The Murray-Darling River
The Murray-Darling drainage area is one of the largest in the world and certainly the largest on the continent, draining most of inland Victoria, New South Wales, and southern Queensland.
The Murray-Darling system is one of the least changed things in all of Nature. Its drainage pattern has remained in virtually the same place for millions of years. The river was first explored in 1824 by William H. Hovell and Hamilton H. Hume. It wasn't until five years later, however, that Charles Sturt navigated both rivers enough to determine that they were indeed the same river system.
Paddleboats were being used by this team, and steamers came later, carrying wool, wheat, and other goods up and down the river. Since settlement of the river basin was so late, the invention of the railroad came much sooner in the life of settlement of the river, meaning that the river didn't ever really find itself a booming source of trade.
An irrigation system was introduced in 1887 by Canadian George Chaffey, greatly accelerating the settlement and exploitation of the river at its northern ends.
The river has a high salt content, meaning that it is difficult to use for anything other than irrigation and hydroelectric power. Australian officials are also concerned about overuse of the river's water, which can lead to erosion and overall poor quality. It is estimated that now, only 20 percent of the water in the river basin at any one time actually reaches the ocean, meaning that manmade elements like dams, reservoirs, and pollution are hampering the river's natural flow.
A large amount of species can be found living in the river basin, including emus, koala bears, Western Grey kangaroos, Bearded Dragon lizards, red-rumped parrots, black swans, pelicans, and even dolphins (closer to the ocean). Also plentiful are fish such as the Murray Cod, Bream, Perch, and Redfin.
The plant found most often along the river is the willow, which protects the banks of the river from erosion but also tends to spread out in the soil and take over the surrounding area, choking the growth of other plants.
Graphics courtesy of ArtToday