The Murray River, Lakes and Coorong region preserves a rich and varied past and upholds an exciting vision for present day creatives that’s turning heads and providing inspiration.
Art, culture and history is heavily embedded through our countryside, and there’s plenty of unique ways to experience it all on your next visit.
From walking trails to museums and art galleries, large-scale public art and other thought-provoking attractions, there’s so much to experience. You’ll be easily intrigued by the beginnings of our thriving paddle steamer, river and rail trade history, monuments, historical sites and irreplaceable artefacts from pioneers, pastoralists and local Ngarrindjeri people, and the vibrant contemporary art sculptures and murals.
Uncover our culturally significant region by checking out the free (or low cost) public art and history experiences below.
An hour’s drive along the South Eastern Freeway will land you in Mannum, a small yet bustling riverside town famous for being the birthplace of the Murray River paddle steamer and the first steam car in Australia.
The Mannum Dock Museum makes for the ideal first stop on arrival. Inside and outside is chock-full of river and Aboriginal history, interactive displays and historic artefacts, photographs and replicas that can be enjoyed by all ages.
There’s an art gallery and visitor information centre on site with the museum, so you can grab a memento from the giftshop, a handy regional visitor guide to delve into for later, and even hire bikes to further explore the three historic trails throughout the township.
From Mannum, cross one of the two ferries and set off to Swan Reach on a quiet drive that winds along the ancient golden cliffs of the Murray River. Back in 1917, limestone from these cliffs was used to build the Swan Reach school, which is now used by the Swan Reach Museum. You might even notice fossilised seashells lodged in the limestone millions of years ago when the area was submerged by ocean.
Inside the museum, discover Aboriginal artefacts, agricultural tools and machinery, and browse old documents, photographs and historical items from Swan Reach and surrounds.
A town of many names. Murray Bridge was once Edwards Crossing, Mobilong and Pomberuk (by the local Ngarrindjeri people).
Being well-known for having the first road bridge to cross the Murray River, your first point of call should be to the Round House - the town’s oldest surviving building initially used to accommodate the Superintendent of Works during construction of the bridge in 1876, which eventually morphed into a school, post office, church and council chamber.
It’s now a vibrant, well-preserved space where you can learn interactively about the town’s early history, and makes for a pleasant starting point before walking across the bridge (using the pedestrian lane) - an experience you won’t forget! The lawns also have one of the best vantage points of the two road and rail bridges so make sure you grab a photo before you leave.
Three self-guided heritage walking trails (found here, here and here) link to the other historic attractions nearby. Head over to Sturt Reserve to find the trailhead map (located near the Rowing Club) or grab the printed brochures from the local Visitor Information Centre.
If pioneer history is more your thing, the Captain’s Cottage Museum will be a highlight you can visit year-round. Step back in time and browse a wide collection of historic engines, farm machinery and train and toy exhibits.
A refreshing walk pass the historic town hall (which is also the local Performing Arts and Function Centre) will bring you to the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery. If you’ve got a soft spot for contemporary art, you’ll fall in love here. This space allows local artists to showcase their latest works with exhibitions, workshops and events held throughout the year. Before you go, step over to the retail space and find quality handcrafted jewellery, ceramics, glass and textiles.
Above: Mike Makatron’s painting 'Flower Dreaming', located at the Murray Bridge Florist
An exciting new art project to keep your eye out for is the town’s first silo art piece! Popular Australian street artist Smug (Sam Bates) has been chosen to create the mural for the Viterra Silos on Railway Terrace, which will soon join neighbouring towns Karoonda and Coonalpyn on the Australian Silo Art Trail (more on this below).
Karoonda will be next to tick off your list with its showstopping Australian first day and night silo art. During the day you can enjoy Melbourne artist Heesco’s mural tribute to the town’s agricultural roots, while at night, art is projected on to the silo from sunset (a new artist is featured monthly). If you can’t stick around until sundown, then you need to come back another time – we promise it’s worth it!
Image credit: Live Life Now Adventures
Just around the corner is a pitstop for anyone who loves farming history. Pioneer Park is open every day and is free to wander through the multiple historical buildings and view a range of memorabilia and displays of harvest machinery, ploughs, railway rolling stock, carriages, and more.
Another ode to farming is the town’s famous ‘Big Ram’. While it’s one of Australia’s smallest ‘big’ statues, this iconic Merino is a symbol of Karoonda’s extensive sheep and wool industry.
If you’re intrigued by how discarded metal can be transformed into something heartfelt, the sculpture by Mallee Boy Art is calling your name. There’s also the Shuffle Screens created by Garry Duncan - a circular steel sculpture with silhouette cut-outs of wheat.
On your way through the Coorong District, stop in at Tailem Bend’s Old Tailem Town to explore a pioneering village set between 1860 and 1960. As you wander further in to Tailem Bend, the Coorong Gallery (located in the Coorong District Council office) holds exhibitions from local, touring and emerging artists. Check out what’s on show here.
You might have already heard of Coonalpyn, where South Australia’s first silo art was painted in 2017. Pull over and watch it tower over you. If you’re feeling inspired, you can explore the nearby art trail full of mosaic projects, paintings, and murals.
Image credit: @sherlilytan
Image credit: @cruisingaroundstraya
Visit Meningie and surrounds for a dose of Aboriginal heritage and art on the shores of Lakes Albert and Alexandrina.
As you walk the lakefront of Meningie, the 400-metre Pelican Path interpretive trail highlights the European, Aboriginal and environmental history of Meningie. You’ll also come across the Birdman of the Coorong statue and learn a fun history lesson of a notorious but eccentric bushranger who it’s claimed rode the wild ostriches of the Coorong. Before you go, climb up for a hilarious photo!
Image credit: @thebluehousemeningie
While you’re in the area, visit the heritage-listed Point Malcolm Lighthouse, Australia's only inland lighthouse. This beautiful panoramic lakeside view will knock your socks off. Continue on to the nearby 1869 Raukkan Church, featured on the $50 note.
Image credit: @michaelwaterhousephotography
Ever wondered about the history of one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, Langhorne Creek? Bleasdale Vineyards is the best place to start, with an opportunity to see the original 1892 hand-hewn red gum press on the Beyond the Cellar Door Tour. And of course, you can’t leave without sampling their award-winning wines! Read more about Langhorne Creek’s history here.
For railway fanatics and families, the Port Milang Historic Railway Museum will be a treat with free train rides on Sundays, Devonshire Teas, interactive displays and a craft shop.
Image credit: milangrailway.org.au
Over in Goolwa, the 1908 authentic wood-fired P.S. Oscar W offers regular day and twilight cruising departing from the wharf precinct to explore the lower Murray River. It’s one of the few paddle steamers still operational - learn more at the Goolwa Riverboat Centre, or make a note to celebrate the State’s maritime history at the 17th biennial South Australian Wooden Boat Festival planned for April 2023.
Across the road, the Signal Point Gallery (reopening late 2022) will soon be a state-of-the-art Experience Centre with interpretative storytelling area, activating the space for more on indigenous and colonial heritage, local produce and arts. It will also include modern display systems, touchpads, headsets and so much more.
This project was made possible by the Australian Government's Regional Arts Fund, which supports the arts in regional and remote Australia.