About the Riverina

Spanning a huge distance in southern NSW, the Riverina region was the original homeland for many large Aboriginal communities that lived on the Hay Plain and around the rivers. These communities include the Wiradjuri, Nari-Nari, Mudi-Mudi, Gurendji and the Yida-Yida, while the Bangerang, Yorta-Yorta, Baraba-Baraba, Wamba-Wamba, Wadi-Wadi and Dadi-Dadi communities were found along the Murray River. It is thought that Aboriginal people have been present in the Murray-Darling Basin for at least 40,000 years.

The rivers of the region were central to the local Aboriginal lifestyles, especially as a source of food. Unlike Europeans that have tended to use major rivers as administrative boundaries, the Aboriginal communities of the Riverina did not view the rivers as boundaries between language groups. Wiradjuri country straddled the Murrumbidgee, Bangerang country lay west from Albury to Moama on both sides of the Murray, and the Narinari occupied the land west of this.

John Oxley first explored the area in 1817, following the Lachlan River downstream southwest of Booligal in the centre of the region. Oxley was followed almost 20 years later by Thomas Mitchell, who arrived at the junction of the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee Rivers in 1836, and by Charles Sturt, who explored the Murrumbidgee and lower Murray in the years between 1828 and 1831.

Graziers followed soon after, establishing pastoral runs near Yanco and on the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers as far west as Hay between 1835 and 1839. In the 1840s, cattle were the primary industry but by the 1860s sheep were the predominant stock.

The river steamer trade was important for the development of communities across the region with many local entrepreneurs realising the business potential. The Riverina region remains as a key link in national transport systems today.

In 1915 the River Murray Waters Agreement allowed 26 weirs to be constructed with locks, providing permanent riverboat access to Echuca in Victoria. When riverboats were no longer used, the primary focus was on the provision of water for irrigation. The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area was established in the Riverina in 1912, created by the diversion of water from the Murrumbidgee near Narrandera.

Construction of several dams followed in the ensuing years, with the Hume Dam built between 1919 and 1931 on the Murray near Albury, Burrinjuck Dam built on the Murrumbidgee in 1928 and Blowering Dam on the Tumut River built in 1968.

The high soil fertility and abundance of water in the Riverina floodplain has made the area highly productive for plant growth. This has influenced land use in the region in the past 150 years with agriculture the traditional staple of the region’s industry. Large tracts of fertile land and a sophisticated irrigation system sustain a large and diverse range of agricultural activity.

Due to its close proximity to major domestic markets and an infrastructure suited to large-scale export, many of Australia’s leading food companies source product from the region. Alongside crops such as rice, maize and canola, the region boasts:

  • over 25 per cent of NSW fruit and vegetable production
  • 90 per cent of NSW citrus products
  • 80 per cent of NSW wine/grape production
  • livestock feedlots, sales and processing facilities
  • almond and walnut production
  • nearly 20 per cent of all NSW crop production and two thirds of its total value.

Forestry is still important in the region and, due to extensive highway and transport links into NSW, Victoria and South Australia, and good roads linking all regional townships, specialist manufacturers continue to make a major contribution to the region’s economic development.

Tourism is also important to the region. National Parks including Lake Mungo and Yanga, championship golf facilities and the opportunity to discover the river on a paddle steamer or houseboat draw many tourists to the area. The many lakes and rivers of the region make the region a paradise for fisherman and water sport enthusiasts.

The region is also home to major educational institutions as well as significant defence facilities.