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By the time the Murray River reaches the South Australian border, it has already flowed for about 2000 kilometres and contributed to irrigation systems in Albury–Wodonga, the Riverina, the Murray–Goulburn Rivers region, and Swan Hill–Mildura. As it joins with the Darling and enters South Australia’s Riverland, Australia’s greatest river has more than 600 kilometres to go, its waters about to be harnessed to irrigate the orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens of Renmark and Berri.
The course of the Murray through South Australia marks out that state’s Big River Country and includes the Riverland, the Murraylands, the Mallee and the Coorong.
Renmark (original name Bookmark) is the largest town in the Riverland, its beginnings going back to the arrival of the Canadian irrigation experts, George and William Chaffey, who established settlements at Renmark and Mildura. Olivewood, in 21st Street, the brothers’ original home built in 1889, has been classified by the National Trust.
With the Sturt Highway crossing the Murray at Renmark, visitors to this region include motorists on their way between Adelaide and Sydney or Melbourne. But with its wide stretches of water, parklands, reserves and wetlands, the Riverland attracts many holiday-makers in its own right. Houseboats, paddle-steamers, canoes and motor boats pulling water-skiers are all common on this stretch of the Murray. Nearby Paringa, on the eastern side of the river, is home to much of the area’s houseboat industry.
One of Renmark’s more unusual attractions is the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve, which was established to conserve the flora and fauna of the area, setting in place conservation programs to address specific environmental problems. One of the animals protected by the reserve is the mallee fowl.
In recent years this extremely sunny region of South Australia has developed a reputation for fine wines. The region’s modern vineyard practices emphasise lower yields to concentrate flavours, and the results are both impressive and worth sampling at its many vineyards. Two wineries close to Renmark are Renmano and Angoves.
South-west along the Sturt Highway from Renmark, still on the Murray, lies Berri, a town that instantly calls to mind fruit. Berri is also one of Australia’s largest grape-growing and wine-making Places To Go and, as in Renmark, many of its processing, packaging and marketing concerns are run as growers cooperatives. Even the hotels in this Riverland area are run on a cooperative basis.
A parkland area along the river for a kilometre at Berri is a popular picnic spot, and a walking track runs from the bridge to Martins Bend Reserve (about 2 kilometres). At ‘Wilabalangaloo’, a 100-hecatre National Trust property, visitors can inspect the collection of historic items and enjoy the kilometre-long river frontage.
From Berri the Murray turns south for a short distance and reaches the town of Loxton. Loxton, like other towns in the region, can trace its development to German settlers who took up land in the district in the 1890s. Visitors can get a sense of times past with a tour of the recreated Loxton Historical Village located next to the main shopping centre. On the northern side of the river, Katarapko Creek National Park, containing flood plains, backwaters and lagoons, is open to camping, houseboating and fishing, as well as bushwalking and birdwatching.
Settlement of the Big River country continued with the expansion of irrigation schemes and the division of land for soldier-settlers following both World Wars. Barmera, north-west of Loxton, was one of the last irrigation areas cleared, the town being gazetted in 1921. The area had previously been part of Cobdogla Station, which extended west of Overland Corner into New South Wales. Visitors passing through Overland Corner might take some refreshment at the Overland Corner Hotel, which although licensed is owned by the National Trust.
One of this region’s curiosities was the resettlement schemes of the 1890s, which relocated the unemployed and their families from around Adelaide to self-sufficient communes along the Murray. Kingston-on-Murray and Waikerie, to the west of Overland Corner, both began as villages in this scheme, and while on the whole the scheme failed, the spirit lives on in the cooperative ventures of the area. (Lyrup, between Renmark and Berri, is in fact still run by a village association.) Two notable wineries in this vicinity are Kingston Estate and Banrock Station. Banrock combines a winery, function centre and wetland area, making it a unique tourist attraction.
A right turn off the highway at Waikerie takes the traveller to Cadell and Morgan, set on the bend of the Murray where the river turns sharply south and heads for the Southern Ocean. By this point it has cut deeply into the limestone plains, and towering cliffs rise either side. Morgan was an important port for river trade into the late 1800s, and with the coming of the railway it became a loading point for Riverland produce.The hub of trade was around the wharves and railway station. The wharves have now been restored, and in a building overlooking the river (now housing an antique shop) you can see a row of five shops built around 1880.
The Sturt Highway crosses the south-wending Murray at Blanchetown, where the first of the Murray’s locks and weirs is located. Leaving the Sturt Highway to follow the Murray south, the next main town is Swan Reach. West of the town, towards the town of Sedan, is Yookamurra Sanctuary, where all feral animals have been removed and the native species are protected by fox, cat and rabbit-proof fences. Swan Reach marks the beginning of Murraylands dairy country.
Continuing south is the town of Mannum where three notable paddle-steamers are berthed: the Murray Princess, the Proud Mary and the century-old Marion.
West of Mannum the Mallee stretches to the Victorian border, taking in South Australia’s sheep and wheat district. To the south lie the lower reaches of the Murray and the cities of Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend. Further on are Lakes Albert and Alexandrina, and beyond them the Coorong. The narrow saltwater Coorong runs for more than 100 kilometres parallel with the Southern Ocean. In both the freshwater Albert and Alexandrina lakes and saltwater Coorong a wide variety of waterbirds can be identified, including pelicans, ibises and cormorants. Hindmarsh Island, the subject of some controversy in the late 1990s, is located just west beyond the Coorong in the mouth of the Murray.