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The Darling River

My association with through my life and for sometime before


THE DARLING RIVER…. My associations thru my life and for sometime before .

Family connections ….Great Grand Pa drove horse teams for Cobb & co., to and from White Cliffs Opal Fields. He then bought a change station, where horses were exchanged when exhausted, passengers had small breaks, food and accommodation was available. Expanding he then purchased another 3-4. River traffic and eventually the rail cut back business, so he sold. He purchased The Murchison Hotel at Wilcannia on Darling around 1906.

Somehow a parcel of opal went missing in transit. He sold the pub and bought a so called boarding house, in St Kilda Victoria. It was next door to the Catholic Church , near the top of the hill.

My Grand Father , Patrick and his wife Masie owned a bush block at Menindee, he was a blocky. Grew citrus and grapes out behind the racecourse before retiring onto a house block in town. Next to the old bush hospital, which was originally set up by the Nuns. He was in residence when Burke & Wills came thru on the out leg of their ill fated journey. It is said that he was considered to be the Mayor of Menindee. He threw the switch turning on street lighting when it came. He is buried in Broken Hill.

My Father William [Bill] schooled in Menindee, started his working life as a telegraph boy in the post office, rose to clerk and then left home on a posting to Cowra. Here he met his future wife Lola McMahon from the northern rivers area, Casino, Grafton.

War was in progress and he desperately wanted to join up, however a medical glitch made him un suited. Eventually this was overcome and he was accepted although the war was nearly over, I was born in May 1946 at Cowra. We as a family were posted to Townsville, Garbut air base. He worked mainly on crash tender boats. which were on continual standby for unfortunate aircraft flying to and from the north.

Around 1950 he took a posting to Woomera and went on his own, there was no married quarters available. We arrived in 1952 after being staged at Casino on an uncles dairy farm for a year or so and then to Grand dads place at Menindee for another year or so.

Initiated into life on the Darling I returned regularly to Menindee during holidays. One Uncle had trucks and a fuel agency, two mail runs one downriver the other upriver, I went many times as offsider, gate opener. He also carted wool and did general freight from Broken Hill, sheep and goats livestock. Construction of the water scheme Menindee Lakes, The Tandou Project, Water Pipeline to Broken Hill kept him busy and his sometime offsider as keen as mustard.

Another Uncle had a news agency, general store, ice cream shop. A couple of smaller mail runs to and from the trains. A third Uncle operated a local taxi, and the fourth was dong a bakery apprenticeship. Plenty of action in Menindee those days.

So at Woomera I was bought up on a 50/50 cocktail of Darling River & Murray River water, mixed at Wentworth, extracted then pumped from Morgan South Australia. The rivers were in my veins.

When on the river , fishing, yabbying, swimming and swinging were all the go. Special things included helping to load water trains, before the pipe line was built. On a hot day it was a special treat, getting wet didn't matter. Also used to help the railway workers often on a Kalamazoo, pumping out to the yard limits to clean and refuel the kerosene signal lights. When sheep were loaded the kids all got into the act, pushing them up the ramps into the carriages, some squatters rewarded the youngsters with ice creams and lollypops. There was always someone to help on the days the Silver City Comet passed thru. On Fridays there was a steam shopping train that ran to Broken Hill, in some ways a better trip than driving the badly corrugated road into The Hill. Locked away in the dog box compartments, you and a few mates.

At Woomera we swam in the rivers water, some say that you could still smell the yabbies. I was also a mascot for a Woomera Rugby team that played Broken Hill at the hill. 500 mile each way in the new FJ all dirt. Many punctures.

1956 floods we were there water up to the back door, other high river occurrences were witnessed. Wood cutting for firewood was a popular occupation for local men.

When we left Woomera in 1958 we spent time at Menindee again amongst the goats then pressed on to see mums family and relations at Casino. Experienced floods, bush fires, and life on a dairy. After milking and separating for butterfat our cream vats were transported to the outside property cream box, by horse drawn skid. My father was posted to Melbourne and that's where he was until he arranged accommodation for his family, at 417 Riversdale rd East Hawthorn.

The block of shops and house that once stood here has since been demolished. In their place stands the headquarters of Birds Australia. During our occupation I went back to the river many times, both by train to Mildura then up the river on the mail truck or by air. From Melbourne To Broken Hill via Mildura on an Ansett DC3 air coach service.

In 1962 another posting this time to Canberra, by now I had my own wheels and often shot across to Menindee for no other reason than liking the place, and a few girls too. A regular job I would get while there would be a trip to the ice works at Broken Hill. Picking up a ton or more ice for all the recreational campers at Sunset Strip, Coppie Hollow and Menindee.

In 1992 after working for some years in Western Australia's Pilbara we moved back to The Menindee Lakes, I was gob smacked at the deterioration or mismanagement of the river system and started to fight for its survival then.

I worked as a grader driver on the Wentworth Shire doing maintenance work up along the Darling and on The Greater Anabranch meeting and talking with many people to whom the River was their lives and their Fathers before them .

In 1994 I found John Nelson Hobbs, and I managed to get erected a monument to him on the Murray River Bank at Dareton. He was one of Australia's most highly regarded ornithologists, bird watcher. The highest award for amateur birdo's in Australia is a gold struck medallion, called The John Hobbs Memorial Medal it is presented by Birds Australia to only one person, once a year. He spent much of his time up along the river observing and collating, recording much of our early natural history. He is buried at Dareton with his wife, a local Aboriginal Woman.

As a direct result of my Hobbs work a lovely old gentleman from off the river asked if I would write his story. I did and Len Hippisley's Burtundy Weir on the Darling River, 42 years of observations from Tulney Point via Wentworth was born. 50 pages of fact , before computers.

I do believe that I know a little about The Darling, and I am willing to share this with you, I will do whatever I can to help restore as near as possible natural flows to the Darling, a and all others that we have pirated, they're many, many , more .........