The Mighty Murray River

Proud Mary River Cruise

Together with friends, we recently had the pleasure of a five day cruise on the Murray River from Murray Bridge about an hour south-east of Adelaide, upstream visiting the historic towns of Mannum and Swan Reach and as far as the first of fifteen locks at Blanchetown, and then back again.

Map courtesy of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) )
Murray River in South Australia

Like many Australians, I have had a passing acquaintance with the Murray River over the years. I have crossed it numerous times at Albury/Wodonga on the Hume Highway driving between Sydney and Melbourne. I have visited Renmark and Mildura, and historic Echuca enjoying a short trip on a paddle steamer. I have played golf at several of the fine courses along its banks including Corowa, Cobram-Barooga, Yarrawonga and Tocumwal. I have attended a conference at Wentworth at the confluence with the Darling River discussing ways to mitigate the infrequent but inevitable floods that occur in this catchment. However, in these few days in South Australia we learned much more about the river giving a greater understanding behind its Mighty Murray title.

The Murray rises in the Australian Alps just south of Mount Kosciusko and after a journey of over 2,500 kilometres through New South Wales and Victoria meets the ocean at Goolwa on Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Together with the Darling-Barwon and Murrumbidgee Rivers together with their many tributaries, the total catchment covers more than 1 million square kilometres and makes up about 14% of the Australian continent. In this catchment, the flood of record at Wentworth was in 1870 when flows in both the Murray and Darling Rivers combined to inundate the countryside.

Aboriginal carvings at Ngaut Ngaut

That history of the Murray River is very Aussie. The Murray has supported life for aborigines through the millennia and ancient rock carvings can still be seem at places like the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Reserve at Nildottie. As a major transport corridor in the 19th century it helped to develop inland Australia. In its heyday more than 200 paddle steamers are said to have carried supplies and produce between the various settlements along its banks.

The township of Mannum that we visited was one of the major ports. It now has an extensive museum telling the story of its early history and pioneers such as the Randell family whose members held some of the first leases in the 1850s, operated the first paddle steamer, the “Mary Ann”, in South Australia in 1853 and raised the first building in Mannum in 1864.

Historic Plaque, Mannum

Among others were the Shearer brothers with their agricultural manufacturing business contributed greatly to the area’s prosperity throughout the latter part of the century. Here we also learnt of the historic 1956 flood that affected much of the town and how rowboats pulled up at the first floor balcony of the pub to get a beer from the higher bar the publican had quickly set up.

The main traffic these days consists of river cruise boats giving tourists a glimpse of the wide variety of birdlife, the ancient river red gums that thrive with their toes in the water ,and which have some of the most beautiful red timber often used for furniture and decorative works.

 

In the lower South Australian reaches that we travelled the river has cut its broad path, over millions of years, through the soft red sandstone countryside to form kilometre after kilometre of sheer cliffs that are alternatively on either the right or left side as it meanders across its flood plain. At Big Bend the cliffs are more than 30 metres high and quite majestic in the sunlight as the boat sweeps around the curving river.A feature of the area has been the use of the local sandstone for the construction of houses and civic buildings and which gives

Sandstone Building (Swan Reach)
Sandstone Building (Mannum)

The Murray is not a roaring torrent but a wide slow moving laid-back flow falling only about two centimetres every kilometre. On our visit we had the opportunity to learn more about it and its history as well as enjoying the serenity of this very Australian river.

Sweeping Sandstone Cliff at Big Bend

 

Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray (1897-1968)

 

 

On 22 June in 1968, Alfred Ernest Cornelius Bray passed away at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, NSW, Australia, aged 71 after serving in two world wars, being heavily involved in sport, and the RSL movement, starting up his own business while with his wife Belle raising two children. One or my regrets is that I didn’t get to know my grandfather better.

Alf Bray

Alf was born on 3 March in 1897 at Hurstville, NSW, the second child and eldest son of the eight children of Alfred Charles and Ellen Louisa (Cole) Bray. Growing up in Hurstville as a youngster he played rugby union but then converted to rugby league which became his passion.

