Camping, Cuisine and the Murray River

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn his foreword to Steve Strevens’ book, ‘Slow River’, Stefano de Piero attests to his appreciation of the slowness and strength of the Murray River, noting that words like ‘mighty Murray’ are too clichéd. Stefano continues to quote poet and scholar Paul Kane, who describes the Murray in this way,

“The Murray, a river of work, cutting its way through time and all resistance: here broad and reflecting, there deep and gorgeous in confinement- scoriated limestone valleys of imagination – and stillness too, in swampy backwaters and billabongs, where the traveller, the river’s reader, can paddle about and muse on the curious vicissitudes of Nature’s Muse, who is like a river, only she is her own source of plenishment, whereas the Murray- refreshed by loss- is both less and more.” Paul Kane, 1995.

I have tried on a few adjectives too and I keep coming back to ‘elemental’ and ‘primordial’ to describe this river and its beautiful surrounding bush. Although not many of us are in the position, like Steve, to take a ‘tinnie’  (a small aluminium boat) down the Murray from source to sea, we can appreciate its wonder and hypnotic attraction by camping along its banks. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne evening, a posse of around 20 pelicans came bobbing along, appearing as if from nowhere from a nearby fork in the river. For the first 10 minutes, like obedient troupes, they stayed in a neat line as they travelled upstream. Bills up and down in unison, they hugged the banks of the river for some time. Then, as if commanded by an invisible force, they simultaneously spread out in a wide circle, a choreographed show, and the hunt was on. Fishing time! Amidst the white troupe, one small dark cormorant had joined the gang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuman daytime activities consist of walking and photography, noting the variety of flora and bird life, and watching the ever-changing moods of this slow river as it passes by.  Other pastimes include reading books about the Murray ( see below), fiddling with the solar panels, and considering whether it’s time for another cup of tea or something stronger. Big decisions. The days are sunny and the nights are frosty in early September so a camp fire is recommended.  From November through to May, camp fires are banned due to the risk of bushfire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt times, a houseboat cruises by. The nearby Lyrup Ferry service operates 24 hours a day: it is a free service and one simply pulls up, presses the red button, and out comes the ferryman to take you and your car over the short stretch of river. Of course, I couldn’t stop singing Chris de Burgh’s, “Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side, ah ahh ahhahaah”.  South Australia retains some fine traditions.

Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.
Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the late afternoon, food is prepared and the fire is lit. Mr T chops onions, garlic and ginger: he is my favourite kitchen hand. Tonight’s feast includes a Keralan fish curry, loaded with fresh curry leaves found in the excellent Indian shop in Mildura. Alongside is an Aloo Gobi stir fry- a simple little cauliflower and potato dish with added Kalonji seeds. I put Kalonji seeds in many things these days, especially flat breads.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day, a big shared Szechuan soup for lunch with wongbok cabbage, tofu and chilli hits the spot and at night, my favourite, jaffles cooked in the fire. Food tastes so good in the open air.

Szechan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Szechuan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Jaffles cooked in the fire.
Jaffles cooked in the fire.

Camping by the river is one of the best ways to enjoy the Australian bush, especially in September when you have the place to yourself, along with the birds, and the silence of the slow Murray River. As the night descends, it’s time for a glass of local wine and perhaps a hummed tune, ‘Take me to the River’ ,after the wine has disappeared.

Two excellent books on the Murray River:

Slow River, A journey down the Murray, Steve Strevens, Allen and Unwin 2006

The River. A journey through the Murray- Darling basin, Chris Hammer, Melbourne University Press, 2011

26 thoughts on “Camping, Cuisine and the Murray River”

  1. We have camped along the Murray in many locations over many many years, I just love it too!! A favourite spot is Tocumwal, but you definitely need to time it to avoid the hoards. Your campfire cooking looks inspired Francesca, but then I remember your post about another camp kitchen that was decked out like a three hatted restaurant too!


