Murray Bridge has had many names during its time. The local Ngaralta tribe of Aborigines called the area, Moop-pol-tha-wong, meaning haven for birds.
The Ngaralta Aboriginals were one of eighteen proud tribes known as the Ngarrindjeri, who lived in the area from Mannum along the river, lakes and Coorong to Kingston in the south east and Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
The area was plentiful with food for the hunters, who used spears, boomerangs and waddies to kill game. They cut bark canoes from trunks of red gums, the canoes being used for fishing and transportation along the River into swampy areas, which abounded with bird life.
Aboriginal homes were wurlies made of sticks and branches and then covered with reeds, grasses and bark. Europeans adapted the Aboriginal name to Mobilong.
In 1830 Captain Charles Sturt and seven companions travelled down the river in a whale boat. They were on a mission to see where the westward flowing river went. They discovered the large river, the river was known as Moorundie to Aboriginals, Captain Sturt named it the Murray River near Wentworth, NSW at the Junction of the Darling River, then continued to journey down its entire length to Lake Alexandrina.
On 8th February, 1830, the party camped where Sturt Reserve is now. When the group reached the mouth of the river, they were disappointed to see that it would be too difficult for ships to navigate because of sandbars and the unpredictable Southern Ocean.
Sturt’s crew retraced their voyage, rowing most of the way. His report recommended the Murray Valley to be ideal for settlement.
Within the next 10 years, there were 30 steamers, and by 1880 about 100 steamers and 200 barges were engaged in river trade on the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling rivers.
When the first resident, Mr. George Edwards, bought property, he called it Coninka. The property was near what is known today as Hume Reserve, just north of the two bridges. Stock swam across the river near the Edward’s house, and the place came to be known as Edwards Crossing. At the same time, the site was also known as the Turn-Off, because drovers would divert from the north to Adelaide, cross the river, or follow the river south. As more people came to live in the area, the settlement was called Mobilong.
When the first bridge was built over the Murray River (1873-1879), the town became known as Murray Bridge, but it was not until 1924 that the name became official.
Land reclamation, irrigation and agricultural development opened up the Lower Murray in the early years of the 20th century and Murray Bridge became an important centre for trade and milk production. The opening of the road bridge in 1879 developed the area, more business was attracted when the railway crossed the river.
A milk factory was established in Murray Bridge, milk being collected by boat from dairies situated along the surrounding river flats. As the industry grew, paddle steamers were replaced by a fleet of motor launches owned by the milk factory and Farmers Union.
When William Randell made his first journey on the Murray River in 1853, he carried the first load of wool on the Eureka barge, this opened the Murray River to steam navigation and commerce. Cargoes carried included bales of wool, sheepskins, tallow, flour, tea, sugar and tobacco. They also delivered mail and groceries to the farms along the river banks.