Updated: Sep 12, 2022
It was while we were around the Wentworth area on the Murray River, that I heard about the Rufus River drive. Now Wentworth itself is choker's with history dating back to 1830 when explorer Charles Sturt and his crew, rowed down the Murray River and reached the junction of the Darling River, where he wrote in his log, ‘a new and beautiful stream apparently coming from the north’.
Sturt was the first white man to encounter local Barkindji Aboriginals along the river and did not welcome the new settlers. It was just six years later that explorer Mitchell travelled down the Darling river to the junction of the two.
This opened the door to an influx of European overlanders who moved sheep and cattle along the Rivers to find better pastoral lands.
Houses were being built from early 1851 but it wasn’t until 1859 that Wentworth was proclaimed, and over the next few years the town boomed from the river traffic, police quarters were built and a solid town emerged. It's reported that in 1895, 495 vessels passed through the customs office at Wentworth.
While being right on the river, Wentworth is officially in NSW and today there’s a strong population in the area plus plenty of tourists year round visiting.
Around town there’s plenty to see and do over several days, like on the river - there’s the 1879 wharf replica that was claimed to be the busiest port in NSW after Sydney and Newcastle, plus heritage listed buildings that line the streets.
A visit to Junction park is a must to see where the Darling and Murray rivers meet, explore the history at Fatherly Park with old implements, the Paddle Steamer - Ruby, and McClymont House which was Wentworth’s first court house built in 1863.
There’s also Sturt’s tree, the monument to the Fergie tractor, where back in 1956 nearly 40 Fergie’s worked day and night building a levee bank around town when it was threatened by the worst floods at the time.
Along the Murray there’s a series of locks, and in Wentworth the historic lock number 10 and weir is always good visit. It was built to maintain and control water levels, plus there’s a fishway to allow fish to move freely past the weir.
A must do while in town is spend time at the Old Wentworth Gaol and pioneer museum. The gaol dates back to 1879 and is pretty unique with 45cm thick walls, lookout towers, shackles set into a boulder in the full sun, stretching rack, whipping stoops and so much more.
The gaol was built for very serious offenders at the time with only 10 male and 2 female cells, where over a million bricks were used. Across the road at the museum, there’s nearly 3000 items on display from river boat history, extinct megafauna fossil remnants from plus folk and pioneer memorabilia.
We started the Rufus River Run from the northern side of town along Renmark Road. It was 4km out of town where we found the turn off to the stunning 40 000 year old Perry Sandhills.
The remarkable dunes and surrounding landscape have uncovered an array of bones from megafauna animals including Kangaroos, emus, wombats and giant goannas. Most of these dunes are over 6 m high and over time the sand has covered many large gums.
There’s been evidence of early Aboriginal occupation both here and at nearby lakes. Today, both kids and adults use the dunes as big sand slides going down them on anything flat and smooth.
Heading back along Renmark road for another 20km, Rufus River Road swings off to the left and straight onto dirt. We found the road in pretty good nick when we drove the whole 170km through to Renmark in SA. Along the way there’s several free camps beside the river and information regarding the Australian Rangelands as you pass through Moorna Station.
The Rangelands are defined as a mix of drylands and wetlands where businesses harvest either plant or animal, there’s mine resources or they provide recreational areas. This contributes to over 150 billion dollars annually to Australia's economy and covers nearly 80% of our mainland.
Continuing on through the station roads we closely followed tributaries of the Murray until Lake Victoria. Traditionally known as Tar-Ru the lake has been home to the local Aboriginal Maraura people for over 45,000 years.
Around 10,000 years ago the flow from the Murray slowed leaving a smaller lake. When explorer Sturt ( in 1830 ) arrived here, it disrupted the life of the Maraura people, when herds of sheep and cattle were being moved through the area. Exotic diseases spread through the area then in 1841 a disastrous conflict occurred when nearly 40 locals were massacred, they were no match for the white man guns, this was to be known as the Rufus River Massacre.