    1. I had to keep this camp kitchen more minimalist, given that we were on the road. The other one stays at the beach for 3 months and is a bit OTT. Whenever i try to discard something from the camping compartments, I think …No… I might need that.
      Food finds along the way bring great joy.
      I love Tocumwal too. My kids like the Murray at Yarrawonga. Its also rather gorgeous at Barmah State Forest.


  2. I am loving your tour Francesca. You are seeing a beautiful part of the world! Your camp food looks incredibly gourmet! I agree, food definitely tastes better in the open air. Happy travels. PS We are on a property near Broken Hill, if you would like some travels tips for the area let me know, or perhaps you have already passed through 🙂


    1. It is true Jane, I have already passed through!!!! We loved the big skies there and the vivid colours- allowing us to understand for the first time the noted artists from the area. We ate at the Palace Hotel- the only place that had anything on the menu that we could eat. But then, after visiting Silverton, we visited that little homey cafe- and the quondong pie was rather gorgeous. A few travel tips would have been handy- never mind. I will be doing a post on BH too, but I seem to have a long back queue. That’s what travel does!


  3. Oh, Francesca, your round jaffle irons bring back the tastes and smells of camp cooking like nothing else. We got rid of all the camping equipment as it was dilapidated but we kept the round jaffle irons, my husband’s sentimental favourites. I’m so glad you are giving us a new vocabulary with which to think of the Murray. Mighty is not an apt description of any river in Australia, really. They are each in their own way more than that. All of Australia has a subtlety to it that belies what people often see at first. It’s beauty is about the journey through it.


    1. Your words are remarkable Ardy and mean so much to me. I know you must love the bush in a a special way, given that you live in the centre. The subtlety is often missed by many. I think that perhaps it takes older eyes to see the levels of beauty in this ancient land.
      We lost all our things in the 2009 bushfires, so you can imagine my joy when I found a couple of these old Jaffle irons in an second hand shop, complete with chipped paint and the patina of much camping.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha, which one? Chris de Burgh or Talking Heads? When I look at the Murray river and it starts again- ‘Don’t know why I love you like I do…” Song plants are fun, and I enjoy yours too.


      1. Arr, I have sung Take me to the River so many ways it is permanently planted and is has a strong association with the Murrundindi River. No, it was that ferryman song. Oh dear now its going to be that ‘Don’t know..’ song. So New Orleans/Big Riverish

        Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many good spots on the Murray and not enough lifetimes to enjoy them all. It is wondrous river. Thanks for the kind comments re the food. All the goods were found in towns along the Murray!


  4. Thanks for liking my comment about adverbs on Blogging 101. I think there is something serenely primordial about rivers, as you said. Thanks for sharing this great travel post … makes me really want to visit Australia!


  5. Your lovely post tells us that the quality of a trip can be something very different from 5 stars hotels or first class flights… I love knowing something about Australia…Thanks a lot Francesca! p.s lovely forks you have!


  6. This is a gorgeous post Francesca, and soo evocative..I live in Tasmania and we have precious spots too, but you brought back my late teens of the long camping holidays I did with mates from Sydney to Kangaroo Island ( inland on the way down and along the coast home). We have friends who did that same stretch of country that you are doing now, in a gypsy wagon along the Murray which must have been wonderful.
    I love getting all your epistles and photos and food suggestions …thanks!


    1. Thankyou so much Melinda, I am glad it brought back some memories for you. It is a lovely part of Australia but then so is Tasmania too. I love travelling around Tassie- so clean and fresh, with well preserved colonial architecture and great food.
      Travelling in a gypsy wagon would have been great.


  7. The scenery, your words and photos are marvelous enough to transport me in spirit but the meals and the care you take with them inspire not just from a camping but an every day perspective, food not just for the body and eyes but for the soul 🙂


    1. Thanks Ella. The food is always tasty when camping. I find the good ingredients along the way, but keep a little spice box in the camper trailer. It is a children’s lunch box. The bottom half is full of little plastic zip locked bags of spices and teh top section holds bayleaves, stock cubes and so on. It is always in the trailer and gets refreshed each year.
      It is a great part of Australia- really beautiful.


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