The Mighty Murray River

Proud Mary River Cruise

Together with friends, we recently had the pleasure of a five day cruise on the Murray River from Murray Bridge about an hour south-east of Adelaide, upstream visiting the historic towns of Mannum and Swan Reach and as far as the first of fifteen locks at Blanchetown, and then back again.

Map courtesy of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) )
Murray River in South Australia

Like many Australians, I have had a passing acquaintance with the Murray River over the years. I have crossed it numerous times at Albury/Wodonga on the Hume Highway driving between Sydney and Melbourne. I have visited Renmark and Mildura, and historic Echuca enjoying a short trip on a paddle steamer. I have played golf at several of the fine courses along its banks including Corowa, Cobram-Barooga, Yarrawonga and Tocumwal. I have attended a conference at Wentworth at the confluence with the Darling River discussing ways to mitigate the infrequent but inevitable floods that occur in this catchment. However, in these few days in South Australia we learned much more about the river giving a greater understanding behind its Mighty Murray title.

The Murray rises in the Australian Alps just south of Mount Kosciusko and after a journey of over 2,500 kilometres through New South Wales and Victoria meets the ocean at Goolwa on Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Together with the Darling-Barwon and Murrumbidgee Rivers together with their many tributaries, the total catchment covers more than 1 million square kilometres and makes up about 14% of the Australian continent. In this catchment, the flood of record at Wentworth was in 1870 when flows in both the Murray and Darling Rivers combined to inundate the countryside.

Aboriginal carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

That history of the Murray River is very Aussie. The Murray has supported life for aborigines through the millennia and ancient rock carvings can still be seem at places like the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Reserve at Nildottie. As a major transport corridor in the 19th century it helped to develop inland Australia. In its heyday more than 200 paddle steamers are said to have carried supplies and produce between the various settlements along its banks.

The township of Mannum that we visited was one of the major ports. It now has an extensive museum telling the story of its early history and pioneers such as the Randell family whose members held some of the first leases in the 1850s, operated the first paddle steamer, the “Mary Ann”, in South Australia in 1853 and raised the first building in Mannum in 1864.

Historic Plaque, Mannum

Among others were the Shearer brothers with their agricultural manufacturing business contributed greatly to the area’s prosperity throughout the latter part of the century. Here we also learnt of the historic 1956 flood that affected much of the town and how rowboats pulled up at the first floor balcony of the pub to get a beer from the higher bar the publican had quickly set up.

The main traffic these days consists of river cruise boats giving tourists a glimpse of the wide variety of birdlife, the ancient river red gums that thrive with their toes in the water ,and which have some of the most beautiful red timber often used for furniture and decorative works.

 

In the lower South Australian reaches that we travelled the river has cut its broad path, over millions of years, through the soft red sandstone countryside to form kilometre after kilometre of sheer cliffs that are alternatively on either the right or left side as it meanders across its flood plain. At Big Bend the cliffs are more than 30 metres high and quite majestic in the sunlight as the boat sweeps around the curving river.A feature of the area has been the use of the local sandstone for the construction of houses and civic buildings and which gives

Sandstone Building (Swan Reach)
Sandstone Building (Mannum)

The Murray is not a roaring torrent but a wide slow moving laid-back flow falling only about two centimetres every kilometre. On our visit we had the opportunity to learn more about it and its history as well as enjoying the serenity of this very Australian river.

Sweeping Sandstone Cliff at Big Bend

 

Pub Lunches in The Rocks

When a group of friends of more than 50 years standing, but now liberally scattered across Greater Sydney decide, in their retirement, that a semi-regular luncheon get-together is in order, where should they gather to reminisce about their shared history? Somewhere central of course, and with history in mind what could be more central and appropriate than The Rocks. And because we enjoy an ale, it was decided that there would be appropriate venues among the many historic pubs there.

The Rocks

The Rocks, named for the sandstone outcrops on the peninsula west of Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) has a most intriguing history dating from the early convict days. Within a few years of the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 Government buildings started to appear in The Rocks focusing on activities to manage convicts.

