THE RIVERINE TRADE.
DOWN THE MURRAY.
(FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.)
BALRANALD. JAN, 18.
Having in my last communication endea- voured briefly to indicate the present position of the Riverina trade, and the share Victoria has succeeded in obtaining of the traffic, I shall now proceed to describe my journey down the Murray from Echuca to Port Victor. Although I have no moving inci- dents by flood and field to relate, yet as the route is one out of the ordinary course of travellers, a description may prove not alto- gether uninteresting.
On Sunday, January 9, the Hero, a small but handy little steamer, in which I had se- cured my passage, left Echuca en route for Port Victor, via Balranald. Rather than lay his vessel up during the dull season, the captain, who was also the owner, Mr. Maltby, had determined on taking the run down to the Murray mouths. We started between 5 and 6 o'clock in the morn- ing. The sun was just rising, and promised a beautiful day, very different to the unseasonable weather so long experi- enced. The Murray, as seen at Echuca, is disappointing to the highly raised anticipa- tions of many who expect to see in the boundary line of two colonies a broad and rapid stream. The river there is not much wider than the Yarra below the Saltwater river; but Echuca is nearly 1,500 miles from its mouth, and the river can be navigated to Albury, 300 miles higher up. The Murray is one of the most winding of rivers. For hundreds of miles there is not a bend ex- ceeding a quarter of a mile in length. The steering requires the constant attention of the man at the wheel. A few miles below Echuca the Murray receives the waters of the Campaspe, which, though more than a creek, yet scarcely deserves to be dignified by the name of river. It rises beyond Kyneton, and flows through Runnymede and into the Murray, but is never more than an inconsiderable stream. For miles the Murray flows past the Wharparilla run, be- longing to Mr. Robert Glass. His house, situated on the river bank, is a commodious and comfortable looking building. Wharpa- rilla in days of yore was an extensive run, but now a great deal of the land, and especially the river frontage, has been taken up for selec- tion. On the New South Wales side of the river is the Moira run, owned by Sir John O'Shanassy, and the locality of the celebrated Joachim selection. Below Moira is Perricoota, the station of Messrs. Robertson and Wagner. The house, a large red brick building, is close to the river side, and is surrounded by a fine garden. After Wharparilla comes the Torun- barry run and the Gunbower run. The scenery for many miles down the river is of the same monotonous character. The stream flows between low banks not more than three or four feet above the water. In many places lagoons are formed from the overflow of the Murray, and these abound with game, wild ducks, black swans, cranes, and other semi- aquatic birds. The country is not very heavily timbered. Reach after reach presents itself with unvarying sameness. So similar are they in appearance that even experienced river captains find a diffi- culty in identifying one bend of the river from another. As we proceeded downwards the signs of habitation became few and far between. After passing a spot known by the euphonious title of Dead Horse Point, the steamer ran out of its supply of firewood, and we had to come to a stop in order to re- plenish the stock. The practice pursued is to purchase firewood from the wood-carters who reside along the banks of the river. The cost is not more than 5s. a ton, and, although wood could be easily obtained by the steamers for the trouble of cutting it, yet it is found cheaper to buy the wood rather than delay. On this occasion, how- ever, we ran out of wood before we had reached any wood-pile, but the crew set-to with a will in cutting firewood, and we were soon enabled to resume our journey. One of the reaches we passed, known as One-tree Reach, presented a distinguishing feature in the shape of one tree growing nearly in the centre of the river. The small island upon which it grew was quite under water, but when the river is low it can be seen. The tree affords an admirable beacon to warn navigators of the danger of the shoal. Below Toorangabby station and homestead the river pursues an exceedingly tortuous course. Sometimes from the deck of the steamer three, and even four reaches of the river can be seen. In one part a bank of only 20 or 30 yards in width separated two reaches, which, following the labyrinthic windings of the stream, as of course the steamer was obliged to do, were nearly five miles distant. On the Gnnbower run there is a very extensive forest reserve, and on the New South Wales side the frontage of the river to a depth of four miles is reserved from selection. We saw many kangaroos nipping the herbage near the river side. The kangaroos I believe are very numerous on the runs in the vicinity. I was told that over a thousand were killed last season on the Gunbower run without any apparent diminution of their number. Formerly the native dogs destroyed a great many, but the dingoes, regarding sheep a fair game, have been themselves ruthlessly destroyed. The kangaroos now increase and multiply without any check, beyond those which the squatter in his wrath at seeing the valuable grass destroyed by these to him useless creatures may apply. Respecting one point in the river I was told an interesting story. Thirty six years ago or thereabouts there resided in a hut erected at a bend in the river a settler and his wife and a friend. The Murray blacks, now dwindled down to a few wander- ing representatives, were then numerous and ferocious. A number of the blacks at- tacked these invaders on their domain, and attempted to destroy their hut. The settlers were well armed, and maintained a strong defence, and beat off their assailants from the front. The blacks then endeavoured to take them in the rear, but met with a fearful lesson. The settlers had a swivel gun, which they loaded to the muzzle. They fired into the thick of the blacks as they were crossing the river. The missiles did terrible execu- tion, killing and wounding many, and driving the rest to seek safety in flight. Since then the spot has been known as Slaughter- house Point. I do not vouch for the truth of this legend; I but tell the tale as it was told to me as an incident illustrative of the perils attaching to settlement in the early days.
