The owner does not and askes a youth next to Rod if he knows but receives a negative reply. We chat about the trip and the youth says that his grand parents own the store in Maude!! Christine has her Maude T shirt ("Maude Pub, Best Piss on the Bidgee") on as we enter the club and while Rod is sinking a schooner, Christine is accosted by a woman interested in her T shirt. She turns out to be the daughter of the Maude store owners and the mother of the youth Rod spoke to. Meanwhile, au bar, Rod has struck up a conversation with a couple of chaps at the bar who come from Hay and had actually read the article in the Riverine Grazier. The question now is not "Why are you doing it?", rather "Are you enjoying it?", which is a damn site harder to reply to. We decide that we are on an expedition and hence enjoyment does not enter the lexicon of the great explorers. "Dr. Livingstone I presume. Are you enjoying yourelf?" "Oh for God's sake Stanley, piss off or you will get a gerund up the cloaka!" Christine moves back to the cabin while Rod makes a $4 investement on the pokies at 1 cent a line which amuses him for 3/4 hour in mindless tedium but with nice beer. The weather forecast for tomorrow is 42 degrees with a nor-westerly all the way from Broome across the Alice to Balranald. Distance travelled about 27.1 km. plus about 1 km. during the conniption of the GPS. As we are now downloading the GPS track into the Mac every two days we can see missing parts when the Garmin cannot get a good fix on enough satellites through the trees.
Thursday the 21st of December. Well, the forecast was sort of right as there is a nor-westerly blowing but is only in the mid 30s and the sky is grey. Later in the day there is actually rain but little drop in temperature. We relax in the morning in the cabin and head off for the everchanging lights of Balranald. Green, amber, red and then back to green again. Two letters at the post office. One from Rhys with the Zip, some bills and a mouse for the Mac. Christine has finally become electrified and now has to believe that Rod needs a piece of paper over the touch pad to prevent the cursor moving into the unknown. The second is from Diana, Rod's sister with the book "Murray River Pilot". After lunch we find that there is a web store with a satellite connection at 33k for $6 an hour and we both spend over an hour with the backed up mail. We use Yahoo and PoP from the ANU UNIX account. It is possible to use Outlook Express but it has evaded us. Rule number one "Everything works in the office when subjected to the most stringent tests but will lie on its back with its legs in the air in the field if even spoken to sharply. Given the low level of the river for the last stretch to the confluence we decide to store a lot of equipment at the camping ground and pick it up round 10 days later when we get to Robinvale/Euston where, hopefully, Rod's sister will be for the new year. The guy who owns the caravan park readily agrees to this and so we will leave: solar panels, battery, fridge, sail and sideboards and reduce the clothing to fit into one bag. The GPS will remain as will the Mac as we need to download after about 12 hours (1500 points in the track which is not really very much, Garmin, you should up your game!! Right Moriatti, up with the Euphoniums and we're off! With luck, we should still get to the confluence on the 25th, Boundary Bend on the 26th and Robinvale on the 31st. Our original estimate was Mildura for the new year but as we have been making stops for the WEDGE and for the talk on the 14th of December, our progress has been determined by external factors: still we are only about a week behind schedule for all that. The next ten days fall nicely as they are broken into two sections of 5 days and 4 nights each which we find acceptable. Six days and the spirit starts to tremble and the pilot light of the soul starts to flicker. Yahwah seems to have seen things in a similar light in pre-deluvian times. Pity he could not return to a bit more interventionist state and smite some of the self rightous bastards who seem to infest this mortal coil with their rigidity of thought, their certainty of aim, their paucity of curiosity, their condescending patronising manner, their lack of imagination, their unwillingness to move into a new and changing future and their active participation in preventing others in doing so. The local garage also runs the taxi so we hop in to check out the low level weir 15 km. away by road. The driver tells us that she drove Klaus into town to get groceries a few months ago and that the behaviour of some at Redbank weir was well known. Supper in the Ex Service Club where Rod had an ex Wiener Schnitzel , the poor thing having been boiled in tepid oil for the past week. Christine had king prawns. Still a bit of rain about and the ceiling is still impenatratable. Like the piece of Cod which passeth all understanding. Balranald obtained its name in 1847 from the Commissioner for Crown Lands, McDonald who was from the wee burg of the abode (Bal) of Ranald the Outer HeBrides where the nights are 6 months long. Sturt passed in January 1830 and the steamboats commenced in 1853 making Balranald an importent inland port until state rivalry and the railways killed the river traffic later in the 19th century. Burke and Wills crossed the river via a shiny new punt and camped in front of the pub in 1860 at the beginning of their strange voyage into the centre and the north. At least one member of the group survived, King who was taken in by the blacks. B&W had enough to eat but could not digest it apparently and slowly karked it. There are some interesting places in the district, Homebush is a pub about 30 km. to the north which commenced business in 1878 and is still a welcome watering hole now. Oxley, on the Lachlan before the latter gets lost in the reed fields, gains its name from John Oxley who reputedly landed there in 1817 whilst looking for the great inland sea, a popular, though terminal, sport in those days. From a heyday at the turn of the last century boasting 500 souls and 4 pubs Oxley now "boasts a fully licensed (Tudor style) al a carte restaurant (sic)" with its own airport. Apparently it is quiet good.
Friday the 22nd of December. The last weir keeper. A grey day with the wind still from the nor-west but this changes at midday when the skies open and it rains. We are in the internet centre doing our emails and catching up. Did the shopping for the next leg and midafternoon the rain starts again and the temperature drops by about 10 degrees with the wind at last from the south west. Supper at the pub is not too bad but as usual too much. Rod runs into a chap in the bar who was brought up at Redbank weir; he says that his father used to help old Bill, the chap who tried to get us to shove off. As his father is at the Ex-Services Club, Rod pops across to see him and have a chat over a beer. He has fond memories of his time at the weir and used to help numerous boaters and canoists around the structure. All this seems to have gone with the cost cutting and the lack of interest in aspects of the river other than irrigation. Virtually all of the river people would like to see the river better managed for all users and to make some sort of future for the system. Christine worked on the web page but we forgot that Christmas is coming and that the post office is closed on Saturday so rush like hell to get some stuff on the Zip and get it into the box before the 17:30 collection whence it will be transported to Bendigo for a little holiday before being delivered next Wednesday (with luck).
Saturday the 23rd of December. Beautiful cool sunny day, Could not wish for anything better apart from more water in the river. Cool breeze from the SW as we load the canoe with help from the park owner who is storing the other kit 'till we return in 10 days. A German couple video our departure and are joined by an Ausytalian couple as we push off. Rod, feeling the blood of proud ancestors surge in his veins, bursts into song "And so, we go, to fight the savage foe, oh, ho, oh, ho..........." We pass the Last Weir Keeper who warns us about the snags (again), we'll all be rooned said Hanrahan!!. Easy paddle to the weir of 16.5 km, a simple slat overflow system with no gates. Perhaps 100 Mlitres flowing into the lowbidgee. The portage is a piece of piss and is done in about 1/2 hour without the solar panels etc. After luncheon we start the voyage into the heart of duckness where a man's soul can wither in the blinding heat of the outback. It turns out quite nice actually with rather a lot of water, more than we expected anyway. Not as many snags as below Redbank and the flow is about 200 to 300 mph (metric!) so we make a happy 5.5 kph and end the day with 29.5 km. traversed, not bad considering there were really two portages. Our first snake is seen in the water, its arrival being announced by a series of smothered squarks from the front of the boat. About 1 metre long, black, with its head about 15 cm. out of the water it moved across to see us then sloped off for other amusement. Some reeds about but not the swamp we originally imagined, the river being pleasant surrounded by forests of red gums. Another sandy beach and we camp by the stumps of 5 trees apparently cut for fuel by the riverboats 120 years ago as they were on the side of the river and there were many more further inland.
Sunday the 24th of December. Up at 06:30 after a 1/2 hour sleep-in. Cool with the sou-westerly springing up at 07:30. Christine claims the winds have a temporal demarkation arrangement with the mozzies. But this was to be the Great Day of the Killer Snag. Not a short couple of kilometres into the first stretch than we get hit by the first full portage, all the gear out and carry the canoe some tens of metres. This was to be repeated a couple of more times with some interesting zig-zagging inbetween. Fortunately it remained relatively cool as Christine was becoming tired and emotional and Rod was wondering that we still had the second half of the trip to do so things were a bit tense when the cry "Attention, attention, Rod, j'ai peur" and another black snake (much longer), head held proud, glides across the river on a collision course with the canoe. Rod checks the forward motion with his paddle and the snake glides less than a metre in front of us without taking the slightest notice and choofs off to the other bank (while the frozen Christine with her paddle up is trying to make her legs stop shaking). The river is much like below Redbank with high banks and the occasional 'sand bank'. It seems that there had been at least a metre more water in the river a week of so ago as the banks were still wet, but we assume that this was due to a high Murray rather than a high bidgee flow. The river is falling about 2 to 3 cm. a kilometre so a 1 metre rise in the Murray would be felt 30 metres upstream in the bidgee. Find a camp on a mud/sand beach after 29.5 km around 17:30, pitch the tent and get into the Chrissy drinkypoos. Pour le reveillon nous avons prepare un repas super, viz, Continental creamy bacon carbonara with heat treated salami from our emergency supply. A few carols and other assorted songs and that is Christmas eve, a brilliant night with no moon allows the true brilliance of the stars to dominate, possibly as it was 2000 years ago. Then again, if that were the case the three wise men would have given it a miss and taken the last train for the coast, grabbed their boards and cut a few lefts at Broulee.
