The Murray River forms much of the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Its meandering course is crisscrossed with interstate links, among them rustic punts and rickety timber bridges.

Story By Genevieve Barlow

The dear old Murray River. Fed by waters from the alps in south-east New South Wales and north-east Victoria, Australia’s longest river gurgles and bellows through mountains to expand into lakes and floodplains before pushing on to South Australia and the Southern Ocean, 2595 kilometres in all. A trip down her entire length to the sea might take weeks, months even, but for a shorter taste, here’s a suggestion.

Start at the river’s uppermost ferry service, at Wymah, upstream of Albury, NSW, and finish at another at Speewa, downstream of Swan Hill, Vic. These are the last publicly operated ferries on the river between Victoria and New South Wales and will bookend your mini-Murray journey nicely. Besides, there are at least 10 chances to crisscross the river back and forth in between.

The Wymah ferry is an understated affair. “For ferry service, please push the button once and wait for the operator’s instructions,” the sign says. Within seconds, a godlike voice crackles: “On me way.” Soon, Australia’s last wooden-hulled public ferry comes bobbing across the water from interstate. For years the river has been so low that, even when in Victoria, the ferry still docked in New South Wales, an oddity owed to the official border being on the high side of the Victorian bank. But there’s no chance of this at the moment, with Lake Hume close to full and a kilometre wide at points.

When former Defence Services employee Mick Fabik and his wife, Debbie, took over the ferry contract in mid-2009, the lake was just nine percent full and the ferry business seemed futile. People could almost walk the crossing. Now the ferry crosses from 6am to 9pm in summer and from 7am to 8pm in winter, ferrying school children to buses, cattle trucks to markets and paddocks, and cyclists, bikies and van-toting tourists to journeys beyond. Last year the ferry carried about 7000 vehicles.

Mick’s mate, fellow ferry driver Allan Boyle, stays in the ferry master’s house a couple of days a week. It’s a modest shack on the rise overlooking the ferry run and he loves it there: the quiet, the birds – swans, darters, egrets and wedge-tailed eagles – and the people. “It’s not a bad office,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #78

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2011