The River Trade.
The Murray and Darling rivers were the first highways for the towns located along them and the many large pastoral properties that were located in the prime wool growing areas that bordered the rivers.
Until the riverboats got into full swing provisions and supplies were carried to these areas by horse and wagon or bullock teams with long delays when wet weather churned up the dirt tracks that served as roads in those early days.
The rivers offered a much quicker and more reliable source of transport…. But only when the water was at a satisfactory level, in a very dry, flat country where the melting of winter snow in the mountains where the Murray’s headwaters were located fed the river there were often times when the water levels were not sufficient to handle the river trade.
Water rushing into a lock chamber to raise a riverboat.
With the level stabalized the gates open to allow the boat to proceed.
Some of the more visionary folk at the time drew up plans for 26 weirs and locks on the Murray and another dozen on the Darling, in the flat land that has a fall of only 31 feet in its last 800 miles makes for a very slow moving river.
This plan was partly under way when the railways transport system improved to the degree that it was no longer viable to complete the whole project, the Murray plans were wound back to 11 weirs with the distance between them increased in some areas to the degree that no longer would the weirs influence the levels to maintain safe river transport during a dry summer spell.
The lower reaches of the river however are now maintained at a good level even during the long periods of drought we have had over the last decade, each weir is adjustable and the usual difference in levels above and below a weir is about 10 to 12 feet.
The Paddle wheelers and the barges they towed behind them were able to negotiate past the weirs in an ingenious manner using a lock chamber which was flooded to raise them or drained to lower them, now-a-days the locks are very busy catering for the large number of houseboats and other tourist craft that use the river.
Upstream of Mildura the river is only navigable by large craft in times of high flow rates.
As the paddles turn to propel the riverboat forward they leave twin trails on the river.
When the Darling River Joins the Murray at Wentworth its muddy water is distinctly visible from the clearer water of the Murray for a while downstream until they blend together, the Darling is even more slow flowing than the Murray and picks up much more silt because it drry's up more often.
Back in the 1950's every "blockie", as the small land holders were called, owned a little grey Ferguson tractor, during a bad flood when the town councils equipment couldn't keep up with the building and maintainance of the levee banks around the town of Wentworth several dozen of these little tractors would rally round to help with the work.
They are a much revered piece of the town history today and a rally is held for them each year.... they arrive from all over Vic. and NSW for it.
Highest Point (
Average annual flows,
and downstream tributaries 14,800,000 megalitres
The River Murray Commission apportions the waters of the
Storages, weirs and locks, and other control works have been constructed by the Commission.
The Commission operates these works:
· To conserve river flow
· To deliver water to the States for irrigation and other purposes as needed
· To maintain navigation of the river in the lower reaches
The Commission also receives and distributes to the States. waters of the Snowy River diverted to the upper Murray River by works constructed by the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Scheme.