His father was a railway mail guard which probably enabled Alf to get a position as a clerk with the NSW Railways at Railway Yards. However in 1914, at the age of seventeen is father Alfred Charles Bray was one of fourteen people killed it the Exeter rail disaster (see my post if March 16, 2018). This caused considerable problems for his mother Ellen and her family.

Alf was now the male head of the family but just over a year later at the age of just 18 years, in August 1915, he enlisted in the AIF answering the call of mother England to fight in World War 1. Sailing from Sydney in December and after training in Egypt he arrived in France in March 1916 part of A Company of the 3rd Battalion. He served in France and Belgium at the Somme, in Flanders and many other theatres until 22 June 1918 when at Strazelle he was caught in a German gas attack. He was seriously injured and after treatment in Boulogne, convalesced in England for a period before returning to his unit and final back to Australia in February 1919. Alf kept diary throughout the war years and it is now held by the NSW State Library. While in Flanders he bought a souvenir pewter broach of the coat of arms of Ypres and which he later gave to his wife.

Ypres WWI Souvenir

He returned home and lived with his family at Woids Avenue, Hurstville before marrying Clarice Belle Bryant on 16 October 1919 at Kogarah, took up his position of clerk in the Railways and a year later their daughter Norma Beryl was born.

His war service entitled him to a War Service home and in early 1923 the family moved to their brand new home in Restwell Street Bankstown. The following year a son, Douglas Arthur was born. He also transferred to the railway sheds at nearby Punchbowl and under doctor’s orders walked to and from work to further help with recuperation from his gas-affected lung problems.

At Restwell Street created a family home making maximum use of the back yard. He laid out paths separating garden beds where he grew vegetables and flowers. He built fish ponds, aviaries, and there was garage that he used as a workshop. Norma would recall how he would arrive home from work, have a cup of tea and then spend all evening until dinner in the back yard or garage. When I was only young we would enjoy visiting Nana and Pa and exploring the back yard with their silky terrier, Skippy.

He encouraged and supported both children in sports with Norma taking up competitive diving while Doug raced bicycles. There were also plenty of family outings, a favourite being boating in his cabin launch on the Georges River.

His own sporting activities had started when he played rugby union but in 1915. He soon transferred to rugby league with the Penshurst R.L.F.C. in the St, George Competition. After the war he took up the whistle, becoming a referee in 1923, and he officiated in the Canterbury-Bankstown Competition until 1933, and was the Hon. Secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Referees’ Association in 1929. In 1936 he became Secretary of the Canterbury-Bankstown Junior League, and then on the Committee of the District Club when they won their first premiership in 1938. He replaced Frank Miller as Canterbury-Bankstown Club Secretary in 1939 until WWII intervened (refer The Rugby League News July 1, 1939).

Alf’s war experiences also generated a deep interest in supporting his fellow war veterans. He was one of the instigators in the establishment of the Bankstown Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSL) in October 1928 and was its first President. He remained in the role until 1933 and was a member of the State Executive of NSW in 1932-3. When a Women’s Auxiliary was also formed, Belle was its first Secretary.

The RSL Club started at the top of Restwell Street in a tin shed near the railway line but meetings were also held on the Bray residence in Restwell Street with Belle baking cakes for supper. The RSL members assisted out-of-work men during the Depression. Working out of Alf’s garage, scrap pieces of timber from timber yards were made into toys for Christmas presents such as wheel barrows, school cases, chairs, etc.

He again volunteered for service when World War 2 broke out, enlisting in July 1940 claiming he was born in December 1900 (giving him an age of 39 years instead of 43). . He served as a Temporary Warrant Officer training recruits at Dorrigo, Uralla and Armidale but was discharged “being medically unfit for further military service” in October 1944, no doubt as a result of his WW1 injuries.

After the war he decided to pursue his passion for gardening and on resigning from the Railways he established Bray’s Bankstown Nursery which operated in the Bankstown CBD in Fetherstone Street for many years.

Alf and Belle finally retired to Toukley on the Central Coast of NSW where they he enjoyed their last years together and he continued to propagate plants while his son Doug took over the nursery business. On his death he was cremated at Woronora Memorial Park and a plaque placed on the Wall of Remembrance in Row 16, Panel R.

