Western Australia and Wildflowers, so Far Away.

Melbourne to Murray Bridge.
Some people debate whether the pleasure of travel is in the going or arriving. This may become a serial record of one of our travels, not an arrival, because we enjoyed the travel all the way, so that we never arrived until we were home.
In 1982 we had arranged for some long service leave to enable us to visit Western Australia to see some wild-flowers. To help record this I had equipped with a new Nikkormat camera with, I think from memory, an f 1.4 50 mm lens, a Tamron wide-angle, a 70-200mm zoom,and a separate hand held Nikon flash on an extension lead. Unfortunately I did not become familiar with the camera before starting out, and found I got very poor exposure results with the outfit, and dis-satisfaction with the results meant that I sold all this new gear shortly after getting home.
We made an early start from Melbourne and headed for Dimboola as the first night’s stop. We did not spend much time looking at the country this side of the South Australian border as we had covered it several times before with our family. We were however surprised at the change in nature of much of the farmland along the road from near the South Australian border onward. We had been along ten or fifteen years before and it could only have been classed as one stop from desert. There had been much work done on trace elements and they had been introduced in the fertiliser used, and the country was now blooming, even though we had had a dry winter.
From an early age I have been mildly interested in railways, steam engines and stations. I had heard much about Bordertown railway station and its importance (all of which I have now forgotten) and so we had to make a side trip off the Western Highway to see the station.

We were not disappointed. It was a wonderful old stone building with a fancy roof line and no great obvious use as a passenger station. The area had been settled for grazing in 1840’s and then in 1852 it was surveyed as a stopping point on the Adelaide-Mt Alexander gold route. It gained again in importance when in 1886 the railway came through, and it became an important transport centre for the area. The next highlight was when the passenger station was built in 1914. It was a stopping point on the Overland train service provided jointly by South Australia and Victorian government railways. Unfortunately, in 2010, this service is now provided by a private company, and Vicrail now only sponsors bus services through Bordertown to Adelaide.
The trip from here to Murray Bridge deteriorated to a less interesting one as the weather became windier and drier, and then as we approached the Murray area at Tailem Bend a dust-storm blew up. We had seen these before, but although it was quite impressive, it was fortunately short lived, and left us most of the afternoon and evening in clean air.
The trip from here to Murray Bridge deteriorated to a less interesting one as the weather became windier and drier, and then as we approached the Murray area at Tailem Bend a dust-storm blew up. We had seen these before, but although it was quite impressive, it was fortunately short lived, and left us most of the afternoon and evening in clean air.

After this we located a motel for overnight in Murray bridge and started to investigate the town, which has a very long history. The South Australian style of home with a veranda all around was a common feature although this first one did not have the bull-nose veranda I associate with the early SA buildings,
We soon found what I called the bull-nose veranda on another house.

and also in the old stone houses in this street. They were well built and have been well looked

after so that they are still of value.

The churches of the town were mostly old, with the Uniting church showing two stages of development.

The early stage has an unusual tower for a belfry, but the later church was more normal with a porch on the street.
As is usual in old country towns, the central building was a hotel. It shows an expansion of trade down the years as it was expanded to cope with demand.

In many towns today its position has been supplanted by a Supermarket as the key business of the town.
The town was originally a crossing point on the Murray river and in March 1879 a road bridge was built. The town was an important port on the Murray with much river traffic. The port itself was the third biggest on the Murray.

In 1886 the rail came to town and the road bridge was made into a combined road and rail bridge which was shared until 1924 with the road-rail bridge one of the longest as the river flat on the eastern side of the river was swamp-land, and subject to winter flooding before dams were built on the Murray to control water flow. The rail was important as Murray Bridge was the main loco depot between Adelaide and the Victorian border and there were up to 15 goods trains a day moving wheat etc. from countryside to port. This meant the bridge was becoming a hindrance rather than a help to the town development, and so in 1925 a new separate rail bridge was built to
provide for the rail traffic to the east and Victoria, which can be seen on the right of this picture. This unfortunately was the last straw in the river traffic to Mannum which declined rapidly.

This new bridge is still in use in 2010 coping with whatever rail traffic wants to come through on the new standard gauge line between Adelaide and Melbourne.
We had broken with tourist tradition and had walked rather than drove across the road bridge to the eastern side of the swamp land and of course had to walk back again, and we found the sights along the river bank very interesting. As well there was the view of a train, which was the third that came through in the hour or so we were walking across the bridges.
Today’s tourist, (2010), will not immediately see what we saw as the highway now by-passes the old town, and has a new multi-lane crossing over the Murray some Km to the south of the old town leading in a broad sweep to Tailem Bend. Unless you want to you will see nothing of the town we saw, and probably stay at Tailem Bend which has become another important stopping point off the highway.
We had noticed a ‘Houseboat’ tied up at the river bank below and so we visited that.

The evening when we were there the boat had still not been named. It was brand new, built for the tourist trade on the river running tours to the mouth and upstream as far as they could go. This trade had been going as long as there has been boats on the river, and although it had seen tough times with the introduction of the motor car and fall off in the more sedate holiday, the owners of the boat believed that a day was about to dawn of people wanting a different relaxed holiday. We have not been back, but in 2009 a nephew went on such a trip from Murray Bridge on such a boat. Whether it was this one still in service we do not know, but we hope so. In 2009 there was the problem of the level of water in the Murray, which excluded near approaches to the mouth and some limitations on where it could go upstream of Murray Bridge. Some parts of the river bank have also been damaged because of changing water movements in the Murray.

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Western Australia and Wildflowers, so Far Away.

Fred Mitchell

St Helena, Australia

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Murray Bridge, river crossings and traffic.

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