Many people are unaware of one of my more obscure interests. Most people know me for my work in theatre, and that it seems to consume me from 8am to Midnight. It’s partially true. But before there was theatre, I was passionate about something else- Murray River Paddle Steamers.
It was an obsession that naturally grew from my love of history, and also regular family holidays to Echuca in Victoria’s north. I even completed my work experience when I was 16 with the Port Of Echuca, and for a good period of time around then thought I would ‘grow up’ to be a steam engineer. Which is a very in demand job in these days of Facebook, Twitter, and roving robots on Mars.
At a crossroads career wise I decided to more intensely pursue theatre, and that has lead me around the world. But in the back of my mind there’s always a little steam engine chugging away, waiting to be let out full throttle. That chance came once again this weekend.
The PS Melbourne, which has been the gem of the Mildura fleet of paddle vessels, turned 100 on Sunday the 9th of September, 2012 and a party like no other was to be held. A flotilla of over 30 boats gathered for the occaision, with 8 heritage paddle vessels steaming up from as far away as Goolwa at the mouth of the Murray in South Australia and Echuca in the upper Murray in Victoria.
With a tight schedule up in Melbourne I couldn’t join any of the fleet as they made their way to the party (a journey that took some heritage vessels a fortnight to achieve) so I flew up as early as I could on the Sunday morning. This gave me the opportunity to fly in a Qantas Dash-8, a twin propeller small aircraft, to a regional airport! The scale of everything was quite different to what I’m used to. The plane held just under 40 people. As we came into landing in Mildura we swooped over the river where I was fortunate enough to see the fleet of boats travelling under us.
I made my way immediately to the River, and got there just in time to see the flotilla arrive, providing for a number of excellent photos. I noticed that my camera was readily running out of battery power, as was my iPhone. I couldn’t get through the day taking no pictures of such an occasion!
I was booked on three cruises for the day, 2 on boats I’d never been on. The third boat I was originally booked on broke down before making the event, so I had to shift one of those.
After speeches and cutting of the birthday cake I boarded the PS Marion with my friend Roderick (who attracted the attention of a film crew as he was dressed in Victorian attire) it was a long awaited catch up, as we have both been travelling for a number of years now. I had never been on the Marion, she comes from Mannum, South Australia, a location I’d never been too. The massive 3 deck passenger boat is glorious and I found a power point to charge my devices!
Upon docking again there was a short moment to head to my next cruise on the PS Oscar W, a work boat from Goolwa SA. The team that runs the boat have done a magnificent job in making her appear like a work boat, but still capable of carrying passengers. Of course she can’t hold 300 passengers like the PS Melbourne can, but at least she looks more authentic.
My final cruise of the day was on the big 30 boat Centenary Flotilla, aboard the 146 year old PS Adelaide which came down from Echuca. I had originally booked on the PS Ruby, which I also had never travelled on, though had seen on a previous trip to Wentworth during it’s restoration, but a breakdown meant Ruby couldn’t join the fleet. In my previous experience working with the Port Of Echuca I had worked on the Adelaide, and on the day I had some friends working on the boat too. It would be a perfect fit to be on that vessel for the cruise.
The two hour jaunt was filmed from above by helicopters, from the shore by TV crews and on little tinnies on the water. The heritage boats came together for a big photo, blowing their whistles at the same time. It was quite a sight.
There may have been a little bit of racing as well!
As the night wrapped up I met with some fellow enthusiasts and we all went out for dinner, talking ship late into the night.
This was the largest collection of paddle vessels in one place since the end of the river trade. It was a unique event to be a part of, and I’m incredibly glad I could make it.