Monday the 25th of December. Cool with a light southerly as we go for the last 30 km. of the bidgee. Still the boom, boom from the hunters can be heard. The chart heads SW first for 5 km. then NW for 15 km. and a sudden plunge to the south for another 15 km. or so. At the first virage we see a chap at the Tarara homestead who wishes us merry christmas. We continue NW into a strengthening breeze which is still cool. The river is much like before varying from 20 to 40 metres across with the banks about 4 to 5 metres high, presumably so that the flux must remain constant. Anticipation mounts as the confluence draws near but the kilometres seem to have a spatial anomality and get longer, an inverse xeno paradox. The reed beds we were so afraid of loosing ourselves in seem only to be lining the river and lend a little relief to the rather momotonous passing of the gum trees. We average 4 kph for the day mainly due to the number of portages and dragging of the canoe over logs, under logs (where the mozzies lurk during the day!!) through logs (smash bash) and over the sand. The river becomes quite wide as we near our destination and of course there is little flow. A week ago the Murray was up a metre and had backed the bidgee up for 40 km making navigation a PoP. We have a river typical for summer, bugger all flow. The last right turn and ....... where is the Murray, there is only another turn to the left..... no, as we get nearer it turns out to be a "T" junction and there verily, it the Murray, not what we would call a broad and noble river, as it is only about twice that of the bidgee at the Junction. During Sturt's times the debouchement of the bidgee must have been considerably narrower and no-one was mucking about with the flows. We paddle across and get a super spot facing the confluence and get the tent up (after negotiating the sticky mud between the water and the top of the bank). Neither of us want to do much for a while, just to let it sink in that we have, at least, after 18 months of preparation, done the bidgee. We now only have 1240 km. left to go down The Murray which appears as a brown river with a lot of suspended matter as distinct from the grey of the bidgee. We take a lot of pictures (for our collection). Just upstream from us is the mythical camp of nudists which has been disputed by many on the river. They come trotting past on an evening constitutional completely clothed so the mystery must remain. Rod and Christine relax after a pleasant evening's entertainment. The last 31.4 km. for the bidgee is done! BRAVO...YOUPIE...But the mud is still there. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!
Tuesday the 26th of December. 1242-1228. Once again a beautiful cool morning requiring a jumper. We sleep in 'till 07:00 as there are only 15 km. to Boundary Bend where we will stay, reprovision and charge up the Mac. The river seems to be flowing at around 2 to 3 kph so we should zoom through like the proverbial startled gazelle. Actually being on the Murray brings the reality to us that it is really much larger than the bidgee although its general form is very similar with banks of 4 to 5 metres. A brisk souwesterly is building and we have this in our face for a good proportion of the paddle to Boundary Bend which we make in little over 2 hours arriving late morning having travelled 14 km. and using the last of our bidgee charts. The caravan park is across the road which hugs the bend in the river and we get a cabin for the night for $50. A shower and a restful afternoon, the wind strengthening. The locals tell us of the "Black Water" which passed a week or so ago, at about the same time as the woman who is swimming down the Murray. She seems to be a week ahead of us so we may pass her as she is doing 30 km. per day and we hope to do over 40 km. per day. Checked the bottom of the boat which has a couple of new scratches through the gel coat touching the kevlar but no real damage observable. Everything was portaged to the cabin and our clothes and the cooking gear washed. The day seems pleasantly cool but the thermometer at the petrol station shows 30 degrees, all is relative. Called Peter and Rhys so that Diana can pick up the Minkota trolling motor, another battery and the mounting bracket and bring them to Robinvale, 110 river kilometres distant. Boundary Bend IS the caravan park and its snack bar/petrol station. The pub has closed as has the bottle shop. Careful planning required for the remainder of the hooch bought in Balranald as it will now have to last to Robinvale, two nights and 3 days paddling.
Wednesday the 27th of December. 1228-1180. Cool morning and it is a pleasure to have a hot shower. The newspaper, The Age, predicts a sou easterly today but for the moment it is still. Last night Rod claimed to the locals that they would be away at sparrows fart in the morning and when they see Roger, the propriator at about 08:00, he suggests that perhaps the sparrows have colestamy bags around where Rod lives. We are away at 08:15 into a strengthening wind, which by a couple of hours later is gusting to force 3 (4?) and bending the trees causing no considerable trouble to the intrepid duo as they face little waves up to 30 cm which lap the gunwales. It is also cooler requiring pullovers. In spite of all this, we manage a good speed and see many campers although not many on the river itself. The Murray really seems like the bidgee but enlarged by a factor of 4 or so. We have not seen Fred for some days so we suspect he is a bird of smaller gods and rivers. The cockies are back though. A number of beaches are seen with large expanses of white sand (sometimes sandwiched with mud) giving into the red gum forest. We are averaging 6.7 kph, almost double that of the last days of the bidgee and expect to do 45 km. today which we do after about 6 1/2 hours paddling. Finding a beach we see that it is of the trick (mud sarny) variety and head uphill to the flood plain where there is an old camp site. Still a strong sou-westerly so we cook up early and Christine hits the sack early as her back is giving her gyp. Rod makes a small comfort fire and then to bed. This was to be the night of the clumping hooting monsters!!!! Some hours later a sort of cough/hoot/cluck sound was heard with footsteps at the same cadence as a human. Arrrrrggh, panic. After a half hour, we go outside loaded with full bladders ready piss or miss but, of course, there was nothing. As the blow up mattress was left in Balranald we are using the thin blue rubber sitting mats to sleep on, whoever does not have the thermarest that is, and not very comfortable it is. The last two nights have been Christine's turn and now it is for Rod who passes a troubled night. Km. travelled, 45.8. Thursday the 28th of December. 1180-1141. Cold morning so decide to kip in 'till 07:20 to give the nurglers a chance to recover. Very clear sky with a confused wind perhaps more from the south. Make another small fire to get moving and are away about 09:20. The wind decides to come from the south east, much to our advantage, although as it gains in strength we have to put the warm gear on. The GPS is showing less distance than the 2 km. trees on the right bank as we cut the corners, a practice soon curtailed as we near Robinvale and enter the world of the water skier. A number of large house boats are in evidence which look great but are perhaps like water skiing, an ephemera to be envied but not practiced as it turns out to be bloody boring. Many groups and families camped on the shores with their fishing tinies pulled up on the bank. We lunch facing some 10 metre red cliffs, the first of many to come. The river is starting to pond under the influence of Euston weir so getting up the banks becomes a doddle. After 38 km. we are about 14 km. from Robinvale (the trip could be easily done in 2 days) and park for the evening, the banks being only 20 cm high here and we can pull the canoe up easily. The strong wing is dying down and we are on a sheltered shore. During the night Christine hears the eeeeee/grark/klump monster and Rod hears a kangaroo (probablement avec une bronchite carabinee) go down to the water and have a drink..........
