The Murray River is Australia's second-longest river. (The longest is The Darling). It is 2575kms in length, rising in the Australian Alps and draining the western side of the country's highest mountains. It then meanders north-west for most of its journey across inland plains, forming a border between New South Wales and Victoria. For its final 500 kilometres it turns south into South Australia before emptying into the Southern Ocean near Goolwa. On that last leg it flows through several lakes, including Lake Alexandrina and The Coorong, which fluctuate in salinity.
The Murray and its associated tributaries support a variety of river life adapt to its vagaries. Native fish such as the Murray cod, trout cod, golden, Macquarie and silver perch, eel-tailed catfish, Australian smelt and western carp gudgeon can be found there. You might also come across Murray short-necked turtle, crayfish, broad-clawed yabby, large clawed Macrobrachium shrimp, water rats and platypus. The river also supports corridors and forests of river red gum, but recent extreme droughts have put significant stress on their long term survival.
Introduced species such as carp, weather loach, redfin perch and brown and rainbow trout have had negative effects on native fish. An enormous carp population has contributed to the environmental degradation of the Murray and its tributaries by destroying aquatic plants and permanently raising turbidity. In some segments of the Murray, carp is the only species to be found.
The Getaway crew spent a few days in Victoria on the Murray. They started in Mildura, a delightful oasis in north-western Victoria's Sunraysia area.
The rural city is the centre of Victoria's Food Bowl and is a major producer of citrus fruits, asparagus, almonds and persimmons. Its red soil is optimal for growing excellent table and wine grapes.
Duncan Thomson's company, Sunsalt Corporation, produces Murray River salt from the underground brines of the Murray Darling Basin. They sell every kind of salt from gourmet to pool salt. They also harvest the unusual pink salt, turn it into flakes and sell it to top chefs and foodies around the world. (Pink salt retains its natural elements; calcium, magnesium, potassium and natural iodine). There are tours to the lakes and factory.
Stefano de Pieri's has been in Mildura for around 16 years, and is passionate about local produce, which he uses with his Italian traditions. Stefano firmly believes the relationship between food and the environment are intimately connected. He is also committed to the role the arts plays in everyone's lives and is a big supporter of the Mildura Writers' Festival which is mostly about poetry; the Murray River International Music Festival; the visual arts through his Gallery 25; and Palimpsest, the Mildura visual arts event.
Langtree Avenue is the dining hub of Mildura and has the nickname 'Feastreet'. There is fantastic array of eateries, and for a memorable meal, Stefano's award-winning restaurant in the cellars of the Mildura Grand Hotel is a crowd pleaser. Fresh yabbies, Murray cod, prosciutto or pancetta cured on the premises, local asparagus and divine olive oil are some of the delights to tantalise.
Paddle steamers carry tourists these days instead of wool, and houseboats are a wonderful and popular way to enjoy the river.
Each March the Mildura-Wentworth Arts Festival hosts noted authors, poets and musicians from around Australia and across the world. In November the Mildura Jazz and Wine Festival takes place. Lovers of traditional and contemporary jazz enjoy concerts held in wineries. September sees the Mildura Country Music Festival and fans flock there for a variety of attractions including talent quests and professional shows.
The next stop was at the historic river port town of Swan Hill. A punt operated there in 1847 and when it sank, the wood was used to build the town's first hotel. A steamship voyage from the mouth of the Murray to Swan Hill in 1853 paved the way for inland river trade.
The town's large saleyards indicate its role as a market centre for part of New South Wales' Riverina district. Irrigation has led to the production of wheat, wool, citrus fruits, grapes, dairy products, fat stock, fodder crops, maize and wine. Farm machinery is an important industry there.
Swan Hill's Pioneer Settlement features a reconstruction of a 19th century river port town. There are over fifty buildings and a collection of beautifully restored cars, trucks and tractors. There's even an old steam train, wagon rides and a 'canoe tree'; an ancient river gum used centuries ago by Aboriginal people to carve craft for crossing the river.
The open-air historical museum covers four hectares on the banks of the Little Murray and employees dress in period attire as visitors admire the Masonic Hall, coach house, functioning drop-log post office, general store, photographic studio, newspaper office and printery from Ballarat. Kangaroos and peacocks wander the streets, and sheep and goats are tethered near picnic areas.