The Murray, for nearly 200 miles below Echuca, receives no tributary save the Cam- paspe. The river does not drain the country through which it passes, in many places the banks being higher than the back lands, which in times of flood are converted into extensive marshes. The overflow of the Murray is thus carried off, and drains in to the Edwards and other streams, which join the Murray lower down its channel. The reeds grow to a considerable height on the marshy lands, and at first sight convey the idea of cultivation. The land, however, is so low and so liable to inundation that it would be unfit for settlement. On the New South Wales side we passed the ruins of a saw-mill, the proprietor of which, Mr. M'Growther, had re- moved his plant to the Victorian side, some dis- tance lower down, and there commenced opera- tions. As a preliminary he was obliged to pay the duty of 20 per cent, on the value of the plant thus introduced into the colony. The new mills are situated a few miles lower down the river. About 59 men are employed there, and quite a little settlement has been formed. The distance from Echuca is 103 miles, Mr. M'Growther has another saw- mill at Echuca. During the recent strike work was stoppod at both mills, but has now been resumed. It was between 9 and 10 o'clock in the evening that we passed the mill. The steamers going down the Murray do not, as a rule, travel at night. The force of the current necessitates a speed which, when the perils from snags and from the sharp turns in the river are considered,
would render travelling during the hours of darkness both difficult and dangerous. Com- ing up stream against the current there is less danger, as a lower rate of speed is maintained, and the steamers carry- ing wool to Echuca proceed during the night as well as the day. The Hero went on until a later hour than usual the first night. Mr. Shelley, who has the control of the snagging operations in the river, was on board, and was desirous of reaching his steamer, the Melbourne, which was moored near Gunbower Creek. The moon was nearly at the full, and shed a brilliant light, which rendered the turns of the river as clearly visible as in the day. This part of the river had also been cleared of snags, so that there was little danger. The snagging of the Murray is performed by the Victorian Government, who devoted a sum of £3,000 last year to the purpose. The stream is cleared of snags and any trees on the banks which appear likely to fall into the river and obstruct the navigation are removed. The Melbourne, an old steamer of very limited horse power, is used for towing the snag boats from one part of the river to another. The snag boats have no steam power, but are warped along the bank. We passed the Wardell, a snag boat, above the saw mills. The men are now at work clearing up stream, towards Echuca. Between 10 and 11 o'clock we arrive at Gunbower Junction, having travelled 120 miles that day and then stopped for the night. The next morning we started again about 5 o clock, and before breakfast reached Parkman's dairy farm, a flourish- ing selection on the New South Wales side. Here we stopped while the captain trans- acted some business. The Hero is a
kind of floating store and supplies many of the settlements in the river. We were here passed by the Pride of the Murray, bound for Echuca loaded with wool and towing a barge similarly laden. Soon after we arrived at Campbell Island, which is formed by the division of the Murray into two branches. The main stream follows the Victorian shore, so that the island belongs to New South Wales. Campbell Island comprises over 3,000 acres. Mr. Ashworth and his sons who have resided there for many years, have large selections, and own nearly one half the island. They occupy it as a sheep farm, and appear to be doing well. We stopped at the main selec- tion and further down we passed the small wooden huts which are the tempo- rary residences of the sons during the time that the provisions of selection have to be complied with. The other part of the island is a portion of the sheep station of the pas- toral tenant on the main land. A great por- tion of the island is swampy. The river is very much narrowed by the division of its waters, and is no wider than the Yarra at this part. Some little distance after passing Campbell Island we came to Gonn, a cattle station owned by Mr. Capel, where we stopped for a short time. A new house has been erected close to the river bank. The hot, arid plain stretched away in the rear. In time of flood the plain is covered with water, and the cattle have to take refuge on the few high knolls which are above the level. Gonn is also on the N.S.W. side of the river. On the Victorian side there are stations, but the homesteads are not near the water. After leaving Gonn, until we