SUMMER DAY TRIPPERS: Paddle Power gives a different view

PARIS has the Seine, London the Thames, Cairo the Nile and Albury-Wodonga ... the Murray.

Yes, the Murray is a mighty, world-famous river, so why don’t the locals go on it?

It’s clean enough and warm enough to swim in, even take a drink — and you could bump into a platypus.

The Murray River divides our cities of Albury and Wodonga.

Yet it is the common thread that runs through them, making both cities healthy and viable.

Since the Cumberoona was all but scuttled seven years ago, very few people travel by boat on the beautiful stream, our greatest under-used natural asset.

They are mainly sporting kayakers, casual paddlers in hired canoes, fishermen in tinnies, some powerboat guys and one or two lazy old paddlers like me lingering longer than they should.

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I’ve been paddling a kayak on this river for more than 25 years, though now I just go with the flow — downstream.

My trips have covered the river from below the Hume Dam Wall to Noreuil Park (28 kilometres) and a shorter stretch from Noreuil to 

Gehrig’s Winery near Barnawartha.

Not the whole lot at once, of course — I’m not a Tony Zerbst.

Usually it’s a leisurely trip to Noreuil from Mungabareena or Doctors Point, say about an hour.

Probably 80,000 of the 85,000 people of Albury-Wod­onga have never taken to this water highway.

Mungabareena, where it meets Doctors Point Road, is a nice place to start a pleasant paddle downstream.

Here you’re on a very wide Murray, in fact the entire river over Christmas was shifting 20,000 megalitres a day.

I say “entire” because upstream of Mungabareena, some of the river flow diverts into the mis-named Ryans Creek (an anabranch), while downstream a sizeable flow heads off into the Wodonga Creek (also an anabranch) to form “Gateway Island”.

The Murray is, of course, a river of islands occupied happily by snakes, spiders, birds and assorted creepy-crawlies — remember that blond flasher who lived in a sort of island tree house in 1992?

The Kiewa joins the Murray after flowing 100 kilometres from Mount Bogong.

Huon Hill towers over the junction, but as the river twists you soon face Eastern Hill and Doctors Point.

Wise people head down the wide old channel next to Doctors Point, avoiding a dangerous, fast-flowing “cut” forming Grays Island.

Another island on the left bank used to have an inhabited house — from where four people drowned in 1991 when they tried to take a boat down a flooded river in the dark.

The Grays have been farming Willowbank on the South Albury bank for more than 100 years and land nearby has depressions made by decades of gravel extraction.

Recently an open-air reception area for weddings has been set up on the bank, though mostly the spot is left to cows and water birds.

It’s so quiet, considering there’s a city on either side.

But as you approach Flanagans Creek on the left bank, you hear the hum of freeway traffic and catch a glimpse of trucks or buses.

Flanagan was Paddy, who ran the Halfway Hotel between Albury and Wodonga from the 1880s to 1928.

On the right bank, the late Frank Gray kept dairy cattle for years after he returned from war service in North Africa, Syria, New Guinea and Borneo.

Floods sometimes cut off Frank’s house (No. 2 Olive Street) — but he still rowed a boat through floods when he was 82.

He lived to see the Spirit of Progress bridge opened just downstream and died in 2011, aged 93.

Gum trees have been planted on the NSW bank to protect it from erosion, while Victoria’s efforts to remove willows have not appeared to have much success — perhaps because their roots were left in the river, being technically in NSW.

At the freeway bridge, you can stop and view the pathetic little cairn commemorating then prime minister John Howard opening the freeway in March 2007.

The imported iron railway bridge is more interesting, with its cylinder columns marked “Stockton Forge”.

It’s a rail bottleneck, the only point between Albury and Melbourne where there is only a single track.

That’s because the Victorian gauge was not converted to standard on the bridge because it required old wooden piles underneath to be replaced (spirit of progress didn’t reach that far).

Between here and the Union Bridge, cattle are usually grazing by the river, lapping up the water and doing other things in it — which is why I never put my head under when swimming at Noreuil.

New safety fences on the Union Bridge mean there’s no longer a danger of silly youths jumping on or near your canoe as you glide past, but you have to watch for swimmers in water that’s barely 19 or 20 degrees.

One more bend and Noreuil Park comes into view, and paddlers still land at the old Cumberoona boat ramp, although it is closed to powered boats.

I prefer to stop at the Noreuil “beach”, haul my kayak up, take a quick dip and stagger into the Riverdeck Cafe for a shot of caffeine.


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