Pad­dle Back in Time at Echuca Momoa

The ro­mance of the river is alive and well in Aus­tralia’s Pad­dlesteamer Cap­i­tal, where the twin towns of Echuca and Moama ooze a rich his­tory.

Where Melbourne - - Contents -

ABAN­DONED STEAMBOATS AND BARGES, tall red gum wharfs, small towns that show ev­i­dence of once hav­ing been much larger, and old sta­tion home­steads that face the river are all con­stant re­minders of the days when hun­dreds of steam­ers raced along the Mur­ray, open­ing up large ar­eas in New South Wales, Vic­to­ria and South Aus­tralia. For many set­tlers they were the only source of sup­ply and con­tact with the out­side world.

From the ear­li­est days of its his­tory, growth and de­vel­op­ment of the area has been in­ti­mately linked with the Mur­ray River Sys­tem. The pad­dlesteamer days of 1865 to 1910 were a pros­per­ous time for Echuca.

Echuca’s close prox­im­ity to Mel­bourne and the am­bi­tions of the city’s founder, led to the Port of Echuca be­com­ing the largest in­land port in Aus­tralia. The river­boat trade was of na­tional im­por­tance be­cause it had the ef­fect of open­ing up in­land Aus­tralia for set­tle­ment and thereby in­creas­ing the coun­try’s pro­duc­tion of wool.

When the rail link with Mel­bourne was es­tab­lished in 1864, Echuca, be­ing the clos­est point on the Mur­ray to Mel­bourne, grew rapidly. Pad­dlesteam­ers traded along the Mur­ray Dar­ling River Sys­tem, bring­ing wool from iso­lated sta­tions in outback Aus­tralia to the rail­head at Echuca, for even­tual sale and ship­ping over­seas. Dur­ing the boom pe­riod, prod­ucts worth a quar­ter of a mil­lion pounds were han­dled an­nu­ally. For many years Echuca was the main ship build­ing cen­tre for the river trans­port in­dus­try. As the ship build­ing in­dus­try grew, so did the de­mand for red gum as a durable tim­ber for wharf piles, rail­way sleep­ers and build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

The river­boat days were glo­ri­ous times for Echuca—un­til a great de­pres­sion hit in the 1890s. As the rail­ways were ex­tended in New South Wales and road trans­port im­proved, the river trade de­clined and the old wharf, built in 1865, was de­funct by the 1920s.

Echuca’s other star at­trac­tion is the Port of Echuca Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, where you can step back in time to 1860 and re­live the au­then­tic steam port, ex­plore the re­vi­talised Wharf and watch the steam driven saw mill in op­er­a­tion.

The pedes­trian-only Mur­ray Es­planade is lined with his­toric shops, cafes and ho­tels with plenty to en­gage the vis­i­tor as they wan­der this precinct.

Echuca Moama is far from liv­ing in the past though. Its lively spirit can be ex­pe­ri­enced in and around the town­ship, where you can find great eater­ies, friendly pubs, al­fresco cafés, chic wine bars and coun­try-style bak­eries. There are many spe­cialty shops lo­cated in her­itage build­ings in and around Old Echuca Town.

With three great rivers—mur­ray, Goul­burn and Cam­paspe— con­verg­ing here, fish­ing, boat­ing, swim­ming, camp­ing, bik­ing and bush­walk­ing are nat­u­rally big at­trac­tions—and we mustn’t for­get to men­tion the op­por­tu­nity to spend a few nights re­lax­ing on a house­boat and en­joy­ing the sheer bliss of the mighty Mur­ray.

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