Up the Mighty Murray! – Episode 18: By the time we get to Howlong





Episode 18          By the time we get to Howlong



Map of the Murray River



At Howlong in the Hume League


We cruise on upstream, passing Cobram-Barooga, Tocumwal, Yarrawonga and Corowa on our way to Howlong. Episode 18 is set around the riverside town of Howlong, home of the Spiders, who play in the Hume Football Netball League. Next week, in episode 19,  we will turn and head back to Yarrawonga on the shores of Lake Mulwala when our attention switches to the Ovens and Murray League.


“Bloody snag!!” is a familiar cry of the frustrated angler. To their prey, Murray Cod in particular, nothing could be finer than an old river red gum lying semi submerged in the water. Snags provide ideal habitat for the fish and with enough branches protruding above the water may scare some of the hopeful anglers away. In the Howlong to Albury stretch of the Murray snags are prolific, particularly in the many anabranches that take off from and re-enter the main channel there.



Snag: fish habitat or river obstruction?



Snags cause problems for river boat folk as well, so much so that desnagging programs along rivers like the Murray once occupied much time, effort and expense. The old paddle steamer captains knew of the most risky locations, recorded on river charts and in their memories, but it was thought better to be rid of as many as possible to avoid being holed and sunk like the PS Gem was in 1948. Desnagging of the river was pursued fervently in the paddle steamer era, particularly in South Australia.


Since the 1990s, the process has been reversed as it has become clear that snags play an important role in creating riverine habitat. Authorities who manage the rivers are resnagging sections of the Murray, to restore that essential native fish habitat and the natural protection for the river banks provided free of charge by the riparian vegetation, particularly river red gums.


Re-snagging works, under the Living Murray program, have centred on the Lower Murray in South Australia, in the Sunraysia near Red Cliffs and in the upper sections of the river in a 194km stretch between Lake Hume and Lake Mulwala. Results from monitoring of the latter re-snagging project indicate that native fish, Murray Cod, Trout Cod and Golden Perch especially, have migrated into the resnagged habitat areas from other sections of the river and native fish populations have also increased, indicating an increased carrying capacity of the resnagged areas.


Howlong is one of those places you pass through on your way to someone else. Although it certainly has some charm and enough appeal to stop for a while and discover an interesting history. The first European to pass through the Howlong area was NSW Surveyor General Sir Thomas Mitchell on his return from the Australia Felix exploration. He camped near the site of the present day settlement before crossing the Murray on his way back to Sydney in 1836. Next came Joseph Hawdon and Charles Bonney who set off from Howlong in 1838 with 340 head of cattle to undertake the first overland cattle drive from NSW to South Australia. The river crossing used by Hawdon and Bonney was the same one used by the first overland mail delivery from Port Phillip (Melbourne) to Sydney, also in 1838. Bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang used the natural crossing places near Howlong and Wahgunyah to get their stolen cattle and horses across the river. Kelly crossed the Murray near Howlong on his daring ride to Jerilderie in 1879.


Motorists pass through Howlong on the Riverina Highway between Albury and Corowa, while northward and southern bound travellers cross the river at the town. To the north entry is gained to the territory of the Hume Football League, to the south the North East Victorian wine region centered on Rutherglen. The question from the backseat, ‘how long to Howlong?” would not surprise any driver travelling along those routes.


Alternative rock band ‘Spiderbait’, from Finley, wrote about Riverina and Victorian travels in their 1999 song ‘By the Time I Get to Howlong’. Other places mentioned in the song are Lockhart, Coleambally, West Wyalong, Bright and Shepparton. 


The name Howlong is derived from the name of a local squatter’s run, ‘Oolong’, which is believed to be the Wiradjuri people’s name for a haunt of native companions, namely Brolgas. Other sources say the name may mean “where the plains begin”. Either way, both are true of Howlong – brolgas do frequent the area and the Riverine Plains meet the South West Slopes there.



A day at the footy in the Hume Football Netball League








Howlong v Billabong Crows

Saturday 12 August 2023

at Howlong




               Spiders               v                Billabong Crows



The Hume League was formed in 1933 replacing the Hume Football Association, which ran between (1922-26) and the Central Hume Association (1928-34). Two other leagues, the Albury and District FA (1930-57) and the Riverina Mainline FA (1922 ), also share a history with the Hume League.