Friday the 29th of December. 1141-1124. Woke at 06:00 and seeing it was really cold decided that it was prudent to allow the blood to acquire as much heat as possible and remained in bed 'till 07:30. Still cold, about 10 degrees, a change of over 25 degrees to the mornings of a couple of weeks ago. Great, but, when it warms up. Wind seems easterly. Many water skiers now who give us a decent amount of water, we wave and all is chummy. Near Robinvale there is a short cut which eliminates 12 km of river but we decide to follow the original trajectory and see a lot of very pleasant wetlands created by the pond. Arriving around 12 we get the luxury cabin and have showers then into town. It looks like a one horse place but there is a brick paved footpath in the small main street which has a baker, coffee shop, butchers, doctors, everything in fact and is really quite cute. In the post office to buy stamps and a phone card we are told that Robinvale was created after WWI and named after Robin Cuttle, the son of a local 'pioneer', who was killed at Villers-Bretonneux in the east of France. The vale in the name is latin and means farewell; the town is twinned with Villers-Bretonneux in France in memory of Robin. On the NSW side of the river is Euston which is older but seems to be in decline whereas Robinvale is growing rapidly due to irrigation of grapes and the largest almond plantation in the western spiral arm. The people are mainly emigrants and labourers from Tonga (really BIG blokes), Vietnam, Greece but things seem to be in relative harmony. Pop into the IGA for provisions and to try their internet kiosk which sort of worked after the little children are removed and prevented from pounding the keyboard to smithereens. Still, it is a small miracle that you can get onto your ANU e-mail from a supermarket in the donga. Dinner at the pub is the normal country affair; enormous! Get back to the cabin around 20:00 and join an improptu cricket match which was using one of the rollybins for the wicket. A chap emerged from a camping bus and informed us "Hey, your sister has just been here". Rod misinterprested this as a jolly repartee along the lines of "Your mother wears army boots" but no, Diana had arrived about an hour ago and went off to the bowls club in Euston for some nosh after 9 hours on the road. Our bus dweller insisted that his wife take Rod in the car to look for them and off they went to the motel. But hardly out of the park and there are the fuzz with the little tubes. Puff puff and off but no sign of anyone at the motel. A uee and back past the boys in blue, across the one lane draw bridge, which is the centre of a bitter debate as to whether NSW or Victoria pay for a new bridge. All the river belongs to NSW and 1 1/2 chains on the Victorian side (about 30 metres). Rod's brother in law Ned appears with his son, William, and then evaporates to find the rest of his clan who eventually arrive for a couple of late drinks and give us the Minnkota, mail and Zips. Into the real bed (noly a double) and Christine is woken during the night by a loud crump and sees Rod's head rising from the side of the bed. Suffering the misaprehention that they were still in the tent, he had rolled over to get a more comfortable position near the edge of the inner tent which, of course, was not there, and consequently suffered a bad attack of gravity.
Saturday the 30th of December. Ned and Rod return to Balranald to get the equipment left at the caravan park and return before midday. We all go to the Robinvale winery which produces "Bio-Dynamic", non-alcoholic and kosher wines. We buy a Zinfandel and drive on to the Euston lock and weir which has its own 5 star caravan park and a very well kept surrounds. The wooden hand operated gates for the lock were replaced on 1984 by steel driven hydrolic units. Back to the cabin to test the trolling motor which works well. We get 3 km. out of the battery at 6 kph, ie, 18 Amps pulled from a 20AH new battery that we will use to enhance the existing gel-cell. The Minnkota at 9 kg. is over 4 times heavier than the poor lost Sevilor and lifting it up is quite an effort from the boat. Or getting the vectors right as Rod found on using an unusual twist attempt to wreast the bloody thing out of the water neatly flipped over the side into the Murray, much to the ammusement of the family gathered around in the hope of some water sport. Seeing there is no-one to blame bar himself Rod bows gravely to all and sundry who now have fits of the giggles, and proudly slops up the bank attempting to show that it was really a practice back somersault to be used in times of the gravest emergency. He didn't pull it off. Supper at the weir barbecue facilities and we try the Zin. Hmmmmmmmmm. Perhaps if it were chilled......... A reasonably early evening as Diana, Ned and William are leaving in the morning and there is bugger all on the telly.
Sunday the 31st of December. Diana et. al. away and we get up late and have a quiet morning. It will be a sultry day with little wind and high cloud. We set up the solar panels attached to both batteries giving us now 48 AH to play with. Shopping for the rest of the afternoon for the estimated 5 days to Mildura, write post cards to the pubs we have visited along the way and cook up the rice for the salad and the bol for the spag. The New Year's Ball will be in the community centre just across from the camping ground and we trot over around 21:00 to find the band in full swing and the Elvis impersonator getting the people raring to go. As with all functions in small towns in all countries, the hall has a dance floor in the centre and long tables arranged along each side, bride and groom! We sit with the people from the caravan park and watch the families with their children from todlers up to adolescents dance to the liberating beat of Jailhouse Rock. Outside for a fag we get into conversation with the locals who, here, at least, seem Greek based and own or work on the irrigation farm which are mainly grapes. They are all AUSTRALIANS and are interested in Christine's opinion. A group of young people come out to ask us about the trip, they seem more interested than most of the adults. Aude Lang Syne and we are off to bed for a start at 06:00.
January the first of 2001. 1124-1073. Cleaned the cooking stuff and portaged everything to the boat ramp and away at 08:45 to a humid day with little wind. Get to Euston lock, a distance of 6 km. in an hour and summon the keeper with the traditional three long blasts on the horn. He appears at 10:00 and opens the the lock which we squeeze into to drop 4 metres and squeeze out of. He remarks that it was well done with the width of a cigarette paper each side. Paddle for a bit and decide to try the new trolling motor with the two linked batteries. It works a treat and with a flow of about 2 kph we move 7.5 km. in an hour, very relaxing!!! Attaining 20 km. by lunch we rest for an hour and set up the sail as the wind has now risen from the north and our trajectory is basically south for another 15 km. As we are sheltered by the 4 metre banks, the wind gusts frequently but we manage a good 7 kph until the wind really gets the bit between its teeth and we hoon up to 12.5 kph with considerable panic as the spars start to bend and dip in the water. Prudence calls to lower the sail which is done with a bit of panic but no major angst. Bloody hot now and the lunchtime swim has worn off. Numerous shoals and rocks to watch for but we paddle the last 20 km. to make 48.3 km. for the day by the GPS and 51 by the kilometre trees. Still hot and we look for a beach but there are none so we choose a sheltered shore as the wind is still blowing something terrible and get the tent up about 19:00, cook a supper of mashed spuds and crumbed beef schnitzel. Still hot, around 35 degrees as Christine sets the yabbie trap and then moves into the sanctuary of the inner tent to escape the mozzies. Rod is also beaten by the blighters and moves inside. No pyjamas this time, just lie in the hot and wait for the cool of the early morning.
Tuesday the 2nd. Of January: 1073 to 1028. Still mozzies so try to move quickly in packing up, getting down the bank via the mud this time and into the canoe at 08:15 and a northerly which is strengthening. The first 15 km pass with the river moving toward the north west and into the wind so we take a rest and a swim. For the rest of the day, the wind that helped us yesterday is in our faces and often we are paddling at 3.5 kph with waves coming from a force 4 or so. Long lunch and rest in a scorching wind on a sand bank which resembles a desert more than anything. Looking at the map Christine notices that we can achieve a temporal arabesque in the next section as the river has cut a new channel at Retail cutting since it was originally mapped in 1870 and the distance is shorter by 8 km. Why they still use the old map is beyond us. So we huff and puff to the short cut and set up camp in a strong wind with deep grey clouds on the horizon. Around 18:00 the wind at ground level drops and there is a christ almighty creak/whoosh/crash/wallop as another red gum hits the dirt on the opposite bank. Always when it is hot and still..... Christine gets her yabbie trap out, weighs it down with a couple of VBs baits it with salami and secretes it in a submersed log. The sky darkens and a cyclonic cloud forms in the east with thunder and lightening but it is still quiet on the river except for a couple of drops of rain. We decide to eat cold as it is still over 36 and we sweat with every movement, except bathing which is a great refresher for 20 minutes and then it starts again. Cold meat and cheese with Christine's FRESH shrimps and single yabbie. We are still outside 1/2 hour after sunset before THEY arrive and so it was a very pleasant evening. Temperature gradually cools during the night, at least enough to allow the putting on of pyjamas. On the GPS we have made 38.9 km.
Wednesday the 3rd. of January: 1028 to 971. Still warm morning with clouds in the east high up and perhaps a hint of the northerly. We have to make 45 km. today so we pray that the wind keeps down, yesterday the river was flowing backwards for short periods. Christine pulls her net from the snag and finds two good size yabbies with the shrimps and cooks them for lunch. We quit this little beach with a touch of sadness reminiscent of the cool dew slowly being taken by the rising sun. As the wind is out, we make 20 km. before the first break at 11:00 and then another 12 km. before lunch and the yabbies. The temperature is now over 35, we are sweating heavily and the northerly has found us at force 3 up to occasional 4. Into the river immediately to swim and cool the head, for the first time in her life, Christine immerses immediately instead of contemplating. Lots of people camping and fishing who we greet and get the response; "How far have you been" and "Good on yers" which makes one feel nice, like the warm sun carressing the blush of grass as it pushes its way through the soft pliable springtime soil. AS there is enough sun to recharge the batteries we troll for over an hour in total, about 8 km. which should remove about 40 AH but we only have about 30 AH in. Something strange somewhere. End up camping at 17:00 near an irrigation pump but it is the only beach for kilometres so......... Still hot so into the water; unfortunately, the site faces west so we have the sun full in our faces until 20:30. There are a number of noisy irrigation pumps a few hundred metres away which keep us company through the night. Christine gets more shrimps for diner and sets up the trap for the night with an interesting bait combination (rest of the rice salas, salami, fat around the prosciutto di parma). Eat the rest of the SB and some cheese finishing off with fruit salad and chocolates. Still hot but no apparent mozzies, they seem to be diminishing as we approach South Australia. Fortunately, there is another cutting through a meander and we make another 8 km. compared to the kilometre trees although we only do 48 km. on the Garmin. Only 80 km. to go for Gol Gol.