In 1919 the natural lake was doubled in size to hold a massive 680 gigalitres with nearly 55km of new levee banks being constructed. With this came changes in the landscape with the rivers being re-routed, existing shorelines died off and there were changes in erosion and sediment patterns.
Push the clock forward to 1994 when the lake was lowered for maintenance, delicate and significant Aboriginal human remains and artefacts were found. Areas uncovered also featured camp sites, stone tools, shell middens, cooking hearths and a large burial ground. Over the following years Elders and archaeologists surveyed and put protection orders in place over these significant areas.
Today the lake is like a holding source for the river downstream where the Murray - Darling basin commission control the flow of water depending on the flow and demand. Rufus River was named by Charles Sturt in honour of his red haired friend George McLeahy.
Today the lake has an impressive viewing point and info boards explain in depth the prehistoric, Aboriginal and other significant history. There’s also a free camp beside the lakes lookout with toilets, fire places and free showers.
The Rufus River Road continues for another 30km before it re-joins back onto the Renmark Road then into SA, passing the official border marker and obligatory state sign.
There are bins here to throw out any fresh fruit and veggies that are illegal to take across the border into SA that maybe carrying fruit fly, which causes detrimental damage to the valuable crops in the area.
Funnily enough, once you cross the border grid the road name changes to the Wentworth/Renmark Road. We were really surprised to see such wide sandy roads throughout the trip, some that were close to outback desert roads.
It’s another 55km until the outskirts of Renmark, with roadside fruit and vegetables stalls, and also holds a stack of history with more free camping along the banks off the Murray. Renmark dates back to 1830 when Charles Sturt rowed down the Murray River but inhabited by the local Naralte Aboriginal for many years before hand.
Local meaning of Renmark means Red Mud, presumably by the rich red sands that surround the area and the red cliffs along the Murray River.
Today the town is a known for tourism, a major service town for the area and being the oldest irrigation settlement in Australia. Renmark is surrounded by a host of horticultural crops including grapes, citrus, olives and seasonal veggies.
On display around town, there’s the Argo Barge that was recognised as the largest barge to grace the waters of the Murray, carrying at times up to 200 tonnes of freight. It worked on the river till 1942 but then put to work to help pump water for new channels for irrigation.
Then there’s the PS Industry that was built in 1911 and spent its working life removing snags off the river with the odd rescue when other steamers sunk, there's also other steamers on the river for tourist rides and private functions.
The beautiful Renmark Hotel was once known for having the finest accomodation in the state and serving the finest meals. When the Renmark hotel opened it became famous for two reasons; by putting a reported 13 sly grog shops at the time out of business when Renmark was ‘supposed’ to be a dry town and by becoming the first community hotel in the British Empire. This was definatly the place to go !!
The Rufus River drive from Wentworth to Renmark is a great alternative when in the area, to spend time exploring. There’s plenty of river, pioneer and aboriginal history to delve into along the way. I promise you won't be disappointed. #woolgoolgaoffroad
The Rufus River Run is between Wentworth in far western NSW across to Renmark in SA. Covering a total of 170km, it can be done as quick as you like or by taking time to explore the areas history.
WHAT TO SEE
Plenty of both Australian history and stunning landscapes along the way. The main feature is the river system that connects each town. There’s plenty of steamers ( both paddle and barges ), explorer relics, significant Aboriginal artefacts and history. Explore the heritage buildings in both towns plus be amazed at Lake Victoria with the shear size and ancient indigenous stories around the Lake.
WHERE TO STAY
The Murray River is known for the multitude of free camps along the rivers length. If you're not setup for free camping there’s caravan parks in both Wentworth and Renmark.
OTHER INFO AND MAPS
Most good GPS’s will show the drive as well as google maps. Telstra phone signal was strong all the way between the two towns. Check road conditions via the Wentworth shire website or SA road conditions if there’s been any significant rainfall. Tourist info can either be found online or at the Renmark info centre in the heart of town ( ph 1300 661 704 ) or at Wentworth in Darling Street ( ph 03 5027 5080 )