and billabongs characterise the
riverlands near Barham
Koondrook (including Gunbower Island and
Quiet service town on the Murray River
Koondrook and its twin town Barham sit on
opposing sides of the Murray River and the state
border (combined population 1217), 289 km
north-west of Melbourne via Bendigo and Echuca.
It is an attractive town surrounded by rich
river flats and picturesque red sand hills.
Timber, dairying and citrus fruit are the main
produce of the immediate area. Irrigation is
supplied by the Murray River which is, not
surprisingly, an excellent spot to dangle a line
for Murray cod, golden perch, carp, silver fish,
catfish and yabbies.
Prior to European settlement the area is
thought to have been occupied by the Wemba-Wemba
Aborigines. In 1843 Edward Green acquired the
lease of an unoccupied land grant of 114 656
acres. He named the station 'Barham' after his
wife's maiden name. The following year Archibald
Campbell settled on 'Gannawarra' station which
covered 103 680 acres on the southern side of
the Murray between present-day Koondrook and
Victorian selectors began to occupy land on
the southern bank of the Murray, around
Koondrook and Murrabit, at the end of the
Victorian goldrush. The first church services
were held at Koondrook in 1878 on land reserved
for the first school which opened in 1880, as
did the Koondrook Hotel.
The township benefited from the fact that it
was adjacent red-gum forests as the timber was
in demand for railway sleepers. It was also used
in the construction of six barges and seven
paddleboats at Koondrook between 1881 and 1923.
A wharf was built in 1882.
A sign of Koondrook's growing solidity as a
town was the construction of an Anglican church
in 1884. Trade was further advanced when a
tramway was established in 1888-89 to link
Koondrook with the railhead at Kerang. A Baptist
church was built in 1889 and Arbuthnot Sawmill
opened in 1890 (it is still operating).
Local agriculture was aided by the
construction of an irrigation pump site by the
river in 1890. The first creamery opened in the
area in 1892 and was transferred to the site of
the present Koondrook butter factory at the
corner of View and Penglase Sts in 1906 (it also
manufactured soft drinks and ice).
In 1904 road traffic was enhanced by the
construction of a lift bridge with a central
section that was raised to allow paddlesteamers
to pass through on the way back and forth to
Echuca. It is one of the oldest surviving
bridges on the river.
The Barham-Koondrook Show is held on the
third Saturday in October. The largest country
market in the region is held at Gonn Ave in
Murrabit (24 km north-west along the Murrabit
Rd) on the first Saturday of every month.
Things to see:
The Barham-Koondrook Visitor Information Centre
is located at 25 Murray St, Barham, tel: (03)
5453 3100. It can provide brochures outlining
historic walks around Koondrook.
The bridge which connects Barham and Koondrook
is one of the oldest surviving bridges on the
Murray River. Built in 1904, it is a lift bridge
with a central section which was raised to allow
paddlesteamers to pass through on the way back
and forth to Echuca. Until it was motorised in
1997 it was operated by a system of weights
worked by two men turning wheels. It is still
Follow the course of the river along Murray
Parade. To the left, on the water's edge, is the
town's pumping station. Just past it, and
scenically situated in a riverbend, is Koondrook
School (1880). On the other side of Murray
Parade is the old water tower (1919).
Punt Road and Arbuthnot Sawmill
Beyond the school, Murray Parade becomes Punt
Rd. The name related to the fact that a punt
operated here from 1884 to 1904. It can still be
seen at low tide, along with several wrecks. It
was also here that barges and paddleboats were
constructed between 1881 and 1923. They were
launched on a log slipway.
On the river side of Punt Rd is the Arbuthnot
sawmill, built in 1890 for Alexander Arbuthnot
who moved here from Gunbower Island.
Miraculously, it is still operating. A walkway
has been constructed over the complex and guided
tours are conducted for a fee with discounts for
group bookings, tel: (03) 5453 2401. Adjacent
to, and associated with, the sawmill is River
Red Gum Furniture, tel: (03) 5453 3339.
