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Drive Murray Loop to secret Flying Boat base in remarkable wartime world

March 28, 2014
Drive Murray Loop to secret Flying Boat  base in remarkable wartime world

Discover and Enjoy Swan Hill, Mildura, Mungo, Echuca and Bendigo on the Murray Loop.

Route From Melbourne on the Calder and the Alternative A790 to Marong, Bridgewater and Serpentine via Kerang, Lake Boga to Swan Hill (374km) about 4 hours.

Then travel from Swan Hill to Robinvale, Buronga and Mildura. (217km) about 3 hours. Visit Lake Mungo via the Arumpo Road (110km) from Mildura as a day trip.

Return to Melbourne via the Murray Valley Highway to Echuca, (374km) to Bendigo on the Northern, Midland and McIvor Highways (92km) and back to Melbourne on the Calder (152km).

Total Distance 1319km

Recreational Vehicles (RVs) on the Murray Valley Highway route between Kerang and Swan Hill find Lake Boga a peaceful place to stop. The Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum , about 16km from Swan Hill, pays tribute to a vital secret part of the Allied defenses during World War 11. The Museum is a Lake Boga Lions Club project and is a memorial to those who worked on and with the Flying Boats during World War II and particularly commemorates the contribution made by service men and women stationed at the No. 1 Flying Boat Repair Depot, Lake Boga, Victoria.

The Lions Club, after many hundreds of volunteer hours, rebuilt the aircraft, A24-30, which is on display and has re-constructed the adjacent Communications Bunker using original plans and photographs, to resemble its wartime state.

The Lions Club of Lake Boga runs the Museum, now housed in a modern hangar which was officially opened on April 21, 2012, overlooking the shores of Lake Boga in Willakool Drive. They employ staff and volunteers as guides and the museum is open seven days a week between 9.30am and 4pm (except Christmas day and Good Friday).

The musem marks a desperate time in Australia's recent history.

After a Japanese attack on Broome, WA, on March 3, 1942 destroyed 16 Allied Flying Boats the Government chose Lake Boga as a safe inland haven for Flying Boats engaged in the Allied defense of the South Pacific.

Broome was used as the Australian end of an air shuttle service from Java which ferried evacuees to Broome in Dutch, American and Australian military and civil aircraft, including Flying Boats of Qantas Empire Airways.

The Broome attack lasted about 20 minutes, in that short time a total of 25 Allied aircraft were destroyed and dozens of people were killed or wounded. Many victims were Dutch women and children who were packed into flying boats on the harbour either waiting to be unloaded and ferried ashore or waiting to depart for the southern states.

Flashback Catalina Flying Boat A24-30 in Aug 2005
Flashback Catalina Flying Boat A24-30 in Aug 2005

Many of the Dutch women and children died trapped in the Flying Boats. Others were incinerated, drowned or taken by sharks as they attempted to swim ashore.

Another 30 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, were lost when an American Liberator bomber was shot down shortly after taking off. How many people died in the raid, and who they were, will never be known.

The first RAAF personnel arrived at Lake Boga on June 28, 1942 and the first Catalina Flying Boat touched down on the lake with stores and equipment for the booming base on July 12, that year.

For its time the Catalina was a long-range aircraft, its graceful hull and huge wing span propelled by two 1200hp, 14 cylinder, Pratt and Whitney engines.

At its peak the secret Lake Boga home of the No.1 Flying Boat Repair and Service Depot was staffed by 39 Officers, 802 Airmen and 102 WAAFs. From 1942 to its close down in 1947 wartime personnel kept Catalina, Dornier, Sikorsky Kingfisher, Sunderland, Walrus and Martin Mariner aircraft in fighting trim.

In more than five years of wartime life more than 1050 aircraft came and went without mishap. There were 800 test flights plus some unofficial aerobatics so the Lake Boga safety record is remarkable. In all 416 aircraft were serviced, repaired, restored, rebuilt or overhauled.

