Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
18-22 June 2012 - PS Murray Princess 4-day Cruise
18 June
Murray Princess sailed from Mannum at 4:30 p.m. to begin the four-day cruise up the Murray River. The vessel continued up-river after dark and moored to some river red gums at Caurnamont (34° 49' 57.0"S, 139° 34' 14.9"E) just upstream from Purnong. This mooring had no cleared area, the line handler sent ashore was stomping around in thick reeds while recovering mooring lines thrown from the ship. The gangway was not put out, partly because there were no tracks for people to walk along and partly because we were planning to sail early.

19 June
Murray Princess sailed without fuss at 6:30 a.m. from our unmarked mooring. Bow and stern thrusters are invaluable when leaving the typical river-side mooring which is generally mud, reeds and river red gums. Using the thrusters the ship is pushed sideways until out in the stream and the paddle-wheel begins turning.
Cliffs line the Murray River for several kilometres at a time.
This was a day of steady travel upstream towards Blanchetown. Weather began cold and overcast so the orange-red cliffs were not seen to best advantage which needs sunshine. As the day progressed the cloud faded and the sun came out improving the scenery considerably.
Pelicans Part of a flock of Pelicans

The vertical red-orange cliffs are the major visual feature of this part of the Murray. Cliffs are not continuous but do extend for kilometres at a time. Often there are river flats opposite the cliffs and informal settlements of holiday shacks have established themselves along the river. One section of vertical cliffs was home for sulphur crested cockatoos which settled themselves in holes in the cliff face. Elsewhere along the river corellas are common but here cockatoos prevailed. Other bird included darters either on the wing, in the water, or drying their wings on logs and trees. Pelicans were not uncommon, usually in ones, twos or threes on the water or flying overhead; while whistling kites frequently patrolled overhead.
Whistling Kite Whistling Kite has a piece of meat in its claws; the bird is one of a pair nesting beside the river which expects raw meat whenever the Murray Princess passes. The tail of this species is different to the Black Kite which has a forked tail and different under-wing markings.

Beyond Swan Reach the cliffs changed to be more yellow in colour and no longer vertical, but still steep. The river wandered between widely spaced cliffs defining the river valley. According to the captain the river level had fallen recently and the Murray Princess now had to be careful to stay in the recognised channel. A few weeks ago the river had been higher (we could see the higher water level on trees and reeds along the bank). We have noticed in conversation with local people that the river flow in Megalitres per day is a topic of frequent conversation.

At Blanchetown the vessel entered Lock One to be raised a bit under two metres to the next level. The Lock is less than two metres wider than the ship and entering the lock was done slowly; at slow speed the lack of directional stability of the flat bottom presented control problem so the bow and stern thrusters were used for directional control entering the lock. The two tenders normally secured on either side of the Murray Princess were sent ahead and waited inside the Lock for the ship to enter. Once we were inside the downstream gates were closed and water began flowing in to raise the level inside the lock to that of the upstream river.
Passing under the Sturt Highway Just fitting under the Sturt Highway bridge. The red triangles on the underside of the bridge mark the channel in the river. The structure with the pointy roof is a deck housing on the Murray Princess sun deck. Tight clearance between aerial and bridge is obvious.

Immediately upstream of Lock and Weir Number One the Sturt Highway crosses the Murray River via a concrete, high-level bridge. But Murray Princess is very high and a couple of artificial funnels mounted on the forward end of the sun deck on top of the superstructure had to be lowered so the ship could fit under the bridge; even then, there was less than half a metre clearance between the underside of the bridge and the tip of a radio aerial on the ship. B-double trucks crossing the bridge tooted at the ship so close to them.

Then into our mooring to a few river red gums just upstream from the Sturt Highway bridge at Blanchetown. A group went on a wine tasting but we had done enough wine tours a few days earlier and just went for a short walk along the river bank.

Weir Number One at Blanchetown stretches across the river with Lock One against the western bank. Against the eastern bank is a fairly new fish ladder permitting native fish to migrate up and downstream to complete their breeding cycle. The fish ladder also serves as a carp trap exploiting fish habits. A horizontal barrier near the water surface separates native fish from carp because native fish instinctively swim under such a barrier while carp, equally instinctively, jump over the barrier. The carp actually jump into a large storage trap and a winched out by the ton at the best times of year. They are destroyed. Carp are a serious problem and it is illegal to throw one back into the river once caught; it is also illegal to leave one on the river bank since they live for many hours out of water and have been known to roll themselves back into the water if left on a river bank.