Punt Road and Museum
Starting from the corner of Punt Rd and
Arbuthnot St are a series of historic shops - a
butcher's (1904), a grocery store owned by the
sawmill, and the Arbuthnot Mill office (1889).
Adjacent the shops is a schoolhouse which was
shifted from Myall (west of Koondrook) for the
usage of the local historical society. They have
a display of local artefacts and are open on
Wednesdays or by appointment, tel: (03) 5453
Next door to the schoolhouse, at Punt Rd and
Station St, is the Baptist Church, built in 1889
and moved to this site in 1910 when it was
On the other side of the road is a
weighbridge associated with the old tramway. The
tracks can still be seen behind it although the
service was shut down in 1978.
At the Punt Rd and Station St corner the tramway
bifurcates. One track runs along the middle of
Main St which heads off to the right. The other
follows the river to the goods shed which was
built in 1890 for the storage of wool and other
wares. The tramway office was located at its
west end. A wharf was built on the riverbank
here in 1882. It was removed in the 1950s. The
pit in front of the shed once held the train
turntable which was built in 1904 to reverse the
tram engines for the return journey to Kerang.
Now return to and follow the other portion of
the track along Main St. The old log buggy was,
for many years, hauled by bullocks from the
forests to the Arbuthnot Sawmill. The Koondrook
Tramway Station in the middle of the road was
not built until 1913 although the rail line
opened in 1889. The track carried produce and
passengers between Koondrook and the railhead at
Kerang. It closed in 1978. Adjacent the station
is the 'Coffee Pot', a replica of the last
light-rail steam engine.
St Paul's Anglican Church, opposite the station,
was opened in 1884. On the other side of the
road, at the Keene St corner, is the Koondrook
Hotel which was rebuilt in 1915 after a fire
destroyed the original 1880 building. On the
same side of the road, a little further on, is
St Pauls Shop which was originally the town's
first post office.
Turn left into Maunder St then right into
Gunbower Parade which follows the course of
Gunbower Creek, an anabranch of the Murray
River. On the other side of the waterway is
Gunbower Island, a section of land sandwiched
between the creek and the main branch of the
Murray River. 50 km long, it is reputedly
Australia's largest inland island, extending
from Koondrook to Torrumbarry Weir. The island
is characterised by swamps, enormous river red
gums and, on the higher ground, box forest. The
beautiful red gums make excellent timber and
have been milled since the 1870s.
Gunbower supports a diversity of native
animals (including kangaroos, emus, goannas,
possums and snakes) and 160 bird species. Still
entirely in its natural state it is ideal for
bushwalking, bushcamping, bird watching and
A short distance along Gunbower Parade is
Condidorio's Bridge which was built in 1906 to
provide access to the island. It is a pedestrian
bridge only, although there are plans to build a
sturdier replica which will carry vehicles.
At the moment, the local access point is Twin
Bridges. Head out of Koondrook along Main St
(the road to Kerang) and turn left at the
outskirts of town onto the Koondrook Weir Rd
which leads over the bridge and onto the island.
Signposts indicate the route to the canoe trail.
Within the forest are many dirt tracks which
are only navigable by 4WD when wet. Roads to and
on the island are detailed in a map which can be
purchased from the Cohuna office of the
Department of Natural Resources and Environment
(tel: 03 5456 2266) or from the main Melbourne
office. You can also obtain brochures outlining
the Gunbower Island Canoe Trail (5 km return).
Wetlander Cruises, 8 km south-west of Barham,
on the road between Koondrook and Cohuna, offer
cruises every day on the Gunbower Creek, tel:
(03) 5453 3000.
Bradys Burls Red Gum Craft (tel: 03 5453 2945)
and The Red Gum Refinery (tel: 03 5453 3211)
have adjacent premises at 5-7 Grigg Rd. Both
make interesting furniture out of their chosen
material. A 'burl' is a growth on the red gum
which Mr Brady cuts off and converts into usable