The first Catalina to be serviced at Lake Boga was A24-17. Crewed by four on marathon assaults on the Japanese the Catalinas range allowed attacks on enemy shipping to New Guinea and beyond. Squadrons 11 and 20 flew the aircraft relentlessly on reconnaissance and attacks on enemy shipping.

In addition to RAAF aircraft the repair base catered to US and Netherlands fliers.

For night work the Catalinas were painted black and these hard to spot warriors became know as the 'Black Cats'.

The museum's restored underground Communications Bunker is a real education. The 20 minute film in the museum's theatrette is essential to get a feeling for the key role this secret base played in defending Australia.

Then take the time to get down to the detail, read pay slips. Scan the pictures, articles and pieces of a world wartime world. See how these young fliers stretched their luck on marathon flights by lighting up the interactive map of the Pacific region.

The Flying Boat Museum is a Lions Club of Lake Boga project. It is open from 9.30am to 4pm daily. (It is not open on Christmas Day). Phone 03 5037 2850. Lake Boga Caravan Park is close to the Flying Boat Museum and is just off the Murray Valley Highway about 12 minutes drive from Swan Hill.

GoSeeAustralia suggests some things to do around Lake Boga:

Swimming, fishing, boating, water skiing, Jet skiing, sailing, barbecues, picnicking, camping, caravan park; and see: Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement Monash Drv., Swan Hill Phone: 61 3 5032 1096, Bests St Andrews Winery 143 Winery Rd., Lake Boga Phone: 61 350372154, Lawn Bowling Club Jacaranda Cres., Lake Boga Phone: 61 350372301.

Underground communications bunker.
Underground communications bunker.

The Saunderson Type A tractor at the Pioneer Settlement, Swan Hill is not the kind of thing most people identify as a World Heritage treasure.

But that is just what the green and red three-wheeled 'Agricultural Motor' is among tractors. There are only two in the world and the Swan Hill Saunderson is the only one in going condition.

The other is at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, Canada.

The Pioneer Settlements master restorer, Newton Williams, (left) says the Saunderson is the jewel in Swan Hills collection of vintage tractors.

The Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill it is an 'Original'. It was the 'pioneering' Pioneer Settlement in Australia and its Sound and Light Tour set the pace. A ride in the specially built transporter into the Murray dusk each evening is a Time Machine to the world of 150 years ago.

It covers the time and pace of Australias growth from the thunder of the hooves of a Cobb and Co coach team to the hiss and puff of the steam locomotives which brought rapid transport to the Murray and Mallee regions.

The museum at Horseshoe Bend has a collection which remembers the Mallee-Murray adventure from the1830s to the 1930s.

The resident Clydesdale wagon rides are high on the visitors popularity pole.

The gentle giant Clydesdales are part of rides throughout the day which are included in the admission. In addition to the clip clop progress through the pioneer settlement a 1923 Dodge car putters about with museum goers aboard.

Another uniquely Swan Hill experience is the Stereoscopic Theatre. It is one of two which have survived and is the grandfather and mother of the birth of movie entertainment. Built in Germany in 1895, the 'Kaiser' Stereoscopic Panorama Theatre is one of only three or four in the world.

It seats 25 and has some 50 three dimensional slides viewed through eyepieces. They show the world as it was at the end of the nineteenth century giving a virtual 'Grand Tour'.

The Pioneer Settlement has over 50 original and replica heritage buildings which form a small town with a number of pioneer homesteads on the outskirts.

The Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill is open seven days 9am to 4pm (Close Christmas and Boxing Day). The Sound and Light Tour starts at dusk every night. Bookings are essential.

In winter displays can be weather affected, check with reception 03.5036 2410 or 1800 981 911.

Unique Saunderson tractor Pioneer Settlement Swan Hill.
Unique Saunderson tractor Pioneer Settlement Swan Hill.

