River boats’ im­por­tant past

Yarrawonga Chronicle - - Front Page - BY JARED LOUGHNAN

They may now be wrecks on the bot­tom of Lake Mul­wala but pad­dlesteam­ers and barges played an im­por­tant part of Yar­ra­wonga and Mul­wala’s early his­tory.

When roads were noth­ing but tracks with wagon wheel ruts from horse and bul­lock drawn ve­hi­cles river trans­port was the pre­ferred and most ef­fi­cient method of travel.

Be­fore the turn of the 20th cen­tury river­boat traf­fic along the Mur­ray River was heavy, par­tic­u­larly be­tween Wodonga and Echuca. They car­ried car­gos of wheat, wool tim­ber and gen­eral mer­chan­dise. Many of the steam­ers also towed heav­ily laden barges.

Punts were also used for trans­port across the river. Hal­burds Punt is now a wreck sit­ting on the Lake Mul­wala muddy floor about 15 me­ters off the Miss Ross Hill carpark.

River travel dur­ing this time was not with- out its per­ils, as swirling cur­rents, hid­den snags and sand­bars took their toll of life and prop­erty on oc­ca­sions.

The com­ple­tion of the Yar­ra­wonga Weir in 1939 un­for­tu­nately ended the pas­sage of river craft through Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala.

Be­low is a brief on two pad­dlesteam­ers with im­por­tant her­itage to the lo­cal area.

The ‘Aus­tralien’

The Aus­tralien was the last work­ing pad­dle steamer in the Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala area. For 57 years the Aus­tralien ser­viced the area and was even used to cart heavy ma­chin­ery in the 1930s from Ade­laide for the con­struc­tion of the weir wall. The boat was re­tired in 1947 but mys­te­ri­ously sank near the traf­fic bridge on the Mul­wala side of the river in 1952. The own­ers raised her and fit­ted a new boiler, but she was never again used as a work­ing boat. The Aus­tralien was again re­tired and left to rot, moored on the banks of Lake Mul­wala at the old saw mill lo­ca­tion ad­ja­cent to the cur­rent site of the Mul­wala Water Ski Club for decades be­fore it was sal­vaged and sold off by a lo­cal pri­vate con­sor­tium in 1989. The boiler was sold to the lo­cal dry clean­ers. The re­mains of the boat are now lo­cated on a pri­vate prop­erty in Echuca. Re­cent ef­forts to bring the boat back to Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala have proven to be too costly.

The “Pi­lot”

The Pi­lot was an­other pad­dlesteamer that played an im­por­tant part of river traf­fic in the area. Owned by King and Jones On­ward Sawmill in Mul­wala the Pi­lot was cap­tained by Ge­orge King. Built in 1883 The Pi­lot, although re­puted to be one of the slow­est craft on the river, trav­elled the en­tire length of the Mur­ray, Dar­ling, Mur­rumbidgee and Ed­ward Rivers dur­ing her life. She fi­nally sank in the 1938 in a lagoon in the Mul­wala For­est (now Lake Mul­wala). To this very day the Pi­lot re­mains in this lo­ca­tion ap­prox­i­mately 300 me­tres from Miss Ross Hill car park. The boat’s pad­dle­wheels were sal­vaged by Peter Mansfield while the lake was emp­tied in 1984 and have re­mained on dis­play next to the Yar­ra­wonga Mul­wala Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre.

The Pi­lot played an im­por­tant part of river traf­fic in the area.

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