Bankstown RSL 70th Anniversary

At the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bankstown RSL in 1998, Alf’s service to the Club was also commemorated and a special certificate of appreciation presented to his daughter.

Although he had lived a full life, my Pa still died too young surely shortened by his war experiences, and at the same age I am today. I share a common regret with many family historians, after having discovered some details about an ancestor that I didn’t have a chance to get to know my grandfather better.

 

Pub Lunches in The Rocks

When a group of friends of more than 50 years standing, but now liberally scattered across Greater Sydney decide, in their retirement, that a semi-regular luncheon get-together is in order, where should they gather to reminisce about their shared history? Somewhere central of course, and with history in mind what could be more central and appropriate than The Rocks. And because we enjoy an ale, it was decided that there would be appropriate venues among the many historic pubs there.

The Rocks

The Rocks, named for the sandstone outcrops on the peninsula west of Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) has a most intriguing history dating from the early convict days. Within a few years of the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 Government buildings started to appear in The Rocks focusing on activities to manage convicts.

Soon after the dawning of the 19th century the Government instituted a system of leases in the area which was expanded in the early 1820s with free settlement and assisted immigration. This led to a population boom that further accelerated with the gold rushes. Business activity naturally increased over this period including the establishment of many pubs servicing the local community and workers from the harbour seafront.

By the late 19th century The Rocks had become run down and overcrowded. There were dozens of pubs that were meeting places for criminal gangs, and the back streets were haunts of prostitutes, such that it had become a typical waterfront slum.

The developments through the 20th century including the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway past Circular Quay led to demolition of many houses and further proposals for development. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the century that “green bans” and heritage controls took effect preserving many important remnants of the early history of Sydney that we are able to enjoy today.

The Glenmore Hotel

So to lunch. Our most recent outing included a meet-up at the Glenmore Hotel followed by lunch the Lord Nelson Hotel.

The Glenmore Hotel

A Glenmore Hotel has operated in two buildings in Cumberland Street, continuously since 1837. The first Glenmore Hotel, known as the Glenmore Cottage, was located less than 50m from the current hotel and was demolished to make way for the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge and the current Hotel was built by Brewers Tooth & Co in 1921.

Although not having quite the long history of other pubs in The Rocks it offers alfresco dining and, from it high Cumberland Street position, fine views of the the harbour and Sydney Opera House from the rooftop beer garden.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

The Lord Nelson hotel on the corner of Kent and Argyle Streets. is reputed to be Sydney’s oldest pub. The building dates from 1836 and was originally built as a home by a William Wells. In 1840 he started converting his house into a hotel and on 1st May 1841 he obtained a liquor licence and called the establishment the Lord Nelson hotel.

The Lord Nelson Hotel

These days the hotel incorporates a brewery with a range of brews for every taste. Our group particularly likes their Old Admiral old ale and Three Sheets pale ale with a good meal.

The Hero of Waterloo Hotel

The Hero of Waterloo

An earlier lunch date was at another iconic sandstone pub, The Hero on the corner of Windmill and Lower Fort Streets, Millers Point. This little gem of a pub has real atmosphere with reminders of a notorious past seen in the downstairs cellars with shackles on the walls and the entrance to the supposed smuggler’s tunnel. Legends abound and some say ghosts.

Opening in 1843 the structure also suffered over the years and has been renovated to provide more modern facilities but retain its historic character and charm.

The small triangular site adds to the atmosphere which is cosy and ideal for a drink and nice meal.

Hotel Palisade

The Hotel Palisade next to Munn Street Reserve,

Millers Point was the site of a lunch some time ago, but deserves a mention. Our group together with our significant others made this pub a destination after a relaxing Sunday stroll around the new headland at Barangaroo.

Sitting high on the sandstone ridge, it was built in 1915-1916 to replace an 1880 hotel of the

Hotel Palisade

same name and recently underwent a $5m restoration after being closed for about 7 years. It is named after the palisade fence built between Munn Street and Bettington Street and built in “Federation Free Style”.

It provided a good range of beers and cosy dining.

