Koondrook
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Koondrook, VIC

Town opposite Barham on the banks of the Murray River.

Koondrook is a quiet town whose economy is driven by the timber timber, dairying and citrus fruit industries on the surrounding rich river plains of the Murray River. Today it has become a popular inland holiday destination for families and anglers as their is excellent fishing for Murray cod, golden perch, carp, silver fish, catfish and yabbies as well as canoeing on the river and bushwalking on Gunbower Island.

 

Location

Koondrook is located on the southern bank of the Murray River 301 km north of Melbourne. Its twin town Barham is on the northern bank of the river.

 

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Origin of Name

It is possible that 'koondrook' meant 'where the two rivers meet' in the language of the local Wemba-Wemba Aborigines.

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Things to See and Do

The Koondrook-Barham Redgum Statue Walk
A good reason for exploring the parks and walkways along the Murray River is the unusual Koondrook-Barham Redgum Statue Walk. This is a rustic "art form" which is hugely popular in the redwood areas of the United States - Alaska and the northern Pacific states - but still quite rare in Australia. Barham and Koondrook are trying to correct that. There are now fifteen statues (two in Barham and 13 in Koondrook) including such notables as Alexander Arbuthnot (located just outside the Arbuthnot Sawmill), a range of local "characters" and iconic local animals as a Murray Cod, kookaburra and wedge-tailed eagle. The walk was started in 2002 and a new statue is added each year. There is a brochure with details of each sculpture available at the Golden Rivers Country Visitor Information Centre in Barham. At the moment the path goes from outside the Visitor Information Centre across the Barham bridge and down the Victorian bank of the Murray to Koondrook and the top of Gunbower Island.

Barham Bridge
The bridge which crosses the Murray between Koondrook and Barham is one of the oldest on the river. It was built in 1904 and was constructed so that the central section could be lifted so that paddlesteamers plying the river between South Australia and Echuca could pass under the bridge. From 1904 until it was mechanised in 1997 the lift section of the bridge was raised and lowered by two men using a system of pulleys and weights. Today it is rarely raised but it is operational.

Punt Road and Arbuthnot Sawmill
Punt Road, named because a punt operated from 1884 until the Barham bridge opened in 1904, was the main road leading down to the river crossing. The punt can still be seen, along with a number of wrecks, when the river is low. It was also here that barges and paddleboats were constructed between 1881 and 1923. A remarkable relic of the town's boom period in the 1880s and 1890s is the Arbuthnot sawmill, which was built in 1890 for Alexander Arbuthnot and which is still operational today. It is possible to inspect the workings of the sawmill. A walkway was constructed in 1998 and entry to the sawmill can be organised at the offices over the road at 18 Punt Road, tel: (03) 5453 2401.

The Log Buggy
On the corner of Main Street and Punt Road is an old log buggy owned and operated by William Thomas Grass. It was built around 1930, was hauled by bullocks, and was used to carry logs from the local forests to Arbuthnot Sawmill.

The Koondrook Tramway
In the middle of Main Street is the Koondrook Tramway Station. It was not built until 1913 although the rail line opened in 1889. The track beside the station now holds some interesting old rolling stock from the Kerang & Koondrook Tramway which, when it was first constructed, carried produce and passengers between Koondrook and the railhead at Kerang. It closed in 1978.

Gunbower Island
Gunbower Island is the 26,400 ha island which lies surrounded on the south by Gunbower Creek and to the north by the Murray River. It is 50 km long and, as such, is Australia's largest inland island. It extends from Koondrook to Torrumbarry Weir and Lock 26. The island is characterised by swamps, river red gums and, on the higher ground, box forest. It is known to have over 200 bird species and it is home to a wide range of native mammals, amphibians, fish (notably for anglers the Murray Cod, Golden Perch and Redfin) and 24 different reptiles. Visitors can canoe down the Gunbower Creek (there is a 5km canoe trail), walk and wander across the island, take a motorbike along the tracks or traverse the island by 4WD.

It is believed the island was originally inhabited by eight clans of the Barababaraba Aborigines. If you look carefully you will still see signs of their settlement. There are mounds and middens of shells and bones and many of the trees are still scarred. Their diet was a combination of yabbies, grubs, fish and flour made from Nardoo and turned into damper.

It wasn't until the 1870s that Europeans realised the value of the river red gums, particularly for railway sleepers, and timber cutters started camping on the island and cutting down the trees and transporting them to the nearby mills. At one point towards the end of the 19th century the population was sufficiently large to set up a school on the island. Today it is recognised as a significant wetland.

Visitors can expect to see grey kangaroos, wallabies and emus. More rare are such wonders as the Barking Marsh Frog, Broad-Shelled Tortoise and White-Bellied Sea Eagle. For drivers the Gunbower Forest Drive (entry from Cohuna) offers an excellent overview. There is a detailed brochure - Gunbower Forest Walks and Drives - which is available at the Golden Rivers Country Visitor Information Centre in Barham. Most of the information can also be accessed by going to http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/ and searching for Gunbower Island.

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History

* Before the arrival of Europeans the district around Koondrook was occupied by the Wemba-Wemba Aborigines.

* The first European in the area was Edward Green who, in 1843, was granted the lease on 114,656 acres (46,400 ha) of prime riverfront land. In 1844 Archibald Campbell acquired 103,680 acres (41,957 ha) between Cohuna and Koondrook. He called the property Gannawarra.

* After the goldrushes of the 1850s Victorian settlers began to move to land on the Murray and by the 1870s Koondrook had developed as a service port for the paddlesteamer trade. At this point there was no bridge across the river and consequently Barham was less important.

* the town began to develop in the 1870s and 1880s with the arrival of the first church (1878), the first school (1880), the construction of a wharf (1882), the first Anglican church (1884), a Baptist church (1889) and the Koondrook Hotel.

* shipbuilding began in 1881 and between then and 1923 a total of seven paddlesteamers and six barges were built on the river.

* A tramway was established in 1888-89. It connected Koondrook with the railhead at Kerang.

* Arbuthnot Sawmill started operating in 1889 and an irrigation pump site was opened in 1890.

* The local dairy industry saw the first creamery opened in the district in 1892. Its operations were transferred to the Koondrook butter factory in 1906 .

* In 1904 the lift bridge connecting the two towns was opened. It had a central section which was raised by hand when paddlesteamers, plying the river between South Australia and Echuca, needed to pass through. It is now one of the oldest bridges on the river.

* The economy of the two towns diversified in the early years of the twentieth century when citrus fruit was planted at Barham in 1911. The Barham Packing Co. was formed in 1930.

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Visitor Information

Koondrook does not have its own information centre. Across the bridge in Barham is the The Golden Rivers Country Visitor Information Centre which is located at 15 Murray St, Barham tel: 1800 621 882.

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Eating

There is a range of eating options across the bridge in Barham including both Chinese (Chinese Garden) and Thai (Happy Elephant) restaurants and a good club with good club food.

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Useful Websites

There is a useful local website - http://www.koondrook.com.au - which provides information about market days, local history and attractions.

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