Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mildura Day 2

Today we went to Merbein Common which encompasses  diverse  landscapes  including  riverine  vegetation,  billabongs   and  small  patches  of  Native  Pine.  Hardy  Black  Box  and  tranquil  River  Red  Gums  are  abundant   along  with  many  fish,  birds  and  animals  that  utilise  this  vegetation  for  protection  and  shelter.

This timber jinker was used for log haulage as thousands of tons of timber were needed to fuel the paddle steamers and pumping station.

This pump constructed in 1914 in Castlemaine by Thompson & Co was used to pump water here until 1959.

Chaffey Landing, named after WB Chaffey who built the winery/distillery on the cliff above in 1913, is on the eastern boundary of the Merbein Common. This access point enabled paddle steamers, going downstream to Morgan, to be loaded with grape spirit that was then taken by train to Adelaide. ‘Bag Town’, on Chaffey Landing, is as an early river bank (makeshift) settlement. 

Merbein was originally identified as White Cliffs when the town established because of its impressive river white cliffs. The post office opened on 16 August 1909. The town's name was intended to be "Merebin", which is the Aboriginal word for "white sandcliffs", but an error made when registering the name corrupted it to "Merbein". In 1912 the irrigation settlement's name was officially changed to Merbein, reputedly an aboriginal name of a local sand hill.

The Merbein Lookout walk highlights an old Canoe Tree, this Red River Gum with it's 5 metre long scar bears the marks of the removal of the timber by Aboriginal people to make a canoe. Radiocarbon dating shows the bark was removed 280 years ago, one of many scarred trees found along the Murray River.

The Murray Darling Junction where Australia's two greatest and longest rivers, the Murray and the Darling meet - an iconic Australian 'must see'. A significant meeting, trading and corroboree site for Aboriginal nations.

Wentworth is sited on the junction of the Darling and the Murray rivers in the Murray Basin. The Darling has its headwaters and tributaries fed by monsoonal downpours and mountain rains in north-eastern New South Wales and southern Queensland. It meanders over the imperceptibly sloping plain, but when in flood becomes an inland sea. From the junction it extends some 1900 km, in a good season, to Walgett.

The confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers, which, combined, is the fourth largest river system in the world. When the Darling is in flow, a surprise awaits - as the two rivers are marked by a distinct colour difference, due to the drought conditions this was not viewable today . The Darling is a clay based river, its milky appearance contrasts starkly to that of the mighty Murray.

Here we saw another of the scarred trees used to make an Aboriginal Canoe. To make a canoe, the aborigines would first make an outline of the shape they required with cutting stones or stone tools. Once the shape was mastered, they cut deeply into the tree to the heartwood (or xylem), prying the bark off in one piece with stick or rocks.

Kevin standing on the far end of Junction Island a shoal of land between the Darling and Murray Rivers. The junction sandbar is where a large number of aborigines, armed with spears and weapons, threatened Captain Sturt as he sailed down the Murray on his expedition to find the inland sea, and here he had arrived at the Darling junction, on 23rd Jan 1830. The confrontation was averted when a group of Aboriginals, who had befriended Captain Sturt the day before, arrived and amicably resolved the stand-off.

We drove into Wentworth and to Fotherby Park.

The Paddle Steamer Ruby was built at Morgan by David Milne in 1907 for Captain Hugh King. She was the fourth riverboat of that name to be used on the Murray. Her owner had also another vessel called Ruby but of 1876 vintage. On acquiring the new steamer he had the old Ruby converted into a barge, renamed her Radia in October 1908 and used her to transport sheep and cattle.

The new Ruby was 205 tons gross, 132'9" in length and had a beam of 18'9". Ruby was built with a whaleboat stern, a straight stem and was carvel design. The depth of the hull was 6 feet, and she was of light draught drawing only between 2'6" and 3' when fully laden with around 85 tons. This enabled her to operate on much lower river levels when other steamers were tied up.

Ruby carried 30 passengers in style and comfort. She had three decks, the top deck featured the wheelhouse, chimney stack and Captain and Mate's quarters. Later in her career female crew quarters and a music room were added. The second deck housed the passengers, saloon and bathrooms. The lower or cargo deck contained the Engineers cabin, gallery and crew quarters. The Ruby proved to be a valuable member of the fleet and she was transferred from one route to another depending on the water in the rivers. Ruby travelled the Morgan to Swan Hill route for most of here working life. She was a 'bottom ender' in every respect and never ventured further up the river because of her length.