Thursday the 4th. 971 to 930. Cooled during the night so could get under the sleeping bag and the mozzies still seem to be preoccupied elsewhere. High cloud and a lower river with a cool day. Christine continues her genocidal attack on the crustacious population of the Murray (6 yabbies: daddy, mummy and the 4 yabettes...). On top of it, mummy was pregnant. Oh the shame of it all. But we had them for lunch anyway... Set off at a spanking 7 kph for the first hour then the northerly springs up under a high cloud and we settle down to a steady 6 kph into a fairly continuous headwind. Still, there are beaches with the forrests behind where we take a swim and try to cool off as it is now over 35 and we are sweating continuously. Many positive people ask where we have been as yesterday so we are happy. The clouds only allow the slow photons through and it is a couple of hours before there is enough charge in the battery to give the fridge a a wake up kick in the bum. At this temperature the fridge uses about 1.5 to 2 amps which makes 18 to 24 AH per day, about what the panels can put in given the cloud. As we are now in the pond of the Mildura weir, the beaches become less frequent and then none when we start to look for a camp site. Decide on a spot near a creek and pull in to find a sign nailed to a tree, "Danger, Blue Green Algae, Do not drink the water etc". Hmmmmmmmmmm. No sign of the dreaded algae so we set up camp and start to pump as we had drunk the 5 litres of water we started the day with. Saw a kayaker (Mick) in the evening who pulled in for a chat. He had put in at the 1500 km. mark and on minimal rations was trying to do 70 to 100 km. per day. Once again a very hot evening but a beautiful sunset. Huge electrical storm during the night with flash bang crump and a few bush fires in the Mildura districts but fortunately no major wind or rain. 41 km. paddled that day.
Friday the 5th. Of January: 930 to 891. The Garmin had a conniption again with low battery and forgot the odometer. The wind seems to have had a bit of pity on us and has swung to the south west. Christine reckons that the great ju-ju can tell when we really are jacked off and sends us a little present to just keep us going. The river is really a pond now with the level up to the banks on the tight part of the meander. Paddle for 3 hours to get to the Gol Gol (meeting place?) red cliffs which are quite impressive and there have a break. We get the sail up which helps a lot with the paddling and get up to 8 kph with occasional gust. The day is looking good and although hot is no mind numbingly so. There are long broad reaches of some kilometres on the Murray which seem always to go into the wind so we get our heads down and just paddle knowing that in 3/4 hour we will have the wind behind us. There are many reeds along the shores and only the occasional camper and fisherman. Women seem not to be allowed in the tinnies, at least we did not see any (actually one only), guess it has to do with the bad luck story. Our trajectory is mainly north west so in general the sou westerly is helping. For lunch we notice that Trentham Estate, a winery, has a resto and warf on the river so we chance our luck, moor the canoe and wander up the well manacured gardens feeling very spotty and skungy. After some bewilderman on behalf of the staff they are friendly and we have a great lunch with wine and a couple of expressos after. Rod tries the yabbies (from the farm) and we find that they are not as good as the ones fished (and cooked) by Christine. Everyone is asking the staff about the 'boat' and we get a little chorus as we troll off into the sunset, hem hem. With the wind still at our backs we press on ever more profoundly into waterski country, waving and being friendly as often as poss. The camping ground at Gol Gol is in NSW and is home of the water ski brigade. There is a wood retaining wall at which we can unload but some of the young dick heads ignore the law about 4 knots withing 30 metres of moorings etc and pull their V8s in at top speed. We are helped out by some more aware guys who get into the water to lift the canoe and show considerable interest in it. This time we have a caravan close to the water with its own toilet/shower in a separate block a couple of metres away. Caravan park owners seem to be a great breed as this one offers to take us to the pub down the road in the car. We get back at 22:00 and slope into the land of nod with only little Nemo to show us the way home. 39 km paddled today.
Saturday the 6th of January. Get up late at 09:00 to a cool sunny day with a force 2 gusting 3 sou westerly. Bugger! Life always serves you the best when you cannot take advantage of it. Get a lift into Mildura with the park owner and buy a couple of PFDs to replace the ones nicked at Hay weir. Also, the IGA supermarket has STILTON so we buy the entire stock of 2 slices. Walk around the town which is a large regional centre with some interesting architecture. Mildura was started by Deakin (the first OZ PM) following a trip to North America about 100 years ago where he met and imported a certain Mr. Chaffey, a Canadian conversant with irrigation proceedures. The area changed from a bankrupt wool station to a potential el Dorado of farming, a dream which did not eventuate for some years and following a considerable amount of hardship and broken illusions. Chaffey Snr returned to the land of the maple but his two sons remained and created a great winery in the desert. The other landmark is the Grand Hotel which started off as a coffee house at the turn of the last century. Now it has become a famous resto with the chef, Stephano, doing his best on the ABC with a show "Gondola on the Murray". We have a very decent pizza there for lunch but are told that the evening fixed course meal is booked out for a couple of months. Tantpis. Back at the caravan Christine sorts out the photos and Rod frets about waiting to get to the pub, a beer and dinner. The Gol Gol pub has been in existance for over 100 years and is in NSW whereas Mildura is in Victoria. It is full of young people and young families drinking and eating, a jolly evening. One of the barmen is from SA and grew up in Salisbury East, close to where Rod grew up (sort of), and told us terrible tales of Lake Alexandrina which he sailed on as a youth. Always a cheery soul to calm our souls! Rod has a huge porterhouse steak which is properly cooked; seared on the outside and pink inside. Back to the caravan, turn on the evaporative air 'conditioner' so as to increase the humidity and lower the temperature by a degree or so and attempt to sleep.
Sunday the 7th of January. Similar day to yesterday, south to sou-westerly wind and a great day to paddle, but, we are going to Mungo National Park for a twilight tour at 15:30 and will not take to the river 'till tomorrow. More work on resizing the photos and writing the web page on the river bank watching the skiers. The 12 seater bus comes for us a bit early and we head off for the wilderness. The road is bitumen for the irst 40 km. and then dirt with the bull dust getting everywhere. The driver does not slacken in the transition and those at the back are commonly airborne during the 1 hour 20 minutes for the 110 km. Lake Mungo is part of a World Heritage area following the discovery of skeletal remains (Mungo 1, 2 and 3) and ovens over 40,000 years old which put the cat amongst the paeolontologists and carbon daters. Up to the last ice age, the Willanya river lead off the Lachlan and via a number of lakes, Mungo being one, reached the Murray between the 'bidgee and the Darling. These lakes supported a considerable variety of life including human but the end of the ice age saw them gradually dry up and the Lachlan change its course to the 'bidgee. On the east side of the dry lake bed are dunes formed over 3 periods, Gol Gol of 100,000 with rich salty red sand, Mungo over 50,000 of grey brown salty sand and the most recent Zeolite of white loam where the remains have been found. Although sheep were run here since the mid 1800s, it was the introduction of the rabbits which finally done for the soil and the dunes, Lunettes, have been eroding for the last 100 years exposing all the artifacts and bones. It looks like Death Valley and is probably as hot, and the dunes like the Arches National Park but smaller by far. An old shearing shed remaing in exceptionally good nick since its construction in 1869 (claimed) by Chinese labourers. Not mentioned is that these were the chaps who were run out of Beechworth, Bendigo and most of the gold fields and they were basically slave labour. The story goes that they thought that if they could get to the dunes then they would be free. A difficult task across 10 km. of 50 degree desert with a guy on a horse with a rifle after you. Anyway, hence the name, The Great Wall of China. After supper, we bump back to camp arriving at 22:40.
Monday the 8th of January: 891 to 858 (Lock 11). Fine day with a wind possibly sou easterly. The owner, Paul, takes us to town where we do some shopping for cold meats, post the zip and check our Yahoo accounts at an Internet Cafe ($2 per 1/2 hour) with a shortish black. Back to the park and load the canoe after asking the skiers to be a bit calm during the proceedure. Off a bit after 11:00 hoping to get to the lock before 12:00 when the PV Melbourne was to pass downstream. Paddle like buggery to get there and find the lock bare, the Melbourne has scarpered! A group of curious onlookers ask questions until Rod realises that he is still in his undies, having got the dacks off to steady the canoe during the loading. He draws them on with great aplomb and a certain amount of applause. We are through in less than 1/2 hour and, as the wind is decidedly sou east, we haul the sail and sail west. Except for a couple of stretches to the sou west we spend the day sailing and a wonderful feeling it is too! There are a number of gin palaces along the route, a couple of which follow us trying to find the secret of eternal life. We pass Chaffey's wineries and also Wolf Blass but they do not have the welcome that Trentham did so we pass them by as a recent Japanese president is want to say "Like a nip in the shite" The whole river is a pond down to the Wentworth lock so there are few beaches, especially where we decide to call it a day, but the banks are low and sandy and it is only 6 squooshy paces through the slime to be in the deep river and coolth!!!!!!! A cold dinner of Chapachichi, bread, rice and tomatoes as it is too hot to bother with the stove. There were no monsters and only a desultory attack of mozzies so a quiet night is was. 31 km paddled this afternoon.
