Still steaming along
The last of the great Australian riverboats
Step on board a steamboat and you are stepping back in time ... the polished brass, the smell of the oiled engine, the hiss of steam, the spinning wheels and pistons and the shrill sound of the steam whistle.
Built in Hobart in 1896 for William Gibson, SY Preana ferried the businessman and MP across the Derwent River from his home to his flour mill in Hobart. She fell into disrepair after his death and was converted into a fishing boat, her steam engine removed. When Jim Butterworth found her in 1992, she was hauled up on the mud of Prince of Wales Bay — a real wreck. Butterworth set up the Preana Trust, which was to be the beginning of 16 years of problems. One of these was the fact that Butterworth could not find a Simpson Strickland triple steam engine to replicate the original, although he did eventually locate a 40-horsepower US Navy type-E compound engine that was the right size. The engine is truly a work of well-oiled, steel and bronze art; the century-old compound steam engine works away, quietly propelling the elegant boat across the Derwent. SY Preana was relaunched in 2005 and is available for cruises and dinner parties. At 55ft long, her beam is 13ft and her draught 4ft 6in. She weighs 13 tonnes. More: preana.org.
There is something about the smell of the river on a hot day mixed with the scent of towering river red gums, the steam and oil, and the deafening sound of the steam whistle as PS Emmylou leaves dock. The port of Echuca on the NSW-Victoria border is home for PS Emmylou, a steel-hulled, timber-decked paddle steamer driven by a restored 1906 steam engine. She was built locally in 1980-82 in the style of a 19th-century riverboat, and fits in with the original paddle boats on the river. Captain Darren Mann steers her down the Murray River on this hot, lazy summer’s day. The decks are full of passengers; excited children rush about as the engineer oils the engine and stokes up the firebox with red-gum logs. Lots of people are having morning tea aboard as we slowly make our way down the river to the gentle sound of the paddles hitting the water, propelling us along. The PS Emmylou is 90ft long and her beam is 30ft. More: murrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au.
Bruce Jessup is the proud owner of SL Huon, a replica of an 1875 carvel steam launch used on inland waterways in the US, all smartly polished brass with lots of detail in the timberwork. A carved bird with a fish in its claws perches above the brass steam gauges while two steam whistles sit atop the funnel. Built in Launceston, Tasmania, she was launched in 2006. She is made from Huon pine over celery-top pine, fitted out with bird’s-eye Huon pine and Fiddleback blackwood. With a bronze propeller, she is 24ft long. The boiler, which was designed by Strath Steam of Goolwa in South Australia, is powered by brown coal. The engine is a York Compound, engineered by Charles Singleton of Westbury, Tasmania.
Prominent Adelaide businessman and MP George Swan Fowler commissioned PS Marion in 1896 from Milang shipbuilder AH Landseer. Unfortunately, Fowler died soon after building began, so his trustees decided to complete the hull and sell her as a barge. She floated in 1897. In 1900, William Bowring bought her. He built a superstructure and imported a Marshall, Sons & Co of Gainsborough engine. She is still powered by that engine. Over the years, her use changed, from shipping cargo to passengers. As a passenger steamer,
SY Preana, top; PS Marion, above; SL Huon, above left