Page 63



Our first task on arriving at the Golden River Holiday Resort was to set all our time-pieces thirty minutes forward again as Victoria was on Eastern Daylight Saving Time. Presumably the word 'golden' in the park's name comes from the colour of the Murray River on the banks of which the park is situated. Possibly a little poetic licence has been taken with the name but, after all, who would stay at the Muddy River Holiday Resort?

Flood Levels

One morning we took a walk along the bank of the Murray. There was no perceptible flow and at intervals we came across pumping stations. One had flood levels marked on its wall . . .

The wall of this pumping station records the flood levels since 1952.

Note the widening periods between floods: The river now appears full but it is an illusion caused by downstream weirs artificially raising the water level. The Murray, which used to flood every few years, has not done so for eighteen years and the trees, vegetation and animal life on the flood plains are in decline.

I covered the reason for the demise of the Murray River in previous pages. To reiterate briefly, the story goes thus:-

The Murray valley is a rich crop-growing area by virtue of the water pumped from the river for irrigation. As the irrigator's demands on the river were increasing, so too was the region's rainfall decreasing. One attempt at a 'solution' was the ingenious Snowy Mountain Scheme. Many of the rivers in the Snowy Mountains, which had previously flowed east to the ocean, were diverted west through vast tunnels bored through the mountains. Having passed through the turbines of one or more hydro-electric generators, the water then flowed, totally unchanged, into the Murray. Even fortified with the additional water, the Murray continued to die, unable to meet the insatiable demands of the irrigators. The flow in its lower reaches was often reduced to a trickle. A series of thirteen weirs was constructed along the length of the river which had the effect of converting the river into a series of long lakes.

During our walk along the Murray's bank we came across many pumping stations. Shown below is just one which, I think, was supplying a winery a few kilometres away.

Pumping Station

An output pipe of this diameter could drag a huge volume of water from the Murray and this is just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands. Look at the address (inset) which we found painted on the pipe (arrowed). Ironical?

Including South Australia, three states rely on the Murray's insufficient water and they all want a larger share. The decisions lie in the hands of the politicians of the three State Governments . . . and they will never agree. Recently the Federal Government tried to wrestle control of the river from the State Governments but the Victorian Government blocked the move and the Coalition Federal Government was deposed before any resolution was found.

So what happens next? Who knows! In theory, federal politicians wouldn't have any vested interest in the water and so should be able to make unbiased decisions. They can't increase the water supply, but they can take a big stick to those who waste it without fear of losing votes. Who knows, they'd probably gain some.

Much water is wasted in open channels which allow the water to both soak into the earth and evaporate into the air while in transit to its destination. The use of pipes would eliminate both types of wastage and at least ease the situation a little. Also, impact sprinklers that squirt water high into the air lose much in evaporation and in soaking a whole area instead of just their targets crops. Not unexpectedly, the irrigators balk at the expense involved.

Weir 11

Weir Number 11 at Mildura. We photographed paddle steamer
Rothbury negotiating the lock here on Page 6, remember?


Would this be a flock or a shoal of cormorants on the Murray?

Murray/Darling Confluence

The meeting of the Darling and Murray Rivers at Wentworth. Weed floats on the sluggish water.

We were in Mildura to visit our dear friends, Phil and Dawn, who were childhood sweethearts and, now in their sixties, seem to be as much in love as ever. Phil is a legend in speedway circles. These days his grandchildren are carrying on the tradition and doing extremely well. Phil's vocabulary is almost as legendary as his riding was and he had us in tears of laughter with his choice of words. He and Dawn took us on a conducted tour of the Mildura area and proved to be very informed guides. One of the first stops we made was to visit the Desert Train, better known as Big Lizzie, a machine the likes of which I have never set eyes upon. Just take a look at this:-


Meet Big Lizzie, the strangest contraption I ever did see. Lizzie weighs 45 tons. Her fuel tanks hold 19,800 litres.

The Story of Big Lizzie

Designed and built in 1915 by a man called Frank Bottrill, Lizzie was intended to replace camel trains which carried wool and other heavy loads in sandy terrain at Broken Hill. Leaving Melbourne, Big Lizzie towed two 30' trailers, a steam traction engine, a 1918 Dodge car, a chicken coup and a milking cow, hence the title 'Desert Train'. Suspended from the rear trailer was a Rudge motor cycle and side car for reconnaissance ahead.