Tuesday the 9th of January: 858 to 833 (Lock 10). Up a bit late as we only have about 25 km. to get to Wentworth. A couple of fishermen come by to say hello and ask about the canoe, one is aborigine and the other American. We are followed by a large houseboat which has a similar speed to us but will house a football team. On the bank for lunch we find a pair of youth's underpants and a broken stubby. The wind is set fair out of the eastish as far as we can discern as the channeling effect of the river causes considerable turbulence. Under a drawbridge dating from the '20s and the approach to Wentworth under sail for the most part, a most gratifying experience. There is a short cut just before the junction leading to the caravan park but is seems to have a sand bar in front. Closer inspection reveals that it is the Darling water escaping into the Murray and as it is very milky it is clearly delineated from the more transparent water of the larger river. Through the short cut which gives directly onto a little beach of the park, we pay the fee of $11 and get the tent up, have a swim, shower and wash some clothes. We actually feel as if we are on holiday as we have the whole afternoon in front of us. Off to town, which was in the short list of 3 competing for the original site of Canberra. At the turn of the last century, Wentworth was the largest inland port in Australia with over 300 boats per year passing through. It is small and cute, catering for the irrigation people and the tourists. At the local IGA we stock up and Rod calls the lab to see what is up. Another cold dinner as it is still really hot and the cold beers do a power of good. Toward the end of the evening a couple of cheeky possums descend from a river red and investigate the nosh situation. 24.5km.
Wednesday the 10th of January.: 833 to 787. Garmin 44.2 km. The night remained hot and a decent blow came up half way through causing the tent to sway and bend but not to drop in temperature. When the side on the mattress is wet you turn over and wet the other side. Possums scratching around outside along with other beasts. Around 07:30, the steam paddle boat Coonawarra chugs down the Darling with a chap in his 60s peddaling a bike machine on the top floor making it appear as if he were supplying the motive power. We have booked the lock for 09:00 and we paddle the couple of kilometres to arrive at 08:40. The sand bar at the junction of the Murray and the Darling saw Sturt in a fine fix when he outrun his earlier emissaries in January of 1830. A couple of hundred natives in a bad temper were armed and waiting for him as he rounded the bend and just as he was about to order his chaps to open fire the belated emissary appeared and remonstrated with the large group. What passed we know not but Sturt was allowed to pass and 30 years later there was no trace left of most of the river tribes. Makes you wonder. The lock master tells us that the lower Murray flow is 16,000 Mlitres of which 13,000 Mlitres came from the Darling draining out of Menindie lakes to allow sufficient room for the Tamworth flood water to fill when it arrives. The Darling water is milky (and always has been) and is about 10 times less transparent than the upper Murray (which was 20 cm.). As the wind is still with us, coming now from the east, we set the sail and make good time. The park owner had said that we must drop in at Fort Courage after 30 km. so we moor the boat and trundle up the sloping bank to see the caretakers who inform us that this is the Wentworth Anglers Club and anyone is allowed to join or camp there. They offer us a shower and tap water which we use and have a quick lunch. In spite of the breeze, the day is hot and with the wind often behind us, the feeling of stifiling is strengthened. Our aim was to make 40 km. but with the wind assist we push onto about 45 leaving about 18 to lock 9. At camp we splooch out to deeper water for a swim and then eat cold cuts and a soup followed by a rock melon and fruit salad. The 21:00 mozzie attack drives us inside the sauna tent and we lie in our own perspiration 'till 02:00 when the mercury starts to drop.
Thursday the 11th of January: 878 to 741 (Lock 9), Garmin 42.7km. Hot with a northerly moving to westerly. The pond has not risen, fortunately, as we are camped less than a metre from the water's edge. We make lock 9 at 10:30 and are through in 20 minutes having asked the lockmaster for a fill up of water. He alllows us to get a number of litres of tank water which last us 'till the end of the day. With the northerly, we set the sail as we have a long reach to the south and make good time in the increasing heat. Somehow, with a medium head wind, under 2 to 3, the sail helps when close hauled and we sit at 6.5 kph. At higher wind force we are simply blown back and have to slog it through. This happens in the latter part of the afternoon with the wind changing to the west and strengthening into our face, independent of our direction, south, south west, west, north west and north. Rather depressing really as a thing that keeps you going is the hope that around the next meander, the wind will die or help. With a west wind it follows you and there is no escape. An hour of this and one is severely jacked off so we look for a camp in the lee of the shore, get the tent up with profuse persperation and into the water. After a beer and a cola we try the katadyne filter and find, not unexpectedly, that the milky water of the Darling blocks it up after 1/2 of a litre. As the filter is sacrificial, we can see that its diameter is decreasing and do not want to clean it a dozen times a day to get the required amount of water, an increasing amount now that the temperature is seriously hot. Rod, the great sweater, gets through 6 litres of fluids a day and Christine 4 litres. We decide to ask the lockmaster of lock 8 which awaits us tomorrow for a replenishment of our stock of clean water. The Murray is OK to drink but the locals do not do it. Mike, the school teacher in his kayak now a few days ahead of us, was going to drink the stuff. Into bed and wait for the temperature drop which occurs earlier than usual giving us a few hours of rest.
Friday the 12th of January: 741 to 698 (Locks 8 and 7), Garmin 41.8 km. Clear cool day and little wind. We have 10 km. to the lock and then another 30 to lock/weir 7 which apparently is open. We had also been told that the lockmaster was a bit truckulent and had been known to refuse passage. Well, this turned out to be a story as many others we hear along the river. The chap let us fill up the water containers from the tank and got us through in 3/4 hour, even though the remote control for the gates was cactus. We asked him to allert the guys at lock 7 that we were coming and to hold off the closing time a bit. He replied that though he would let people through at odd hours he could not speak for the others and it was completely up to them. Well, we had 30 km. to do before 16:30 and it was now 11:00 so we warmed up the nurglers, set the patellas to warp 9 and shot off. Some fishermen on the river but fewer and we really have the impression of a river in the desert. The wind tends to confirm this as it is hot from every direction, which today is a light sou westerly cooling the day down a bit but not enough to sail with effectively. Mid morning on coming round a bend there is the now well known ripping and tearing of a stresses red gum and right beside us a branch (40 cm. diameter) crashes to the ground, a fairly impressive display. Apparently a week or so ago a couple we sitting on a bench in a park in Echuca when the sound started and they headed in opposite directions. The husband survived but the wife was crushed. A quick lunch after 2 1/2 hours and then off again eventually getting to the lock at 15:45 after a lot of work paddling with little rest. Once again, the lockmaster was charming and very helpfull. He tells us that Mick was through a couple of days ago and Tammy, yesterday, so we are catching the latter but the former is staying in front. He also tells us that he was real crook around Christmas so on the 25th presented himself at the hospital to be told he had Ross River Fever. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Camp is chosen only a 4 km. after the lock on a beaut sandy beach which exist for a few kilometres after each lock before the river seriously ponds. Beach the boat at 17:30, set up the tent and into the milky water. This time we have chosen a beach and it is a pleasure to set up camp. In these conditions it is easy to carry everything to the tent and to pack everything up in the morning saving a 1/2 hour and much sweat. According to the lockmaster, 3 weeks ago it was Murray water, clear and at flood with the whole lock 3 feet below the river level. Then followed the dreaded black water with the fish marching out of the river, and then the Darling water. Each of the last 3 locks were letting 9,000 Mlitres through although some was being siphoned off through Frenchmans creek to lake Victoria, a store for South Australia which is released back to the Murray via Rufus river, just after lock 7. We find a great beach with real sand and set up the tent not far from the canoe. Supper is the lamb schnitzels with fried potatoes, damned if we are going to chuck all the meat again. Few mozzies and fewer monsters during the night.
Saturday the 13th of January: 698 to 636 (Lock 6), Garmin about 52.7 km. Both of us have blocked noses and sleep poorly. As we are westering, the sun is rising later so at 06:00 it seems to be still night and very difficult to get out of the pit. Impressive dawn but the clouds break up with an early southerly. By the charts it is around 60 km to The Old Customs House but there are a couple of cuttings which cut off 6 km. so we decide to try and paddle the 50 odd km. Ho ho what fun we had with a strengthening wind and increasing temperature. Actually we got a bit of sailing in which helped a lot. Passed Devil's Elbow, a very picturesque red cliff and in other times a major navigation hazard as the river turns about 270 degrees. Lunch on a small sand beach and see snake marks across the surface. Christine thumps the ground with her paddle!!!! Trolled twice which turns out to be once too much for the fridge which gives up in the early evening. Finally we made it after 9 hours paddling and 11 hours on the river, a good proportion into the wind which is not too bad if it is under force 2 but above that, swells generated on long reaches severly impede progress. We crossed the two borders and passed through two locks. Just before arriving at Old Customs House we pass first the NSW to SA boarder and then, a few kilometres later, the Victoria to SA border. At TOCH we pull in between two house boats (gin palaces variety) and get a very positive reception from the inhabitants, one of whom helps us up with the kit to the lush green camping area in front of the store. Turns out he is with Tammy and they have one of the house boats, a fact which escaped our numbed brains. On asking a bit more info at the store we find that we were starting to set up in their front yard and the actual camping is 150 metres away in the desert. Back to humping the equipment down that 'ole dusty road and set up around 20:30 in a severe grump. The earth was like rock so we left most of the pegs out, a mistake which became obvious when the wind (now a blistering northerly) picked up during the night. The odd half dozen rotting fish in the barbeque added to the ambiance!! Neither of us slept worth mentioning. It did not cool down during the night.
