Page 124: We leave the coast and head north
     
  A maintenance stop in Bendigo  
 

The time came for us to leave the spectacular Victorian coastline and head inland. After consulting our favourite Internet caravan park guide at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~badger04/ we decided upon Bendigo for our next stop and elected to stay at the A-Line Holiday Village. We found it a really nice, well designed and well maintained park. Every powered site has its own en suite bathroom for privacy and comfort. Normally we would have to pay a premium fee for this but not here.

We used this stop to get the caravan and car up to scratch. As there was a caravan repair business close by we took advantage and had the caravan's wheel bearings replaced and the brakes checked. We also had a new awning fitted as our old one had deteriorated badly. The Pajero was due for a 150,000 km. service so we got that out of the way at a local UltraTune depot.

We also discovered water seeping from under the fridge. Some detective work eventually revealed a pinhole leak in a hot water pipe which involved me hanging upside down through a hatch on the kitchen work surface with my legs waving in the air. Not a recommended practice for someone who will turn seventy in sixteen months. It was hell on my ribs and they are still bruised. Anyway, all is now water tight. Many thanks to Pam for pulling on my legs when I became stuck.

Removing our carpet to clean the floor underneath revealed that the rubber underlay had perished and stuck to the vinyl floor covering. We had a some fun cleaning the black rubber off the vinyl. When I say we, I really mean Pam. I did a token area so that I could advise her on how to clean the rest. Well, somebody has to supervise.

We decided to discard the old carpet and found a very nice replacement which matches our upholstery and curtains. My share of the job was to cut and lay the new carpet while Pam took a well-deserved rest. I have to say it does look nice.

 
     
  all the rivers run  
 

While based at Bendigo we visited the Murray River at Echuca where the television series, All The Rivers Run, was filmed.

First the recent history: The Murray River is Australia's premier waterway. During the last ten years of drought it has been dying for lack of water. Almost every drop that flowed down it was pumped out by irrigators for crop growing. Queensland took first grab from the feeder rivers before they even joined the Murray. Then New South Wales and Victoria pumped out magalitres as it flowed down the border of the two states, for the Murray is what divides them. There was precious little left by the time that South Australia removed Adelaide's drinking water supply. What eventually dribbled into Lake Alexandrina near the coast was woefully inadequate. The salt levels in the lake's water increased as the water level fell. Ideally the water in Alexandrina should be 75 cm. above sea level allowing the Murray's fresh water to continually flush the lake. With virtually no input from the Murray, the lake's level fell and its salinity rose with disastrous effects on the environment. As a desperate measure a channel was opened to the Southern Ocean so that Alexandrina could be flushed by salt water as the tides rose and fell.

This year, however, everything changed. Heavy rains in the upper catchments produced flooding which started up near the snowfields and and flowed on down, swelling the mighty Murray. The torrent had reached Echuca by the time we arrived in Bendigo so we took a trip out to see this historical event.

 
     
   
 

The sight that greeted us at Echuca. In the foreground are brown garbage bins. In the centre of the picture is a picnic table,
only the top above water. The fallen tree needs no explanation but it has smashed across the wharf at which paddle steamers
usually tie up. Across the river are two houseboats tied up out of the current as the water sweeps around a bend from the right.

 
     
   
  Another view of the fallen tree. On the far side, the water is already at the top
of the bank and the river wasn't expected to peak for another three days.
 
     
 

Even as I took photographs of the river and the fallen tree, a loud creaking, crackling sound came from just to our left and another tree crashed down across the bow of a houseboat. The parched trees had been drawing up water, increasing their weight. Simultaneously the soil around their roots which anchored them was softening with the water and eventually could no longer support a tree which was already leaning.

 
     
   
  "So relaxing" the houseboat says! It appears that it had a very lucky escape from the tree we watched fall.
The upper trunk seems to have lodged precariously on a thick, vertical steel pillar. The figure on the boat was
using a tree lopping saw to cut through a branch that was resting on the boat. He obviously feared the main trunk
could fall when the branch was severed; he kept jumping back and then approaching gingerly again when nothing
happened. Finally the branch fell away without the trunk shifting. Within seconds we saw the boat move clear.
 
     
 

Through all the drama, paddle steamers were moving up and down the river, tooting their whistles cheerfully. The whole atmosphere in Echuca was one of excitement. Without the Murray, Echuca would be nothing.

In bygone days this little town was the bustling centre of commerce for a large area. Goods, largely farm produce, were brought to the wharf by the paddle steamers and transferred to trains for onward transport to the big cities or the sea ports. Today Echuca is a resort town relying on its fleet of steam paddlers to attract tourists, though this time the river itself was doing the job.

We wondered what the weirs would look like in flood conditions and enquiries revealed that "Weir and Lock N° 26" was not very far away at a place called Torrumbarry.

I know I have explained this before, but there are thirteen or fourteen weirs along the length of the Murray. Their purpose is to raise the water level for navigation purposes - largely for pleasure craft. Thus the Murray drops to the sea in steps and each weir is bypassed by a lock to raise or lower craft to the next level.

