13 October, 2013

To the break and back and a broken back!

After a series of recent posts which have required a significant amount of research I thought I'd throw in something a little lighter so yesterday, with the sun out and in need of some practise for a forthcoming event, I dusted off the kayak for the first paddle of the season.
As the Masters Games are currently in town and doing their bit on the river, I figured it might be a little busy on that section so I hit the river below the breakwater and headed down to the lower break. This is one of my favourite sections for paddling as the scenery is predominantly rural and the river remains relatively wide with no serious obstructions - although perhaps it might be best avoided if the water ski club are holding an event as things can get a little busy at the end of Wilson's Road.
"Greenbanks" at Marshall
Not surprisingly, the water level was higher than I'd been used to over summer and with the wind blowing about 15knots from behind it was a relatively easy ride downstream however, it soon occurred to me that it was going to be hard work on the way back - I wasn't disappointed.

Mudlark chicks in a nest overhanging the river at Marshall
Well, spring has certainly sprung. Birds were everywhere - I counted twenty-nine different species and everyone it seems is breeding. In addition to the family of four Grey Butcherbird chicks I found hopping around in the branches near Highton a couple of days ago, I found these little guys sitting around on a rather exposed branch overhanging the river whilst one parent or other shouted instructions from the safety of a nearby tree - after which they all quite literally pulled their heads in and were not to be seen above the nest.
Meanwhile, on the bank, this little parade made its way under the nearest fence to what it considered a safe distance.
Australian Wood Duck family at Marshall
Despite the wind, the weather was quite warm and the skies were blue. Unfortunately for the smaller creatures around, Brown Falcons and Marsh Harriers were also circling overhead. At one point a pair of rather unimpressed falcons were being told in no uncertain terms where to go by a magpie.

The view from the lower breakwater
Well I reached the halfway mark fairly comfortably and without too many blisters. The water level here was quite definitely higher than during summer when the metal side of the breakwater made it necessary to disembark and cart the vessel round via land in order to continue downstream. This time by contrast, I was at imminent risk of going over the edge and heading for Lake Connewarre whether I liked it or not!
The lower breakwater
In retrospect, this would actually have been the easier option, although I would still have opted for portage, as rapids - even man-made ones - really aren't my thing whilst carrying a camera and phone. I did consider rearranging my pick up for Tait's Point instead of Breakwater which would have suited my back and the palms of my hands much better, however I also figured that the slog back upstream would do me good.
So I snapped a few shots and turned around. Almost immediately I was hit by a wall of wind and had to plough my way through the chop on the surface of the river to the next quiet patch before repeating the process at regular intervals the entire 8km back to Breakwater.

A deceptively peaceful Barwon River at Breakwater
As I rounded the bend and headed up The Long Reach I was reminded exactly why it got its name. Of course, "Cuthy's" boys from the Grammar had the advantage of at least three of their schoolmates pulling with them and the possibility of a stop for refreshments at The Willows. A bit of teenage enthusiasm would have been handy yesterday!
However, I managed it eventually with only a few blisters and without actually being blown back downstream at any point. My arms and back certainly got that workout I was looking for. Now I just hope the effects wear off before next weekend's paddle...


  1. Hi Jo I was quite interested in reading your blog, It was very well written and the pics were fantastic, taking me back down memory lane, although all the memories weren't good ones.
    Quite a few years ago now I was at the 2nd break actually looking for a friends teenage boys, who sometimes went their.
    On this occasion they weren't their but I had walked in and was fairly puffed by the time I got there I stopped to rest a while.
    On the Reedy lake side of the weir (Salt Water side I Believe?) there was were 1000s of fish all on top of each other (mainly carp) all gasping for air. Obviously at one point being either washed over the weir. Now I realise they are pests and do all sort of damage to not only our waterways but also compete for food with our native fish, hence the reason when caught on a line they are not to be thrown back.
    However it was just so sad watching all these fish dying before my eyes in such a slow painful death I couldn't help but feel sorry for them, then I starting thinking about the rotting corpse floating around Ready Lake, I am unsure if they are poisonous to any other native animal that may eat them?
    I just remember thinking in this day and age this shouldn't be happening, surely there is a way of stopping this or if not at least dispose of them humanly and make use out of them to pay for it, not sure how, perhaps fish oil to stop our cars rusting?
    I know they are considered a pest, but as an animal lover I just thought this was really cruel. I am not sure if they cant survive in the Ready Lake Waters or what it was, but I have never seen anything like it before or since, it was like they couldn't breathe and were fighting over any fresh water coming over the weir,
    In your blog you mentioned the water was really Hi, when I was there it was the middle of summer so the water was low so that may make a difference, but did you happen to notice anything like this? or maybe others that may read this have seen similar, if so I would love to hear your thoughts.
    Cheers Glenn

