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Murray River Flag Fraternity
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Murray- Darling River Fraternity
THE DARLING — which is either a muddy gutter or a second Mississippi — is about six times as long as the distance, in a straight line, from its head to its mouth. The state of the river is vaguely but generally understood to depend on some distant and foreign phenomena to which bushmen refer in an off-hand tone of voice as “the Queenslan’ rains”, which seem to be held responsible, in a general way, for most of the out-back trouble. 

It takes less than a year to go up stream by boat to Walgett or Bourke in a dry season; but after the first three months the passengers generally go ashore and walk. They get sick of being stuck in the same sort of place, in the same old way; they grow weary of seeing the same old “whaler” drop his swag on the bank opposite whenever the boat ties up for wood; they get tired of lending him tobacco, and listening to his ideas, which are limited in number and narrow in conception. 

It shortens the journey to get out and walk; but then you will have to wait so long for your luggage — unless you hump it with you.

We heard of a man who determined to stick to a Darling boat and travel the whole length of the river. He was a newspaper man. He started on his voyage of discovery one Easter in flood-time, and a month later the captain got bushed between the Darling and South Australian border. The waters went away before he could find the river again, and left his boat in a scrub. They had a cargo of rations, and the crew stuck to the craft while the tucker lasted; when it gave out they rolled up their swags and went to look for a station, but didn’t find one. The captain would study his watch and the sun, rig up dials and make out courses, and follow them without success.

They ran short of water, and didn’t smell any for weeks; they suffered terrible privations, and lost three of their number, not including the newspaper liar. There are even dark hints considering the drawing of lots in connection with something too terrible to mention. They crossed a thirty-mile plain at last, and sighted a black gin. She led them to a boundary rider’s hut, where they were taken in and provided with rations and rum. 

Later on a syndicate was formed to explore the country and recover the boat; but they found her thirty miles from the river and about eighteen from the nearest waterhole deep enough to float her, so they left her there. She’s there still, or else the man that told us about it is the greatest liar Out Back. 

from Henry Lawson - Slip Siding

Intense competition developed between the major river ports. Echuca based vessels and crews became known as the "Top-Ender" and the Goolwa based boats and crews as "Bottom-Enders." The names derived from Echuca being up river from the South Australian border, "up the top-end" whereas Goolwa is located at the "bottom-end" on the last big bend. Sailors prided themselves as being 'Top' or 'Bottom' end and many a difference between the two settled in characteristic colonial style river-boat racing, by poaching of cargoes, or if all else failed, fistcuffs after the contestants had consumed a measure of alcohol at a riverside saloon. 

Despite their many differences, real or imagined, the crews of the Top-End and Bottom-End boats were united in their pride of being river-men - "freshwater sailors". The symbol of that unity was the Murray River Flag; a flag that only boats sailing the Murray-Darling System are entitled to fly.

The Darling River in Flood at Bourke
The Murray-Darling River system has been of extreme importance to Aboriginal people through almost the entire period of their habitation of Australia. There are at least 10,000 known Aboriginal sites in the Basin, from all phases of their occupation, with the rivers and flood plains being of particular importance. Many are of great scientific value and many are of considerable significance to Aboriginal peoples as symbols of the richness and antiquity of their culture (Jones 1988). 

The rivers were of great importance to the Aboriginal peoples, especially as sources of food, as illustrated by the fish traps of the Ngemba in the Barwon River at Brewarrina. The Gunderbooka Range, south of Bourke, contains a large number of sites, including rock art over 5,000 years old, of great significance to the Ngemba people, the traditional owners. 

The Murray-Darling Basin contains much of importance in Australia's European heritage, from the earliest days of European exploration to the present. As with the Aboriginal peoples, the rivers played an important part in the exploration and settlement. Hume and Hovell made the first European sightings of the Murray in 1824 and the Darling in 1829. The use of the rivers for transportation made a major contribution to the settlement of the Basin and the development of the pastoral industry, especially from the 1850s. Paddle steamers reached as far as Albury in 1855, Gundagai in 1858, and Walgett in 1861. The boats supplied the towns and stations with their needs and carried wool and other products to markets. When Mungindi, on the Queensland border, was reached in 1893, 6,700 kilometres of the Murray-Darling river system had been navigated. As indicated below, such places as Goolwa, Morgan, Echuca and Bourke were major river ports, many features of which remain, as well as shipwrecks and other sites along the rivers.

The rivers had quickly become busy, and by the mid 1850s numerous paddle-steamers were carrying supplies, stores and passengers inland and returning to port laden with wool. River front empires grew at phenomenal speed; some were 2-3 million acres, shearing millions of sheep. The river port of Bourke was shipping world record amounts of wool away to Europe.

The river trade expanded and by 1870 about 100 steamers and barges worked between ports, the majority of which had been made locally at riverside towns. Legends were made along the Darling. Literary myths were created by Henry Lawson, Will Ogilvie and Breaker Morant and today Bourke has park tributes to these Australian giants. 

Kidman, Tyson and McCaughey created pastoral kingdoms of unparalled proportions. It took men and women of great technical skill to harness the river and the land and bring prosperity to the region.

Painting by Kevin Stead commissioned by Aust. Geographic
Birdlife is prolific around the Darling and Bourke. A flock of rare Glossy (Redtailed) Black Cockatoos feed near the old wharf on the Darling River. They feast on the Casuarina trees, prolific in the area. There are many other birds including Galahs, Parrots, Wedge Tailed Eagles, Ibis and Emu in the immediate vicinity. 
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