If there are only thirteen or fourteen weirs, how can the one at Torrumbarry be Weir N° 26? The short answer to that question is, I don't know. If you do, please tell me and I'll edit this page accordingly.

Many thanks to Huw G. who emailed me, providing the answer which is as follows:

Commercial river trade began on the Murray in 1853 using steam boats. In 1870 irrigators began pumping increasing volumes of water from the Murray. This caused problems for the boats during dry periods. The solution was to build a series of locks and weirs to artificially maintain water depth to satisfy both the boats and irrigators. However it wasn't until 1922 that the first lock was completed at Blanchetown with others following. During the interval railways had been constructed and road transport had improved, both taking trade from the river; the locks had come too late. Consequently many of those planned for further up river were abandoned unless they benefited irrigation.

Thank you again, Huw.

 
     
   
  Seen from upstream, Weir N° 26 at Torrumbarry with all its gates raised fully for the first time in many years.  
     
   
  This large, steel gate is one of six. I'll quote directly from the sign on the weir:
"These gates, raised by large hydraulic rams, are operated either manually or automatically. As river flows increase, the gates
are raised to release more water and keep a constant water level upstream. At peak flows, all the gates are lifted from the water."
 
     
 

We had hoped to see a dramatic flow of white water surging over the gates but we were disappointed. All six gates were raised clear of the water which flowed gently through the weir without drama. What an anticlimax.

 
     
  Mildura and the country music festival.  
 

Moving on from Bendigo we stopped overnight at Swan Hill then drove on north to Mildura. During the journey the weather changed from winter to spring and we had beautiful cloudless days with warm sunshine. For the first time in an age we were able to sit outside the caravan.

The Apex Caravan Park in Mildura is three or four kilometres out of the town and on the banks of the Murray River. It was already pretty full when we arrived and many more caravans have squeezed in since. From our site we can see the river and watch the paddle steamers chugging by, whistling cheerfully. The water level is still high.

 
     
   
 

Paddle Steamer Melbourne took us back a hundred years as she battled the current upstream.
The young trees in the water have never had their feet wet before. See the next picture . . .

 
     
   
  Taken from the PS Melbourne in the same place eleven months earlier. Then the river was lower, its level
determined by the next weir. Those small trees seen in the water on the upper picture are growing on dry land.
Many thanks to our Internet friend, Alby Kramer, who allowed me to use his picture here.
Alby has his own website called "Alby's Caravan Capers". To visit just click
HERE.
 
     
 

We have already met up with our friends, and very talented singers, Michelle Little, Donella Waters and Marie Hodson. Michelle is here from Brisbane and Donella and Marie from Tamworth. All three were performing in the Langtree Mall in Mildura on the first Friday of our visit. We've also met up with dear friends, Phil and Dawn, and will be seeing a lot more of them over the next weeks; they live here in Mildura. To add icing to the cake, our great friends Greg and Bev will be joining us from Sydney for a few days. Then, to top it all off, that lovely couple Gavin and Jo are arriving from Renmark. What very lucky people we are!

During the Festival the caravan park booked entertainment every evening so we don't have to go out unless we have something or someone we particularly want to see.

 
     
   
  Campers relaxing and listening to free entertainment. The musicians are in the grass-roofed hut in the centre.  
     
 

Another of the reasons we like this park is that, when they discovered a spur-winged plover nesting on one of the caravan sites, instead of shifting it they fenced the area off to protect the eggs, forfeiting the income from that site. The nest is directly opposite our front window.

 
     
   
  The eggs of a Spur-winged Plover and one of their parents looking less than pleased with my proximity.  
     
 

During the Mildura Country Festival there were some shows held in neighbouring towns. One day we visited Wentworth to see Marie Hodson, Michelle Little and others in concert on the foreshore of the Darling River.

 
     
   
  Two lovely ladies, Marie (left) and Michelle (right) on stage at Wentworth.  
     
 

What I haven't told you is that, tied up behind the stage, was the Paddle Steamer Ruby. When Pam couldn't find me she knew it had to be either a woman or the P.S. Ruby. And she was right.

 
     
   
 

The beautifully restored Paddle Steamer Ruby. Check out all those logs stacked ready for her firebox.
Keeping an eye on her is a sculpture of Captain John Egge, pioneer paddle steamer captain who came to Wentworth from
China in 1859. This sculpture was unveiled last year by his great grandson, R.J.F. (Jack) Egge. The sculptor was Lynne Edey.

 
     
 

I was invited aboard and allowed to wander freely over the boat. It didn't take me long to find the part I was looking for, the engine room. There a young lad was asking his mum how everything worked but she couldn't help. No more could the guide who was new to the job. However, fresh from the Fowler steam engines in Tamworth Power Station Museum, I was able to explain what was what until his eyes began to glaze over.

 
     
   
  Lovely though the scenery was up on deck, the really interesting stuff was down below.