After 118 years the paddle steamer Pyap is still whistling along the Murray as she cruises from her wharf at Horseshoe Bend. Her working river career was as a trading boat, with a store and special drapery section. Pyap was built in Mannum, SA, in 1896. Pyap River cruises depart daily at 2:30pm. On weekends, public holidays and Victorian school holidays river cruises depart at 10:30am and 2:30pm..

One of the great National Parks of New South Wales is at Willandra Lakes and can be reached via the Arumpo Road from Mildura (Vic.) or Wentworth (NSW). The Arumpo Road is rutted, sandy and rough and does not suit standard caravans. So Mildura caravan parks make an excellent base camp to leave the caravan.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service says inside the park you can camp (BYO firewood) at Main Camp. There are good basic facilities, including an amenities block, barbecues and picnic tables.(33 flat gravel sites) which is close to many features, and at the more remote Belah Camp on the Mungo Track. There are 12 sites at Belah plus picnic tables and non-flush toilets. Contact: Buronga, Phone: 03 5021 8900. Unsealed road access is dry weather only. A $7 day parks pass is required for Mungo. Camp fees are $5 per night adult $3 per child.

There are four different levels of annual parks pass. An All-Parks pass costs $190 a year or $335 for two years. Restrictions apply at the Chowder Bay Precinct of Sydney Harbour National Park. Senior Card holders are entitled to a discount of about 20percent on the full price of an annual pass for a vehicle registered in their name.

Pensioner Concession Card holders and EDA, Intermediate and Special Rate (blinded, TPI and TTI) pensioners are entitled to free entry into all NSW national parks and reserves.

Remains, which have been discovered at lonely Lake Mungo, identify a human culture more than 40,000 years old.

Lake Mungo is one ofthe most important archaeological sites in the world.

In Mungo National Park, the first park to be World Heritage listed in Australia, archaeologists have dug up human skeletons and artifacts which show a continuous record of human occupation for more than 40,000 years.

As well they have found evidence of a variety of animals extinct on the Australian mainland. They include Tasmanian Devils and Tasmanian Tigers that wandered across the tropical landscape alongside giant kangaroos, giant emus, and even giant hairy nosed wombats.

Images of the mega fauna are on show at the National Parks Wildlife Service centre at Mungo. The famous Mungo Woolshed is also a must see. Mungo National Park also features the The Walls of China, a dramatic formation naturally carved by the erosion of the white sand dunes near Lake Mungo.

The Echuca, Swan Hill, Mildura, Wentworth stretch of the Murray has more sunshine hours per year than the Gold Coast.

Mungo is the 'birthplace' of human culture in Australia; with a skyscape the stretches forever above the strangely beautiful profiles of the sandy sculpture of the Walls of China.

This was once a lush and tropical lake. Aboriginal camps and fires from 40,000 years ago can be found, complete with middens that still show mussel shells and the bones of fish from ancient tribal feasts.

World significance-

Paddlesteamer Pyap.
Paddlesteamer Pyap.

About 40km northeast of Echuca-Moama is the Barmah Red Gum Forest where the wildlife includes 230 species of birds.

The Barmah - Millewa Forest is the biggest stand of river red gum on earth and covers an area from Barmah through to Tocumwal.

It is a wetland area of great significance and protected under the Ramsar Convention.

A cruise through the 'Barmah Choke' (water levels permitting) and around the Barmah Lake is a wonderful experience.

There are 180 indigenous sites and hundreds of species of animals, birds and plants in the wetlands.

Early morning is the time to see the wetlands at their busiest. There are walking tracks on Ulupna Island near Strathmerton.

Red gum on show-

There are fascinating red gum showrooms at Barham - Koondrook that show the historic importance of the red gum timber and furniture industry to the area.

Arbuthnot Sawmill at Koondrook was sawing red gum in the 1880s and local furniture makers are exceptional craftsmen in the warm red timber.

Part of the Loddon River floodplain, the Kerang Wetlands support hundreds of species of water birds including the ibis, which can be viewed from a specially designed hide at the ibis rookery. Other active oases include Gunbower Island; Gannawarra Wetlands; Lake Charm and Kangaroo Lake.

