Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 40 - April/May 2011 > River of Life (by John Morris)

River of Life

by John Morris

River of Life

It is almost an insult to regular rivers to call the Finke River, a river. Sure, there is a defined watercourse, but normally you would find a string of waterholes at substantial distances from one another. During rare flood events, the "river" can change from sleepy waterholes to a raging torrent. Being almost dead centre in the continent, this does not happen very often. The rain depression that marked the end of Cyclone Yasi (2011) dropped sufficient rain to make all the Central Australian Rivers flow.

The family came across the Finke River in 1983 when we spent 2 weeks in the "Red Centre". The Finke is created at the confluence of the Davenport and Ormiston Creeks just north of Glen Helen Gorge and runs a meandering 600 km to peter out on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. At Glen Helen Gorge there was lots of water. The Gorge cuts through the ranges and you had to get wet to get through the Gorge. The day was cool and the water temperature low. We declined the swim.

We spent some hours enjoying the area, skipping stones across the River and admiring the colours of the gorge walls and the mountains close by. Mt Sonder off to the north west was a large purple mass, an imposing feature on the horizon.

On the way down the Stuart Highway we met the Finke for the second time where the Stuart Highway crosses the river near Henbury. This time it was a chance not to be missed. I pulled over to the side of the road and changed into my swimming costume (red to match the sand). This time I would get wet, and I did, at least, up to the thighs. It was too cold to go any further. The next stop was the Henbury Meteorite Craters, and then we headed off to Kings Canyon crossing the Palmer River on the way. There was one puddle off to the side of the track across the sandy river bed.

What a difference it would make if there were regular rainfall in the centre. The area could be the food bowl of the world. The best it can hope for is the occasional tail of a cyclone from the coast of Western Australia, or like Cyclone Yasi (2011) that moved across the continent from the Queensland coast dropping from category 5 to a heavy rain depression when it arrived at the Centre.

A trip to Cairns introduced us to the Bally Hooley Railway, the Daintree National Park and the Mossman River and Gorge. I had business in Townsville and had arranged for the family to fly to Cairns on the day I completed business. I drove from Townsville to Cairns and arrived at the motel in time to hear Marilyn's question, "When's Daddy coming?" I then knocked on the door and surprised everyone.

The Mossman River is located on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range in North Queensland. It doesn't have the coverage of the Murray River. The Mossman River is only 24 km long and drains an area of 466 sq km. We are talking about .006% of the country (a mere pittance), compared to the Murray-Darling system which drains 14% of the Australian continent. The river begins in the wet tropical rainforest under the lee of the Devil's Thumb at 1050 metres above sea level. So, when the annual rainfall of between 2300 and 3200 mm gets into the river, it moves very smartly indeed, cyclones aside.

Part of the river is a traverse through the Mossman River Gorge. Gigantic boulders dropped at random in the gorge result in the river darting from one side of the gorge to the other, dropping over mini waterfalls, providing haven and an environment for fish and water feeding birds and the local fauna. In summer the track is also a good place for spotting 'Boyd's Forest Dragons', prehistoric looking lizards clinging on tree trunks. On some mornings if quiet, Elseya turtles can be seen basking on the giant boulders in the middle of the river. They will often fall into the water with a loud 'plop'. Fish can usually be seen in the creek, the largest being the 'Jungle Perch'.

In the summer also, the spectacular Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers can sometimes be seen flying across the road, their long white tail streaming behind them, before they disappear into the forest. Chicken-sized Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Australian Brush (or Scrub) Turkeys can also be seen on the side of the road. Being scavengers that eat almost anything, the Scrub turkeys are often found hanging around the picnic area for leftovers. Other birds that are commonly heard or seen flitting around the picnic area, especially earlier in the morning, are the Grey Whistler, Little Shrike-thrush, Yellow-Spotted Honeyeater, Grey Fantail and Yellow-breasted Boatbill.

A great example of a rainforest tree is right next to the parking area, with 3 species (Stonewood, a Fig, and an Umbrella Tree) intertwined and on top of that other epiphytes such as a Fagrea, a Hoya vine, bird's nest ferns, other ferns, and no doubt several different types of alga and lichens growing on top of that.

There are two walks leading from the carpark. Both tracks connect up to each other. The one on the right leads to the river, and is slightly longer. The track on the left leads more directly through the jungle. After both tracks join up they lead past several small detours down to the Mossman River with views. One short track leads to a tiny sandy beach. The track then heads to a small suspension bridge built by the Australian army. Past the bridge, there is a much longer circuit walk that takes about an hour at a reasonable pace.

My interest was taken by children and teenagers who were riding the rapids beside the picnic area. No reason why I couldn't try. Most of the group were jumping in, turning over onto their backs and with hands held aloft ride a big tongue of water into the bubbling and frothy waters of the smaller rapids. It was great fun. Clean water, deliciously cool, with sufficient shade from the overhanging rain forest to temper the heat of the sun. We must have spent an hour or two while I demonstrated that what a teenager could do, so could I.

