Blanchetown kicks back with relaxed approach to Murray River days

November 15, 2005
Blanchetown kicks back with relaxed approach to  Murray River days

By Garth Morrison, Editor GoSeeAustralia.com.au

Blanchetown is noted for its relaxed river days. The peaceful little town in the SA Riverland is about 133 km north east of Adelaide on the Sturt Highway (just under two hours drive).

And for easy caravan and RV touring Blanchetown is only 45 minutes from the Barossa Valley and one hour from the Riverland town of Berri.

This is a Big Riverland with plenty of space to play so sheltered river bends and sandy banks are popular with water-skiers, anglers, bushwalkers, swimmers, canoeists, photographers, people on picnics and those who just want a lazy day.

Blanchetown has a big 'first' to its credit. It is the site of the first in a chain of locks constructed along the Murray to help navigation, by regulating water levels on the river.

Blanchetowns Lock 1 was opened in 1929 and named the William Randell Lock in honor of an adventuring pioneer river steamer captain of the 1800's.

The massive chain of 15 Locks made the river navigable for steamer trade who splashed their way upsteam on the Murray to Echuca and beyond.

The lock upstream at Wentworth (NSW) holds back the junction waters of Australias greatest rivers the Darling and the Murray and at Mildura, in Victoria, Lock 11 is linked to its own island and weir.

Aboriginal people revere the Murray River. Nineteenth century trade flourished on it. The author, Mark Twain, likened it to his beloved Mississippi. Fruit growers and wine makers recognise its bounty. This is the power of Australias Big River.

The Riverland has a modern fleet of cruise vessels which range the river from Blanchetown in the west, all the way to Customs House on the eastern State border. House boating in the Riverland gives a close-up of the river and every river bend reveals a new aspect of this spectacular section of the Murray River.

The Murray has been a modern highway since 1853 when 'Captain Billy' Randell, whose achievements are celebrated in Blanchetowns Lock 1, got steam up downstream at Mannum and pioneered the way with the Mary Ann.

William Richard Randell and his brothers Thomas and George built the steamer near Mannum, SA, and named her in honor of their mother. The first steamer to voyage the Murray set off on March 4, 1853, to carry stores to the river settlers and flour to Victorias Goulburn gold diggings.

Now the Murray Region is served by tri-state touring highways linked to Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. This is the tourism, trade and transport legacy the tough, taciturn race of river men of the Murray and Darling systems gave Australia.

Blanchetown is noted for the towering cliffs which loom over the river on both sides and the beauty of their changing colours, at sunset. But the cliffs are also of considerable geological interest as they are studded with fossils.

The Hotel is 'authentic' and it has been trading on its present site for 117 years. This is a real pioneering pub and the marks of the broad axe which shaped its rafters can be seen.

Another original is the Swan Reach Museum on Nildottie Road, opposite the towns cemetery. In 1972 the new Swan Reach Area School was opened and the original school was closed, having been built in 1917 for the grand sum of 2,124 pounds or about $4,249.

About 5 km south of Blanchetown is the historic settlement of Murrundi, which is on the State Heritage Register.

It is named after a local Aboriginal tribe and parts of it were later surveyed and named the village of Sturt. Edward John Eyre, famous explorer and Protector of Aborigines, established himself at Murrundi in 1841 in an attempt to quell the growing conflict between the Overlanders and local Aborigines. Eyre returned to England in 1844 and was replaced at first by E. Nation and then by Edward Bates Scott who acted as Sub-Protector of Aborigines and Police Inspector.

Between 1841 and 1856 Murrundi served as an important Aboriginal contact point, rations depot, experimental irrigation settlement and military and police outpost. Settlement also included a port, Continual flooding put an end to Murrundi and Blanchetown was surveyed in 1855 and named after Lady Blanche, wife of the colonys sixth governor, Sir R. G. MacDonnell.

The Blanchetown Post Office on top of the hill above the town was built about 1860 and it is part of the National Trust.

One of the more recent winery options in the fruitful Riverland area is Burk Salter Wines, established in 2002, by Greg and Jane Salter. It was named after Gregs father who in the 1930s helped his father Frank plant the first vineyard in the area. The Cellar Door is on Paisley Road, Blanchetown.

Riverland day touring can include Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre.

The boutique passenger vessel the Proud Mary cruises the Murray in a three day trip to Blanchetown. At Swan Reach a waiting coach takes passengers on a tour of Murray Aquaculture.

The fresh water crustacean farmed is uniquely Australian and is only one of many species of crayfish found in Australia. Local guides take visitors through the complex covering 10,000 square metres of ponds, nurseries and an interpretive information centre.

Golden Crest Gardens is a profusion of exotic fruits and unusual plants including wax flowers. They exploit the fertility of the region. The Gardens are on Murbko Road, 8 km from Blanchetown.

Brookfield Conservation Park is a habitat for the southern hairy-nosed wombat. The country is red mallee, mallee box, yorrell, false sandalwood, oil bush and blue bush. There are picnic facilities near the Rangers Office. The park is 11 km west of Blanchetown.

Editors note: Fruit Fly control. For travellers coming from Mildura and Victoria fresh fruit cannot be taken through the border checkpoint at Yamba.

GoSeeAustralias Must see and do in the Riverland

Golfers should head to any of the regions five first-class golf courses Berri, Renmark, Barmera, Waikerie and Loxton.

Nature in its original state can be found at the regions numerous conservation areas, notably Bookmark Biosphere Reserve. Walk, canoe, ride or drive the 27 trails.

At Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre, wander out to the viewing platform, tasting glass in hand and gaze over the wetlands.

See the Murray from a different angle aboard a paddle steamer.

For a taste of local history, visit Loxton Historical Village complete with schoolhouse, bakery, blacksmith and bank.

Visit Olivewood Homestead where irrigation pioneers the Chaffey brothers once lived.

Call at Overland Corner Hotel (est.1859) that was once a major staging post for drovers. You may even see the local ghost

Visit the Old Customs House, 30km east of Paringa, one of the oldest buildings in the Riverland.

Get a photographic view of the river from the towering cliffs. Be there at sunset.

Take the kids to Monash Adventure Park, at Monash, with a giant maze, leaning climbing towers, flying foxes, tree house, Burmese Rope Bridge, basketball and quirky childrens play equipment.