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Facts and History of the Paddle Steamers and Houseboats on Australia's Murray River

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Beautiful old paddle steamers have fascinated people for centuries. Whether enjoying the experience on board yourself or sitting on the bank of the river, you will love them too. Listening to the unmistakable sound and beat of the paddles churning their way up the river is so relaxing.

A paddle steamer is a boat originally powered by a steam engine, which drives the paddles propelling it through the water. They call these paddles when fitted at the rear a stern-wheeler, or if fitted on either side in the center, a side-wheeler.

 

Two story paddle boat

Two story Diesel powered side-wheeler paddle boat

Old and Replica Paddle steamers

Australia is known to have a large collection of original and replica paddle steamers and houseboats on Australia’s Murray River, which is 2,508 kilometers long, winding through the highest mountains.  Thousands of people enjoy the beautiful scenery as it meanders through New South Wales, Victoria and then it heads south for another 500 kilometers through South Australia. It ends at the ocean at Lake Alexandrina. Many of these boats still operate today along both the Murray and Darling Rivers, with a larger collection at Echuca.

The PS Adelaide is one of the oldest paddle steamers in the world, built-in 1866, and operating from the Echuca Port.

The PS Pevensey paddle steamer, built-in Moama in 1911 is still operating in Echuca as a tourist attraction. This steamer was also used on the TV Mini-series, All the Rivers Run as the fictional Philadelphia steamer. Shot on location at Echuca and Melbourne, starring John Waters.

All the Rivers Run: Complete Series [PAL]
Amazon Price: $33.68 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 3, 2015)
All the Rivers Run is a Complete Series on DVD on PAL. This needs a multi region DVD player to view it.

Staring the famous John Waters and Carol Burns. This was a fabulous movie on life on a Paddle steamer on the river.

Punts to cross the Murray River

One of the first recorded paddle steamers was the Mary Anne. William Randell and his brothers started building this in July 1852, the hull measuring 16 meters in length. William succeeded in becoming the first man to put a steamboat on the Murray River in 1852. They attempted to carry freight down the river although hampered by the low water levels after a year of drought.

Many boats became bogged and ended up as wrecks clogging up the water ways, due to lack of water in the Murray River from the drought. The law was also kept busy catching the boats carrying illegal produce between towns along this river.

The paddle steamers not only created a way of carting wool, timber, wheat and other types of freight it opened up new areas and towns for development. This created growth to the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers. This opened up the need for more roads and irrigation throughout these areas.


With this extra traffic using the rivers they  had to build large wharfs in many towns like Echuca, Moama, Morgan and many others which in itself created more work.

Traffic Crossing the river on a drive on and off punt

Trucks leaving the punt and a car waiting to cross.

Loch on the Murray River

Locks and weirs were then built to manipulate the flow of water controlling the after effects from drought and floods. Today you can still cross the Murray River on a punt by car, truck or towing your caravan. Other names for these: swing ferry, floating bridge or cable ferry.

Lochs open and shut to let boats pass through gates

Image shows lock gate opening to allow boats to pass through

All the Rivers run book by Nancy Cato

All the Rivers Run
Amazon Price: $78.67 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 3, 2015)
Nancy Cato author of the book and later TV mini series of All the Rivers run.
A wonderful tale of experiences working on the Murray River

PS Ruby

Restoring the PS Ruby at Wentworth

The PS Ruby has now been restored back to original 

Wentworth has its own bit of history in the Paddle steamer the Ruby since 1968. Their Rotary Club restored it back to it’s former glory after finding its rotting hulk fixed to a tree on the Murray River at Johnson’s Bend.  They paid $1600 and had it towed to Wentworth.

The PS Ruby steamed up the Murray River after 80 years.  Eventually the owners hope to have it operating commercially again.

The PS Emmylou is another paddle steamer on the Murray River today. Built like the 19th Century Paddle steamers of bygone years. It runs on wood-fired power, fuelled by Red gum logs. Built with a steel hull and timber deck, measuring thirty meters and ten meters wide. They look so grand with the smoke pouring out of the chimney as they chug around the banks of the meandering Murray River.

Author Ken Watson

Paddle Steamers: An Illustrated History of Steamboats on the Mississippi and Its Tributaries
Amazon Price: $63.58 Buy Now
(price as of Mar 3, 2015)
This book gives you an in depth description of how these boats worked. Including lots of illustrations on the riverboat era on the Mississippi.

Houseboats on the Murray River

 There are literally thousands of House boats and Paddle boats cruising up and down the Murray, and Darling Rivers.  Hundreds rest beside the bank and never move these days.

Small Houseboat

No, these in my opinion do not have the same charm of the old steam paddle boats. Although, a great way to spend your holiday on a small one or hire a large one and share your experience with several friends.

Most of them come with a barbecue on deck, and living accommodation, kitchen and bedrooms to suit your needs. They come in many shapes, styles and sizes. The size of your wallet and number of friends will determine the best one for your trip.  You live on board, and cruise down the river, stopping at many places of your choice. You can enjoy swimming, fishing and skiing if you tow another motor boat suited for skiing.

As you meander down the river you will go through different locks that open and shut lowering the water levels for you to pass through safely. Why not stop and enjoy the many towns along the river too.

You cannot beat the look, sound and feel of the old wood-fired paddle steamers. If you can take a cruise on one of these old girls, I am sure you will not be sorry.  And I personally still believe that many of the things made and built in what we call the old days really are better made than current ones.

Two story paddle boat

Would this type of holiday or lifestyle appeal to you? Tell us about your Paddle steamer or Houseboat experiences

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Paddlesteamers on the Murray River

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Comments

Mar 3, 2015 4:23am
LeighGoessl
Informative piece, voted up. I love your photos!
Mar 3, 2015 4:37am
shar-On
Thanks Leigh we took them while on holidays. Great places to spend time of the river.
Mar 4, 2015 7:01pm
RoseWrites
Sure love the idea of hanging out on a houseboat, looks so relaxing.
Mar 5, 2015 2:48am
shar-On
Thanks Rose, yes it sure is a great way to enjoy a week or month. What ever you have the time for and you have your accommodation and everything with you. The trouble it is a bit expensive.
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Bibliography

  1. "All the Rivers Run." All the Rivers Run. 28/02/2015 <Web >
  2. "Paddle Steamers." Paddle steamers. 28/02/2015 <Web >
  3. "Murray River Transport." Murray River Transport. 28/02/2015 <Web >

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