A little bit of River Murray paddling history

As you would all know the Murray 200, now part of the Riverland Paddling Marathon, has a long and proud history.

The Murray 200 was first run in 1988 and many of the names appearing in the results from that first year are still involved in the event today. Personalities including Blum, Hales and Pope all paddled that first year and that great Australian paddler, Ted Jackson has his name in those first results also.

Over the years the Murray 200 has become well known Australia wide as one of the toughest endurance paddles in the country.

The Hawkesbury and the Murray 400 are undoubtedly tough events. However it is a repeated comment made by people who have paddled all 3 races that the 200 is possibly the toughest event of the three.

Before the Murray 200 started and indeed before we had Marathon Canoe Club, a group of paddlers would go to the River Murray on week-ends and paddle sections of the River or its back waters. Chambers Creek was a typical location where we would paddle as a group, stop occasionally on a nice sand bar, eat some nibbles or have lunch. These were very much social occasions. Some of the people in this group will be known to people in this room tonight. Robyn and Ian Pope, Laurie and Anthea Shem, Ron Bath, Kevin Lockwood, Ted Miciwicz, Ron Blum, and several others, their names long forgotten.

Ron Bath had made a name for himself in the canoeing world by paddling the length of the Mississippi. A film documentary was made of this trip. It was quite remarkable because Ron was a paraplegic. On land he he walked with crutches but on water he wielded a mean paddle. Ron also regularly did the annual Red Cross Murray Marathon, a 400 km race conducted in Victoria.

It didn’t take long for the social paddling group to decide to form a club and so the Marathon Canoe Club of SA was formed largely due to the efforts of Ron Bath. Ron became Chairman and meetings were held in his home at Blair Athol. Trish Liddell (better known these days as Trish Gomer) was Secretary and Race Time keeper.

The newly formed club conducted races on the Murray, Katarapko Creek, Chambers Creek, Murtho Forest to Renmark, Paringa to Berri and many other races mostly on the Murray.

Race weekends, mostly on the Murray, were conducted once a month except January with a race conducted on each day of the weekend. Typically races included Morgan to Blanchetown on the Saturday (44 km) and Blanchetown to Swan Reach (29 km) or to Punyerlroo (36 km). Or perhaps the Katarapko Creek Race (48 km) on the Saturday then Loxton to New Residence (27 km) the following day. Paddling weekends of 70 to 80 km was the norm and so it was in this climate of long distance that the Murray 200 was born.

During the early days, Ron Bath went off on a new marathon adventure called the “Yarrum Challenge” in which he paddled the length of the River Murray going upstream instead of the normal downstream. In case some of you haven’t twigged “Yarrum” in the name of the challenge is “Murray” spelt backwards.

It was not long before “Bathy” (as Ron was affectionately called), was preparing for a new trip. This was called the “European Challenge” in which he planned to paddle the Danube paddling through several countries. And so it was that during a fund raising drive for the challenge that the two Ronnies, Bath and Blum, seeded the idea for South Australia’s own paddling marathon, the Murray 200.

In June 1988 the Murray 200 was conducted for the first time due almost entirely to the efforts of Ron Bath. 46 paddlers in 32 boats started in this inaugural event. We did not have a Murray 100 in this first year instead we offered two short courses, a 66 km and a 40 km course. Only one person paddled the former and eight the 40 km course. What got our race off to a good start was the fact that Ron Bath roped in David Rizolli and Gerry Brayne as Race Starter and Commentator, roles they were accustomed to in the Red Cross Murray Marathon. Their professionalism and wit were a tremendous success which continues to this day.

The following year 1989 was the beginning of the Murray 100 as we know it today and the Relay a year or two later.

Looking at the first Murray 200 we see some familiar names still well known in canoeing today. Ted Jackson (deceased), Robyn & Ian Pope, Rob Wight, Derrick Stevens, Graham Mitchell, Don Gomer, Jim Murphy, John Hales and Ron Blum.

Thanks to Ron Blum for his comments and photos