Sunday the 14th of January: 636 to 603. Garmin 33.9 km. Up at 06:00, hottest night ever after a day of over 40 degrees. Pack up the camp and wander upstream the 150 metres to the store to see when it opens which turns out to be 08:30 a few minutes away until Rod asks the time of a couple waiting for signs from the Tammy van Wesse boat, and is informed that it was a few minutes to eight. Rats, we had forgotten that South Australia has the peculiar distinction of being 1/2 hour earlier. Anyway we find out that Tammy is going to leave at 08:20 to swim the distance between the NSW/SA and the Vic/SA boarders before having a rest day. As we have decided to paddle a short way with her we wait and see the channel 9 black helicopter land and the newsmen arrive and get ushered in the house boat. Tammy emerges and chats with people outside and we take the opportunity of saying hello and wishing her good luck. It seems that they expect to arrive at the mouth in mid February as they also have problems with swimming into waves. There is a strong nor westerly blowing the wrong way and we set off upstream for a kilometre to wait for the swimmer. As they come into view, we push off and sail up to the entourage, wave, jump up and down and slope off into the growing wind. Little were we to know that this would be a day of 45 to 46 degrees. This is the area of the river where there are beautiful red cliffs on tight right bends. The camera is running hot for the first few opportunities. It is only 70 odd km. to Renmark so we decide to paddle for only 35 km. or so for the next two days, an apparently simple task. Not so, with the wind and the long reaches sapping our strength and resolution. Rod starts winging that the gin palace people never ask us aboard for a beer when a couple of guys in a tinny pull up alongside and offer him a beer. Horses for courses. The had cracked their boat on the swell and warn us about it. Camp is made on one such bend opposite a formation called the two apostles. Too hot to cook and the fridge is upset because we trolled for 1/2 hour and is now sulking and will not turn on. Oh well, chuck the carfully saved lamb chops and tuck into the bread and salads crackers with a bit of cheese. Into bed with just underpants and no top. Christine has developed the wet T shirt techniques which helps too. Rod sleeps through the wind storm which shakes the tent and moves the river reds about with frightfull creaks. Eventually Christine's stare reaches his unconscious mind and he rises. "Wasup?" is the friendly greeting which every wife longs to hear as the house bends and sways. We close up the tent making it more stifelling but more secure. It is so hot that it just hurts to think about it...
Monday the 15th of January: 603 to 566. Garmin 35.3 km. Today the wind has decided to move to the south and the storm of last night has signalled a 'cool' change down to the mid 30s. More red cliffs pass, some really magnificent up to 50 metres high, the oxidised upper layers dripping their red blood onto the grey and white lower sediments left after the great inland lake dried up 500,000 years ago leaving the youthful Murray to carve its colourful path through the iron rich sediments. The south stretches are getting worse as they get longer and we really have to work. Anxiety is building up as the last 10 km. seem to be direct south and we remember the words of the two guys who cracked their tinny on 2 foot swells in similar circumstances. We round the righ hand corner and there it is, the southerly reach with the tops being blown off the waves in the middle, the willows being blown hotizontal. Christ, we will all surely be drownded. The waves are one to one and a half feet and about half the wavelength of the Itasca, an evil combination. Christine is worried about the canoe breaking as it plunges into the waves and Rod is worried that his paddle would break as allowing the canoe to move more than 20 degrees away from the wind and you are immediately broadside and in real danger of being swamped. We stick close to a reedy shore for about an hour gradually making headway until we see the left bank curving away to the right and offering the possibility of shelter from the southerly. Paddle like buggery across the river and reach the relative quiet of the lee shore, and so it remains for the next few km. into Renmark. The caravan park is on the river and we manage to get an air conditioned van for $56 for 2 nights. Off to the Renmark pub bistro for dinner, river perch which was very good. A little flutter on the pokies, back to the van and chat with the locals, actually from the Barossa and a Telstra employee who can use his WAP to advantage. And shock, horror, the VODAFONE actually works here so it must be something to do with South Australia. Off to a cool bed and a good nights sleep for both of us.
Tuesday the 16th of January. Did the web page and the washing and set off to town for lunch at the bakery, pie & sauce for Rod and a toasted avacado cheese sandwich for Christine. For Lake Alexandrina we have a plan, apart from giving up in Wellington, which is to get rid of the trolling motor and get a 2 HP outboard which should be enough to power us out of trouble if necessary. Of course no-one has this type of thing so the idea sort of lapses. It looks like we can get to the Lake by the end of January so we still have two weeks to fret about it. Next to check the email and as there is no cyber cafe in town we trot off to the public library which is really well wired with 3 internet terminals which are free. Seems like this is common throughout Australia. Wow. Christine has a hair cut and Rod a half long black and then the shopping but only for a couple of days. The water is now the main burden and we will carry about 17 litres, enough for 3 days. We walk back to the park along the river bike path past the many houseboats moored along the foreshore. Renmark is directly on the river and makes good use of it. Today is warm but no gale blowing, only a coolish south easterly with the prognostication being the same for the next few days with increasing temperatures into the high thirties. Supper at the Renmark Club, we have two fish dishes at $14 for the two of us.
Wednesday the 17th of January: 566-528 (Lock 5), Garmin 35.7 km. Sou easterlies predicted for the next few days and so it is this morning with a promise of greater things in the pm. We are expected at lock 5 at 09:00 SA time, which is 1/2 hour after NSW, and as we are running on NSW time so as to trick Rod to get up early, we dodle long with the loading and paddling and get there a bit late. The lockkeeper is there with the upstream doors open waiting for us, the first time. Below Renmark there are no gin palaces, only a lonely fisherman so it seems the major part of the trade is upstream. The lock dates from 1928 but only really started being used after WWII with the arrival of returned servicemen and the system of allotments or blovkers giving rise to the appelation 'blockers'. A hard life it was on the rocky red dusty ground but they persevered and the Chaffey brothers dream can be seen in Renmark, Berri, Loxton and other fiercely proud river towns in South Australia. The day warms with the breeze from the south and since the batteries are charged we troll for 1/2 hour at 7 kph, a great rest with Christine lying down in the front watching the thrusting bow slice her proud path through the rolling waves. Hem, hem. By lunch we have done 20 km. and are feeling in good nick. The wind is rising in the afternoon but only to gusts of 2 or a bit more and on the long stretches the waves do not have their heads knocked off. We follow the most leeward side and make reasonable progress to arrive in Berri around 16:30 having travelled 35.7 km by the Garmin, always a shorter distance than the kilometre trees. At Martin's Corner we try to find a camping in the park but it is all picnic ground near the river or water ski area. However, about 100 metres closer to town, there is a small clearing in the reeds on the right bank which is perfect. Pull the canoe up, unload the gear, set up the tent, get fizzy drinks from the fridge and ring everyone on the now operational phone. Tomorrow we tingle with anticipation of seeing the Berri ferry.
Thursday the 18th of January: 528-488 (Lock 4), Garmin 40 km. Wake up, decide that we can sleep in another 1/2 hour as we only have 36 km. to paddle. Slept well during a cool night and the morning is cold, jumper time. Clear day with a slight sou easterly which is strengthening by 08:00. As soon as the sun hits us the temperature climbs rapidly and we are off for the 40 km. trot to Loxton. The wind mounts as usual and is on force two gusting three but we keep to the 'lee' side on the sou easterly runs and it is not too bad. Through the lock 4 with the keeper putting in boards to reduce the flow from 9 to 8 thousand megalitres. Always below the lock there are beautiful sandy beaches but we need to get the kilometres in so we pass by to arrive at a 'sandy looking' beach which turns out to be covering 3 inches of gloop. Squelch! Ignore grey feet and have a rest doing exercises to stop the upper and lower back spasms which come from the neck. Lots of pelicans and wetlands and a few gin palaces. Here in SA there are not many fishermen, only professionals with their allocated stretch of the river to leave lines, a carryover from the initiation of the irrigation schemes when the 'blockers' did not have enough to keep the devil from the door. The day remains cool at around 35 degrees so we make reasonable time at an average of 5.5 kph and arrive in Loxton around 17:30, get a camping site in the camping ground on a sandy (really) and set up the tent a few metres away from the river. Christine has to send off a zip with the last story and photos up to Renmark. Around 19:30 (SA) we set off to the pub for supper and to post the zip. Loxton is a very pretty small town with a really good renovated pub. We walk the 2 km. to town and arrive just before the supermarket closes, dripping sweat. Get some nosh for the next couple of days and head for the air conditioned pub for food. Just in time as it closes at 20:00. Finish a good steak for Rod and a rotten fisherman's basket for Chrisitne with a good espresso and a brandy and the walk home in a cooler (hmm...) evening. Loxton, an extremely pretty and clean little town.
