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            Longest Rivers

            The lengths of the 10 longest rivers in Australia were re-calculated in September 2008 by Geoscience Australia using data from the National Topographic Database. Each river length was measured by adding river sections in the National Topographic Database which bear the same official name along the main channel of each watercourse.

            The National Topographic Database is a nationally consistent dataset containing a range of topographic features such as relief and drainage which has been captured and maintained at a scale of 1:250 000 for the whole of Australia. Use of the database to digitally calculate the longest rivers has resulted in more precise estimates than those available previously. River names in the database are acquired from the place names authorities in each Australian State and Territory or other authoritative sources.

            River lengths were measured along the centreline of what was determined to be the main channel of each watercourse. Channel selection is critical when calculating the lengths of complex braided river systems featuring broad stretches of multiple channels so that exaggeration of the length of a watercourse is avoided. River patterns of this type are common in the Channel Country of south-west Queensland.

            The use of only official names can result in significant differences between the recently calculated figures and historical figures. For example, the 1472 kilometre length of the Darling River is based only on the river channels called Darling River in the National Topographic Database. Separately named tributaries have not been included because they are not strictly part of the officially named Darling River. As a result the Darling River now is apparently shorter than previously stated because if its longest continuous tributaries are taken into account the total length increases to 2844 kilometres.

            As a result of this work, the newly calculated lengths of the ten rivers vary from previously published figures in Geoscience Australia’s Fab Facts. However, the lengths derived are still only approximations, because they are based on a cartographic system rather than the real world.

            These are the revised watercourse lengths in rank order: 

            NAME STATE LENGTH (km) approximate
            River Murray New South Wales/South Australia 2375
            Murrumbidgee River New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory 1485
            Darling River (from the Murray River to Culgoa River) New South Wales 1472
            Lachlan River New South Wales 1339
            Cooper Creek  Queensland/South Australia 1113
            Flinders River Queensland 1004
            Diamantina River Queensland/South Australia 941

            Longest river by state/territory

            Although the River Murray forms much of the border separating New South Wales and Victoria, it is not officially Victoria’s longest river. This length of the River Murray is not considered to flow through Victoria because the border is defined as the southern Victorian bank of the river rather than the centreline. The only section of the river considered within Victoria is where it separates Victoria and South Australia, a stretch of approximately 11 kilometres, where the centreline forms the border.

            NAME STATE/TERRITORY LENGTH (km) approximate
            River Murray New South Wales 1721
            Flinders River Queensland 1004
            Gascoyne River Western Australia 834
            River Murray South Australia 683
            Goulburn River Victoria 654
            Victoria Northern Territory 510
            South Esk River Tasmania 245
            Murrumbidgee River Australian Capital Territory 59

            Longest continuous river system

            The Murray-Darling River systemThe Murray River and its tributary, the Darling River, are the main rivers in the Murray-Darling River Basin. This drainage basin comprises the major part of the interior lowlands of Australia, covering more than one million square kilometres, or about 14 per cent of Australia.

            The Murray-Darling catchment also contains Australia’s longest continuous river system. It flows through Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia and drains a major portion of the interior lowlands of eastern Australia. Its total length is just over half that of the Nile River in continental Africa which is considered to be the world’s longest river with a length of around 6695 kilometres.

            From the headwaters of its longest tributaries in Queensland down to its mouth in South Australia, the Murray-Darling system was measured using a series of component rivers to establish the overall approximate length:

            NAME STATE LENGTH (km)
            Condamine/Balonne/Culgoa Rivers Queensland/New South Wales 1372
            Darling River (between the Culgoa River and River Murray) New South Wales 1472
            River Murray (downstream from the Darling River junction) New South Wales/Victoria/South Australia 828
            Total length of system  Queensland/New South Wales/Victoria/South Australia 3672
             

            Sources: Geoscience Australia GEODATA TOPO-250K database.

            The Times Atlas of the World (1993) published by Bartholomew & Times Books

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            Updated: 16 October 2008