Once a month at dawn, the tiny town of Murrabit, near Kerang, comes to life with one of Australias largest country fresh food markets. The Murrabit Country Market, which started in 1997, attracts more than 300 stallholders, most selling homemade delicacies made from regional produce.

From Bendigo the Calder Highway traverses fine arts, a golden past, sweeping pastures, the states biggest salt lake, magic Hattah Kulkyne and Murray Sunset National Parks. The sudden green of grapevines at Red Cliffs underlines the miracle of Murray irrigation.

The 'River Road' the Murray Valley Highway heads west along it namesake from Echuca-Moama.

Echuca remains a busy inland port with the biggest collection of paddle steamers in Australia.

The pride of the Murray, the three-decked paddle steamer Gem, is now at Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement. The steamer was a 'gem' for her pampered passengers but her wandering ways were a worry for her helmsmen as her high profile readily caught crosswinds and 'needed watching'.

Her sister the 107 year-old, Ruby has been restored and returned to the river at Wentworth, NSW.

The Ruby was built at Morgan in 1907. She is one of three sister ships. The third is the Marion based at Mannum, SA. The 117 year old Marion was built in 1897 and now cruises from Mannum South Australia. She is moored at Arnold Park wharf in Mannum which claims the title of the birthplace of Australian paddlesteamers in 1853.

As it  was Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement.
As it was Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement.

There are many river access points from the Murray Valley Highway at places like Tooleybuc and Boundary Bend.

About 42km North West of Swan Hill, tiny Tooleybuc, NSW, is authentic riverland with magnificent red gums on a shining sweep of river. Tooleybuc, like Boundary Bend, Vic, is famous for its fishing.

Camping, bushwalking, fishing, swimming, boating and picnics are popular along the river. Further west is Robinvale, set among grapevines.

The Murray Valley route joins the Sturt Highway at Robinvale and leads to Buronga, NSW, and Mildura Vic. via the bridge over the Murray.

The Murray connection continues on through Mildura to Renmark in SA to Adelaide or go through Wentworth, NSW, through Burra and the Clare Valley wine region to the SA Capital.

From Wentworth at the junction of the Murray-Darling river system the Silver City Highway leads to the Outback and the legendary mining city, Broken Hill.

GoSeeAustralia supporting parks at Lake Boga and Swan Hillare:

Lake Boga Caravan Park, Victoria, 12 minutes drive (16km) south of Swan Hill on the Murray Valley Highway offers attractive campsite prices. The caravan park is 40km north of Kerang. An Unpowered campsite is $22-$25. Powered site $25-$28. The park can handle Big Rigs to 12m.

Next to the unique Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum the caravan park which has ensuite cabins available and overlooks a lake which is ideal for water sports. Facilities include spotless amenities with disabled access, barbecue area, camp kitchen, and a new kiosk which serves coffee, pies and pasties.

A tennis court, playground and skate park is available nearby. Disabled facilities are available. Please contact the park for exact details. The caravan and camping ground extends around part of the lake's perimeter. Lake Boga Caravan Park has its own boat ramp. Please see Things to Do Around Lake Boga in this feature.

Swan Hill Holiday Park Victoria offers friendly service from the Dowell family at their picturesque quiet park on the Murray Valley Highway. The park has big grassed shady caravan sites. There are Drive-through sites. Powered campsites are $27 - $38, Unpowered $27-$38. Parking assistance is available.

There is a barbecue area with plenty of seating. Ensuite cabins range from $75 to $129. The park has a Pet Friendly policy and can handle RVs to 10m. There are clean amenities a Camp Kitchen, Recreation Room and laundry facilities. There is also an in ground pool and toddlers pool. Long-term holiday sites and caravan storage is also available. The park has a kiosk and offers gas refills.

Editors Note: GoSee thanks the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum for assistance with pictures.

Popular  transport at Pioneer Settlement Swan Hill.
Popular transport at Pioneer Settlement Swan Hill.