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Murray River facts for kids

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Murray River
Country Australia
Physical characteristics
River mouth Goolwa, South Australia
Length 2,575 km (1,600 mi)
Darling Lachlan Murrumbidgee Murray Rivers
The Murray is Australia's largest river
Murray at Tom Groggin 2
The Murray River in the mountains at Tom Groggin

The Murray River is the largest river in Australia. It starts high in the Snowy Mountains and flows mainly west until it gets to the sea near Goolwa, South Australia.

For much of its length it forms the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales. Other rivers join the Murray, the Darling River, the Lachlan River, the Murrumbidgee River and the Goulburn River.


The river was first called the Hume River after it was discovered by European explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell in November 1824. Explorer Charles Sturt renamed the river in January 1830 after a British politician, Sir George Murray. In 1852, the government offered a bonus of $8,000 for the first paddlesteamer to reach Echuca. This was achieved by both William Randell and Francis Cadell.

Randell built a steamboat the Mary Ann, named after his mother, to start trading in 1853. Soon it was racing Captain Francis Cadell's steamer and river trading began. This provided many new jobs and started new settlements and industries along the entire length of the river Murray system. G.B. Johnston sailed a steam boat as far as Albury in 1855. The river was very important for carrying people and goods until the railways took over. By 1900 the river trade was just about over.

River life

Confluence of Murray & Darling Rivers, Wentworth, NSW, 9.7.2007
The confluence of the Darling and Murray Rivers at Wentworth, New South Wales

The Murray River (and associated tributaries) support a variety of river life adapted to its vagaries. This includes a variety of native fish such as the famous Murray cod, trout cod, golden perch, Macquarie perch, silver perch, eel-tailed catfish, Australian smelt, and western carp gudgeon, and other aquatic species like the Murray short-necked turtle, Murray River crayfish, broad-clawed yabbies, and the large clawed Macrobrachium shrimp, as well as aquatic species more widely distributed through southeastern Australia such as common longnecked turtles, common yabbies, the small claw-less paratya shrimp, water rats, and platypus. The Murray River also supports fringing corridors and forests of the river red gum.

The health of the Murray River has declined significantly since European settlement, particularly due to river regulation, and much of its aquatic life including native fish are now declining, rare or endangered. Recent extreme droughts (2000–07) have put significant stress on river red gum forests, with mounting concern over their long-term survival. The Murray has also flooded on occasion, the most significant of which was the flood of 1956, which inundated many towns on the lower Murray and which lasted for up to six months.

Introduced fish species such as carp, gambusia, weather loach, redfin perch, brown trout, and rainbow trout have also had serious negative effects on native fish, while carp have contributed to environmental degradation of the Murray River and tributaries by destroying aquatic plants and permanently raising turbidity. In some segments of the Murray River, carp have become the only species found.

Murray mouth

The Murray Mouth is the point at which the Murray River empties into the sea, and the interaction between its shallow, shifting and variable currents and the open sea can be complex and unpredictable. During the peak period of Murray River commerce (roughly 1855 to 1920), it presented a major impediment to the passage of goods and produce between Adelaide and the Murray settlements, and many vessels foundered or were wrecked there.

Since the early 2000s, dredging machines have operated at the Murray Mouth, moving sand from the channel to maintain a minimal flow from the sea and into the Coorong's lagoon system. Without the 24-hour dredging, the Mouth would silt up and close, cutting the supply of fresh sea-water into the Coorong, which would then warm up, stagnate and die.

River transport

PS Murray Princess 2
The PS Murray Princess is the largest paddlewheeler operating on the Murray river
The P.S. Melbourne passing through Lock 11 at Mildura

The lack of an estuary means that shipping cannot enter the Murray from the sea. However, in the 19th century the river supported a substantial commercial trade using shallow-draft paddle steamers, the first trips being made by two boats from South Australia on the spring flood of 1853. The Lady Augusta, captained by Francis Cadell, reached Swan Hill while another, Mary Ann, captained by William Randell, made it as far as Moama (near Echuca). In 1855 a steamer carrying gold-mining supplies reached Albury but Echuca was the usual turn-around point though small boats continued to link with up-river ports such as Tocumwal, Wahgunya and Albury.

The arrival of steamboat transport was welcomed by pastoralists who had been suffering from a shortage of transport due to the demands of the gold fields. By 1860 a dozen steamers were operating in the high water season along the Murray and its tributaries. Once the railway reached Echuca in 1864, the bulk of the woolclip from the Riverina was transported via river to Echuca and then south to Melbourne.

The Murray was plagued by "snags", fallen trees submerged in the water, and considerable efforts were made to clear the river of these threats to shipping by using barges equipped with steam-driven winches. In recent times, efforts have been made to restore many of these snags by placing dead gum trees back into the river. The primary purpose of this is to provide habitat for fish species whose breeding grounds and shelter were eradicated by the removal of the snags.

Night travel on the Murray c1880
Drawing of a paddle steamer travelling the Murray at night, c.1880

The volume and value of river trade made Echuca Victoria's second port and in the decade from 1874 it underwent considerable expansion. By this time up to thirty steamers and a similar number of barges were working the river in season. River transport began to decline once the railways touched the Murray at numerous points. The unreliable levels made it impossible for boats to compete with the rail and later road transport. However, the river still carries pleasure boats along its entire length.

Today, most traffic on the river is recreational. Small private boats are used for water skiing and fishing. Houseboats are common, both commercial for hire and privately owned. There are a number of both historic paddle steamers and newer boats offering cruises ranging from half an hour to 5 days. In 2009, British Adventurer David Cornthwaite walked and kayaked 2476 km along the Murray River from source to sea.

River crossings

The Murray River has been a significant barrier to land-based travel and trade. Many of the Ports for transport of goods along the Murray have also developed as places to cross the river, either by bridge or ferry. The first bridge to cross the Murray, which was built in 1869, is in the town of Murray Bridge, formerly called Edwards Crossing.

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