On the Australia’s River Murray, an Aboriginal legend may have its basis in fact, which is just as magical. This is Part 2 of Vincent Ross’ series on the Murray.
Aboriginal Dreaming has it that a giant cod dug the Murray with its whipping tail, as fishermen chased it to the sea.
They finally caught it at the entrance to the Coorong lakes and carved it up, with all the pieces becoming the native fish of the Murray and Coorong — callop, mulloway, bream, catfish and congollis. But not the introduced European carp.
The story of the Dreamtime cod has some basis in fact. According to squatters Archie Cook and Tom Carney, a whale was stranded in the lakes near Milang in the 1840s but later managed to free itself, a clear indication that long before white settlement, whales were capable of entering the Murray mouth and making their way through the lakes system.
The first Murray flood recorded by European settlers peaked at almost 11m at Morgan in 1870.
In 1956, it peaked at 12.3m in the greatest flood recorded since white settlement.
The Murray today is a shadow of its former self, forced into submission by the barrages at Goolwa, near its mouth, the 17 locks along its course….and decades of poor water management.
As the boys eat breakfast, a pair of hawk-like whistling kites ride the air above the river red gums, carefully eyeing the water to catch their own.
On the broad expanse of Brenda Reach, 10km downriver from Morgan, the world awakens with blushes of pink on the clouds as the glow of first light paints muted orange brushstrokes on the sandstone cliffs.
Kookaburras trade jokes in the distance and magpies warble as the water’s mirror-surface is broken by the spreading ripples of surfacing fish.
It’s another day on the Murray.
The River of Life
Importance: The Murray, at 2560km long, was the arterial lifeblood of early colonial Australia, with its waters carrying wool and grain by riverboat from inland rural areas to the sea for loading on to clippers bound for Great Britain and the four corners of the globe. It is navigable by boat for 1986km.
Area: The catchment basin of the River Murray covers more than 1 million square kilometres, which is about a seventh of the total area of Australia, three-quarters of the area of the state of New South Wales, more than a half of the state of Victoria and significant parts of South Australia and Queensland.
Rainfall: The average rainfall in the Murray River basin is 430mm compared with an average of about 1270mm in the Tennessee Valley in the United States of America.
Height above sea level: The highest point of the Murray watershed is Mount Kosciusko, with an altitude of 2231m.
Big bend on the Murray © Vincent Ross. All Rights Reserved.
Blanchetown Houseboat © Vincent Ross. All Rights Reserved.
River Murray – Floodplain near Blanchetown © Vincent Ross. All Rights Reserved.