Home' Afloat : AFLOAT August 2018 Contents 46 AFLOAT.com.au August 2018
But sadly, we were not the first of the great riverboat skippers.
The fun and games started back in the 1850s when the South
Australian Government offered a prize to the first ship-owner
who could navigate all the way up the Murray to its junction with
the Darling (over 500kms).
A David & Goliath contest ensued between the 30m Lady
Augusta and the 18m Mary Ann. The smaller craft won, but both
were awarded some prize-money, and the larger vessel eventually
pushed further upstream (to Echuca). So in the interests of fair
play, let's call it a dead-heat.
Little did either of them realise that their race opened the way
for the Murray (and of course, the Darling) to become, arguably,
Australia's main thoroughfare for the transport of wool and wheat
for those two burgeoning industries.
Some interesting 'armchair economics' was soon at play as
the two states generating all the wealth (Victoria and NSW) had
to pay a royalty to South Australia as the river flowed to the sea
through that state. Whether or not SA was too greedy -- who are
we to judge? -- but it wasn't long before the Victorians realised
Echuca was only a stones-throw (200kms) from Melbourne over
nice flat country where it was easy to build a railway.
And so it was that in 1864 it was "goodnight nurse" to Adelaide
and "hello sailor" to Melbourne as inland Echuca rocketed up the
charts as a major railhead/paddle-steamer junction and soon
became Australia's third busiest port.
Sad to admit, I knew very little of all this before I embarked,
but plying up and down these waters in the tracks of the early
pioneers gives one an incredible insight into how Australia's
economy evolved. Household names like Goldsborough (of
Melbourne) and Mort (of Sydney) grew empires built on the
ebb and flow of these mighty watery highways (not to forget the
Darling, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers).
But back to life aboard the good ship Luxury 5. There
everything was turned on its head ... Ray did all the cooking and
Pip lolled around looking like some latter-day mermaid draped
in diaphanous silk and drifting in and out of the onboard spa.
And me? One minute I was the proud skipper negotiating
dangerous shoals, decked out in my captain's regalia, the next I
was wearing a tea-towel and consigned to the galley on washing-
up duty. But even that was not without stress.
Pip, who, I guess, technically (as Ray's better-half) was second-
in-command, advised me not to do the washing-up after dinner
but to let the dishes soak. This was directly at odds with my own
better-half, who has always told me (in no uncertain terms, mind
you!) that she doesn't like "coming out to face dirty dishes". I was
caught like a rabbit in the headlights, uncertain of what to do.
So I compromised and did half after dinner, and the rest in the
morning ... shipboard life certainly has its challenges.
However, apart from that domestic dilemma we all got on
like the proverbial house on fire.
The boat seemed to survive my frantic spinning of the
steering wheel as we came round each bend. And bends there
are in that neck of the woods -- possibly the most meandering
part of any river in Australia as evidenced by the fact we were
10kms from Echuca by road ... but over 20kms by boat! And
for amusement in between meals (and drinks) we went on long
bike rides each afternoon -- and I swam across the river (and
back) several times.
This region of the Murray is 'bird heaven' with dozens of
different breeds, from water-borne ones, to flocks of galahs
and cockatoos sometimes as thick as locusts. It is also a
photographer's paradise, especially at dawn and dusk when the
limbs of the magnificent towering river red gums are reflected
in the still-flowing waters.
And so I'd love to say I've conquered the Murray, but traversing
600 of its over-2,000kms is a stark reminder what a vast country
You should visit this peaceful haven while you can. The
natural harmony is being disturbed by accusations of "water theft"
prompted by rationing which is upsetting the vested-interests
of major stakeholders who seem to have been caught growing
the wrong crops, over-irrigating and falsifying their actual usage.
Inevitably these disputes end in tears -- with the environment
the loser. Sadly, this could be Tourism Australia's new slogan:
See it now, before it's a dry river bed!
Emmylou, one of the original paddle-steamers – still plying the river
as a day-tripper for tourists.
Relics of a bygone era: the massive wharf at Echuca, seen in the
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