Day nine Nathalia to Barmah - Australia's Great River - CycleBlaze

May 15, 2018

Day nine Nathalia to Barmah

Tuesday 15 May 2018.

Nathalia to Barmah.

30km. Start .9.30 arrive 12.00.

Accommodation Barmah Caravan Park.

It was about 4C when we left Nathalia so it was the long finger gloves again. We rode due south down the main street for about 4km until we could turn right onto the Barmah Rd and we were riding into a southerly again which became a cold side wind as we rode west. The road surface was good and gradually veered to north which gave us a slight tailwind.

looking out across the flat country side on the road to Barmah
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Eventually we rolled into the township of Barmah with a population of approximately 181, which is the smallest place that we have stayed in on this trip.  We parked the bike outside the local General Store /Garage / Post Office / Cafe and walked up the ramp to the front door where we spotted a friendly Blue Heeler Cattle Dog on the verandah: the dog looked as if it wanted to play.  But the dog did not follow us inside the store and when we asked the two girls drinking coffee at the cafe end of the store if the dog belonged to them: they said no the dog had followed them on their walk. 

Next stop was at the Tinkler Park which backed onto a large curve in the Murray River.  Here we stopped to read the names on the town's two honour boards, which had been photographed and attached to a wooden frame, next to the town's memorial plaque and flag poles: we had never seen this done before.

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We rode a little further along the Barmah Road past the Barmah Pub and into the Barmah Caravan and Camping Park.

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Our cabin in front of a slightly long steady rise on the Barmah Road which crossed the Jack Edwards Park and the Murray River, which would take us into New South Wales on the following morning.

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After getting checked into our caravan park and settled into our cabin, we microwaved our Thai Curry for lunch and it was just as tasty as it had been the night before.

After drinking a cup of tea and unpacking our bags we set off for a walk around the township.  We walked back along the Barmah Road to Tinkler Park and took some photographs of the Murray River, whilst being deafened by the noise of a large flock of Corellas in the surrounding trees.

a bend in the River Murray, Barmah
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the river bank with water level markers in metres
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Then we walked across Murray Street and turned right at the Barmah Pub, into Maloney Street, past the local cafe where we bought wonderfully home made  sandwiches which we would eat on the road tomorow. Before turning left into McCann Drive which took us through a section of the forest at the back of the caravan park, and down to the river.

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campers at the back of the caravan park near the river
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Some facts listed on the Swan Bros Sawmill Story Board:-

"Jerry Swan was given his first axe at the age of 14 and continued in the timber industry until the age of 81 when redgum was no longer available from the forest. In 1949 Jerry and brother Jack bought a brand new 7 ton White truck at a cost of BP 1,958.00. At the time it was the largest truck this side of Shepparton, the truck was restored in 2010. In 1959 they started a timber mill “Swan Bros”. The mill operated for 51 years until the creation of the Barmah National Park in 2010 when logging and cattle grazing ceased.

Sleepers for railways must always be cut by hand, for sawn timber warps. Yet sleepers have to be squared true on all sides. The work is all done with the axe, but the finished job leaves the layman wondering whether the sleeper-cutter did not use a plane. The trees were felled, the bark removed and then the timber sawn into nine foot lengths by 10 inches wide by 5 inches deep (2700mm x 250mm x 125mm) called sleepers, which would support the metal rail lines for approx 25 years".

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Some facts listed on the Leigh McCann and D'Arcy Maloney Story Board:-

"Sleepers were required to support the railway lines and had to be cut and shaped by hand. The Sleeper Cutters were exceptionally skilled with an axe. Barmah is a small town rich in history and home to several skilled Sleeper Cutters one of whom was Leigh McCann. Leigh was born in Echuca on 14th January 1924 and began his long career as a Sleeper-Cutter in the early months of 1937

R.F. Osborn wrote in the Argus Newspaper 3rd O ctober 1931.".  

"A sleeper-cutter can earn 8 - 15 pounds a week in good timber. Cutters are registered and the number in a district is limited. In New South Wales a cutter is required to supply 80 sleepers a week to the railways. Replacements are constantly being made, and sleeper-cutters generally are kept fully employed. 

