River boats’ important past
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 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 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.