Travelling Australia - Journal 2015c
|23 - 26 June 2015
Waikerie is a small town in the SA Riverland situated on the southern bank of the Murray River but offset from the Sturt Highway which passes south of the main part of Waikerie. In the 2006 census population was 1,744. The town is well-known for gliding from the airfield and for citrus growing.
Waikerie has a slightly unusual history. From 1856 paddle-steamers on the Murray River were the only practical way of moving people and freight in the region and the Murray River became a highway. Although nearby towns (especially Morgan) became important participants in the paddle-steamer business nothing was done at the site of Waikerie which remained undeveloped and unsettled. Cliffs lining the riverbank around present-day Waikerie have been given as the reason nothing happened then but the cliffs are mostly on one side of the river and are not continuous so there may be other reasons for the lack of river-port development.
In the 1880s settlers started moving into the area with the Waikerie station established in 1882. Waikerie township was established in 1894 when a paddle-steamer delivered 281 settlers as an experiment in decentralisation and unemployment relief in Adelaide. At first the townships was less than successful and a year later less than half the men originally registered in the settlement remained, nevertheless within a few years thousands of vines, lemons and stone fruit trees had been planted and Waikerie was well on the way to being the first large irrigated area in the Riverland. The township was surveyed as an irrigation settlement in 1910 and, by 1920, had adopted the name of the station.
In 1914 a Growers Co-operative was established by 24 growers to pack and sell dried fruit and began packing citrus in 1924. In 1968 the co-operative handled 600,000 cases of citrus fruit; by 1970 claims were made that half of Waikerie's income came from citrus. But fruit co-operatives faded in the 1980s and they had to merge or close; eventually the co-operative was purchased as Nippy's Waikerie Producers Pty Ltd and is now a privately owned business concentrating on citrus fruit and producing Nippy's orange juice.
Waikerie contains a range of shops and retail businesses and is the support centre for the surrounding rural properties. The wharf area is a base for privately operated houseboats as well as the site for at least one houseboat hire operation. Hiring a houseboat is claimed to be an ideal way to enjoy the quieter, more remote parts of the river, especially those lined with spectacular cliffs.
The Murray River Queen is an unusual vessel moored near the houseboats. She plied the River for many years and is now alongside in Waikerie as accommodation for backpackers working as fruit-pickers at surrounding orchards. According to the website orange picking work is available for about 10 months of every year, but the same site warns that picking oranges is "extremely hard work" and takes about two weeks to get used to before pickers will earn "decent money".
Near the Murray River Queen a vehicle-carrying cable ferry transports motor vehicles across the Murray River. Several ferries operate across the Murray in the Riverland, some of them old and wooden, some are new and steel. Five older ones have been variously down-rated to carry between six and sixteen tonnes which limits their use considerably. One operator noted that some caravan/tow vehicle combinations exceed six tonnes but drivers do not know how much their rigs weigh so a ferry carrying a caravan with towing vehicle and several other sedans or 4WDs may exceed the safety limit.
23 June 2015 - Waikerie, page 2
While driving around (without the caravan) I passed the approach to the ferry at Cadell, downstream from Waikerie, with a limit of 16 tonnes (since 16 February 2015) where the problem of drivers not knowing rig weight had been solved by a sign saying the ferry was not available for caravans which should go further downstream to the ferry at Morgan.
The ferry at Waikerie is one of the newer, more capable, ones classified as "fully operational" but whether it was intended to carry the fully laden trucks/road trains I saw being carried is not clear. The front of the ferry dipped alarmingly and looked as if it would go below the water surface.
Considerable effort has been devoted to encouraging tourism in Waikerie, including publicising bird watching. One of these measures is the Bird Watchers Trail covering much of the Riverland along the Murray River but concentrated on Waikerie.
One site not along the Murray River is BirdLife Australia's Gluepot Reserve 64 kilometres north of Waikerie in the Mallee. We had come to Waikerie with the intention of visiting Gluepot but the road is mostly dirt (for 37 kilometres from Glenlock turnoff). Although dirt roads around Waikerie were drying out well after rain a few days ago this was not necessarily the case on Gluepot road. When I rang Gluepot to confirm they were open as usual I was told they had received heavy rain a few days previously and overcast weather since then had delayed road drying. The road was definitely closed to two-wheel drives; I had a high clearance four wheel-drive which would expect to get through but would probably damage the road surface. I agreed with the voice on the telephone that the road really was not suitable and I would postpone my visit to Gluepot. In the back of my mind was the possibility that more rain may fall while I was at Gluepot and the road could be completely closed. Weather forecasts on this trip have proven to be inaccurate so I couldn't rely on them.
Although not being able to visit Gluepot was disappointing there were other, closer, birding sites available. Within easy walking distance of Waikerie is Hart Lagoon which is a renowned bird-watching site with a bird hide. Hart Lagoon is a body of shallow water very attractive to birds which do not dive for fish and hundreds of stilts, avocets, swans, terns, lapwings, dotterels and shellducks were quietly feeding, or sometimes just drifting and dozing. Birds which preferred to dive for fish (darters and cormorants mainly) and pelicans which scoop up fish in their large beaks and beak pouches stay on the nearby Murray River. Nearby woodlands were home to a variety of non-waterbirds. Ramco Lagoon, about five kilometres from Waikerie towards Cadell and Morgan is a similar shallow body of water inhabited by a variety of waterbirds.
23 June 2015 - Waikerie, page 3
23 June 2015 - Waikerie, page 4