Soon after the dawning of the 19th century the Government instituted a system of leases in the area which was expanded in the early 1820s with free settlement and assisted immigration. This led to a population boom that further accelerated with the gold rushes. Business activity naturally increased over this period including the establishment of many pubs servicing the local community and workers from the harbour seafront.

By the late 19th century The Rocks had become run down and overcrowded. There were dozens of pubs that were meeting places for criminal gangs, and the back streets were haunts of prostitutes, such that it had become a typical waterfront slum.

The developments through the 20th century including the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway past Circular Quay led to demolition of many houses and further proposals for development. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the century that “green bans” and heritage controls took effect preserving many important remnants of the early history of Sydney that we are able to enjoy today.

The Glenmore Hotel

So to lunch. Our most recent outing included a meet-up at the Glenmore Hotel followed by lunch the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The Glenmore Hotel

A Glenmore Hotel has operated in two buildings in Cumberland Street, continuously since 1837. The first Glenmore Hotel, known as the Glenmore Cottage, was located less than 50m from the current hotel and was demolished to make way for the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and the current Hotel was built by Brewers Tooth & Co in 1921.

Although not having quite the long history of other pubs in The Rocks it offers alfresco dining and, from it high Cumberland Street position, fine views of the the harbour and Sydney Opera House from the rooftop beer garden.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson hotel on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets. is reputed to be Sydney’s oldest pub. The building dates from 1836 and was originally built as a home by a William Wells. In 1840 he started converting his house into a hotel and on 1st May 1841 he obtained a liquor licence and called the establishment the Lord Nelson hotel.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

These days the hotel incorporates a brewery with a range of brews for every taste. Our group particularly likes their Old Admiral old ale and Three Sheets pale ale with a good meal.

The Hero of Waterloo Hotel

The Hero of Waterloo

An earlier lunch date was at another iconic sandstone pub, The Hero on the corner of Windmill and Lower Fort Streets, Millers Point. This little gem of a pub has real atmosphere with reminders of a notorious past seen in the downstairs cellars with shackles on the walls and the entrance to the supposed smuggler’s tunnel. Legends abound and some say ghosts.

Opening in 1843 the structure also suffered over the years and has been renovated to provide more modern facilities but retain its historic character and charm.

The small triangular site adds to the atmosphere which is cosy and ideal for a drink and nice meal.

Hotel Palisade

The Hotel Palisade next to Munn Street Reserve,

Millers Point was the site of a lunch some time ago, but deserves a mention. Our group together with our significant others made this pub a destination after a relaxing Sunday stroll around the new headland at Barangaroo.

Sitting high on the sandstone ridge, it was built in 1915-1916 to replace an 1880 hotel of the

Hotel Palisade

same name and recently underwent a $5m restoration after being closed for about 7 years. It is named after the palisade fence built between Munn Street and Bettington Street and built in “Federation Free Style”.

It provided a good range of beers and cosy dining.

Orient Hotel

The Orient Hotel has not yet been a recent venue for lunch but over the years has been a popular meeting place for a beer or something to eat in the tree-shaded sandstone courtyard

In 1842, on the current site of the Orient Hotel at the corner of George and Argyle Street a three-storey residence of ten rooms and a neighbouring single storey shop was constructed on and in 1853 was converted to licensed premises trading as the Marine Hotel. It was renamed the Buckham’s Hotel in 1876 and this was finally changed to the Orient in 1885.

Orient Hotel

The building has undergone a number of modifications over the last few decades to enhance its popularity to the broader public, added to by its prominent location.

What next?

Although the number of pubs in Sydney has declined over the years, there are still many more possible venues in The Rocks and we hope to visit some of them in the future.

Alfred Charles Bray – Exeter Train Crash

On this day, 16 March in 1914 my great-grandfather Alfred Charles Bray died in the Exeter Train Disaster.