Friday the 19th of January: 488-452, Garmin 34.1 km. Decide to paddle early as we have the dreaded seven mile reach ahead of us. It is recognised as the longest straight reach on the Murray and heads nor west. The forecast is for sou easterlies so we may be in luck. Push off around 08:00 with a fresh sou easterly and a day promising temperatures in the 40s again. With such clement conditions, we sail a bit and troll a bit and get to Moorook, a distance of 36 km. by 15:30 to be greeted with grassy slopes, red beaches and a welcoming sign saying that we can camp on the foreshores. Great. Get the camp up and into the water which is also HOT. A metre or so below the surface it is cooler so we dive to get the thermal shock. Moorook started off as being an experiment of the late 19th century utopians in communal livig and it survived a bit before collapsing around the turn of the century. Sort of sad really. Now it is a pretty waterfront and a store which sells everything, including beer. At 20:00 it is still hot, above 40, so we get a take away from the store, hamburgers (sort of) and chips and eat them in the reserve in front of the tent. People come over and ask about the trip and wish us well. Off to the toilet for number 2s and find some bastard has taken the toilet roll and dumped it in the urinal. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Set up the infra red link to the computer and check the Yahoo mail and everything works for a change. Sleep reasonably well near naked and up at 06:00,(05:30 SA time).
Saturday the 20th of January: 452-420 (Lock 3), Garmin 30.1 km. There will be a weather change today in the afternoon with the wind swinging round from the north to the south east. We take this with a bit of salt and leave at 08:30 for lock 3, 16 km. away. Christine grumpy from early morning as the heat is unbearable right from 08:00, a bad sign. Kingston on Murray is just before the lock and we take a long break on the grassed foreshores around midday (in the shade), buy a couple of iced fruit juices, use the clean public toilets (we reckon that France should actually come to Australia to learn about public toilets), and get to the lock at 13:00 (SA). The lock keeper is a jolly chap and we acquire 3 litres of rain water and go through with a speed boat and a small house boat. The forecast in the paper does not give the temperatures, only hot, very hot and infernal. Today is very hot!! Strangely we are both sleepy and need to concentrate on not falling asleep every now and again. As usual, below the lock there are sandy beaches and we have lunch on one such under a red gum and take immediately to the water. Our aim is to get to Waikerie on Monday to collect a thesis from Rhys, one of Rod's students, who has sent it poste restante along with some Mac Zips. The nor westerly is increasing and we do another 8 kilometres to make only 30.1 on the Garmin before finding a great beach and decide to chuck it in around 16:30 leaving 38 km. or so to do tomorrow. Set up camp opposite imposing 20 metre cliffs and take a couple of swims waiting for the temperature to drop and drinking cold tinnies from the fridge. Both still sleepy but stay up until the wind drops. Little did we know that this was to be the night of the GOANNA!!! The first appeared with a bad limp, took to a tree near us and then took off across the sand to more fertile grounds. Christine at this moment was having kittens and refused to come out of the tent. The second goanna was bigger and less afraid. He lurked around the tree about 3 metres away and started to advance. Rod was by this time getting worried and used the paddle to chuck a load of sand in the reptiles direction. No Crocodile Hunter in his blood! After a couple of more bombardments he gradually moved off, all 1.5 metres of him and with some help from a very angry Kingfisher (whose nest was in the tree) which acted as a multiple missile onto the goanna's head. A motor bike appeared shortly after with the owner of the station upon it. We chatted for a bit and he was very welcoming, bringing up the one and a half chain rule so we were on crown land. We gave him a glass of red and after night had really fell, his son came looking for him in the car and he departed. He told us that there were 3 goannas on his property that were sort of trained to be with people and to be fed... Rod prevented the owner to tell his snakes stories to Christine. Into bed and a quite strong wind swaying the tent in a rather worrying manner. After 2 hours worrying about the winds and the goannas, Christine decided to put earplugs in to get a few hours of sleep.
Sunday the 21th of January: 420-382, Garmin 36.1 km. Up early expecting a cool sou easterly which of course did not arrive. Nevertheless, the sou westerly was not too hot and we paddled well meeting up with a family iona tinny who were photographing the Murray. They put in at Swan Hill and were trying to get to the mouth in 2 weeks. Hmmmmmm. They took some photos of us next to the cliffs and we exchanged email addresses. Lots of cliffs in this section which are truly beautiful. It got hoter and hoter during the day. After negotiating the water skiers, the jetskis and the ferry, we get to Waikerie around 17:00 and portage the equipment into the Marie Celest camping ground. There was no-one about so we set up the tent (after deciding that it is better to put the tent up before asking if it is permitted) and had some cooling refreshments. The actual camping ground is further away. Later in the evening we find the real camping ground but the owners are not in so we take a shower anyway and biff off on to the pub for a cool drink and a meal. Finish off with a chocolate mousse, a (very weak) esspresso and a brandy and then to a game of pool. Outside the heat is like a wall as we struggle back to the tent and a hot night.
Monday the 22nd of January: 382-359 (Lock 2), Garmin 23 km. Shopping in the morning and pick up Rhys's thesis from the Post Office. Demount the solar gear etc and portage the lot back to the river. It is now 11:00 and the clouds and cool breeze have gone to be replaced by the heat and another day of over 40s and the effort results in a rain of perspiration. We have about 20 km. to get to lock 2 and set out around midday. The heat is getting to Christine but affects Rod less as he grew up in it. Full head jobs are the only way to cool off requiring hanging over the gunwalls and cupping water over the head, a technique which works for about 20 minutes. Every 10 minutes we wet the hats and our sleeves, why 10 minutes, because they dry completely in that time. You actually feel the head sort of swelling and know that something must be done and quickly, especially in the afternoon with the reflections from the river. At the lock the lockman tells us that Mick is 4 days ahead of us and Tammy 4 days behind. A few km. below the lock we find an apparently sandy beach which on closer inspection yielded to mud beneath. But it was shielded from the wind and only a bit of mud so we stay there waiting for the furnace to switch off. After 2 swims, cold meat and bread for supper and then to a hot bed with all the outer flaps open to the sky.
Tuesday the 23rd of January: 359-320, Garmin 38.5 km. Riversleigh to Morgan Cloudy morning, and the temperature is down as we paddle past a red cliff getting the first slow photons from the dawning sun. No boats for a while, just 2 houseboats with canoes beep their horn in return to our waves. A good paddle and we get 20 km. done by 11:00. Lunch and it starts getting hot at 12:00 but for some reason, the great Juju has provided an easterly breeze which improves our speed by about 1 kph. On one reach we troll for 1/4 hour but the battery has little charge so we desist on further provoking the fridge which is going through its sensitive period. Swim at the afternoon break at 30 km. and then on into the heat for the last 10 to Morgan and the run south. At the left leading us to lower latitudes, a bloody great willie willy strikes pushing our speed to 9 kph and our position close to the cliff. Hmmmmmmmm. Must remember that. Do not play with willies when caught between a rock and a hard place. The red sands at the beach in Morgan are remarkable. Got help from the caravan park owner with his ute to portage all the equipment to the super GTX luxury twin cam shafts cabin and we move in at 16:00 having done the 40 km. before 15:00. Have a quiet afternoon and head off to the pub for a cooling libation or 17 and food. Christine has a great fillet of Bara and Rod a chunk of red meat. Play a couple of games of pool and a small flutter on the pokies and flipper and back to the park. Today was 41 in renmark and here the locals say that it is always 4 degrees warmer in Morgan. At the caravan park office they measure 44 degrees. In the 1880s, Morgan was the largest inland port taking cargo from the riverboats coming from Victoria and NSW via a railway to Port Adelaide. This persisted with 6 trains a day into the early 20th century when the Mildura and Hay railways started and Morgan slid into history. It is a well maintained town with a well developed civic pride mirrored in most of these riverside towns.
