Around the Elbow
We have been off on a day trip from Waikerie further along the River to Morgan, looping down to Blanchtown and then completing the loop back to Waikerie. Morgan is on the other side of the River and we make our first ferry crossing of the journey on the ‘Coot’. There are twelve ferry crossings on the River in South Australia and each is named after a river bird. This old port town is where the River turns its back on heading further to the west and instead does an elbow turn almost directly south, it is another 315 km down river to the mouth at Goolwa.
In the late 1870s Morgan was one of the busiest ports on the River. A large wharf had been built and the train line from Adelaide terminated nearby. It handled much of the freight from and to the regions east along the Murray and also up the Darling River. Wool was the most important. Six trains a day left Morgan for Port Adelaide. As road transport improved in the mid 1900s river and rail transport declined and the railway to Morgan finally closed in 1969.
PS Canally is the local paddle wheeler attraction. It is tied up near the wharf having undergone restoration over the last three or four years. Originally built in 1907 it has had a working history for over 50 years all along the Murray and up the Murrumbidgee River carrying wool and dried fruits. PS Canally acted as a work boat during the construction of the weirs and locks and then as a barge carrying firewood for the railways in the 1940s and 50s. It sank on its moorings at Boundary Bend in the late 1950s, where we were a couple of weeks or so back. There it lay until 1998 when it was raised more or less as a hulk. Twenty five years on and through a couple of owners it is now based at Morgan. Owned by the Council it has been rebuilt to its former identity and glory, some work still needs to be done to get it steaming again and a crew is currently undergoing training. Quite a history and one similar to many of the restored paddle boats on the River. Hopefully, back in action soon!
A number of historical buildings remain in the town, including two hotels and the long closed Bank of Adelaide branch and manager’s house. A Museum is housed in the 1878 Landseer building, a local shipping agency back then. The town is now a service centre for the orchards and other agricultural pursuits of the region as well as a tourist mecca. Along the river bank numerous houseboats are tethered, we went off on a short drive and found a hire business where a monster houseboat was under construction. MV Allthegobro would be a good name for it, we think these cater for up to eight people in four ensuited bedrooms and all the other deck space, eating areas etc. Many have hot tubs to sit back in and take in the views along the River.
We cross back to the main road aboard the Coot and head 40 km south to Blanchtown. The road tracks along beside the River for most of the way with some great views. Blanchtown is a significant mile post on the journey down the River because it is here that Lock 1 is found, the water level is a little more than three metres above sea level, 274 km from the River mouth. Today 21 thousand mega litres of water are flowing over the weir, in order to maintain the level of the weir pond. Built in 1922 it was the first of 26 locks that were planned to be built on the Murray between Blanchtown and Albury, ultimately 13 were built.
Locks 1-11 from Blanchtown to Wentworth, Lock 15 at Euston and Lock 26 at Torrumbarry. The lock at Euston was the last one built in 1937. The Murray was naturally navigable from its mouth to Blanchtown and the locks extended this through to Mildura for a total of 970 km, the third longest navigable river in the world. Over the years the locks have been modernised with steel gates and hydraulic mechanisms, but still rely on historical principles for their operation.
Nine locks had also been planned to be built on the Murrumbidgee River, none eventuated. Something like forty locks had also been planned for the Darling River all the way up to Walgett, only one was built and that was at Burke in 1897 and it was concreted up in 1941. The great variability and seasonality of these river’s flows coupled with the decline in river trade, in the face of railways and motor transport and the Great Depression rendered them uneconomic.
Allthego has always been fascinated about the economic history of canals and locks, but enough for now!
We are back in Waikerie enjoying another River sunset!