A Young Alfred Charles Bray

Alfred was the son of Harry Cornelius Bray who had arrived in Australia on 26 September 1853 at the age of 6 years with his family from Portsmouth on the barque St. George. Alfred’s mother, Mary Bannatyne (Armitage) also from England arriving with her family as assisted immigrants. Mary was named after the ship Mary Bannatyne on which she was born in the English Channel shortly after leaving Plymouth in 1949. Harry and Mary both grew up in Sydney and were married at St. Lilas Church, Waterloo on 22 Dec 1870.

Harry and Mary lived in the south Sydney area while Harry made a living firstly driving a baker’s cart and later as a van proprietor of carrier. Alfred Charles was the eldest of their eight children and born at the family home at 32 Bullinaminga Street, Redfern on 24 May 1871.

By the time Alfred married in 1894, he was employed as a sorter at the General Post Office and his family had moved to Hurstville where they owned adjoining properties at Woids Avenue and Bellevue Avenue. His bride was Ellen Louisa Cole who was born at Bungendore in the Monaro District of NSW on 22 January 1874. Her parents Frederick William and Ellen (McFarlane) Cole were both born in NSW, at Gundaroo and Raymond Terrace respectively. Frederick worked at several of the larger properties or estates in the Bungendore area including Foxlow, Carwoola and Gidleigh. Here the Coles raised their seventeen children.

Little is known of Ellen Louisa’s early life but it is not difficult to imagine that in such a large family that everyone would be kept busy with the daily family chores as well as contributing to work on the estates where they lived. It is likely that she received a basic education at the school at Gidleigh, establish on the property by the owner Mr. Rutledge for the benefit of his family and the resident staff.

It is not known how Alfred met Ellen but before her twentieth birthday she was in Sydney and they married at St. Thomas’ church, Balmain South on 15 February 1894. The couple initially lived at Hurstville with the Alfred’s family and their first daughter, Levena Mary, was born six months after their wedding on 29 August. In 1897 their second child, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, was also born at Hurstville.

By the time their next child, Marjorie Elizabeth Martha was born in 1899, Alfred was working as a mail guard based in Orange. They then spent a number of years in Cootamundra where Daisey Fredrita and Dorothy Grace were born in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Finally the family moved back to Hurstville and the Woids Avenue/Bellevue Avenue property. Here they had three more children with Pearl Louisa born in 1906, Charles Cole in 1908 and Ruby Esther in 1910 but she died after two days.

The Crash Scene

On that fateful night in 1914, Alfred was at work, as normal in the mail van of the Temora Mail train with 134 passengers on board that left Sydney at 8:10pm. It was a foggy night and the train was running late. As the train approached the station at Exeter shortly before midnight it was thought that the heavy fog obscured the signal. The driver was proceeding at only 13 miles per hour but he was not aware of a goods train shunting onto the loop line, until he was only about 65 yards away and although he applied the emergency brakes it was too late to avoid a disaster. The crash occurred 200 yards north of the Exeter station and although the impact speed was about 7mph in the carnage that followed 14 people were killed and another 26 injured.

In an article compiled by Philip Morton, sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, he explains in part that:

“Postal guard Alfred Bray was at the open door preparing to throw mailbags onto the platform – with his head crushed, he died. The second car, caught between the weight of mail van and engine, and the cars behind, leaped from the rails and drove through the front of the third.”

Alfred Charles Bray was buried on 17 Mar 1914 at Woronora Cemetery, Section J, 0001. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 18 March that Alfred’s funeral was “one of the largest funerals ever seen at Woronora Cemetery”. He was just short of 43 years old. Alfred’s death left Ellen a widow at 40 years of age with one married daughter and the six other children at home aged between 17 and 6 years. Ellen’s father had died 15 years earlier and her widowed mother was seventy and living in Balmain. Luckily she had the support Alfred’s family who were still living at the Hurstville properties.

