19 October, 2014

Turtle tales

A Google search on the topic of turtles in the Barwon River does not prove particularly revealing, however there are definitely turtles to be found. In an earlier post I looked at the Eastern Snake-necked turtle which is found on Native Hut Creek and which is highlighted at the Turtle Bend community facility in Teesdale.

Eastern Snake-necked turtle. Image taken from :
That being said, I am yet to spot an Eastern Snake-necked turtle in the wild and have not found specific mention of them occurring in the Barwon itself. For that matter, after spending quite a bit of time over a years on and around the river, I had never seen a turtle of any description - until this year when I saw two in a matter of a couple of weeks.
The first I spotted whilst paddling from Fyansford down to Breakwater during September. It was sitting on a log sunbaking and was quite happy to sit and watch while I snapped some photos:
Turtle on the Barwon at Fyansford
 It was clearly not an Eastern Snake-necked, so what was it? A little research suggested it was in fact a Murray River turtle (also known as a Macquarie turtle or Murray Short-necked turtle) and a fairly large one at that. So what was it doing in the Barwon? Well, these turtles live happily in captivity and I spotted this guy close to a reasonably populous part of the river. Perhaps it was an escaped pet - a one off.
Murray River turtle on the Barwon at Fyansford

A different view
But then, a couple of weeks later as I was paddling upstream above Merrawarp Road, some eight to nine kilometres from the place I spotted the previous turtle, I came across a second Murray River turtle. Like the first, this one was sunning itself on a branch, however it was smaller than the first and quite shy, disappearing back into the river before I had time to grab more than a couple of shots.
A second Murray River turtle on the Barwon
Another difference was that, this turtle was in a very rural part of the river and between this and the previous turtle is a stretch of river including the two weirs and Buckley Falls.
As with my search for information about Snake-neck turtles in the Barwon, I can find nothing which mentions a population of Murray River turtles being present either. In fact, one of the few references I found to turtles and the Barwon River did not really relate to turtles at all, rather it was a suggestion put forward that one explanation for the bunyip myth may have been a cultural memory of the extinct Meiolania platyceps or Meiolania prisca. The former being a large, horned turtle with a club tail which could measure up to 2.5 metres in length and the latter, a similarly large lizard.

Extinct giant turtle. Image taken from:
 All of which is interesting, however I am still none-the-wiser as to the presence of turtles of any description in the Barwon River.


  1. Hi Jo
    I'm an organiser of the annual Festival of Glass in Drysdale (www.festivalofglass.net.au). We're building a history of glass in the Geelong region and I would be very grateful if you could tell me the source of your information about Button Hill that you wrote about in your post about the Barwon Paper Mill ("From rags to riches or just milling around?") on July 2 2011.
    Best wishes
    Patrick Hughes (dryclift@bigpond.com)

  2. Hi Patrick,
    The source for the mention of Button Hill in the post you mention would from memory have been the Victorian Heritage Database: http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/13153?print=true
    Thanks for your comment!


  3. Have seen long-necked turtles in the Buckley Falls parklands area of the Barwon River. One was trying to climb rocks to head upstream opposite the Old Paper Mill waterfall. The other was just below the rock wall/weir of Buckley Falls and also was trying to climb over rocks to head upstream. About 2 years ago now.

  4. Very interested to hear that Helen! I'll have to look more closely, but knowing my luck, I'll probably find snakes instead!

  5. I used to see snaked necked turtles (some called them tortoise) on the Barwon in the Queens Park environment in the 1960s. My brother actually "adopted" one that was missing an eye and kept it for a pet. A couple of years ago, I spotted the Macquarie turtle that has been mentioned on a log below the Moorabool junction. It was there on and off for about 18 months but haven't spotted it since.

  6. Some have suggested that the Macquarie turtle seen on the Barwon is a noxious red eared slider turtle. The photos seem more Macquarie-like.

  7. Hi Jo,
    I'm in the very early stages of planning some turtle conservation/surveys/nest protection for our western district area (because our various turtles are currently seriously threatened and verging on population collapse!) and wonder if you have any ideas at all of who or where i could look to for information on known populations - lakes, river sections etc - there is scant information in our region! And this is one of the few references i've found to turtles in our area, since they are still seen as 'common' and are utterly overlooked. ANY leads or sightings appreciated, and happy to give more info.
    Eleanor Lang

    1. Hi Eleanor,

      Sorry for the slow reply! I'm not sure who would know about that - perhaps the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority? I do know there is some form of program though Geelong which is trying to eradicate the red-eared slider. I have seen signs for the last few years from Fyansford downstream through Geelong asking people to report sightings. I haven't seen any, although it is a while since I've had the kayak out.
      From memory I've sighted 3 and they have all been (I think) Macquaries. The first was the one pictured above at Fyansford, the second one above would have been about 3-4km downstream of the Merrawarp Rd bridge and from memory I saw another one or two in the same sort of area.
      I haven't seen any which looked like an eastern snake-neck unfortunately.
      Not sure what else I can add, but will comment here if I find anything else.