Ten years ago, my girlfriend and photographer extrodinair - Brooke - and I put together a book titled "Homesteads of the Mighty Murray"..... It was a journey down Australia's Murray River exploring 12 of the diverse historic homseteads to be found established upon the rivers prosperous banks. Sadly, as is the case with so many would be authors, no publisher took the opportunity to publish this wonderful book.....although I did notice one of the publishers produced a strikingly similar book 5 years after I had pitched them the idea. Hmmmmmm, I am convinced it's not what you know, but who you know in the publishing game !!!!
Now with the wonders of online publishing, I want to take the opportunity this year to share my book with the world. Over the next 12 months I will be posting each of the chapters of my book, one a month. I do hope you enjoy this little bit of insight into my portion of the world, it's history, it's beauty and it's story......
Homesteads of the Murray - Introduction....
I don’t doubt that Poppa Mick loved that great old river. He certainly gave his grandchildren a love for it. Many a day he took us into the bush by the murky yellow depths and fished for hours on end, while we played under the river gums. He would dig up witchity grubs and tell us they were for lunch, while we thankfully tucked into Nanna Alice’s tomato sandwiches instead. And when at last we fishermen were all fished out, we would head home for Nanna to cook us up a tea made from our bounty. For most river children like me, this was their blissful childhood.
I was always warned about getting to close to the river and falling in. The river was dangerous for a little girl, and the reserved fear of the river has never really left me, making it’s snaking bends and coves all the more rich with mystery, adventure and allure. Even today when I swim at her sandbars, there is a wariness inside. I recall all the stories of people who have been tragically drowned in her waters. People who have been sucked into one of her powerful whirlpools, even tales of sections of the river where streams of water run deep underground, re-surfacing kilometres downstream. The river is an enticing enigma with an air of untamable power – despite all the weirs and locks to the contrary. She demands to be treated with respect.
In places it dawdles, sluggish and heavy with mud after torrential rains. Yet high in the mountains where it’s life begins, it sprightly dances, clear and sparkling as diamonds. Running for 2530km from North Eastern Victoria to the South Australian coast, the Murray River is one of the longest navigatable rivers in the world. For centuries it has given life to the peoples of this dry continent.
In the 1840’s and 50’s, white settlers too succumbed to the Murrays magic. This seemingly reliable water source drew visionary men and women to establish immense estates, or “runs” along the steep banks. Cattle and sheep now grazed on the riverland grasses alongside kangaroos and emus. Primitive homesteads and foundling communities were set up, benefiting from the plentiful wood for shelter, just as their native brothers and sisters did.
As settlement grew, homesteads were exchanged for gracious riverland mansions, and community spirit ran high. Work in rural Australia was plentiful for those who were willing and able. At the turn of the 20th century 44% of Australians lived in rural areas, and so, humming with people, growth and prosperity, the Murray river region was firmly established as a vital agricultural region for newly federated Australia.
Australia’s renown as the country that rode on the sheep’s back was due in no small measure to the gift of water from the Murray. Wool clips were transported from pastoral stations to inland ports, destined for markets in Melbourne and Adelaide via that now romantic element of steam travel – paddleboats. Farmers in the heyday of river travel were able to tell exactly which steamer was puffing up the river to their landing long before the wooden boat actually came into view. The tone of the "toot toot" from the steamers whistle would announce their imminent arrival.
The pastoral stations of the Murray have also united the cultures of the various settlers along the river. The natives of each region rubbed shoulders in the workplace with the Chinese, Italians, Americans, Tongan and Polynesians, and the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish from the earliest days of settlement. Throughout the years these people have transformed the Murray region into the vibrant smattering of cultures and heritage that we see before us today.
What a blessing this river has been, rising grandly in the rush and gurgle of mountain streams, and winding it’s way through valley floors laden with ferns and greenery, out into the open country of the plains, rolling along still, under the fire of mallee stars. To me there is perhaps nothing quite so thrillingly Australian as the sight of a river gum in all its aged splendour of mottled bark and gnarled limbs. As it cascades its branches across its watery lifesource, there in is a sight give pride to any child of Australia.
I am a product of five generations of Australian farmers and as such, the love of the Australian rural lifestyle – especially in the river country – is something I cannot escape from, and would not want to. This book is about the sentiment within me, and so many Australians just like me, who stand with pride in our rural heritage. The beauty of our rural land, not only in its landscape, but in it’s stories and it’s people.
So journey with me if you will, down the meandering Murray, catching a glimpse of the stations of this mighty river, as it sojourns through the nation. Behold the impact that men and women have made as they carved their dwellings out of a courageous life on the land. Enjoy the beauty that God and men have created hand in hand. Sense the struggle and the heartaches that wrung the very core of the bold residents of the river. In honour of the colourful pasts of these jewels of the Murray, the river pastoral stations of our land deserve this, the following tribute.