Long distance travel in canoes, kayaks, rowboats and rafts on the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin from 1817 to 2012

  • Angela Bremers

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    From 1817 to 2012,paddling and rowing on the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin played a crucial role in the region’s exploration, commerce and recreation. This thesis exposes the cultural and historical significance of journeys in human-powered craft during this period. Despite its underlying historical and cultural significance, the history of these journeys is little known and little understood. This is despite journeys by famous explorers such as Captain Charles Sturt who used rowboats on two expeditions, most notably on his 1830 expedition on the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers. His Murray journey is well commemorated, but two earlier journeys by Surveyor-General John Oxley’s expedition are not as widely known. Those four voyages, as well as three expeditions led by Major Thomas Mitchell were instrumental in solving the mystery of the inland rivers and expanding colonial settlement (Shaw ed.,1984,pp.217,221,599). Following European expansion, journeys by Captain Francis Cadell and a voyage by Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia Sir Henry Edward Fox Young, determined the navigability of the Murray for paddle steamers. Until the additional linking of the railways into the basin during the 1870s and 1880s,paddle steamers provided the most efficient and reliable transport for farmers and settlers, and boosted the regional economy (Lewis,1917,p.47; Phillips,1972,p.50; Richmond,c.1980,p.17). Subsequently homesteads were built along the Murray and eventually “whalers”, waterborne swagmen who subsisted on the rivers, would fish for Murray cod (Rowland,c.1980,p.53; “Vidi”,1894). Travel in human-powered craft reveals how previous generations survived. For example, migrant workers travelled home in row boats from the New South Wales and Victorian diggings to South Australia in 1853 and in the 1860. Traveller accounts are a valuable contribution to the historical and archaeological record. In 1862 George Burnell and Edward William Cole rowed down the Murray from Echuca to Goolwa, taking photographs along the way, adding a visual dimension to written accounts. Their images are some of the earliest photographs of the Murray and provide glimpses into Aboriginal customs. This thesis explores the many ways in which paddling and rowing on the rivers have contributed to our understanding of the basin and how it provides a window into the society to which travellers belonged.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJeff Brownrigg (Supervisor), Tracy Ireland (Supervisor) & Peter Putnis (Supervisor)

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