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

 

Princes Highway Road Trip

For anyone wanting to escape the metropolis that is Sydney there are really only four highways and another minor road out of the place.

To the north, and part of National Route One running around the whole of the continent, is the Pacific Highway that generally parallels to coast all the way to Brisbane. In an anti-clockwise direction and heading more north-westerly is the Putty Road which is very much a secondary road with relatively little traffic compared to the State Highways. To the west is the Great Western Highway heading over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst opening up New South Wales and country centres further afield. In a south-westerly direction is the Hume Highway, the main artery between Sydney and Melbourne where it terminates. It now consists of a dual carriageway without a traffic light between our two major cities. To the south, and our favourite escape route, is the Princes Highway (also part of National Route One). It also roughly follows to coast much of the way and will take you to Melbourne after a trip of just over 1,000 kilometres,

Having a full two weeks available during the school holidays, Jenny and I had planned a road trip via the Princes Highway all the way to Melbourne. In addition to our love of the south coast and our desire to visit Melbourne, we had not previously travelled the Victoria section of the Highway.

Leaving Sydney, the highway starts off as the dual carriageway M6, but once past Wollongong and the increasingly populous Illawarra area the traffic progressively thins out except during holiday periods. This is changing as more people discover the beauty of, and easier access to, the south coast. The motorway now extends almost to Nowra after the recent by-passing of Berry but we chose to take a detour from this new road to stop for lunch at Gerringong overlooking its popular surf beach.

Rejoining the highway at Bomaderry we turned left at Nowra for our first stop-over at Myola on lovely Jervis Bay and just south of Callala Beach.

Evening at Myola, Jervis Bay

The Myola village nestles next to Currumbeen Creek across from Huskison and consists of a couple of dozens houses and a caravan park. Our van is less than ten minutes walk along a bush track through the Bangalay sand forest to the white sands and clear water of the bay. This is not a surf beach and except in rough weather the gentleness of the shore break adds to its isolated serenity. A couple of days here and the urban cobwebs just blow away.

narooma1

Wagonga Inlet, Narooma

The second leg of our trip took us back out onto the highway and down to Batemans Bay. Here we lunched in one of the many cafes that cater for this community of retirees that swells at weekends and on holidays with the influx of Canberrans who flock to their nearest point on the coast. From here we continued down the often windy route through the coastal forests that provide a pleasant driving experience so different from the straightened alignments of the motorways.

Our overnight stop was at Narooma, one of the real gems of the south coast with its picturesque inlet and beaches, rugged coastline and views of Montague Island. This place also has special meaning for me having lived here for five of my early school years. I like to visit Narooma and bring back those long-ago memories, and one day stay here is not really enough.

eden

Twofold Bay, Eden

Stage three of our journey would take us into Victoria but before that we decided to have a lunch of fish and chips at Eden on Twofold Bay. This was the most southerly point on the Highway we had previously reached and beyond here would be all new to us. We launched into the unknown of Victoria taking us through Orbost to where we planned to stop the night and look around in Lakes Entrance. Our short visit only whetted our appetite for a longer stay to be able to take advantage of the many waterways and beaches.

On the last leg of the trip through the Gippsland region the highway veered away from the coast and headed more or less directly to Melbourne. Passing through the country towns such as Bairnsdale and Traralgon we took pleasure in typically the Australian buildings from the federation period and often earlier. As we approached our destination the highway again turned into motorway and finally in suburban Albert Park, the Princes Highway became Queens Road where our home was to be for the next few days.

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Lakes Entrance

With only a couple of minor diversions, we had completed our leisurely road trip from Sydney to Melbourne.

Tokyo and Mt Fuji

Once again having just a short visit of three days here was only enough to scratch the surface.

Outside of the Emperor’s Palace

The city of Tokyo is one of the most modern in the world as well as one of the largest. The greater Tokyo metropolitan area with its population of over 36 million includes development all along the 37 kms of motorway beside Tokyo Bay from where the Volendam berthed at Yokohama to the centre of Tokyo.

The city proved to be a wonderful contradiction of skyscrapers and the tradition Japanese gardens, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and the Emperor’s palace.

Cards of some of the Performers

We were lucky enough to have a night out at a small theatre restaurant. Apart from the delicious cuisine and jugs of local beer the entertainment was delightfully traditional Japanese with a Beatles number thrown in for good measure. The stage was segmented and the different sections were raised and lowered to create constantly changing landscapes across which the performers danced and bounded.

