Organic carbon (OC) inputs, stores and processing underpin river functioning. We examined patterns in OC reservoirs (total organic carbon, TOC), suspended OC, drifting coarse particulate OC (drift OC), organic debris and the biomass of in-stream primary producers in five geographically proximate small rivers in south-eastern Australia during base-flow conditions. Despite differences in the extent of land-use conversion (native forest-to-pasture) and geomorphology among all sites, we found greater within-river than 'within-land-use' similarities in OC reservoirs. Our predictions regarding the relationships between distant v. proximate land-use and the OC reservoirs were mostly not confirmed. Riparian canopy cover was correlated with the mass of organic debris but not with other OC reservoirs. Our predictions regarding longitudinal patterns in rivers were also not confirmed. Rivers draining catchments with conservation land-use only did not show consistent patterns that were different from rivers draining a combination of conservation and grazing land. Variability in the extent of land converted to other uses was not necessarily associated with greater longitudinal variability in OC reservoirs. Our results suggest: (1) strong within-catchment controls of TOC concentration that are maintained despite a certain level of catchment impairment and (2) between-river differences in TOC at a local scale as great as continental scale differences.