Philip Morton further tells us that:

“The verdict of the Coroner’s Inquest held at Bowral on March 24, 1914 was that [the Temora Mail driver, Peter] Irwin caused the accident by over-running the home signal. A rider was added that loops should be lengthened or refuge sidings placed at both ends, and further precautions taken during fogs to ensure safety of the public by calling out fog signalmen earlier than was the case. Irwin was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter.”

At the Goulburn Courthouse in April the jury considered there was sufficient doubt, and Irwin was acquitted.

Ellen Louisa Bray

Alfred’s estate was probated on 17 April 1914 and letters of administration granted to the Public trustee. He died intestate and his estate was assessed at under £700. A claim was subsequently made, on behalf of Ellen Louisa Bray, to recover compensation from the Railway Commissioners for alleged negligence in connection with the death of her husband in the collision. The matter was settled for £1200. The deceased left seven children. The jury allocated compensation of £400 to Ellen, £50 to the married Levena Mary (Hebblewhite) and £125 to the other six children.

Ellen was known as a strong independent woman and she successfully continued to raise her children at Hurstville as well as watching her older son, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, go off to WW1 when he was 18 Years old in 1915. In 1923 she was remarried to a widower Walter Clark at 103 Baptist Street, Redfern. She died on 27 September 1943 and was buried on 28 September 1943 at Woronora Cemetery next to Alfred.

Woronora Cemetery

In March 2014 a solemn memorial service was held at Exeter station commemorating the centenary of the train crash and a memorial plaque was unveiled, which included the names of people who died in the 1914 disaster.

Memorial Plaque
Exeter Memorial

London Revisited

So, what can you really achieve in a few days in this great city? By way of a disclaimer, firstly we had already been here several times, we were suffering from a little bit of travel fatigue after more than six weeks away from home and lastly with one very sore foot our normal enthusiasm for sightseeing (requiring walking) was somewhat diminished.

London celebrates
London celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry
Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry

 

 

 

 

 

Our hotel, not far from Paddington station, was well situated for both our arrival from Oxford and our intended departure to Heathrow. Armed with 48-hour hop on – hop off bus passes and an Oyster cards for the tube we were ready see a few sights but at a slower relaxed pace.

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace

london kensington palace2

 

As we all know timing is often very important in life. We managed to time our visit to arrive in London on the Friday of a long weekend along with the thousands of other visitors. There were people everywhere and I couldn’t remember such crowds but, London is geared to cope with tourists and it is amazing how everything functions so well. Did I mention timing? This particular weekend also saw the London 10k fun run on the Sunday with many inner city roads closed resulting in diversions to the ho-ho bus routes.

So in a way the crowds and the road diversions contributed to our being able to sit back on the bus and relax while taking in the sights. Taking full advantage of our 48-hour tickets, on the Sunday we spent a couple of very pleasant hours travelling up and down the Thames to visit Greenwich. All in all, we certainly got full value from the ho-ho bus passes.

At the National Gallery
At the National Gallery
A Streeton
A Streeton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what else did we do? We spent a couple of hours relaxing among masterpieces in the National Gallery, including one Streeton. We had a ride on the London Eye enjoying the view, which when we last took the ride was limited to about 50 metres. We spent some time savouring the historic journey that Westminster Abbey provides, topped off by a visit to Kensington Palace and an exterior inspection of Buckingham Palace.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station
Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station

 

There was a little shopping, a very little, and a visit to Kings Cross station and Platform 9¾ on behalf of grandchildren. Evenings saw us retiring early mostly but we did see a couple of shows in the West End, namely The Book of Mormon and the Carole King story of Beautiful, both extremely professional and enjoyable experiences.

These few days were punctuated by light lunches and dinners mostly at local pubs where we love the wholesome meals (and for me, the local ales). For our last night we were tossing up between a nearby Greek taverna or an Italian restaurant, either of which would remind us of our recent enjoyable cruise.

We probably have not done London justice on this occasion, if that is ever possible, but we have reacquainted ourselves with the wonderful variety that this great city has to offer.

PS      The Greeks won last night, taking us back a month or so to our visit to that favourite part of the world with a quite memorable meal.