An exciting show

 

We then took a day excursion from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji. We didn’t see the volcano because of the overcast, and we were told that it is quite a rare event to see the summit (so I bought a postcard instead). We had escaped from the megalopolis that is Tokyo into the country where we visited a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine, walked in some lovely gardens and enjoyed some local cuisine, all the time while our guide, Satoru, gave us insights into Japan’s history and culture.

Our several days in and around Tokyo were most enjoyable but with regards to my Japan visit there is another aspect that deserves my blogging about. Japan has held a special significance, if that is the right word, for me because of my own father’s experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma Railway during WW2. I haven’t harboured any hatred of this nation and its people but it has been like a cloud hanging over my feelings that needed to be confronted.

Mt. Fuji is to the left – somewhere

Accordingly I had been looking forward to Japan and particularly Tokyo to learn about this country and its culture that seemed so very different to my own. Learning more about a country’s history certainly helped in my understanding of their culture (and isn’t that one of the main reasons for, and benefits from, travelling overseas).

Mt. Fuji on a rare clear day at Cherry Blossum time

As explained to us, Japanese culture emphasises humility and belonging to a group rather than individualism. This is in evidence by the respectful bowing that is the norm in society. Unfortunately this same culture has led to some serious social problems especially in retirement. During a career where employees become so dedicated to their company a large proportion do not have time for other interests, and this becomes a real problem for them when they retire.

Without exception, everyone that I have spoken to that has travelled to, or spent time in, Japan has told me that they are a friendly people.

Following WW2 and the virtual obliteration of Tokyo the world has seen how Japan has emerged as an industrial powerhouse in the modern world, largely based on the efficiency and dedication of the Japanese people.

Japan is also particularly prone to natural disasters but these people have a philosophy, as explained by Satoru, along the lines that “thunder, earthquake, typhoon and an angry father, will pass”. To me it seems that this approach in conjunction with their combination of religions is partly responsible for their philosophy – life goes on after such an event.

In our small minibus on the drive back from Mt. Fuji I can say that I have seldom felt more relaxed, content and at peace. The weather during our visit to Japan has been cloudy and often raining, but on a personal level I feel that the clouds have been blown away.

Experiencing Hokkaido

After seven days crossing the North Pacific from Glacier Bay we arrived at the island of Hokkaido and the city of Kushiro to start our visit to Japan and experience its culture.

Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands of Japan which is in fact an archipelago of many thousands of islands. Today Hokkaido’s main industries are agriculture and fishing. Historically it is the ancestral home of the Ainu people who inhabited the island for hundreds of years before being taken over by the Japanese. This is not dissimilar to the situation with other indigenous peoples around the world, with the Japanese recognising the importance and benefits of ensuring the survival of Ainu culture.

Hot springs

The excursion during our one day in Kushiro took us to the “blue” Musho Lake which, because of the all-to-common fog, was not blue and barely visible. Next at the hot springs demonstrated the volcanic nature of this part of the world. The sulphur plumes and odour from the hot springs were all pervading and is something we don’t experience in Oz. The real highlight of the day for me was just driving through the countryside with its forests of yellow and orange and red autumn leaves – quite spectacular. Every now and then we would come across the a few graceful Japanese cranes with the red crowns, grazing next to the road.

Early next morning we cruised into our second port in Hokkaido, which was the fifth largest city in Japan, Hakodate. It was our first real taste of rainy weather but it didn’t deter us from enjoying the sights of this pleasant city. We called at some of the main attractions in including the Goryokaku Fort with its exquisite Magistrate’s Office building and the nearby Gorokaku Tower, Hakodate Mountain and the Museum of Northern Peoples.

The fort was the first of its kind in Japan and modelled on a European citadel town. In the centre of the Fort was the Magistrate’s Office which was completed in 1864. This was in response to the opening up of isolationist Japan, and particularly the port of Hakodate, to the rest of the world after the American Commodore Perry’s visit and ultimatum in 1853. This building was dismantled in 1871 following war in the city and became a park. The building was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010 to the original design and using traditional construction techniques. The building provides an excellent example of Japanese precision in workmanship.

The Gorokaku Tower overlooking the Fort was also completed in 2006. The Tower enables us the truly appreciate the Fort area from the observatory level 90 metres above. It is now manicured parkland (still) surrounded by its moat with the Magistrate’s Office at its centre.

During our two days on Hokkaido we also sampled some of the delights of Japanese cuisine

Yum yum

with an emphasis on seafood, and were introduced to the friendly polite Japanese people. We look forward to expanding on these experiences with a couple of days in Tokyo.