Howlong formed a football club in 1898. The club participated in the Ovens and Murray FA (1903-14,1919), the Rutherglen and District FA (1911) before joining the Chiltern and District League where it competed between 1915-16  and 1920 – 1952. In 1953 the Spiders joined the Hume League where they have remained for 70 years. Howlong, the Mighty River Men, have won 11 premierships over the course of their history: 1911 (R&DFA); 1915, 1936, 1938, 1938 (C&DFL); and 1954, 1971, 1977, 1997, 2002 and 2010 (HFNL). The 1954 season was a highlight for Howlong when the club were undefeated premiers. One former Howlong footballer who played in the AFL was Anthony Miles (88 games – GWS, Richmond, Gold Coast). 


In 2022 the football and netball clubs at Howlong officially merged, following the model adopted by most clubs in the Riverina, country Victoria and South Australia. A highlight of the HFN club calendar is ‘Odd Socks Day”, when the footballers and netballers wear one club sock and one odd sock. The initiative, which commenced in 2012, is designed to increase community awareness surrounding depression. The annual event raises money for Headspace Albury Wodonga. With new facilities and a gym at the Howlong Recreation Ground, the club is going from strength to strength.


Howlong football ground
(source: federationcouncil.nsw.gov.au)


The Billabong Crows are a football club resulting from the 2004 merger of Urana (the ‘Spiders’) and Oaklands (the ‘Hawks’) originally from the Coreen and District Football League and its precursors. When the CFL folded after the 2007 season the Billabong Crows joined the Hume League. Oaklands won five senior premierships in the C&DFL (1935, 56, 71, 81, 89). Urana-Cullivel won six flags in the period between 1952 and 1972, while the single entity Urana club (like Howlong, formed in 1898) experienced 40 fruitless seasons in the league. A former Urana footballer who played VFL football was Max Urquhart (92 games for Collingwood in the 1960s).


In 2022 the Crows attracted Dane Swan for a one match cameo against CDHBU. With the aid of the former Collingwood champion, the Crows enjoyed a two point win over their Hume League neighbours and fierce rivals.


The Hume Football League was formed in 1933 when three clubs from the Central Hume Football Association – Jindera, Gerogery and Lavington – found the travelling too much of a burden, and with the Albury based Border United, formed a new four club competition. Two years later the CHFA disbanded and its constituent clubs were admitted to the HFL. Netball came on the scene in 1947 with the formation of the Hume Netball Association. In 2017 the Hume Football League and the Hume Netball Association merged to form the HFNL, proudly identified as the ‘Family League’.


Since 1972 all finals have been played at Walbundrie, a remarkable accolade for a place with a population of only 190. The showground’s capacity to comfortably cater for crowds of 7000 and the central location of the town make Walbundrie an ideal venue for finals. The most successful clubs in the league history have been Osborne and Walla, both having won 15 premierships. 


Two current AFL players from the Hume League are Jeremy Finlayson (Culcairn/Port Adelaide) and Nick Murray (Henty/Adelaide Crows).


The league has seen a series of mergers in recent decades, with clubs choosing to join with neighbours rather than disband completely: Urana and Oaklands merged in 2005; Brockelsby and Burrumbuttock joined forces in 2006; Coreen, Daysdale, Hopefield, Buraja formed a united outfit the same year; while more recently, Rand, Walbundrie and Walla came together as the RWW Giants in 2016.




The round 16 clash between Howlong and the Billabong Crows should be a straightforward assignment for the home team and help the Spiders cement their place in the top six. The last time the two sides met, in round five 2023, Howlong 15.8 (98) defeated the Billabong Crows 6.9 (45) at Urana.


The match


It was neck and neck in the first half before the Spiders put the pedal down and motored away to victory. A seven goal to two final quarter gave the home crowd plenty to cheer and ensured that Howlong will make the finals which commence in three week’s time. Co-coaches David Miles and Matt McDonald believe the Spiders are on the right track in both the short and the long term. Howlong’s numbers are healthy and the juniors are performing really well. With a 9-6 record, and having pushed ladder leaders Osborne on both occasions this season, they are optimistic about September.




Howlong 1.2 2.4 4.5 11.5 (71)

Billabong Crows 1.1 2.4 2.5 4.5 (29)


Goals – Howlong: Hobbs 6, Newnham 2, Cook, Wilson, McFarlane


Billabong Crows: Healy, Tieman, Austin, O’Riordan


Best – Howlong: Caleb Hobbs, Dylan Cook, Charlie Hamilton, Todd McNamara, Brendan Moore, Matthew Wilson


Billabong Crows: George Sandral, Rhys Healy, Max Tieman, Charles Sandral, Joey Kenna, Damien Dore


The Sandrals playing for the Billabong Crows, George, previously Thirds coach at Corowa-Rutherglen and his brother Charlie are relatives of former Corowa, Rennie and Ovens and Murray League legend Jim Sandral and his son Dennis Sandral.


Around the Hume League grounds


Osborne 20.12 (132) defeated Jindera 7.10 (52)

Culcairn 11.14 (80) defeated Lockhart 11.7 (73)

Rand-Walbundrie-Walla 9.13 (67) defeated Henty 4.5 (29)

Holbrook 11.14 (80) defeated Brock-Burrum 6.6 (42)

CDHBU 33.18 (216) defeated Murray Magpies 4.0 (24)


Anyone for golf at Howlong?


(source: howlonggolf.com.au/)


The Howlong Golf Course is not as well known as Corowa or Yarrawonga, but is a delightful and picturesque course set beside the Murray River. Howlong Golf Resort is host to the popular Murray Masters golf tournament. You can’t miss it as you drive through Howlong on the Riverina Highway. Have any Almanackers played golf at Howlong?


Next episode: back to Yarrawonga in the Ovens and Murray League.


All photos by the author unless otherwise acknowledged.


  1. Great work again Peter.
    The Murray river and its anabranches are not to be taken lightly.
    Currents are fast, water is cold and as you point out hidden snags can be dangerous.
    However it’s so refreshing in the middle of summer to swim in it when temperatures reach over 40C

    Didn’t Adam Schneider play from Osborne and Justin Koschitze came from Brocklesby?

    Are there any other teams called Spiders besides the ones mentioned and the mighty Corowa?

  2. Sheffield Rocket says

    Another ripper piece Peter.

    The Hume League truly is a family league with all levels of football and netball played on the one day.
    Even the Older Gals have a division!
    The league fully embarced the old Coreen league when it folded in 2007 and admitted all their clubs.
    Only Rennie didn’t stay – moving to the neighbouring Picola league.

    I wonder what explains how Howlong, Urana and Corowa (until the merger with Rutherglen in 1979) all wore red and black and were called the Spiders… only clubs I know that were called Spiders?

    Great to read about Sandrals still playing local footy in the area.
    Dennis Sandral is the best and toughest defender I’ve seen play in country football.
    He was the lynchpin of NSW’s historic defeat of the VFA in Albury in 1987.

    And, of course, the O’Hallorans are a big family name at Howlong.

  3. Good stuff Peter.

    As a kid I recall we’d drive from the grandparents in Corowa over to visit the ‘rellys’ in Albury. There was the structure of an old flour mill, or something similar on the river side of the road. It was a dilapidated,red brick structure like a kid would imagine a haunted house. It scared the living daylights out of me for many years.

    Schneider, Koschitze, descendants from the big German community that existed in that part of New South Wales. If you head a bit further up, back on the Hume, you’d get to the old Germantown known since 1915 as Holbrook.

    There was also a small German community just across the river on the Victorian side near Barnawatha. One very well known family from this community were the Baumgartens who were linked with Ned Kelly and associates in the filed of horse stealing.

    It’s been a few years since I recall a Sandral name in a Corowa team; even longer for a Tobias. There’s talk of Corowa returning to the O&M league in 2024 but as the Kangaroos, not the Spiders. We’ll see.

    Keep up the good work Peter.


  4. Peter Clark says

    Thanks for the comments John, Rod and Glen!

    John, yes Adam Schneider played for Osborne and Justin Koschitzke was from Brocklesby.

    I guess kayakers on the Murray have to look out for snags as well.

    As Sheffield Rocket notes, the ‘Spiders’ were nicknames of Corowa and Urana before they merged with Rutherglen and Oaklands respectively.

    Your question is a good one Rocket. There is certainly a cluster of Spiders in that part of the southern Riverina.
    Maybe the clubs followed one another is adopting the name. Jeparit in the Wimmera were also Spiders.

    Another mascot that is well represented in the Riverina, NE Victoria and the G/Valley is the ‘Grasshoppers’ or simply ‘Hoppers’ – Rennie, North Albury, Coolamon, Moyhu, Yarroweyah, Murchison, Tullibigeal etc.

    Glen!, I remember that old building by the road also. There is talk of a return for Corowa-Rutherglen to the O&M in 2024. More on that in episode 20.

  5. Sheffield Rocket says

    Thanks Peter,

    In addition to Walbundrie being on the junction of all roads to all parts of the Hume league, another reason all the finals are played there is because the league paid for an industrial kitchen to be insalled so the clubs doing the catering on a rotational basis do not have to bring in equipment just the food and grog.

    The Hume grand final is the district’s major social event – there are no race meetings in the district – and the agricultural shows have dropped off with the Henty Field Days a major event for the farmers.

    Maybe down to the Lutheran influence…

  6. Thanks again, Peter.
    Fascinating history.

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