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Published: September 19th 2014
Mildura has tripled in size since I last saw it back in the late 90s. Leaving the peaceful banks of the Murray River at Merbein last Monday morning and driving into Mildura was a shock, a non too gentle reality check and reminder of the surburban sprawl that is creeping too fast through this beautiful land and devouring natural habitats and destroying the landscape. Traffic lights, vehicles driving too fast to who knows where, new housing developments and untidy vineyards and orchards sprawling across what were once beautiful Mallee plains. To be honest, I was very disappointed in Mildura and its surrounds and was pleased to move on when we did.
Our time in that area was probably not helped by the weather … the winds howled and the temperature dropped again making it difficult to relax and settle. But even without those conditions it would appear that section of the Murray River is really struggling as a result of too much human interference and domination. The river looked tired, even though it was full of water. The river banks were scruffy, dusty and hard packed, depleted of all but the most common of birdlife. Buildings, including homes, scattered throughout
the farmlands around the town (city) were unkempt. And there were acres and acres of new suburban housing developments.
After restocking with food and fuel, we headed for the info center and realized we should have done that first because both of us had completely forgotten about the fruit fly restrictions. We spent the next 36 hours devouring a week’s worth of fresh produce so that we would not have to throw it away as we crossed the SA border. But in addition Mildura and surrounds has apparently had its own outbreak of fruit fly and there are now restrictions on removing fruit and veg across a 15 km boundary line around the town. I have never eaten so many kiwi fruit in such a short period of time. Interesting consequences, but I say no more.
We drove to Red Cliffs in search of stunning photos but were sorely disappointed. The cliffs were there but the boardwalk and parkland through which to gain access was very depleted and sad, and scattered with human detritus such as beer cans, plastic and cellophane. And the cliffs are dotted not with mallee scrub but electric power poles, tin sheds and tanks.
So we left (with a few photos none the less, amazing what you can remove from a photo with photoshop) and tried to find Kings Billagong which the state forest brochure glowingly described as a wonderful campsite and natural habitat for birds, an ideal spot for birdwatching. What we found thanks to a severe lack of signage, was the southern extreme of the billagong which was close to empty, just a few stagnant pools, at a place known as Psych Pumps. This is the site of the Chaffey Bros early 1900s pumping station that took water from the river up into the billagong for storage and distribution across the plains as irrigation. As you can imagine, any place that has been so abused by human endeavours is now far from fit for native vegetation or animal and bird life. We stayed the night anyway as we were too exhausted to go further and in the morning set off to try and find the other end of the billagong. Again, thanks to a severe lack of signage and very poor maps, it took us a while and through more over farmed plains and worn out river edges with a few
dead ends to boot. But finally we came to a bend in the river that had a sign that said Kings Billagong which was home to a houseboat hire marina. It was certainly a back water and there were many moored river boats (of the modern variety) there.
To my delight, this backwater of the river is also home to a couple of Yesterday’s Heros of the river – two moored, cast away and decaying river barges from a bygone era, still quite magnificent in a stark and historical way. The sun was unfortunately in the wrong place for me to get fabulous photos and they were on the opposite bank of the river, so that I could not approach them more closely. However, there was a chap working on one of the houseboats, so I got his permission to go on board and to the other end of his boat and was able to get a couple of shots. This was a photographer’s delight and made the hours of fruitless driving to find this spot somewhat worthwhile.
After a bite of lunch (finished off my salad greens and avocado), we headed off towards Renmark but after 40
kms of battling with a strong headwind we decided enough was enough and pulled off the road at a little caravan park on the edge of Cullullaraine Lake. After free camping for several nights, it was a chance to recharge all sorts of batteries, wash and trim the dog, wash and trim myself and do a load of washing. All useful if utilitarian necessities. The sunset over the lake was pretty … but I’m a bit picky now about what sunsets I photograph, and this one didn’t make it into the album.
The wind was still blowing when we hit the road the next morning, but Renmark was only 80 kms away so off we went.
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