Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published April 25th 2017
The meeting of the waters
Wentworth in outback New South Wales is the junction of Australia's two mighty rivers - the Murray and the Darling. When visiting Wentworth, there are two ways to experience this wonderful natural sight.
One is by visiting Junction Park and seeing the river confluence from the elevated viewing tower. The other is to take a leisurely walk through the Junction Island Nature Reserve - a narrow slip of land that juts out into the spot where the two rivers meet and join.
The Nature Reserve is on the other side of the bridge from Wentworth, going towards Mildura from the town centre. Turn onto the road to the Wentworth Town Hospital and you'll see a path and a footbridge that takes you to the Nature Reserve. Standing on the footbridge puts you in the middle of the Darling and the Murray Rivers - it's quite a unique experience and one that you'll be sure to remember!
The island's Nature Reserve is also a fascinating historical walk. Among all of the native flora and fauna, there are some Aboriginal artefacts that every visitor to Wentworth should take the time to see.
The nature walk is a narrow dirt path - not very long, perhaps a total of only 500 metres or so. Points of interest along the way have signage so that you are able to stop and learn more about what's there.
The trail takes you past several historic and rare 'canoe trees' - huge river red gums that bear the scars of being cut many many years ago. The tree bark was cut by the local Barkindji people to make canoes, shelters, shields and containers. The outline of the carvings can still be clearly seen on more than one tree along the trail.
Canoe trees are particularly prevalent along the length of the River Murray due to the perfect bark of the river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) which grow in plentiful numbers along the river system.
Aborigines would mark an outline of the canoe with cutting stones. They then cut deep into the heart of the tree and peel the bark off in one solid piece.
Once the bark was separated from the tree, the bark slab was laid flat on the ground, where small fires were lit on the inside of the canoe. The sap evaporated and the canoe was then held in place with stretchers, plugged with a mud mixture and rubbed with grease and ochre. These canoes were used more for fishing and river crossing than for long river journeys as they became quite sodden after a short period of use. Great specimens of the canoes made from river red gums can be seen in the Australian Aboriginal Cultures gallery at the South Australian Museum.
The canoe trees in Wentworth are fine living examples. The bonus is that the trees are in a beautifully picturesque spot that's easy to access and is free for everyone to enjoy.
Scarred trees, usually more than 200 years old, are generally not easy to find, which makes Junction Island even more special. Because it's at the end of the carpark and just metres from the beginning of the walking track that leads to the two river junction point, that there is a magnificent canoe tree. There are others further down the track and there's also a shell midden - an Aboriginal gathering place. Look closely and you can see the remnants of meals eaten at this place.
While sitting on the banks of the Murray / Darling junction, famous explorer Charles Sturt wrote: "Magnificent trees droop like willows to the water's edge with evening's mildest radiance in their foliage, throwing a soft haze over the distance..." and his words still ring true to this day.
The Junction Island Nature Reserve in Wentworth is truly a gem of a place to visit in this most beautiful and historic corner of New South Wales.