Between 45,000 and 65,000 years ago, geological movements caused the mighty Murray River to shift direction. The upheaval formed the Cadell Fault, which can still be seen on land as a ridge along the Cobb Highway between Deniliquin and Echuca, and extending south into Victoria. In more recent times – perhaps just 550 years ago – the river changed course again, and visitors to the Sun Country can see and learn about this by navigating the Barmah Choke while cruising through the Barmah National Park.
The Murray River was named in 1829 after Charles Sturt navigated down the Murrumbidgee River to where he encountered the Murray River, he named it after Sir George Murray, a British solider from Scotland who became a South Australian politician. Five years prior to this, explorer Hamilton Hume was the first white settler to see the river, originally naming it the Hume River after himself.
There are three main waterways in our region: the Murray, Goulburn and Ovens Rivers. People who lived along the rivers and in the forests helped to forge the land for industries including farming, cattle mustering, timber cutting and char-coaling. The Barmah Heritage and Education Centre in Nathalia is a fascinating place that explores both the ancient and natural history of the region as well as the pioneering activities of recent times.
Before European settlement Aboriginal people lived along the Murray River – Dungalah in the language of the Yorta Yorta traditional owners. They relied on the river system to provide food and shelter.
Groups of local indigenous clans included Pangarang, Kailtheban, Wollithiga, Moira, Ulupna, Bangerang, Kwat Kwat, Yalaba Yalaba and Ngurai-illiam-wurrung. They lived in groups on both sides of the Murray, until their lives and futures were dramatically upended.
Yorta Yorta clans were denied their inherent rights and prevented from entering traditional hunting and fishing grounds and spiritual sites. In effect, it had become illegal for them to practice their own laws, beliefs and customs. From thousands of years living in harmony, indigenous locals became dislocated from their land in less than 20 years, reduced in numbers from being in the thousands to less than a hundred survivors.
In recent years, through continued advocacy from indigenous groups, many traditional practices have re-emerged and indigenous voices are contributing to the betterment of our region. Into the future, as it has done through history, the mighty Murray River will provide for the needs of all locals, and our communities will endeavor to welcome everyone with openness and respect.