arrive at Pental Island the country on either side of the river was one extensive marsh covered with reeds, with only here and there patches of dry ground on which sheep could depasture. Innumerable wild fowl found there a habitation undis- turbed. The black swans gracefully floated on the placid waters of the lagoons; the ducks congregated there in flocks of twenties and thirties, the native companions in couples delicately stalked amongst the reeds; the cranes - grey, white, and nankeen - hovered in the air over the marshes, search- ing for their food, and the pelicans, stupid birds, sat solemnly together, as if a feathered Parliament assembled, doing nothing but - Oh! vast improvement on the human assemblage - keeping silence. In the rank grass there were wild turkeys to be seen, and also several emus. The emus were mostly in pairs but we saw one mother of a family followed by her brood of little ones. As the steamer approached, all the feathered tribes, dis- turbed by the noise were roused into activity. The swans, so graceful in the water, stretched their long necks and beat the water with their wings in their ungainly attempts to rise; the ducks took to flight, and the pelicans broke up their proceedings, in admired disorder. The endless marshes - dreary and desolate enough - were not without a certain wild picturesqueness of their own, and Mr. Hennings might here have found an original scene for his Home of the Batrachians. After passing through miles upon miles of these dismal swamps we came to Pental Island, memorable as the occasion of the dispute respecting its owner- ship between Victoria and New South Wales. Both colonies claimed the island, and neither would give way so the question was referred home to the Privy Council, whose decision was in favour of Victoria. This island is far larger and more valuable than Campbell Island. Its length, taking the windings of the main stream, is over 30 miles. The island is used for pastoral purposes. The width of the river is very much diminished here. The Little Murray - by which name the branch of the river is known - receives the waters of the Loddon, and re- joins the main stream just at Swan Hill. The evening hours during which we tra- velled were extremely pleasant. The hard glare of the sun was changed for the soften- ing and mellow light of the moon, and instead of suffering under the oppressive heat of noonday, we were refreshed and rein- vigorated by the cool breezes of evening. As the steamer steadily pursued its onward course down reach after reach of the river, over which the overhanging trees threw deep shadows, we seemed to be gliding along a watery avenue. Above and on either side the birds maintained a ceaseless concert and we could see them flit by and disappear in the hazy indistinctness of a moonlit night. The melancholy call of the curlew, the hilarious chuckle of the laughing jackass, the harsh screeching of the cockatoo, mingling with the other voices of the night, produced a concord of sounds, not melodious in themselves, but har- monising well with the time and place. When nearing Swan Hill we passed Mr. Officer's station, on the Riverine side of the Murray. A large and lofty house has been erected here, dwarfing the diminutive but more comfort- able cottage at its side, which, embosomed among the trees of the garden, affords the only pleasing feature in the landscape. The house, judging from a moonlight glimpse of it, appears to be on the model of the Foots- cray Sugar Works, and can be seen for many miles on the treeless plains and swamps which surround it. We reached Swan Hill between 10 and 11 o'clock and moored to the bank for the night. Swan Hill is a small, and, notwithstanding its 20 or 25 years of existence, not very flourishing, township. It is built on a sand hill, the only high ground in the locality, and even the hill itself is not many feet above the level of the river. The population does not exceed 100 persons, but the township can boast of a substantial post and telegraph office, which is the princi- pal building in the place. There is a church built of brick, belonging to the Church of England, and a small wooden chapel owned by some other denomination. The hospital, for Swan Hill can also boast of a hospital, is prettily situated at the junction of the Little Murray with the main stream. The district around the town is principally pastoral.
About 10 or 12 miles distant there is a salt lake, from which a coarse salt is obtained and exported to Riverina and the Upper Murray. There is a mail three times a week, and the township is already connected with the metropolis by telegraph. An agitation has, I believe, been set on foot for railway extension from Sandhurst, distant 130 miles, but it will be safe to predict that many years will elapse before this movement bears