Travelling Australia - Journal 2014
March 2014

Port of Echuca
Paddle steamer Pevensey approaching her berth at the Port of Echuca carrying day-trippers. Several paddle steamers operate from Echuca but Pevensey is most representative of the 19th century working vessels.
The Port of Echuca has been a tourist attraction for many years but displays have generally been on the basis of minimum preparation and minimum restoration. There was a display area on the wharf platform but served mainly as an introduction to the wharf area. Negotiating wharf steps to board a paddle-steamer required some agility and must have been a challenge to visitors with limited mobility.

The Port of Echuca display has been completely revised and is much improved. Mostly the same things can be seen but explanations and captioning have been updated and moving around the site is no longer a challenge.

The wharf has been given a much-overdue refurbishment. Moving around under the wharf is now easy and the construction method of the original and refurbished wharf can be readily seen by visitors. Access to paddle-steamers is now relatively easy.

Much of the steam-driven sawing and timber handling equipment on the wharf has been cleaned and returned to running order for demonstration purposes. More importantly, the reason for running a saw milling business on the wharf are explained.

Timeline displays in the new Discovery Centre outline the major stages in the remarkable growth of Echuca into a major port on the Murray River servicing pastoral properties in Victoria and much of New South Wales.

The displays show how the completion of the railway line from Melbourne in 1864 attracted bales of wool to be sent to Melbourne for export by sea to Britain. Echuca wharf was built so paddle-steamers could bring wool from pastoral properties along the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers to be sent by train to Melbourne; the same paddlers took the supplies (including pianos, windows, flour, wine and anything else) needed by the pastoralists from Echuca to the remote properties. The bullock drays which had been the mainstay of long-distance transport were reduced to short distance carrying wool to the paddle-steamers.

Echuca was surrounded by extensive river red-gum forests; these trees were felled and sawn into sizes needed for fences and other structures around sheep stations then distributed as back load on the paddle-steamers.

Port of Echuca - 2014 - page 2
Carrying a back-load reduced the rates charged for carrying wool and helped Echuca in its incessant competition with the opposition river-boat port at Morgan in South Australia.

Availability of paddle-steamers is widely believed to have encouraged the spread of sheep grazing throughout much of inland New South Wales (Riverina and Darling) because squatters could get their wool to market reliably (if sometimes delayed by low water level), and could receive supplies. Echuca thrived as the wool industry in outback New South Wales grew and grew.

But the New South Wales government was most unhappy at the way produce from New South Wales was carried into Victoria and exported through Melbourne instead of Sydney. In 1880 the value of trade in both directions through Echuca was 2.5 million pounds and Sydney missed this business.

New South Wales began building train lines to capture the wool trade for Sydney. The first link was to Bourke in 1885, and river-trade immediately began declining. By 1900 river trade was pretty well ended although the Lower Murrumbidgee continued to use river traffic to Echuca because the train line had not arrived. After the train arrived at Balranald in 1926 (ironically the line was from Echuca not the New South Wales network) the wool trade faded away and the last recorded wool delivery by river to Echuca was in 1936.

Many paddle-steamers were abandoned and left to rot in quiet stretches of the Murray. A few survived and the paddle-steamer as a class has been revived as a pleasure craft taking visitors on river excursions.

under wharf 
Restored piles of Echuca Wharf  
Beams, piles and decking from the walkway under the wharf  
Port of Echuca, 2014 - page 2
crane Crane on the edge of the wharf lifted bales of wool from barge or paddle-steamer onto the wharf.

echuca rail Echuca Wharf railway line was on the other side of the wharf from the river.

steam engine Mobile steam engine used to haul logs into the timber mill

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container Early shipping container of riveted iron box intended to protect delicate items being shipped.