Life on the road wasn't simple for Frank Bottrill and Big Lizzie. They left Melbourne for Broken Hill in 1916, expecting to arrive in 1917, but Lizzie was so heavy that she was refused permission to cross river bridges after having crashed through one near Kilmore, so she was forever making detours to try and find suitable fords with gentle banks. She was so high that overhead power and telephone cables had to be removed while she passed. Her turning circle of 200' meant that her route had to be carefully chosen. In fact, she never did make it to Broken Hill. Frank ran short of money and took on work hauling large loads and clearing land as he went. Eventually roads had improved and Broken Hill was being serviced by conventional road transport.

Lizzie's Wheels

A better view of Lizzie's wheels.

Lizzie, still in good working order, was retired in 1938 and her engine sold to drive stone-crushing machinery. Sadly in 1945 the engine was broken for scrap. Big Lizzie stood neglected and unloved in a paddock until 1971. She was not totally forgotten by the people of Red Hills, Mildura, however. Lizzie

Lizzie's Shoes

had cleared a lot of land for what was known as the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Seven hundred blocks of land, cleared of trees and bush, and irrigated, were prepared for soldiers returning from the Great War. When the Golden Jubilee of the Red Hills Settlement was imminent, an idea was born and funds raised. Lizzie was purchased and rescued. The Big Lizzie Association Incorporated was formed to restore and maintain her and now she stands, proudly displayed with one of her trailers, in Barclay Square.

One cable was doubled; it wound onto the wheel rim to haul Lizzie along.
The other cable was single. It was connected to the opposite end of the track.
Together the tensioned cables held the track firmly against the rim while leaving it free to rock.

There were two amazing aspects of Lizzie that immediately struck me, the first being the 'dreadnaught' wheel design. Each wheel had six large flat tracks (also known as bearers or pedrails) in two sets of three. They were attached to the rim by heavy, tensioned cables in such a way that the tracks were always held in contact with the rim but they were free to rock. In motion, gravity and centrifugal force caused each track to flop down ahead of the rim which ran over it and then picked it up again behind. Flanges around the rim prevented the tracks from skewing, especially when Lizzie was turning. The three outer tracks were offset by 60° to the inner tracks, so that at least one track on each wheel (ten square feet) and most of the time, two tracks (twenty square feet) were flat on the ground. Lizzy's front wheels and the trailers' wheels were smaller than the driving wheels but of the same design. Soft sand didn't phase Lizzie one iota.

The second thing that struck me was the engine. Not a steam engine as you would imagine, but a water cooled, single cylinder Blackstone crude oil engine that developed 45 kW and revved at a mere 215 r.p.m.

Here are some interesting facts about Big Lizzie:-
A Houseboat On The Murray

Phil and Dawn have friends who own a houseboat on the Murray. John and Mel invited the four of us to spend a day with them on the river. The Sarah Isabel was a comfortable home-from-home powered by an inboard diesel engine which cruised sedately up the Murray while we sampled the odd beer or wine and nibbled nibbles.

Inside the Houseboat

Left: Captain John took his job seriously but ... Right: The real work was being done behind him. Mel and Dawn.

Many pleasure boats, water skiers and houseboats passed us, the crews and passengers giving us friendly waves. Tied up along the river banks were many more craft, some absolutely splendid and costing up to a million dollars. It was like the days of old when the river was the life blood of the area, only today they are powered by internal combustion engines, not wood and steam. Then we found her, the P.S. Rothbury. A real paddle steamer, the one we had seen once before negotiating Lock Eleven. She was all fired up and ready to go as we passed on our way down river. When we returned later she had gone.


Paddle Vessel Rothbury, a piece of living history.

Some people are just so kind. We had a wonderful day, a day we won't forget in a hurry. And what better way of finishing Page 63 than with a photo of Phil, the Speedway Legend, and his lovely wife, Dawn.

Phil and Dawn

Dawn and Phil Sedgmen, both legends as far as we are concerned.

And so farewell to Mildura, Big Lizzie and some great friends - but not the Murray River. We hit the road again, bound for Renmark, a little lower down the Murray.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 63 was completed on 13th June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.