I mentioned the Sale canal in an earlier post and that it links the Port of Sale, now a small boat harbour, to the Thomson River and beyond to the Gippsland Lakes. The Port, the canal and the Swing Bridge were all part of the solution to the challenge of transporting resources out of and bringing supplies in to the area during the late 1800’s when gold was discovered in the area and fine cheese was being made and exported to Europe
There is a twice daily cruise of around two hours by boat down the canal and the Thomson River to the Old Swing Bridge and back and we had waited for some warmer, less windy weather to join the afternoon cruise. The last day of April, a Tuesday, turned out to be such a day and we reported at the dock at 1.45pm where we met Alan, the Captain and owner of the Rubeena, paid the requisite amount and stepped on board the historical boat.
A guard of honour was waiting for us and the navy band struck up as we boarded ………….. actually I made that bit up but that was what it felt like, despite the boat being quite small.
The Rubeena was built in Sydney and was originally licensed on 4 April 1912 (that’s just 11 days before the Titanic sank) and spent most of her working life on the Gippsland Lakes. She has been carefully restored and takes up to 40 passengers, but on our trip there were just 6 others apart from Gerda and myself so we had plenty of room to move about.
The electric motor is a bonus as it makes the cruise a quiet, gentle experience, especially when the weather is as perfect as it was, with a mild breeze hardly stirring the smooth surface of the river as we set off.
Alan was an excellent captain and guide, giving a running commentary on the features we passed and the significance of the canal, particularly how it served the Sale area during the pioneer years. The canal was dug by horse and scoop and was completed by 1890
We were fascinated by the “canoe” trees – old gum trees with visible indentations where the original inhabitants of the area had harvested timber for canoe-building without destroying the tree. According to Alan, some of these trees were 350 to 400 years old and still standing on the banks of the river.
At certain spots he also pointed out the sections of the original river course that were diverted and “straightened” to make it more shipping-friendly
Our turnaround point was reached after just more than an hour of gentle puttering – the Old Swing Bridge, which we were able to study in detail as we passed slowly beneath it, then turned around and retraced our route back.
The bridge is a remarkable example of 19th century engineering with its intricate mechanics which swing it open 180 degrees to allow taller vessels to pass by on either side. It is the oldest intact, operational bridge of its kind in Australia.
I had mentioned my interest in birding to Alan and he kindly made a point of identifying the birds that we spotted along the river, most of which I had already got to know, but happily there were two new birds to add to my growing Australia list –
- Nankeen Night-heron – as the name suggests, these birds are mostly nocturnal but Alan knew where they roosted during the day and pointed them out high up in a tree, warily watching us from behind a veil of feathers, much like a mysterious eastern dancer may do
- Azure Kingfisher – I spotted it first some way upriver whereupon it flew past the boat, landing briefly right next to us before flying further – unfortunately too quick for me to photograph it
(The photo is taken from The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams)
Other birds that we encountered along the way were –
- Australasian Darter
- Great Cormorant
- Eurasian Coot
- Australian Swamphen
- Australian White Ibis
- Dusky Moorhen
- Pacific Black Duck – see the featured image at the top of the post
Two hours had passed and we were sorry it had ended – a really pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon