Up the Mighty Murray! – Episode 4: High on the limestone cliffs



Episode 4       High on the Limestone Cliffs


To Blanchetown in the Murray Valley Football Netball League


Map of the Murray River



To Blanchetown


The journey between Mannum and Overland Corner (east of Morgan) traverses a section of the Mid Murray area of South Australia known as the Murray Gorge, which was formed when the Murray moved through hard limestone rock during periods of low sea level. As the river cut its way down through the limestone, cliffs ‘rose’ in response creating a spectacular riverscape. Marine fossils are abundant in the limestone rock strata and hollows in the cliff formation provide habitat for birds, bats, reptiles and plants.


In episode 4, along the way upriver, we pass Younghusband, Bowhill, Walker Flat, Nildottie, Punyelroo, Swan Reach, Blanchetown and Murbko. Each settlement is known today for its river shacks, which provide accommodation for owners and renters looking for a peaceful getaway beside the Murray. 


In the stretch between Swan Reach and Blanchetown we encounter the majestic cliffs of Big Bend gorge, the site of the biggest single bend and the tallest cliffs along the river’s entire length. At Blanchetown spectacular creamy-coloured limestone cliffs, up to 20 million years old, border the Murray. The lock and weir at Blanchetown was the first one of nine built on the Murray between Lake Victoria and the Murray Mouth. The locks were built over 100 years ago to make the river more navigable for the paddle steamers when the water level was low. Additionally, the locks and weirs, operated by SA Water, facilitate irrigation, river tourism and traffic.


German immigrants from the Barossa Valley settled in the Swan Reach area in 1848. Soon after, pastoralists arrived and the sequence of occupance continued with crop farming in the 1870s. The people of Swan Reach faced a repetitive battle with flooding in the first half of the twentieth century, most notably in 1917, 1931 and 1956. Most of the businesses in the town’s main street were washed away in the big flood of ‘56. 


Recently, in the 2022-23 flood event, many of the river shacks between Mannum and Morgan were inundated and infrastructure was badly damaged. The community, including football clubs in the area, rallied behind the river shack residents before, during and after the floods. Sand bagging and clean-up working bees organised by footy clubs and other community groups have assisted landholders all the way up and down the Murray during the 2022-23 flood emergency. 


The area between Swan Reach and Blanchetown was where the explorer Edward John Eyre occupied his government-appointed role (1841-1844) as Resident Magistrate and Protector of Aborigines based at Moorundie. According to historian Manning Clark, Eyre “mustered the Aborigines at every full moon and handed out blankets and flour”. The locality became the first European ‘township’ on the River Murray in South Australia. Eyre was initially successful in quelling the hostility between the overland stockmen and the local indigenous tribe. However, the original occupants were determined to avenge the wrongdoings of their foes and upon his departure in 1844 armed conflict resumed, with the Aboriginal people suffering badly. 


After Blanchetown our journey on the River Murray takes on a northerly orientation all the way to Morgan, the historic settlement and old river port located on the North West Bend, variously known as ‘Great Bend’ or ‘Great Elbow’. It is here that faulting 3 million years ago started a sequence of geomorphological changes that resulted in the dramatic alteration in the course of the Murray. The Morgan fault uplifted the land to the west blocking the flow of the river, which over time caused the Murray to become impounded in a giant lake, Lake Bungunnia. Later, the ancient Murray cut a path which breached the lake and allowed the river to drain southwards towards Goolwa and the sea. The sudden 90 degree turn in the river at Morgan is the result of those geological events and geomorphological processes.


Morgan is where water is piped above ground from the River Murray to the industrial town of Whyalla and the remote defence facility at Woomera.



A day at the footy in the Murray Valley Football Netball League





This year marks the beginning of a new football-netball entity, the Murray Valley League, born out of the former Riverland Independent League (RIFL- formed in 1972). The RIFL was a second tier competition of the Riverland League. Previously, football in the area was also under the umbrella of the Mid Murray Football League (SA) which folded in 2009.


It is an exciting time for the new league, which brings together football and netball under the one umbrella, creating equality for both sports, and aims to concentrate on supporting the future of the small family-oriented country clubs. The single governance model is one that has the potential to reduce the burden on volunteers, a common element in the demise of football and netball clubs in the country. While junior football and netball are not part of the program at this stage, the league hopes to expand in that direction in coming seasons.


In recent years football in the region has seen major changes with the loss of long standing clubs, including Morgan-Cadell, Cobdolga, East Murray, Lyrup and Moorook-Kingston. In 2023  Murrayville (a Victorian club) enters the seven club MVFL from the Mallee Football League (SA) which collapsed at the end of 2022. Current clubs include Blanchetown-Swan Reach, Browns Well, Murrayville, Paringa, Sedan Cambrai, Ramco, and Wunkar. 


The new league spans the country from the Mid Murray region across to the Riverland, out into the South Australian Mallee and to just across the Victorian border. One of the consequences of the movement of clubs between leagues is the extra travelling distance to get to and from a game of football. For instance, the trip from Murrayville to Cambrai and home again is a whopping 580 km round trip. That is possibly a small price to pay for the continuation of football in the more isolated places like Murrayville.


A current AFL player who comes from the area is Carlton’s Sam Durdin. His local club was East Murray, a former club in the Riverland Independent Football League.


Match of the round: Opening Round and Anzac Medal Game

Blanchetown-Swan Reach v Sedan Cambrai


Saturday 6th May 2023

At Blanchetown Oval



Redbacks        v        Magpies


The merger of old Mid Murray League (SA) rivals Blanchetown and Swan Reach occurred in 1972. Swan Reach is the older of the two clubs having been formed early in the twentieth century and had five flags in their bag prior to merging with their River Murray neighbours. Blanchetown commenced in 1947 and was a powerhouse in the MMFL between 1953 and 1962, winning five premierships. 


Sedan Cambrai merged in 1922 and has an interesting history of football affiliations. Over their journey as a merged football club, Sedan Cambrai (the Magpies) have participated in at least eight different competitions, for a total of eight premierships.


Blanchetown-Swan Reach (BSR) won the 2022 Riverland Independent Football League premiership, defeating Sedan Cambrai by 13 points.


The last time they met: 2022 Grand FinalBlanchetown-Swan Reach 10.7 (67) d. Sedan Cambrai 8.6 (54)


This episode of Up the Mighty Murray! coincides with the opening round of the inaugural season of the  Murray Valley Football Netball League. The grand final rematch between BSR and Sedan Cambrai is also the Anzac Medal Game in the MVFNL.


The match


Weather: 14C Cool with showers

The grand final rematch was a fizzer as a contest. Sedan Cambrai extracted some revenge for their loss in last year’s premiership decider, but the bigger news was the huge  statement they made in the opening round of the new competition.



Footy under way in the MVFNL for 2023
(source: Sedan Cambrai Football Netball Club on Facebook)




Blanchetown-Swan Reach 0.0 0.1 3.3 3.4 (22)


Sedan Cambrai 5.4 12.8 18.10 23.13 (151)


Goal kickers

Blanchetown-Swan Reach: Sparks 2, Webster

Sedan Cambrai: Harding 5, Grieger 5, Grace 3, Thompson 3, S. Kain 2, Le Couteur, Schulze, Atze, Rodriguez-Jamez, J. Kain



Blanchetown-Swan Reach: Horstmann, Webster, Mapstone, Sparks, Bingos, Grieger

Sedan Cambrai: Grieger, Rodriguez-Jamez, Dillon, Harding, Thompson, Schulz, Loffler,


Anzac Day Medal winner: Cameron Thompson from Sedan Cambrai


In the A Grade netball: Sedan Cambrai 44 defeated BSR 23



Around the MVFNL grounds


Murrayville 10.5 (65) enjoyed a successful debut in the MVFNL defeating Browns Well 6.14 (50) at Paruna.

Ramco 6.11 (47) defeated  Wunkar 4.7 (31) at Ramco.


Paringa bye




In the River Murray League the winners were Coorong Cats, Mallee Districts, Jervois and Southern Mallee. It was a great day for the three new clubs in the competition with each having a win.


Further south, in the Great Southern League the winners were Encounter Bay, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Districts, Mount Compass and Myponga-Sellicks.


Social media: connecting footy-netty communities


Football netball clubs and leagues everywhere have jumped on the social media bandwagon taking advantage of information technology to communicate regularly with their players, members, supporters and local communities. Facebook pages provide updates on club news and forthcoming events, photographs, results, marketing by sponsors and opportunities for comments. The modern media method is a far cry from the days when clubs relied on the local paper, the match day program and word of mouth to communicate their news. 



A step back in time …


Not many games of football have been won by a team kicking just two behinds for the entire match. That is what happened in the Mid Murray Football Association (SA) in 1933. 

The Adelaide Advertiser told the amazing story:


Score Forfeited and Match Lost


“On the Blanchetown Oval the Blanchetown football team was defeated by Ramco B’s in unusual circumstances. A few minutes before the final bell the scores were:- Blanchetown 10 goals 13 behinds; Ramco, 1 behind. E. Rohrlach, captain of Ramco demanded a count of players, and it was discovered Blanchetown was playing 19 men. Blanchetown forfeited its score, and was unable to score in the remaining few minutes, while Ramco added one point, the final scores being:- Ramco 2 behinds; Blanchetown, nil.” (The Advertiser 21 June 1933)



Next episode: To Waikerie in the Riverland Football League




Read all episodes of ‘Up The Mighty Murray’ and Peter Clark’s previous series Here.



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  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks once more Pater.

    Murrayville is a long way from the River, despite its name. Murrayville is the home of the Sporns.

    Rick Darling hails from Ramco

  2. Peter Clark says

    Thanks for the sporting snippets ‘Swish’.

    Murrayville seems to belong in the new Murray Valley League.

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