Before we left Cohuna Allthego had the bright idea of doing a bit of a drive on Gunbower Island, it seemed a good idea to go for a drive on Australia’s largest inland island. We had a map of sorts but it became somewhat confusing as the physical features of the Island we were passing by did not seem to match their locations on the map or the way we were going. It became apparant after a while that we were semi lost and going round in circles a bit. We eventually found our way back to the main road, not on the Island, and ultimately back to our camp at Cohuna.
Frustrating, time consuming and unproductive. We had seen much of the farming activity that takes place there, but nothing of the River or forests. It turns out that the Island is much bigger than one might think from looking at a map and not reading the scale properly! The lady at Information said the Island was a destination in itself, full of hiking, canoing and wildlife watching activities etc. A week could be absorbed for those so inclined. We hitched up the van and headed off for Swan Hill.
Along the way we discovered an interesting spot that is the world’s largest Ibis hatchery, the Bin Bird as we call them in Queensland. It was not the hatching season and the birds were in other places. This particular section of the road passes by a number wet lands and lakes where there are small settlements catering to fishing and boating people.
In Swan Hill we are at the Big 4 campground which is more or less adjacent to the Pioneer Settlement. It is on the banks of the Murray where an anna branch, known as the Little Murray, rejoins the main stream. A very pleasant spot. Various boats going up and down the river from the wharf. Allthego found the Pioneer Settlement quite an interesting area to wander around.
He is normally suspicious of these theme park places and displays of times past. Many are just great collections of old stuff that are repeated from town to town across the country. This place is different, quite organised and not overdone with explanatory notice boards about things one might be looking at. Good ride in a coach behind a Clydesdale. The old 1876 PS Gem floating in a pond shows just how big these old paddle steamers were.
The Pioneer Settlement is also the spot where one can board the PV PYAP for a one hour cruise up and back to the wharf. PV (Paddle Vessel) is distingwished from a PS (Paddle Steamer). The PYAP was originally built in 1896 as a barge but was converted in 1897 to a paddle steamer (PS). In 1970 the steam engine was replaced by a diesel engine and she became a PV! Draws less than a metre of water and worked as floating general store for riverside communities. Howzat! Just thought you might like to know that, as well as some information about the flag that is flying on the boat.
The flag is known as the Upper Murray Flag. It is one of the oldest Australian flags having been designed in 1853, a year before the Eureka Flag. Prior to Federation the Australian colonies flew the Union Jack. The Union Jack is represented on the Murray River flag in the left corner. The red cross to the right has five stars, representing the then colonies. The dark blue horizontal stripes represent the Murray and the three main rivers that flow into it-the Darling, the Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan (which first joins the Murrumbidgee). When used in the Lower Murray River (mostly in S.A.) the stripes on the flag are a pale blue, reflecting the lighter coloured waters compared to the darker waters of the Upper Murray in Victoria/NSW, where the darker blue stripes prevail. At Swan Hill we are still in the Upper Murray. It is the only flag in the world named in honour of a river. Allthego will have examples of the flag(s) on display at Bedwell Place, Homealone will not be greatly enthused about this so they may not be up for long.
In the evening there is a laser light show using a sprayed water screen out of the river. It is a time series on the River from it’s geological and indigenous past through to the days of European settlement and then onwards to the present day. Quite impressive, goes for half an hour. We then headed off to Quo Vadis, a recommended Italian restaurant in town. This was really good Italian food, we can highly recommend it if you are in this part of the world, had a local red to go with it too. Andrew Peace 2015 Shiraz, very nice soft red. More about this vineyard later.
Swan Hill is also famous for Burke & Wills, what places arn’t when you criss cross these chaps route on their south to north crossing of the continent. B & W used Swan Hill as a staging post to get their personnel and supplies finalised for the trek north. They had also stopped earlier at the Ibis breeding place we had pulled into on our way up to Swan Hill from Cohuna. The locals planted a Moreton Bay Fig to celebrate the expeditions departure in 1860. It is still at the spot today, an enormous tree that has had to be been heavily pruned.
The must see in town is the giant Murray Cod, 15 m long and 5 m wide. Readers may recall the giant Murray Cod at Tocumwal in a previous blog. Tocumwal residents believe their Cod is the real thing and that the Swan Hill Cod is really a Murray Trout. Well, who is Allthego to argue?
We now head onwards down the River to Robinvale.