The Longest Rivers in Australia

December 13, 2023

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Murray River at Younghusband, South Australia

Australia’s rivers play an important role in terms of ecology, economics, and culture. This means that care needs to be taken to ensure they are not destroyed by pollution, climate change, excessive water extraction, and other human activity.

There are 439 rivers in the country — many of which have been essential for animal and human life for centuries.

But what are Australia’s longest rivers? Continue reading to find out.

1. Murray River

Pelican swimming on the Murray River at sunset
Pelican on the Murray River
Length: 2,375 km (1,476 miles)
Flows through: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia

The longest river in Australia is the Murray River. Running from east to west for nearly 2,400 kilometers, it rises in the Snowy Mountains and passes through the states of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. Interestingly, the Murray’s tributaries are also some of the longest rivers in Australia.

People have lived along this mighty river for more than 30,000 years, with Aboriginal communities first relying on it, before European explorers discovered it in 1824 and used it for irrigation and navigation, as well as water supply. Today, the Murray River is vital to Australia’s economy and ecosystem and it is mainly used for transportation, irrigation, and agriculture. It is also popular for recreational activities like swimming, fishing, and boating, playing host to events like the Massive Murray Paddle annual canoe race.

Unfortunately, the Murray River has been affected by the over-extraction of water, climate change, and increased levels of salinity, but it is still home to an abundance of wildlife. For example, the eel-tailed catfish, the western carp gudgeon, and Australia’s largest freshwater fish, the Murray cod, which can grow up to six feet long. Gray kangaroos, koalas, turtles, and pelicans can also be found within the river’s basin.

2. Murrumbidgee River

Aerial view of Murrumbidgee River
Aerial view of Murrumbidgee River and the surrounding area
Length: 1,485 km (923 miles)
Flows through: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales

Australia’s second-longest river is the Murrumbidgee, which stretches almost 1,500 kilometers from the Australian Alps to the Murray River. The river passes through several of Australia’s major cities, including the capital of Canberra and New South Wales’s largest city, Wagga Wagga, which was established on the riverbank in 1832.

Murrumbidgee — which means “big water” in the Wiradjuri language — has been a source of life for Aboriginals for thousands of years and today it is one of Australia’s most important waterways. Spanning more than 1,000 square miles of wetland and farmland, it provides irrigation for crops and animals and supports some of the world’s top-producing rice fields. The river also plays an important role in terms of hydroelectric power, water extraction, and tourism.

The Murrumbidgee River has provided food to people for millennia, in the form of mussels, crayfish, and other types of fish like perch and cod. Wildlife in the area around the river includes kangaroos, emus, and bandicoots.

3. Darling River

Aerial view of the Darling River
Aerial view of the Darling River
Length: 1,472 km (915 miles)
Flows through: New South Wales

The third-longest river in Australia is another of the Murray River’s tributaries. Again, measuring almost 1,500 kilometers, the Darling River rises in the Great Dividing Range near the New South Wales-Queensland border and travels southwest through the outback towards Wentworth.

Historically, the Darling River was home to the biggest Aboriginal settlement in Australia, making it one of the most significant rivers to the Indigenous people. Today, it is the outback’s most important waterway, however, it is under threat due to excessive water extraction, pollution from pesticides, and extended periods of drought. Sadly, if it continues to dry up at its current rate, it won’t be on the longest rivers in Australia list for much longer. Despite the Darling River’s dry, arid basin which provides limited agricultural opportunities, its banks are suitable for small-scale citrus fruit and grape farming and grazing for animals.

Murray cod, Murray hardyhead, catfish, and perch are among the river’s fish species, with koalas, turtles, possums, lizards, and frogs also present in and around the river.

4. Lachlan River

Lachlan River at Booligal, New South Wales
Lachlan River at Booligal, New South Wales
Length: 1,448 km (900 miles)
Flows through: New South Wales

Also known as the “Galari Bila”, the Lachlan River flows for 1,448 kilometers, making it the fourth-longest river in Australia. However, the river’s flow is unreliable, with severe drought causing it to run dry and heavy rain leading to flooding.

A chief tributary of the Murrumbidgee River, the Lachlan rises near Goulburn in the Great Dividing Range and travels generally northwest, north, west, and southwest before joining the Murrumbidgee at the Great Cumbang Swamp. Most of the river’s catchment area is rural, and it is used mainly for agricultural purposes, like sheep and wheat farming.

The Lachlan River supports nine significant wetlands and provides a wide range of aquatic habitats for waterbirds such as black swans. 

5. Warrego River

Aerial view of the Warrego River at sunset
Sunset over the Warrego River at Cunnamulla
Length: 1,380 km (857 miles)
Flows through: New South Wales, Queensland

Stretching almost 1,400 kilometers, the Warrego River is Australia’s fifth-longest river. Again rising in the Great Dividing Range — but this time near Mount Ka Ka Mundi — it flows south until it reaches the Darling River upstream of Louth.

Along its course, the Warrego flows through a series of reservoirs including the Six Mile Dam, Turtle Waterhole, Ten Mile Waterhole, and Dillalah Waterhole, as well as several towns such as Augathella, Charleville, and Cunnamulla.

In 2001, the Australian Bush Heritage Fund converted the Carnavon cattle station at the river’s source into a sanctuary for threatened species of animals and birds. The river itself is home to golden perch, Murray cod, and silver perch.

6. Cooper Creek River

Saltwater crocodile rising up out of the water
Saltwater crocodiles can be commonly sighted in and around Cooper Creek
Length: 1,300 km (808 miles)
Flows through: Queensland, South Australia

Taking the sixth spot on the list of Australia’s longest rivers is the Cooper Creek River, which measures 1,300 kilometers in length. 

Beginning at the confluence of the Barcoo and Thomson rivers, west of the Great Dividing Range, Cooper Creek flows southwest through Queensland before entering South Australia and emptying into Lake Eyre.

It is one of Queensland’s top three river systems, along with Warrego and Paroo, with most of its water coming from monsoonal rains.

Cooper Creek is home to a diverse array of wildlife, with more than 1,400 species living in the water and surrounding area. Some of these are the Cooper Creek catfish — which is endemic to the river — the amethystine python and the saltwater crocodile.

7. Paroo River

Australian Painted Snipe standing in shallow river
The Paroo river is a lifeline wildlife such as Australian Painted Snipe
Length: 1,210 km (752 miles)
Flows through: Queensland, New South Wales

With a length of just over 1,200 kilometers, the Paroo River is the seventh-longest river in Australia. Beginning in western Queensland, it flows generally south before terminating on the floodplains south of Wanaaring in New South Wales or, in very wet years, joining the Darling River.

The Paroo River actually is a series of wetlands, waterholes, and lakes that are only connected as a running stream during wet weather.

As well as being home to the Paarkantji Aboriginal tribe, the river is a lifeline for threatened species like the freckled duck and Australian painted snipe, which live in the wetlands in northwestern New South Wales. Some of the most common types of eucalyptus trees that line the Paroo River are the coolabah, poplar box, and red gum.

Overview: Australia’s 10 longest rivers

RankRiver systemLength (km)Length (miles)State/Territory
1Murray River2,3751,476New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia
2Murrumbidgee River1,485923Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales
3Darling River1,472915New South Wales
4Lachlan River1,448900New South Wales
5Warrego River1,380857New South Wales, Queensland
6Cooper Creek River1,300808Queensland, South Australia
7Paroo River1,210752Queensland, New South Wales
8Flinders River1,004624Queensland
9Diamantina River941585Queensland, South Australia
10Gascoyne River865537Western Australia

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