Travelling Australia - Journal 2010
13-16 May - Deniliquin
Deniliquin is the centre of a mixed agricultural region. North from Deniliquin lie extensive saltbush plains which have been home for generations of sheep producing high quality wool. The town also lies in the middle of the Murray Valley Irrigation area. The Mulwala Canal, the main water distribution channel from Mulwala Dam on the Murray River, passes close to Deniliquin. Using this water, irrigation farmers engage in a variety of farming activities including raising vegetables, growing grapes and grazing stock but growing rice has historically been the main activity of the Murray Valley Irrigation Districts. A major rice storage facility and a rice mill were built near Deniliquin to handle the thousands of tonnes of rice grown in years of normal rainfall and water availability. But years of drought have reduced the rice output of the region and the store and mill are closed pending successful growing times.

During the drought years some irrigators sold their water rights. Many also sold their farms to neighbours so there is a process of growing farm size but fewer people on the land. Some farmers who sold their water rights are adopting dry-land farming techniques; presumably some have retained access to enough water to continue farming techniques relying on irrigation but not needing as much as rice. Whatever the individual outcomes may be it is certain that farming around Deniliquin will not return to business as usual when the rain returns.

Deniliquin lies on the Edward River which divides the town. The Edward River is much larger than would be expected for an anabranch (that is a stream which separates from a parent, in this case the Murray River, then returns to the parent stream further downstream). But the Edward River has an unusual history and, because of substantial earth movement in the past, once carried the water of the Murray River which carved out a large stream bed and floodplain where river red gums grow. Although the Murray River now has another bed a fair amount of water still flows down the Edward River.

The shopping and business district for Deniliquin is on the southern side of the Edward River. One of the major shopping streets runs alongside gardens set in well-watered lawn around lakes complete with fountains. These gardens are a picturesque backdrop to shopping.

The weather for most of our stay was cold nights with sunny, but cool days. The last day was cloudy, dull and cool in the morning with more sunshine in the afternoon.

During our stay in Deniliquin we made day trips to surrounding places of interest. One trip was to the irrigation townships of Finely and Berrigan along the Riverina Highway. The highway runs alongside the Mulwala Canal which is the main supply canal for the irrigated area north of the Murray River. Water level in the canal was low, sometimes with mud banks exposed in mid-channel. The water level was far too low for any water to flow out of this main supply canal into the distribution channels. Despite low water level many paddocks set up for irrigation were very green.

Another short trip went to Stevens Weir across the Edward River about 25 kilometres from Deniliquin. During times of normal rainfall, this weir maintains the water level in the Edward River high enough for water to flow into the Wakool Canal and supply the Wakool Irrigation District west of Deniliquin. But these are not times of normal rainfall and not much water was flowing. During this drive I drove through several thick swarms of locusts; if I slowed to 35 kph the locusts hit the car reasonably gently and didn't smear themselves across the roo bar and bumper bar.

One of Deniliquin's claims to fame is the Peppin strain of Merino sheep developed to thrive in the Australian environment while producing high quality wool. This strain, widely claimed to have saved the wool industry in the nineteenth century, was developed at Wanganella about 40 kilometres north of Deniliquin on the edge of the saltbush plain. The Peppin Centre in Deniliquin explains background to the Peppin strain. I spent some time in the Peppin Centre and also drove out to Wanganella to look at a bronze statue of a Merino sheep commemorating the Peppins.

Another day trip was to Mathoura 35 kilometres south of Deniliquin on the edge of the River Red Gum forest along the Murray River. I visited a substantial bird hide built over a swamp so visitors could look at waterbirds. It was a surprisingly robust building on timber piles and made of hardwood with large viewing gaps in the side panelling so bird watchers of all height could see out. It could hold twenty or thirty people without difficulty. The access timber walkway was screened by timber palings so birds wouldn't be disturbed by people walking into the hide.