“Deregulate the whole thing and start again” was the answer from the fellow who supplemented his travelling income in the 1960s smuggling blue jeans into East Berlin, when asked what he would do if he were boss of the river for a day.
If there is one thing constant about the Murrray, it is the absolute lack of consistency in anything other than the murkiness of the water. And we heard that even that changes, the colour tones indicating whether the water is from the Darling or the Snowy Mountains. But it still stays murky, silt swirled up by the bottom feeding carp.
On the 1st of February we arrived at the Border Cliffs Customs House with a 4WD and trailer filled with stuff; the dinghy, pipes, clothes, food, tents, a collection of bags and boxes of things that will, at some point over the following three weeks, turn out to be useful. We are three, having picked up Greer of Magnificent Revolution in Renmark along with our trusty deliverers and Olivia Allen from the Riverland Youth Theatre, who has been supporting our activities around Renmark in a number of ways, acting as a contact point, storage depot and information source.
We abandoned our plan to depart from Border Cliffs on day one, redefining the first of Feb as Day Zero. We launched the dinghy, paying careful attention that we did not repeat the disaster of last Saturday’s launching by hand-backing the trailer and almost completely submerging it so that the dinghy could float off without hitting anything hard. Then the side posts, the longer PVC pipes and the poop deck section were mounted. We left off the mast and sail but loaded all the gear to get a feeling for how well we could get it all in and then paddle her.
On the 2nd we departed at midday, our sails furled to prevent some strange accident sending everything awry. The flags were flying; the TUBA flag and the Claremont Yacht Club burgee. The club has sent us off with the burgee to say we are representing them – a kind of protection in the world of sailing.
It wasn’t until we were overtaken by a kayak that we decided it was time to get moving faster. Mick Moriarty already had 1300 kilometers under his kayak keel and was travelling at 50 km per day. Mick had looked for some people to go down the Murray with, but finding no one, he set off alone.
Mick stopped for a chat, offering some interesting insights and advice. One aspect of the Murray along the NSW/Victoria border is that one can only camp on the Victorian side, as there is 60 meters of crown land. On the NSW side, farmer’s land extends down to the river’s edge, leading to increased erosion and water pollution. If Mick were to be able to do one thing for the Murray, he would instigate a crown land strip in NSW too, saving the river foreshore from destruction from cattle and other misuse.
As Mick raced away from us, we threw caution to the wind and prepared to raise sail. Deciding that it could not be that unsafe, as the raft was holding together well, we attached everything solidly and unfurled the advertising banner that is our sail. The first test was moderately successful, but we still were moving slowly enough to watch Mick disappear around the next bend.
The next days were filled with further sailing and rowing developments. More of that to come.