Carp are regarded as inedible by Australians although it is said to be a recognised table fish in Europe. This apparent contradiction may be explained by the statement that carp are an "acquired taste"; the age of the fish being eaten may also be relevant. At a later presentation about aboriginal archeological excavation the comment was made that the only known eatable carp are fillets taken from young fish and pickled in vinegar; the pickling process dissolves very small bones left in the fillets.

20 June
Murray Princess sailed from Blanchetown at 0810 and immediately made her way to Lock One to return downstream. This time there was none of the siren signalling heard, only too clearly, for yesterday's entry into the Lock. Possibly too early in the morning to be disturbing local residents. Murray Princess has five sirens, each with a different note, mounted in a group; a full siren blast goes through all five tones taking a minute or so to reach the full tone. Very distinctive, and very loud.
Lock One open Lock One at Blanchetown from the upstream end with the gate open ready to receive a vessel.

Lock One gate Downstream gates on Lock One open so the Murray Princesscan continue. The ship's bow is in the lower foreground; the aluminium tenders are on the water under the bow.

The siren is also used when approaching one of the car ferries along the Murray. These run on wire cables across the river and the cable should be on the river-bed while the Princess passes over it. The siren sounds a long blast approaching the ferry and the ferry operator responds with a green light to confirm that the cable is on the river-bed.

Passage through Lock One was slow but without incident. Today was bright and sunny but cold as we made our way downstream from Blanchetown to stop at the small settlement of Swan Reach. Murray Princess moored at the wharf reserve but the wharf which served the settlement when paddle-steamer was the routine method of transport has gone, except for a timber end-wall slowly falling to pieces. Most passengers joined in a guided walk of the town ending at the museum. Swan Reach was seriously affected by the 1956 flood which remains in local memory for the height the water reached and the damage it caused. Marks of water level for that 1956 flood are far above those for more recent floods and emphasis the extreme variability of the Murray River.
Swan Reach Wharf Reserve Wharf Reserve at Swan Reach marks the site of the former wharf used when paddle-steamer was the normal transport means. This timber wall is all that remains of the wharf.

Leaving Swan Reach at lunchtime we continued downstream until mooring at Sunnydale opposite the orange-red Big Bend cliffs. Sunnydale is a sheep property branching into tourism. Passengers were taken to a presentation area where the owner gave us an interesting presentation on the reality of looking after sheep. Of necessity handling sheep to minimise (or hopefully prevent) fly-strike was a major component; museling and alternatives were explained concisely. Then a sheep was shorn as a demonstration. Next event was a short race by three sheep followed by a brief look at some native animals being prepared for return to the wild, although several of them had a pretty poor record of survival in the wild and would probably remain in the sanctuary where they were less likely to get into trouble.

Evening meal today was a barbeque in a purpose-built permanent shelter beside the mooring. The ship provided electrical power for the lights. Food quality was excellent. This day had become very windy but the wind dropped towards sunset and the rain held off.
Sheep Shearing Shearing a sheep to show the passengers how it is done.

Juvenile male red kangaroos Red kangaroos in the wildlife refuge at Sunnydale Farm. These juvenile males are practicing fighting. Heads are thrown back to protect the eyes from the opponents claws; the hind feet are also used to kick and injure the opponent.

21 June
Rain began falling overnight and by sunrise the weather was decidedly gloomy. The walk in the bush scheduled for this morning was cancelled and we sailed at 9:30 from Big Bend in steady rain and poor visibility. At 1030 we moored at Ngaut Ngaut (with a silent g) Aboriginal Conservation Park but the trip ashore was cancelled because the board walk and steps were slippery and dangerous; some of the guides for this archaeological site came on board for an hour-long description of the site and contents.

The rain eased later in the day but the day remained cold with low cloud. Murray Princess moored for the night at 5:00 near the village of Younghusband

22 June
The morning of this last day was cold and miserable. As passengers assembled for early breakfast at 7:30 we were informed the outside temperature was 2°C. Many passengers commented that it didn't feel that cold but by 9:00 o'clock, when we arrived at Mannun and were waiting to disembark, the weather was bitter with very low temperature, driven rain and a cold wind. Disembarkation went smoothly and I collected the Pathfinder which had been in undercover storage near Murray Princess' berth. To bring us back to earth we stopped in Mannum shops to buy milk and bread.
Wetlands, such as this one, are often found along the Murray River. Frequently there is a cliff on the other side of the river. The wetlands hold many megalitres of water in a calmer environment more suited to many birds, fish and animals than the river main channel.
Rain on the River Raining on the Murray River