Leigh married Sheila Maloney, D'Arcy Maloney's sister in 1948, raising four sons. In 1955 Leigh and D'Arcy started a working relationship to the point where they development their own unique sign language, so they could be understood above the noise of the timber felling. Both men worked together until they both retired in 1989”.

River Murray with caravan park to the left
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 We went to the pub for dinner where Mary had roast chicken which instead of a few slices of breast meat turned out to be a whole quarter of a chicken : drumstick, thigh, wing and a portion of breast. Mike had a beef schnitzel with the most crispy coating he has ever eaton, which was also huge. Including ourselves there were only five people dining that night, a travelling couple and a single man wearing his vis work clothing. His name was Colin Swan and he is a truckie and a descendent of one of the families who ran the saw mill in the area. We spent some time listening to Colin telling us stories of the forest and the people who lived in the area and their lives in times past. Colin is the person who restored his family's 7 ton truck which he still owns.

Colin is the bloke sitting behind us. Meanwhile check the size of the meat portions on our plates.
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OK, back to the Barmah Forest. The First Australians were here anything from 50,000 to 30,000 years ago depending on which scientist is counting but anyway five times longer than is attributed to the Judeo-Christian records. They were nomadic and enjoyed the area because it was rich in fish, bird life and mammals as well as plenty of edible roots and berries. There are no nasty large predators in this area (unlike in the Northern Territory where their cousins had to contend with crocodiles) but the usual array of venomous snakes which are easy enough to avoid unless snake is on the menu for that night's dinner.

Then the white settlers arrived and found the area's rich grasslands to be ideal for summer cattle grazing bringing the cattle back to their farms for the winter because the river tended to flood then. Now of course we have the Hume Weir upstream at Albury and the Yarrawonga Weir which holds back the water for irrigation and we don't get many floods.

We read an account of ten to twelve year old children who were sent by their parents to camp in the forest with a small herd of cows which they had to milk daily and the parents would come down every two days to collect the milk which was separated, the skim used to feed calves and pigs and the butterfat sent to the local butter factory.

Next they discovered the river red gums use for timber, mainly for railway sleepers (ties for our American readers.) The sleeper cutters formed each sleeper using an axe because for a long time it was thought that sawn sleepers were more prone to warping. Eventually they became sawn because it was a lot quicker than axe cutting.  The broad axe hewers could cut up to ten sleepers a day ! Now the railways are using concrete sleepers.

Back to Colin from the saw milling family, who had many stories to tell us. He believes that by no longer allowing cattle grazing, the forest floor is building up to dangerous fuel levels which would allow bush fires to roar through the forest causing a lot of damage to the redgum trees.

Anyway there is now no cattle grazing and no timber getting in the Barmah National Park, as it is now a conservation area where some camping is permitted and people fish for the elusive Murray Cod.


We found a Parks Victoria - Barmah National Park Visitor Guide

which provided us with the follow information about the forest:-

"Barmah National Park (28,521ha), together with the adjoining Murray Valley Regional and National Parks in New South Wales, forms the largest River Red Gum forest in the world. The complex ecology of the forest is closely linked to the Murray River and its flooding regime, creating a diverse natural habitat for a variety of wildlife, particularly waterbirds.

The Barmah-­‐ Millewa forest is an internationally recognised wetland listed under the Ramsar Convention and represents all of the four freshwater wetland types in Victoria. The forest provides important habitat, particularly for waterbirds, with over 200 species of birds recorded. It is one of Victoria’s largest waterbird breeding areas. Brolgas, Night Herons, Spoonbills, Sea Eagles and Azure Kingfishers can all be seen in the park.

River Red Gums line the Murray River for most of its length. These iconic trees can reach 45 metres and live for more than 500 years. The trees need periods of flooding and can survive inundation for months. Their seeds are washed onto higher ground during a flood and germinate and grow before the next flood reaches them. Hollows and broken branches provide nesting for Galahs, Cockatoos, Cockatiels and various Parrots; while fallen branches provide habitat for other animals". 

Today's ride: 35 km (22 miles)
Total: 274 km (170 miles)

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