The Murray River is a big river. At around 2,600 km long it is a little shorter than the Darling River at 2,700 km though the latter in its upper reaches is known by other names including the Dumaresq, the Macintyre, and the Barwon Rivers. Many major rivers run into these two major watery backbones of some 14% of the continent of Australia covering around 1,061,500 square kilometers. Other major rivers feed the Murray Darling system including the Murrumbidgee, at 1,575 km the country's 3rd longest River. The Darling joins the Murray at Wentworth still some 500 k from the Murray Mouth and Lake Alexandrina.

The Murray Darling basin is the food bowl of the continent. It contains over 40% of all Australian farms producing wool, cotton, grains, cattle both beef and dairy, rice, fruits and vegetables for both  local and overseas consumption. Yet the area can be a farmer's nightmare with the impact of droughts and flooding rains. Much of the area is more or less flat, at a gradient of between 50 and 100 mm per 1 kilometre of river. Flooding rains up stream can take months to move along the river basin meandering across these vast inland plains. Before the major storages were built there were a few occasions when the River Murray stopped flowing and became a series of water holes. In 1915 for example, flow in the Murray below Swan Hill ceased from February through to May. Similarly in March 1923 the Murray dried up just upstream of the Murrumbidgee junction. For those whose living is dependent on the Murray River, life has a lot of risk..

The Murray begins to the south of The Pilot, almost at the southern end of the Snowy Mountains at about 1,830 metres above sea level. It flows into Cowombat Flat where you can jump across the "river" from NSW into Victoria and back with ease. Picking up little tributaries the river runs north until the junction with the Tooma River, when a westerly direction is taken.

In January 1990 I and daughter number 2 took the 4WD Pajero through the Davies High Plains located on the south side of the river and within the state of Victoria. I had heard that the Victorian authorities were about to close a number of tracks to the public and I did not wish to miss the opportunity to explore this area of the country. Access to the track was via a river crossing at Tom Groggin then up into the higher mountain country. The river bottom was small gravel well worn in the river's passage through the hills, the water about 600mm deep and the crossing was easy, though the climb out of the river required a sharp left turn and a steep pinch. I am glad it was not a clay bench.

It was some time later that we got close enough to the Murray to stop and enjoy it. Being summer, it was a warm day and a swim was required. The water was refreshing, and it was comforting to know that there were no pollutants coming into the river. It was quite safe to drink. Birds were serenading the lonely swimmer, or perhaps issuing a general warning.

We moved off to Cowombat Flat. This is a wide open, mostly treeless patch within the mountains; my guess is about 70 hectares in area, with the infant Murray running through the centre and the remains of a DC3 crash of the 1950's. Mt Cobberas rises behind and The Pilot stands out to the north. We were surprised to get a call from the western end of "The Flat". 2 ladies materialized. They were walking the Alpine Track and had not had any fresh fruit for 6 or 7 days. We were glad to share with them. So we said goodbye to the Murray for this time.

While each of these rivers has some attractive features, even in the centre of the country, nothing in this world is perfect. The Finke hardly runs, the Mossman is in the middle of the tropics and cyclones are common, the Murray-Darling basin has come out of an 8 year drought to be greeted with flooding rains. The rains of late December in 2010 and January 2011 in the headwaters of the Murray and the Darling will be observed for as much as 6 months as the waters move slowly down the flood plain.

There is an attractive river presented as part of the planned re-creation of the heavens and the earth as pictured in Revelation Chapter 22. "Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city." Other translations use a description similar to "the street of the city". Taylor's paraphrase, The Living Bible, highlights the "main street". John was obviously impressed with the attractive architectural picture; the throne of God is the visual focal feature of the new city, the Arc de triomphe of the heavenly Champs Elysees. The "great street of the city" provides access and along the middle of the street flows a life giving, life preserving river that has come direct from the throne. There will not be any developers getting access to sites with water views and crowding out access to the River of Life as would happen today on earth. One can imagine the river flowing out of the city and throughout the new earth, unlimited in flow, no drought to worry about; no pollutants will ever cause us to doubt the safety of the water. Cast your thoughts back to creation of this world, from the Garden of Eden there flowed a river which "separated into four headwaters" that wound their way through the then existent world for a preview of the new earth structure.

The picture expands to include a tree found on both sides of the river, with a monthly crop of fruit. The tree is for nutrition, and like the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, a guarantee of eternal life to those who have access to the tree, its fruit and its leaves.

There is an open invitation further into the chapter that is well worth considering.

"The Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." There is no restriction on access to or for the use of the water; you will not be forced to buy water rights. "Whosever will" KJV can enjoy the River of Life.



The Murray-Darling Basin
Accessed 20.01.2011

Port Douglas Region Guide 
Accessed 29.01.2011

Mossman Gorge - Visitor Information
Accessed 29.01.2011

Balleyhooley Railway
Accessed 29.01.2011

This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2011 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 40 - April/May 2011 > River of Life (by John Morris)