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Morgan on the Murray River
Touring the Murray
Instinct for a place and the subconscious can be a very powerful tool when planning a journey of discovery.
Ever laid a map out to plan a journey and your eye is drawn to a place that prompts the thought, ‘I wonder what that town is like’? And whenever you view a map of that region again, that place appears more prominently than others. Even though you know little of the area, your curiosity is aroused.
As a traveller fascinated with the history of our waterways and pastoral heritage, I have at times seen Morgan referred to, but it’s normally little more than a passing mention. Yet, it seems to sit in the subconscious, only to surface when viewing a map of South Australia’s Riverland.
I was recently at the confluence of Murray and Darling rivers at Wentworth, and to see the high flows that have broken the drought in many parts of the Murray-Darling Basin was amazing. Immediately, the plight of the river downstream came to mind as we heard a lot about the acidification of the lower Murray, the death of the Coorong, and lack of flow into Lake Alexandrina.
I had a desire to explore downstream, so I opened my trusty map to survey the area and again I was drawn to the area around Morgan. The region where the Murray River changes from a southwesterly course to a southerly one, and then heads to Lake Alexandrina and on to the Southern Ocean.
At this point, serendipity stepped in. I was talking to Ian Dutschke from Aussie By Design caravans, and mentioned I was on my way to Morgan to photograph the town and the area. He said he knew a great couple who lived in Morgan, and if I wanted a great local perspective, I should give them a call. They not only love living there, but are also passionate travellers who know the surrounding area very well and might be able to share a few hidden gems.
My route to Morgan was via Waikerie and Cadell on the southern side of the Murray. I was familiar with the name Cadell from my interest in the history of the Murray and Darling rivers, as Francis Cadell was the person attributed with opening up the river trade along the Murray River and its tributaries. Captaining the Lady Augusta, Cadell was the first person to successfully navigate the Darling River.
I had been told by a fellow photographer that should I ever go to Cadell, there is a great spot near the ferry to experience the majesty of the sandstone cliffs that line the Murray River. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
So on to Morgan to meet my hosts, Rod and Donna Charity. Often in life you come across a person whose name fits like a glove, or drives a certain car that looks as if it were designed specifically with them in mind. It would be difficult to find an RV couple whose chosen brand would suit any better. Rod and Donna Charity were proud Aussie By Design owners. The
match was perfect.
Rod is a retired truckie who has been RVing for 15 years, and as such, there are few places in this country that he hasn’t seen. Nowadays, he still travels the country, not in a truck but with the Humpback, and Donna rides shotgun. Together, they relish the opportunity of shared travel experiences. We made plans on what Rod and Donna would show me in town and the area. My one request was they take me to the best river scene they knew of, and Rod assured me he had a place that would suitably impress.
To say that Rod and Donna are pleased with their Aussie By Design ‘Humpback’ RV is an understatement. I wanted to take some photographs of him and Donna with the van, so the next morning we met at the old railway station, and they arrived with their trusty Humpback in tow and ready for action. Never wanting a good photo opportunity pass, I was happy at the prospect of a tour with the perspective of a 25ft Humpback.
The township of Morgan was surveyed in 1878 and named after the, twice, Governor of South Australia, Sir William Morgan, and has played an integral part in the history of the Murray River. The local indigenous population referred to the area as `Koerabko’, meaning a place for good honey and meeting place of the tribes.
As for its role in the history of the river, NSW and Victoria held claim to certain rights and commercial advantages over the Murray and Darling rivers, as NSW had a railhead at Bourke on the Darling, while Victoria had its at Echuca on the Murray. Both provided a way to connect the opening interior of the country with river transport that could be linked to their capital cities via rail. The South Australian government of the time also wanted to secure a similar link to their capital, Adelaide, and its port.
Morgan became a major hub of the country’s growing pastoral development, bringing the wool clip from outlying areas to the Port of Adelaide for shipping back to England. The growth of Morgan was rapid and was soon servicing six trains a day to Adelaide with the five steam operated cranes on the wharf operating 24hrs a day unloading boats and barges.
Morgan grew as the river transport businesses boomed. The booms also led to the inevitable oversupply of river vessels, and with the advent of increased efficiency and coverage of the rail network, this was the beginning of the end of the rail/river era. Its swansong came with the amalgamation of all the riverboat companies to form the Murray Shipping Ltd, which was bolstered by the business to supply materials needed for building of the locks and weirs of the Murray River.
The decline of the river trade after the ’20s meant the regression of towns like Morgan. Fortunately, the importance of its rich history is being realised and preserved by facilitating ways for future generations to appreciate that the river is an integral part of our history and who we are as a nation.
However, Morgan’s history is not the only fascination with the area, and it is at these times that the river is showing its real beauty. For a long time we have heard about the drought and the decimation of the Murray Darling Basin.
Water, What Water.
We constantly hear South Australians cry foul, and not only about the footy, but about getting more water down the system. They not only rely on the river for their drinking water, but natural wonders like the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina are slowly dying. It is not until you travel through the Riverland and beyond that you realise what they are talking about. It is one of the great benefits of travelling to lesser-known places, as the knowledge and understanding gained provides a greater appreciation of certain issues.
With a tour of the town done, Rod and Donna now wanted to take me to their ‘best view of the area’, so we hit the road.
Back to Cadell, and unlike many other places on the river, there is not a bridge but a car ferry.
We are off to Blanchetown! Not to the town itself, which is definitely worth a visit, but the eastern bank that looks across the Murray River to the town. This is not like any bank, but a 30m-plus cliff atop a beautiful bend in the river. Rod drove the Humpback up the track alongside the cliff and we chose it as a perfect spot for a break to take in the view and have a chat.
I am always fascinated about travellers’ tales. Where they have been, how they got there and would they go back. Being a trucker, life on the road was normal, so when Rod retired it was a natural progression for him, and obviously Donna could now join him. Like many travellers there are highlights, and Tasmania is a standout for them, with the Cape coming a close second.
My visit was wonderful and I’m richer for the experience for a few reasons. I have now experienced another place that is on the road less travelled, I know that instinctive curiosity can be a great way to choose a journey, and sharing the travelling experience is always a two-part process.