Wednesday the 24th of January: Morgan, rest day and the forecast is for 44 degrees. We cringe in our cabin and do the web page and catch up on sleep doing the washing and reprovisioning. The sky gods are seriously grumpy with vengeful cumulus lowering in various shades of black/grey/purple. Around 16:00 the electricity looks for more fertile fields, there is a great WHUMP and the rains set in. The power goes off as we watch the australian open. The air conditionning goes to bed and we get hot again. Off to the pub, where the power comes back on for about 3 minutes. Christine finally gives up and goes back to the cabin to have diner and work on the webpage while Rod talks to the locals. As the beer can only be sold in stubbies or tinnies, the publican lets it go at bottle shop prices and there is a rush. Unfortunately, the power really goes back on just in time for the draught to flow but too late for the nosh to be prepared. An evil mixture!! Rod resists the great temptation of the locals buying rounds (well, mostly) and returns to the cabin to make some toast and collapse into bed.
Thursday the 25th of January: 320-282, Garmin 35.8 km. Fine morning but really humid as the rains of last night evaporate. We portage the canoe the 150 metres to the red sands of the river and get the owner to help with the kit. Both of us are covered with sweat by now which does not evaporate. Off at 08:30 with a soft nor westerly helping a bit. Although it is only in the mid 30s the humidity makes paddling hard, especially on Christine. The river water is hot and does not cool us or dry off the skin. We make 35.8 km. by the Garmin, find a spot around 17:00 and give up. In a small depression next to a stack of rushes of the large variety we moor the boat, get the tent up and settle down to see what will happen with the sky which is now very cloudy and threatening. As Christine nips off for a #1, she is attacked by a band of huge mega-ducks lead by an evil looking albino. Rod distracts the flock with hymns and the promise of a Salada cracker, but still they come. Quite nice ducks really if you are into that sort of thing or in the cavalry. On closer inspection, the ground is alive with tiny ants which can move like the clappers and are very inquisitive, especially in the trouser department whilst one is occupied with the dreaded #2. They apparently can leap great distances with ease and to nip one in the botty dept when least expected. The gin palaces continue to ply the river, probably coming up from Blanchetown along with the water skiers who inhabit the shacks along the river. There are many of these, some old clapped out caravans and some major constructions, it is a tradition in South Australia to have a shack down on the river. Night still hot and filled with promise of something.
Friday the 26th of January (Australia Day): 282-246 (Lock 1), Garmin 36.2 km. For the first time the Garmin odometer is higher than the official distance as we have to paddle along the lee shore to avoid the wind and the waterskiers. The lightning and thunder which had played around the periphery of the camp during the night is approaching with serious intent and sure enough at 07:30, the heavens open up and we dash back to the vestibule of the tent and debate the state of the great Juju's spleen. Well, the sou westerly increases and the sky clears allowing us to pack and get out of duck city by 08:30 into a coolish sunny day with a head wind for most of the impending paddle. The first hour is hellish and we give up and find shelter in a huddle of house boats for 1/2 hour. So we just put our heads down and made the kilometres, 2 hours on and 1/4 hour off for 9 hours on the river; rather exhausting really but we did have a little troll to lift the spirits. The river meanders between the 30 to 50 metre limestone cliffs which were carved out half a million years ago by the post deluvian mighty Murray and we bounce between south east and south west with the cliff face at the end of each reach. Really it is very pretty if not hot and facing a headwind. Swan Reach is achieved at around 17:00 and Rod climbs the steps up the cliff to find his old school chum Peter waiting with a cooled beer in the pub overlooking the river. There is a certain amount of confusion over the planning but eventually we settle for the caravan park, get everything tentshaps and shoot through to have a beer and food, both of which are great. Swan Reach is a typical small town on the Murray with a ferry. A popular pub and a number of small shops. The town's history resides in the pub, not only in photographs but in its actual edifice as it was the first building in the area, starting off as the homestead of a sheep station. It is now cool, probably in the low 20s so we sleep well apart from the loud bastards across the way who keep talking 'till 03:00 and then bloody well drive out of the camp in their old V8 with lots of slamming of doors.
Saturday the 27th of January: 246-226, Garmin 20.1 km. We sleep in as it is a beautiful still cool morning. Get up around 09:00 and do the shopping and some washing. Ask the owner to help with the canoe/solar panels etc getting it down to the river, about 150 metres and it is warming up. Away at 13:30 with the intention of doing 20 km. as Mannum is about 100 km. away leaving two days of 40 km. The temperature rises but with a cool sou easterly which, as usual is channeled by the river into our faces. Getting away from the camping ground has problems as there are many water skiers with their bloody great wakes which we hope won't lead to ours. One shaven haired tattoed clot comes close to us and suggests we get over to the other side. We think he would make a welcome edition on the other side but the dogs garding the entrance would probably bite him. These guys with their V8 speed boats have a real attitude problem. Paddle, paddle paddle with the mind shut off. Along a long sou easterly reach we decide to call it a day as the speed has dropped to 4 kph with the wind and we are tired. Spot a good place but with a camper there, he has a canoe on the bank so we expect a good reception on sharing his possie. Not his as men take their sons on these trips leaving the women folk behind, or alternately they have been chucked out of the house and the mem sahib is at the goon of sweet sherry. Whatever. It is a good site with canoe next to us and minimum moving of equipment. Our neighbour has caught some respectable yabbies in the lagoon behind us but has lucked out in the fish dept. Wind is increasing and the waves on the reach confirm our decision not to continue. Not many mozzies and it is a truly beautiful night as Rod watches the stars with our new chum and his son trying to see satellites and shooting stars.
Sunday the 28th of January: 226- 189, Garmin 36.9 km. Up at kookaburra's fart with similar conditions to yesterday, sou easterly and about 25 degrees which is a blessing. Still in the land of the shack and the water skiers who think the river is for them alone. The cliffs which constrain the meanders are getting higher and starting to approach each other, they are really magnificent. We get the sail up and have some help but it is rather transitory. The wind slopes off for lunch and we stop at Walker Flat for nosh, next to the ferry. Broom, broom and the smell of petrol follow us for the next few kilometres, it is really different to the upper reaches of the river with its solitude and quiet. We do the required 38 (or so) km. by 16:00 and pull into a Private Property etc and decide to ignore it. Stuff 'em. It is only 3 paddling days to do before Wellington when we will have to make the great decision about Lake Alexandrina. Both of us are tired but we make pancakes with maple syrup. The Coleman stove is nearing its use by date and needs a complete overhaul as Rod's cleaning is not sufficient. In bed early with a cool night verging on cold.
Monday the 29th of January: 189-151, Garmin 37.8 km. Once again up at 06:00 and it is cold so we get the stove going to keep warm and make tea and toast for lunch. The quality of the cold meats we have bought in the last few weeks is not too hot, at least not compared to the stuff we could buy in the IGA supermarkets in Victoria and NSW. The form of the cliffs is very different with rounded hills beyond and either irrigated or low rainfall crops planted. As there is a southerly wind and we are travelling westward we hoist the sail and get a lot of help for the first few hours during which we make 21 km. before 11:30. In the last 10 km. to Mannum the wind picks up and we battle into the waves on a long sou west reach which stopped Sturt for 3 days in early 1830. We are reasonably lucky and it is not continuous so we get to Mannum around 16:30 feeling the effects and beach the canoe on the great sandy beach of the caravan park just before the ferry. Book into a luxury cabin and shower, wash the clothes and Rod shaves, scrape scratch youp, arghhhhhhhh. Do shopping and into a renovated pub for supper, butter fish for Rod and prawns for Christine. Finish off with a double St Agness and a long black and back to the cabin. But wait, how could our unmindfull pair imagine what lies ahead for them? During a discourse on the economics of caravan parkmanship, Rod is surprised by a strangled gasp from Christine, who, in spite of herself, had been paying attention to the academic dissertation and not watching the ground in front for monsters. She was a step away from planting her foot on a snake (of the sort of whitish/brownish striped variety) and was now rigid, a stance Rod was rapidly assuming. Snake curls up and issues a loud warning HISSSSSSS from the top of its coil. Hmmmmmm. Back off, no rapid movements (except the sphincter consortium which had had a quick meeting and instructed all members to work overtime). Scurry back to the cabin and find a large FROG waiting which really makes Christine's day. So knackered and exhausted that we collapse into bed (after Rod checks for some monsters under the bed) to sleep the dreams of the innocent until 05:30 when the ferry, which is a scant 30 metres away, arouses itself to take a 500 wheel truck across the Styx.
Tuesday the 30th of January. At 06:00 we look out the window and see that there is a strong sou esterly blowing and decide we do not need it so give up and go back to sleep to start a leasurly off day. Muck around the cabin for the morning and stroll into town in mid afternoon to see the sights. The Paddle Steamer Marion has been restored and we took a quick visit. Wood fired boiler and all original with side paddles, she takes trips a couple of times a week. Owned a hundred years ago by Randl, the father of Mannum, she started with wool transport and ended up as a tourist boat. Next to her is the first and only dry dock on the Murray, dug into the banks. Mannum is on the flood plain and got it bad during the 1956 flood which came half way up the main street buildings. After a supper in the pub we went our way back without much discussion and much looking in front for tiger snakes.