The Murray River is Australia's second-longest river in its own right. (The longest is The Darling). It is 2575 kilometres 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 adapted 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. Enormous carp population has contributed to 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 spent time in Mildura and Swan Hill before continuing to Echuca.
A city of around 10,000, Echuca is close to the junction of the Goulburn, Campaspe and Murray Rivers. In 1850 an enterprising ex-convict bought a small punt which he operated across the Murray as the town grew. He set-up in opposition to James Maiden in Moama on the New South Wales side of the river. By the 1870s Echuca had risen to prominence as Australia's largest inland port and was a key river port and railway junction.
Steam-driven paddleboats would arrive at the 400-metre long red gum wharf and load cargo onto trains for the journey to Melbourne. Wool, wheat, livestock and timber were the most common loads.
Echuca-Moama is Australia's capital and home to the world's largest collection of paddle-steamers. At one time there were 250 of them and 700 barges working the length of the river. Now only 12 operate on the river, five of them commercially. The old port's original buildings have been restored and provide a journey back in time.
Father and son Kevin and Neil Atkinson have worked on paddle steamers for most of their lives. They take visitors on the PS Canberra, which was launched in 1912. It was built for commercial fishing and transportation of light cargo, but today is purely for recreation.
After 90 years of continual use, nine months of restoration was undertaken. The main deck was rebuilt as rust was a problem. The shear strake plank was in poor condition and rebuilt in steel. Decks, cabins and paddle boxes were rebuilt and seventeen planks in the hull replaced. Keelson beams replaced the original riveted beams and the engine room was completely re-ribbed. H section steel floors were placed where the steam engine sits.
Echuca is the venue for The Southern 80, the world's largest water ski race. An elite line-up of some 400 international and Australian competitors vie for the super class title. It's been running for over 40 years and traverses 80kms of the Murray between Torrumbarry and Echuca, taking in over 120 bends.
The Southern 80 attracts 80 thousand people to the banks of the river to witness the excitement of the race where boats towing skiers fly by at close to 200kpm. It is held on the second Sunday in February every year.