  2. Hi Glenn,
    Glad you like the blog! About 3 years ago I had so many photos and was spending so much time at the Barwon that I figured I had to do something with it all, hence the blog.
    Your observations on the lower break are interesting. I have only ever paddled in (not sure where to get in on foot). This post was written after my most recent trip in when the river was quite high and flowing much quicker than it did over last summer when I was first there.
    On this occasion I didn't see any carp, however the first time I paddled down with my daughter in January water levels were much lower. On that occasion, we pulled the kayaks out and around the break and paddled down to Tait's Point. From the moment we got below the break, there were dead carp everywhere. We would have seen dozens between the lower break and Lake Connewarre (but not in the lake), so I have wondered the same thing, however I haven't researched the subject so these are just my guesses.
    Firstly, I wondered whether the increased salinity of the water below the break was too much for them or whether there had been something done to control them, however I can't think what that might have been. In any case, the fish were all dead by the time we were there.
    I do know that when the carp levels in Reedy Lake get too high, they drain the lake and dredge the carp out. There was an article in the Addy (which it won't currently let me access) describing the most recent dredging from earlier this year I think. I can't get at the article so I'm not sure what they did with the carp but they removed a tonne of them and I must say that I didn't see any during the paddle described above whereas they were quite evident even above the break (all alive) over summer so maybe the dredging had an impact.
    The only other thing that occurs to me which may or may not explain the situation you describe, is that I remember after the last flood event (January, 2011), the Barwon had what is called a "black water event". The huge increase in water volume which occurs during a flood forces much of the oxygen from the water, killing lots of fish and leaving many - as you described - gasping for air. This is apparently particularly true for larger fish which require more oxygen. I also read that high carbon levels from dead leaf litter, plant life etc in the river can lead to black water events, so whilst a flood was not to blame for what you were observing, perhaps you were seeing the result of some other type of effect on oxygen levels, maybe as a result of the low water levels.
    The long and the short of it as far as I can see however, is that these are naturally occurring events which I don't think can be controlled and one article suggested, that in the long run they can lead to an improvement in habitat for fish and other wildlife in river systems. Not much help for the dead carp!
    Anyway, those are the thoughts I've come up with. Let me know if you have any other questions or topics you'd like covered!



  3. Thanks for the prompt reply. You have just told me many things i never knew. I actually thought the second break was to stop salt water coming any further up the river. So the fresh water could be used on farms and so forth many years ago. That plus the fact all these carp were packing themselves in like sardines up against the weir appearing to be fighting for any water coming over the weir made me think they were longing for fresh water. Seems strange there was plenty of carp on this side of the river happily feeding whilst all this was happening. Maybe we arent letting enough water through? I know many years ago Ibis used to nest in huge colonies on lake connowarre obviously because of not only habitat but because of available food, i wonder how they are getting along? In fact the whole food chain must be hurting? Makes you wonder if our man made structures are doing far more damage than we realise? Anyway you certainly have me think, thats because you have written such an interesting blog. Keep them coming. Cheers Glenn

  4. Yes Glenn, both breakwaters are designed to keep the salt water from the mouth getting back up river. I think the original one at Breakwater built by Foster Fyans and some convicts in 1840 (correct date in an earlier post, can't remember) wasn't enough to do the job so they built the second lower one to make sure the salt stayed well downstream.
    As far as I can tell just from having seen large numbers of ibis in previous years, they must nest around Reedy Lake and I guess Lake Connewarre too. I don't know what their numbers would have been like prior to European settlement, but certainly the breakwaters have changed the river environment. As I understand from what I've read, the river ecosystem relies on an annual cycle of drying out during the summer months and then being washed by floods over the wetter months and certainly building the breakwaters has interrupted this natural cycle, although to what extent I'm not really sure.
    As for letting enough water down, there are quite a few documents I've seen here and there on the web indicating that neither the Barwon or particularly the Moorabool (which at one time was the most stressed river in the state) receive enough water, however I seem to remember a suggestion that it wasn't quite as bad along the lower reaches of the river, probably because of the combined flow below Geelong of the Barwon, Leigh and Moorabool all combining to help a little.


  5. 30 years ago as a teenage boy i walked half way accross lake connawarre to the Ibis breeding grounds because of my fasinations with birds which i have never grown out of. So nice to read they are still doing well.
    I am not sure what you do for a living but have you ever thought about guided tours? With your wealth of knowledge i am sure they would be both very interesting and popular. Although you probably wouldnt be able to jog. Lol. Book me in for your first tour. Lol. No need to reply Jo. Loved reading about all you know about the river as i am sure many others have. Cheers again. Glenn