Saturday, January 18, 2014

Beating the Heat, Barham Style...

The Mighty Murray River near Barham; running a banker (photo taken in 2013)

As the northern hemisphere’s United States shivered through a January polar vortex (a large-scale cyclone located near the arctic) with temperatures as low as -38°C, down in our southern domain, Australia sweltered through a week-long heatwave with temperatures in the mid 40s.

Beating the heat is a summer pastime for many Australians, with water being one of our favourite remedies. Coastal folk head to the iconic sandy beaches that surround our vast continent while inlanders head for their local pools, rivers, lakes, ground tanks, irrigation channels or just a sprinkler on the lawn.

Last Thursday, in the middle of a string of 44°C days, I along with my friends, Astrid, Maxwell and Trish embarked on a morning float down the Murray River on our lilos (inflatable air mattresses).

Breakfast of champions... and floaters
Armed with our lilos, hats, sunscreen and water bottles, we started our day upstream at Little Forest Produce; home of 12 Good Eggs the organic, free-range chook farm that supplies Barham and towns far and wide with magnificent nutritious eggs. Mardie, Glen, Rose and Hugo invited us to join them for a delicious breakfast on the riverbank before we descended into the silky mud and beautifully cool Murray River water.

Maxwell and Hugo heading for the river
At 2,508km the Murray is Australia’s longest river and the third longest navigable river in the world, after the Amazon and Nile. Starting high up in the Kosciusko National Park it marks the border between New South Wales and Victoria and flows all the way to the Murray Mouth in South Australia where it empties into the Southern Ocean.

The river height had dropped dramatically since Christmas and one of the first things we noticed after we had successfully clambered aboard our lilos (no mean feat for some of us…), was how much weaker the current had become. This caused Trish and I some mild concern as we both needed to be home by lunchtime to start work in the afternoon.

Hugo, Annie and Maxwell
We spent some time experimenting with the ideal lilo positioning; I found lying on my back, meandering along in the slow-moving current to be the most comfortable, with the occasional flip into the water to swim and cool down.

For those of you who have yet to enjoy the marvels of floating down a river somewhere, I can highly recommend it. Soothed by the cool water and gentle current, we drifted past the massive river red gums lining the banks and enjoyed watching and hearing the abundant birdlife. Kookaburras, ibis, kingfishers, blue wrens, Nankeen Night Herons, sulfur-crested cockatoos, darters, various breeds of ducks, Australasian Bitterns and water hens are just a small selection of birdlife that can be seen when you float along the river near Barham.
Nankeen Night Heron

Floating down the river on a weekday morning can also be recommended, as there was very little river traffic. We passed the occasional holidaying family, recreational fisherman or woman in their tinnies and just one barbie boat of friends out enjoying the morning before the intense heat set in later in the afternoon.
Astrid, Trish, Annie and Maxwell floating away down the Murray River

Nearing Koondrook and Barham, it sounded as though there was a flotilla of speedboats heading our way. Rounding a bend in the river we discovered the source of the noise was in fact the historic Arbuthnot Sawmill; working away on the edge of the river as it has done since 1889.

Trish and Maxwell had floated on ahead of Astrid and myself and waited for us at the sandbar near the beautifully kept Barham Caravan and Tourist Park. From there we floated on down, under the 1904 lift-span bridge that links Koondrook (VIC) and Barham (NSW) until we reached Willow Bend. The float had taken us about three and a half hours; getting out of the water in time for me to have a quick shower and lunch before starting work for the afternoon.

Feeling inspired? On Australia Day (next Sunday, 26th January), at 10.30am you can register at the Koondrook Boat Ramp for the annual Great Aussie Lilo Race. Organised by our local Koondrook Barham Football Netball Club, the district’s most colourful aqua event is floated, swum and paddled (in varying degrees of competitiveness) from the Koondrook boat ramp, downstream on the Murray River to the Barham boat ramp. Although perhaps not quite as tranquil as our three and a half hour float last Thursday, the Great Aussie Lilo Race is excellent fun and a great Australia Day tradition in Barham and Koondrook for locals and visitors alike.
Floating down the Murray River... how's the serenity?!