French Visit

The French discover the Lower Lakes and Coorong

12 November 2009

It's been 207 years since the French explorer Nicolas Baudin met English explorer Matthew Flinders in Encounter Bay near the Murray Mouth. The region was named the Fleurieu Peninsula by Baudin. The two explorers Baudin and Flinders are said to have shared maps and information while exploring the South Australian coastline, although neither one actually ever found the Murray Mouth. LakesNeedWater recently had the opportunity to share our maps and information with a French TV crew.  Deja vu?

As a direct result of our website reaching the world, members from LakesNeedWater were asked by a major European television organisation to assist a French film crew here in South Australia.  The television crew were here for a first hand look at the devastation in the lower Murray River, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

They were following up on a previous trip down under in January 2009. On that occasion they visited Victoria’s ailing Wimmera River region and the Victorian section of the River Murray at Bottle Bend above Mildura. They are completing a 90 minute special on the demise of these systems, the reasons behind the crisis, and for any possible links to climate change. 

Ken Jury, spokesperson for LakesNeedWater said, “It was a pleasure to correspond almost daily with the journalist/producer from Paris when decisions were required as to where the team should film and who should have a role with interviews.”

"They were only in the state for five days so time was at a premium,” Jury said. 

The choice of a safe and fast mode of transportation was crucial to investigating the most ravaged areas of the lakes. Most of the dry lake beds and remaining wetlands, laced with acid are beyond the capacity of 4 wheel drive vehicles. For this reason, the French took up a recommendation to use an Adelaide based hovercraft on Lake Alexandrina where they were able to reach several highly acidified locations to be studied and filmed. 

With fillets prepared, everyone adjourned into Garry’s one room fisherman’s shack where the catch was cooked and served on a dinner plate to all. A coffee to round off and the journey continued. 

The French team will have lasting memories, and no less are my memories of how captivating the upper Coorong can be for its visitors.

At nine on the following morning the film crew met with a representative from the Department of Water, Land & Biodiversity Conservation to be escorted onto the temporary Clayton regulator.

The controversial 250,000 tonne earthen structure, spanning the river between Clayton Bay and Hindmarsh Island was built to contain water in the downstream Goolwa Channel and to control acid in the Currency Creek and Finniss River tributaries of Lake Alexandrina.

Three huge pumps sit atop the regulator to shift 530 mega litres of Lake Alexandrina water into the Goolwa Channel every day. The pumps will stop when 27.5 gigalitres have been pumped into the channel.

French tv interviews Ken Jury 

at the Clayton Regulator

During the interview with the French reporter, Richard Brown from the department said that four to five centimetres of water would be pumped from the top of Lake Alexandrina during the exercise.

“Previous modelling showed that the Goolwa Channel would have been naturally cut off from the lake this summer due to evaporation,” Brown said.

The Goolwa channel level below the regulator has risen by about 1.6 metres in recent weeks.

Much is the pity that water levels in the lower River Murray are not increasing. Having next journeyed to Sturt reserve near Murray Bridge, it soon became apparent to the French team that low river levels were causing real concern for holiday home owners. 

Travel by hovercraft to reach the hard to access locations on Lake Alexandrina

The crew interviewed Garry Hera-Singh of Meningie at his commercial fishing patch in the Coorong south of Tauwichere barrage. The dramatic contrast from the elevated position near the barrage looking down at the pristine blue waters of the Coorong on one side, while on the other, a highly acidified orange coloured, putrid, sometimes dry lake bed, was to say the least, striking.  It made an impression on the French.

Slumping riverbank below Lock 1

photo by Geraldine Cox

Vivienne Gentile from Adelaide kindly agreed to travel to her river frontage to speak with the film crew. Her home is one of fifteen in a row in this area to be affected by a cracked riverbank.  Authorities have issued notices to vacate due to a serious threat of property collapse into the river.


In between interviews Garry soon produced an unforgettable picture of the Coorong and what it stands for, by catching a few Coorong mullet. These were deftly filleted.  By now we realised that this was an integral part of the Garry show, because what happened next is what he enjoys as a commercial fisher, every day of his life.


That willow used to be on the riverbank

photo by Geraldine Cox

Further downstream near Long Island Marina, the story becomes more dramatic. Large chunks of the river bank have toppled into the river only to destroy houseboat moorings and several cars that were parked nearby. Only one vehicle has since been retrieved. The French team extend their thanks to the Hall family at Long Island for their assistance with a vessel during filming.

As an indication of the severity of water levels along the River Murray, on the upside of the Blanchetown Lock, the water level is near 3.6 metres above sea level. On the down-river side of the same structure, the freshwater level is at a very low 0 .62 metres below sea level.

This is causing ‘slumping’ of the dried out river banks where deeper water occurs. Huge sections of riverbank that have been supporting trees, buildings and other heavy objects are either toppling into the river or are on the brink of doing so.

Before departing Australia, our guests from France were to meet with several political and local government representatives on issues of water and drought.

It was quite apparent that these stories gathered from the lower Murray River, Lower Lakes and Coorong will provide a clear picture of the catastrophic environmental event unfolding in Australia. The ninety minute special will initially be screened to an estimated 50 million audience in France, before possibly extending into Europe.

In the spirit of sharing information, maps and facts, we hope we have done Baudin and Flinders proud.

Literally dozens of pelicans seemed to immediately materialise from nowhere. They moved in close to the filleting table for the inevitable morsels while nearby, Garry’s fishing boat gently tugged at its moorings in a slight breeze while the sound of these majestic birds endured. 

“This was picture book viewing at its best and the cameraman new it,” Ken Jury said. 

Map of the places explored by the French tv crew in South Australia