Day 190: 6 December – Paddling the ‘Bidgee

Author: Mrs A

Location: Balranald

Distance paddled: 5.5km Cycled: 3km Walked: 3km

The morning dawned warm and wind free, finally ideal to get the pack rafts out for a paddle on the Murrumbidgee River (known locally as The ‘Bidgee, of course).We launched the boats from just below where we are camped and set off up stream. The current was hardly moving at all, so it was extremely easy going. Two small motorised tinnies launched from the campground around the same time as us, four retiree friends heading off for a fish. They headed the same way as us, and passed us slowly and carefully so as not to tip us over with their wake – complete contrast to yesterday’s cycling experience!

The river is surrounded by ancient forest – huge eucalyptus trees which must be 400 years old or more, and filled with birdlife. Our paddle was serenaded with the sounds of birdsong from a kookaburras, turquoise parrots, rainbow bee-eaters, fly catchers, honey eaters and more. High up in the sky on thermals soared glossy ibis, and across the treetops flew whistling kites.The river is an ever changing environment with flood and drought adjusting the river’s path all the time. The tree roots from the towering red gums were like incredible sculptures along the rivers edge, their solid ground long gone.

We chatted to the fishermen on our return trip, and found a couple of them had lived near this river for most of their lives. They can recall a time when the river ran clear and you wouldn’t hesitate to drink it. Today it is murky and muddy, the sediment due to the introduced fish, carp.

Of course, being a geek, I had to find out more about these carp. Apparently there are several varieties which were originally introduced in the 1800s. It wasn’t until the past 40-50 years though, that they have become a massive problem in our waterways. They are considered the rabbits of the rivers. A real pest, they grow quickly and have no predators. They also live a long while and breed prolifically. A female can live to 15 years of age and in her lifetime give birth to up to 1.5 million young! As bottom feeders, the stir up the mud and create brown rivers which are a challenge for native fish to breed in and are perfect for the growth of poisonous red algae.

I also discovered that a solution has been found, but not yet put into action. A fast spreading virus (related to herpes) has been found to kill only carp – absolutely safe for goldfish, other native fish, birdlife and even humans, but not these water rabbits. The plan is to slowly release it and kill off 70-90% of the population. Care is needed to ensure it doesn’t work too fast, otherwise the whole ecosystem will collapse – too few fish and the oxygen levels will drop, killing all native fish too. Thought needs to be given also to the clean up – millions of dying fish on Australia’s waterways will not only stink, but attract flies and disease. Hopefully it’ll be done during the cooler months with adequate warning! I don’t fancy paddling through floating fish bodies…

We returned to camp and cleaned up our things, dried the boats and took Princess Tassie out for another walk. She feels very adventurous here and is absolutely fascinated by the river.

After a bite for lunch we cycled into Balranald and to the information centre to pick up some information to help plan our next few days. We enthusiastically told the assistant about our bike ride yesterday to the Woolshed and encouraged her to spread the word to other interested cyclists. She told us not may people ask about bike rides. Shame, but not surprising.We picked a few veggies up at the local IGA and then returned to camp.

We finished our afternoon with a stroll around the nearby nature walk. The sun was low in the sky and the walk was full of birds. We sat on a bench in the sunshine and contemplated how fortunate we are to be able to do this. What a lovely location.A home cooked meal completed the day, eaten outside in the warm evening – it stays light until way past 9pm these days. We had a chat with some friends, making plans for Christmas. As much as we are enjoying our travels, we are quite excited about catching up with our Sydney ‘family’ again. Being apart has made us appreciate them all the more.Tomorrow we hit the road again, heading off to adventures new. I wonder what the next camp will bring…?

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