McClymonts Cottage Wentworth's First Court House is made out of drop slab construction and is now standing in the park although it originally stood in Darling Street facing Darling Lane. It was dismantled and rebuilt in its present site at Fotherby Park as a Wentworth Rotary Club project. This building was also used as a residence for Wentworth's first Police Sargent in 1860 and it was used as a Court House.

A 1900's 8HP steam engine called 'The Demon'.

Built in 1929, Lock 10 plays an important role in the Murray-Darling water system. The purpose of the weir is both to maintain a high level of water for irrigation in times of little and to regulate water flow. The lock enables boats to pass from the upper stream to down stream level of the Murray River and vice versa.

To allow the migration of fish species upstream past the weir at anytime, special ’fishways’ have been built at the abutments of Lock 10. A series of interconnected pools allow the fish to move from pool to pool as part of their upstream travel. This is an important step in the long term recovery of the Murray River ecology.
Looking back at Junction Island from Lock 10.

National Trust Listed, and still in use for Local Court Sessions the Wentworth Court House was opened on 13 April, 1880. It took the place of a smaller brick building further up Darling Street, but in the same town block.

Made from the local clay bricks, it is a magnificent building that has stood the test of time and provides an excellent example of Pioneer Architecture and Design. The Court House has been restored and the original picket fence replaced.

In 1860 a Post Office established in Wentworth in a shed in Darling Street. Four mail routes converged on Wentworth in 1861, with the mail to Melbourne taking up to 4 ½ days to reach its destination. The first telegram was made available in the settlement in 1866.
The first Post Office was established at Pooncarie in 1869, in a room in the "Pooncaira" Hotel. Mail was delivered to the stations along specified routes via horseback or horse drawn carriages. The present Post Office was built in 1899.

This building served as a navigation company from 1882 onwards, when the rivers were the highways, and has since been service station, butchery etc. After being empty for a few years it came to life with local food and wines.

The Wentworth police Watch-house or 'lock-up' used to confine prisoners with sentences of fourteen days or less was proclaimed to be a prison on 1 December 1870. Some necessary improvements to prisoner accommodation were effected during 1877 after which the Gaol was reported to house three separated and nine associated prisoners.

The small single storey brick gaol with bluestone trim was designed by colonial architect James Barnet and built between 1879 and 1881. It was one of the earliest Australian – designed gaols together with Hay Gaol (1880), Dubbo Gaol (1871) and Long Bay Gaol (1909 and 1914). The bricks were made on-site from the local clay, by Joseph Fritz, and the bluestone was transported from Malmsbury VIC.

When the Prisons Act, 1899 (NSW) was enacted, Wentworth Gaol was one of those listed in the second schedule as existing 'public gaols, prisons or houses of correction'. The Goal closed in 1928. The two final prisoners who had been sentenced on 9 February 1928 were transferred to the Broken Hill Gaol on 27 February 1928, which is possibly the official date of closure. The gaol was officially de-established as a prison on 1 July 1928. Wentworth Gaol was temporarily re-used in 1962 when riots in Mildura prompted the need to utilise the cells at Wentworth.

We then drove to Red Cliffs. No matter where you drive in the Sunraysia Region there are more vineyards than you can imagine, even coming from the Hunter Valley and wine making region, I am shocked at the extent of grape vines that continue for literally kilometre after kilometre.

The name Sunraysia is derived from a contest that entrepreneur Jack De Garis held as part of a promotion in 1919 on behalf of the Australian Dried Fruits Association. The public were invited to submit a name which described the dried fruits grown in the Mildura district. The winning name was Sun-Raysed, and this was extended to describe the district as Sunraysia. De Garis's 1920 established newspaper Sunraysia Daily borrowed the name accordingly.

The season for fresh grapes runs for six to seven months. It starts in November, peaks in February and March and closes in May. Warm, dry summers and deep, rich soils provide the perfect environment for Australian growers to produce world class table grapes. Green, red and blue/black varieties of table grapes come from the major growing regions of Sunraysia and the Murray Valley in Victoria, the Riverina in NSW and south-eastern Queensland.

The do also grow rock melon as we show here and citrus is also a major industry here.

Big Lizzie is a 45-tonne machine that was brought to Mildura in 1918 to clear mallee scrub. It is the only one of its type in the world, with its unique wheel traction and carrying capacity of 80 tonnes. Big Lizzie was standing proud in Barclay Square in the centre of the township of Red Cliffs.

We then went for a walk to see the red cliffs …the area is on a high bank above the red cliffs from which the settlement got its name. From the bank vistas of river scenery of long reaches both upstream and downstream can be seen, as well as overlooking a huge area across the river in New South Wales.

We were blessed with the most magnificent view of hundreds of birds flying about 30cm above the river covering the full width of the river as we stood and looked out to the red cliffs.

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