The Mighty Murray is actually living up to its name at the moment. After years of drought La Nina has brought plenty of rain. A little too much in parts of north western Victoria where 3 months after the floods some paddocks still can’t be distinguished from lakes. It is the perfect time to experience the river on a paddle steamer from the Old Port of Echuca.
The PS Emmylou is a replica of a turn of the century paddle steamer built between 1980 and 1982 however its engine does date back to 1906. There are a variety of cruise options available including hour long trips through the day, lunch cruisers and overnight dinner cruisers. If you are looking for a paddle steamer with a bit more authenticity than one build in the 1980’s the PS Canberra, was built in 1922 and fully refurbished in 2003.
Paddle steamers first made the journey upstream along the Murray River traveling from the colony of South Australia to the township of Swan Hill in 1853. From this point on the river became a thoroughfare used to transport goods from the central districts, in particular wool but also wheat, livestock and timber. By 1870 Echuca was Victoria’s second largest port and its largest inland port. Owing to the fact that it was the closest river port to Melbourne; Echuca became a bustling settlement. However the building of railroads, coupled with a depression and the unpredictability of river levels, paddle steamer transport began to decline and by the turn of the century had all but disappeared. Many of the paddle steamers that had only a few years before been central to the economy of the colonies were simply tied up along the river and left to fall apart.
Echuca has moved from a trading port to a tourist town and it does seem proud of its, at times seedy, past. Many commentaries on the heyday of the town brag about the number of pubs and brothels the town hosted at its height. However it was only on the commentary on the Emmylou that I learnt that one brothel does still operate in town. A somewhat strange tidbit of information to include on a paddleboat cruise.