Hi all. Brett Merchant here and recent paddler of the Murray River.
I recently finished this huge and wonderful journey on the 22nd of June after paddling 2335.2km on a river as varied as the seasons. The scenery, natural wonders, the people and the history of the river have combined to reward me with my life’s greatest adventure. I have no regrets and loved almost every piece of this unique experience.
It started as a dream a bit over a year ago. With countless hours of research, e-mails, phone calls, purchasing equipment and getting a huge 3 months off work, the dream started to become a reality. Before I knew it I was riding a mountain bike with my old man to the source of the Murray River in the Snowy Mountains.
I started the paddle near the town of Corryong in Victoria on the 10th of April 2013, apprehensive of the fast flowing water following a huge release from the Snowy Hydro power stations.
The fast water was fun, full of challenges and allowed me to notch up mileage with ease.
The flow doesn’t last in this huge river however. Inevitably it gets slower. Man made Hume and Mullwulla dams, 13 weirs/locks along the lower reaches and the barrages at Goolwa serve to hold back the water for irrigation purposes, making it an artificial, man controlled river for almost its entire length.
I saw wetlands and lagoons full of life; vast lakes dotted with skeletal trees; a narrow, fast flowing Murray flowing through healthy redgum forests; huge amounts of varied bird life; picturesque riverside towns; beautiful sunrises and sunsets over a glassy river. The river goes from a tiny, crystal clear trickle at the source to a majestic, wide, straight, muddy and crawling mass of water near the mouth in South Australia. I completed the journey in the salt water of the mouth, near the town of Goolwa, below the vast, shallow and dangerous Lake Alexandrina.
On the flip side I saw huge amounts of erosion, low river levels, huge irrigation pipes and channels devouring the rivers lifeblood, banks choked with weeds, mans rubbish floating and strewn on banks. It was sad to see these things, but I had hope in the realisation that there is awareness of these issues and things are being done. Unfortunately it’s far too little and in some cases too late. For more than a century we have been using the Murray’s water for irrigation and are yet to agree on a national water conservation plan for the Murray-Darling Basin. Meanwhile we grow rice and cotton in areas that are almost desert and exploit the precious water.
Enough of that however, this is about trailblazing after all. I was very privileged, the river took me for one hell of a ride. I firmly believe I am better off after doing it. I would recommend the trip to anyone, it’s a chance to really get out and see nature along Australia’s longest river.
I don’t expect I’ll stop at this adventure, many more await in this big wide world.