Brewarrina News November 2020 | Page 16

Over the past year or two I have had in mind that I would like to paddle the Darling River . With severe drought impacting eastern Australia over the last few years , the Darling ceased to flow for over a year . Often droughts end with torrential rains and the rivers quickly come back to life again so late last year I had in mind that 2020 could be the year to paddle the Darling . In early 2020 torrential rain in QLD sent flood waters down the Culgoa River into NSW . The confluence of the Culgoa and Barwon Rivers forms the start of the Darling River upstream of Bourke and then flows for about 1570 km to meet the Murray River at Wentworth . These waters provided a great flush to the dry Darling and resulted in enough water to be stored in the Menindee lakes system , about 1100 km downstream , to ensure that the lower Darling would flow for at least the next 12 months with controlled releases from the lakes . COVID 19 struck with lockdowns in early 2020 but NSW restrictions were eased so that regional travel was allowed from early June . By this time the Bureau of Meteorology was forecasting a wet spring so the chances were that the Darling , which had almost ceased to flow again , would get fresh inflows to making a kayak trip possible . I spent much of June getting my gear and food supplies sorted so that I was ready to go once good flows started coming down the river . Since towns are few and far between along the Darling , I decided to prepare all of my food into parcels that could be posted ahead to towns , villages or farm-stay stations along the river . Generally , each of these would be in parcels for 7-10 days to cover the 200-300 km between locations where I could resupply . I had decided that I would start my journey at Brewarrina on the Barwon River about 100 km upstream of the official start of the Darling River . In mid to late July a series of rain events in NSW resulted in a significant flow of water , mainly from the Castlereagh River , into the Barwon River upstream of Brewarrina . I could predict when the flow would arrive at my start point by careful analysis of the data from the river gauging stations and as a result the start date was set for 11 August 2020 . Derek Synnott was interested in paddling with me for the first week to Bourke and Kevin Frawley had volunteered to drive us to Brewarrina . In the weeks before the trip I had developed some soreness in my wrist so instead of my usual fiberglass sea kayak I opted to start with a Hobie Revolution 16 pedal kayak . This would give me the option of either pedaling or paddling and an opportunity to build up strength in my wrist . I hoped that the water flow of 900 Ml / day at the start would give me enough depth for the fins of the pedal drive mechanism to operate under the kayak hull without obstruction . We thought a tour of the Brewarrina Fish Traps was an appropriate way to start the journey . These traps are thought to be many thousands of years old and they were the first of many reminders of Aboriginal habitation along the river that I would see over the next two months . We covered the 205 km section from Brewarrina to Bourke in seven days . Whilst there are properties along the river we did not see anyone else for five days . It rained on the fourth day but cleared in the afternoon in time for
setting up camp . The banks were muddy resulting in thick clods of mud sticking to the bottom of our boots . At one point I lost my spectacles and after wandering around trying to find them I realised they were embedded in the mud stuck to the sole of my boot . Fortunately no serious damage was done . We passed the Bogan River confluence and the Culgoa River neither of which were contributing much flow . This was in contrast to earlier in the year when the Culgoa River was contributing 10,000 Ml / day . One of the enduring memories of this section was the large number of red-tailed black cockatoos seen and another was the number of shallow rocky bars across the river especially just downstream of Brewarrina and on the approach to Bourke . My wrist had fared well in the first week and the water levels remained steady so after a rest day in Bourke I continued down the river alone . The 205 km section from Bourke to Louth took six days . There were several cold days with strong headwinds but the Hobie pedal kayak performed well into the wind . I stayed a night at Rose Isle Station along the way . I particularly enjoyed spending the afternoon of the windiest day in the camp kitchen beside the open fire . There also were three weirs to portage , each taking about an hour of hard work . Two of the weirs required unpacking all of the gear carrying it up a steep bank then down another before repacking . Sandy beaches were becoming more common which is great for camping . The ideal site is where I can pitch my tent within a few metres of my kayak . The water rose no more than one centimetre overnight and I knew from the river gauges that there was no significant increase further upstream . I had planned to have a rest day at Shindys Inn in Louth but unfortunately it had not reopened after COVID 19 restrictions were lifted . Instead , I headed for Dunlop Station 40 km downstream . Dunlop Station at one time was a million acres and in the 1880s was the first to convert its shearing shed to mechanical shears . The shearing shed and shearer ' s quarters are in the process of being restored by Kim and a dedicated bunch of volunteers who were very welcoming . A few days later I had another rest day at Kallara Station ( 17 river km upstream of Tilpa ) whichwas another friendly stopover with many relics of past farming