Orient Hotel

The Orient Hotel has not yet been a recent venue for lunch but over the years has been a popular meeting place for a beer or something to eat in the tree-shaded sandstone courtyard

In 1842, on the current site of the Orient Hotel at the corner of George and Argyle Street a three-storey residence of ten rooms and a neighbouring single storey shop was constructed on and in 1853 was converted to licensed premises trading as the Marine Hotel. It was renamed the Buckham’s Hotel in 1876 and this was finally changed to the Orient in 1885.

Orient Hotel

The building has undergone a number of modifications over the last few decades to enhance its popularity to the broader public, added to by its prominent location.

What next?

Although the number of pubs in Sydney has declined over the years, there are still many more possible venues in The Rocks and we hope to visit some of them in the future.

Princes Highway Road Trip

For anyone wanting to escape the metropolis that is Sydney there are really only four highways and another minor road out of the place.

To the north, and part of National Route One running around the whole of the continent, is the Pacific Highway that generally parallels to coast all the way to Brisbane. In an anti-clockwise direction and heading more north-westerly is the Putty Road which is very much a secondary road with relatively little traffic compared to the State Highways. To the west is the Great Western Highway heading over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst opening up New South Wales and country centres further afield. In a south-westerly direction is the Hume Highway, the main artery between Sydney and Melbourne where it terminates. It now consists of a dual carriageway without a traffic light between our two major cities. To the south, and our favourite escape route, is the Princes Highway (also part of National Route One). It also roughly follows to coast much of the way and will take you to Melbourne after a trip of just over 1,000 kilometres,

Having a full two weeks available during the school holidays, Jenny and I had planned a road trip via the Princes Highway all the way to Melbourne. In addition to our love of the south coast and our desire to visit Melbourne, we had not previously travelled the Victoria section of the Highway.

Leaving Sydney, the highway starts off as the dual carriageway M6, but once past Wollongong and the increasingly populous Illawarra area the traffic progressively thins out except during holiday periods. This is changing as more people discover the beauty of, and easier access to, the south coast. The motorway now extends almost to Nowra after the recent by-passing of Berry but we chose to take a detour from this new road to stop for lunch at Gerringong overlooking its popular surf beach.

Rejoining the highway at Bomaderry we turned left at Nowra for our first stop-over at Myola on lovely Jervis Bay and just south of Callala Beach.

Evening at Myola, Jervis Bay

The Myola village nestles next to Currumbeen Creek across from Huskison and consists of a couple of dozens houses and a caravan park. Our van is less than ten minutes walk along a bush track through the Bangalay sand forest to the white sands and clear water of the bay. This is not a surf beach and except in rough weather the gentleness of the shore break adds to its isolated serenity. A couple of days here and the urban cobwebs just blow away.

narooma1

Wagonga Inlet, Narooma

The second leg of our trip took us back out onto the highway and down to Batemans Bay. Here we lunched in one of the many cafes that cater for this community of retirees that swells at weekends and on holidays with the influx of Canberrans who flock to their nearest point on the coast. From here we continued down the often windy route through the coastal forests that provide a pleasant driving experience so different from the straightened alignments of the motorways.

Our overnight stop was at Narooma, one of the real gems of the south coast with its picturesque inlet and beaches, rugged coastline and views of Montague Island. This place also has special meaning for me having lived here for five of my early school years. I like to visit Narooma and bring back those long-ago memories, and one day stay here is not really enough.

eden

Twofold Bay, Eden

Stage three of our journey would take us into Victoria but before that we decided to have a lunch of fish and chips at Eden on Twofold Bay. This was the most southerly point on the Highway we had previously reached and beyond here would be all new to us. We launched into the unknown of Victoria taking us through Orbost to where we planned to stop the night and look around in Lakes Entrance. Our short visit only whetted our appetite for a longer stay to be able to take advantage of the many waterways and beaches.

On the last leg of the trip through the Gippsland region the highway veered away from the coast and headed more or less directly to Melbourne. Passing through the country towns such as Bairnsdale and Traralgon we took pleasure in typically the Australian buildings from the federation period and often earlier. As we approached our destination the highway again turned into motorway and finally in suburban Albert Park, the Princes Highway became Queens Road where our home was to be for the next few days.

lakes entrance1

Lakes Entrance

With only a couple of minor diversions, we had completed our leisurely road trip from Sydney to Melbourne.