Paddling back in time


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Oceania » Australia » Victoria » Mildura
October 8th 2014
Published: October 11th 2014
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After enjoying our days beside the Murrumbidgee River, it was time to head south and west to Mildura. For us, we wanted this to be a special highlight with several things to see and do.

The journey took us back through dry region pasture (wheat and cattle) until we came back to the Murray River. All of a sudden, we were back in highly productive fruit and viticulture, particularly on the left side of the road which was closest to the river and irrigation system.

The area around Mildura is known as Sunraisia. It is just staggering the area under intense cultivation.

But Mildura was not about horticulture, but the historical paddle steamers on the river. Putting a time line on the history here is interesting. The six of us were booked for a lunch cruise on PB Rothbury. This vessel had already put in 10 years service before Eastman invented cellulose film. The glass slide photography had been around for about 20 years before the Rothbury was launched in 1881. She is not the oldest vessel at Mildura. That claim is held by the Avoca, built in 1876. She was a party boat until recent times when the owner sold it off, and later she sunk at her moorings. Now re-floated, but her future is quite uncertain.

The Rothbury, a centre wheel paddle steamer was built as a working boat towing logs and wool etc up and down the Murray and Darling Rivers. She was recognised as the most powerful of the paddle steamers, and one of the fastest. She worked these waters until the 1960s, and then retired.

She was purchased by the present owners who left the general structure in place, but added forward and rear saloon areas to cater for tourists.

Her steam Boiler and steam engines were very powerful, but also burned a lot of wood, making her rather expensive to operate. So the whole steam set was removed and preserved and could be reinstalled in the future. Now she has a diesel engine driving the same old crank and paddle shaft.

I doubt that the tradesmen who built her in the 1880s, had any expectation she would live 50 years, yet alone over 130 years, and still good to go for many more years. The hull is made from 80mm (3") thick Red River Gum which has proven
 Rothbury leaving Mildura Rothbury leaving Mildura Rothbury leaving Mildura

Heading up stream for the day.
to last with minimal deterioration for more than 50 years. So some has been replaced and some is still original.

I was curious to know if the paddles, left and right were operated independently to provide steerage. The Rothbury has one shaft connecting the paddles. In my mind having independent operation would have made it possible to turn the boat around in its own length. The Captain told me that a rudder is much more effective for general navigation, and to turn the vessel within the confines of a river bank, the nose of the vessel was pushed into one bank, and the combined effect of current and thrust and rudder, made turning easy and with much less strain on the hull.

However, some of the old steamers have been rebuilt with diesel electric power plants, and the paddles can be rotated independently. There seemed little benefit after such conversions according to our captain.

Where we had camped by the Murrumbidgee River, as was also the case for sheep stations along the Murray and Darling Rivers, all freight and stock was moved by various paddle steamers to the nearest rail heads. Echuca was probably the first rail head, so the linking of the rural regions to markets in Australia and overseas.

I think in our minds we all have memories of the great American Stern Wheel paddle steamers, but it seems that configuration was rarely used here on the Murray river. We saw only one relatively small example of a stern drive vessel.

The area is dotted with memories of the successive kings of transport - stage coaches, paddle steamers, rail, and more recently, road transport. We have found it fun and interesting to paddle back a little in time at Mildura.

The river history has changed substantially over the life span of the Rothbury. There are weirs and locks in place at a number of spots along the river. The weir at Mildura is different from most. This is a removable weir. It is pulled right out of the water in times of serious flood, and then pushed back into place. At the moment, there is a normal flow, so the drop over the weir to the lower level is about 3.5 meters. The Murray is a long river, about 2500ks. In these parts, the drop to sea level is only about 60
David crank starts the MercDavid crank starts the MercDavid crank starts the Merc

Or was he winding me up?
meters over 900 ks.

We watched as PS Melbourne approached lock 11 at Mildura as she returned up stream. The process through the lock was quite quick, probably less than 10 minutes.

While in Mildura we experienced a total eclipse of the moon. There are some progressive pictures attached to the blog. The first ones were taken with my Sony HX300 using the full zoom. Acceptable images I thought. However, when the red phase at the full eclipse happened, it proved totally inadequate. In fact the quality of image was abysmal. I grabbed Marg's Canon SX40 camera, and got a great shot of the same red phase. I do miss my Canon SX50 that broke (under warrantee) but was out of production. Canon have announced a SX60 which cannot get here soon enough for me. The low light comparison puts the Canon miles ahead of the Sony from my experience. The Sony is great under good lighting, excellent for macro, but not low light or even sunset type shots.


Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 25


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Friendly neighbourFriendly neighbour
Friendly neighbour

Quite excitable as well. A devils job to get him to pose.
PB RothburyPB Rothbury
PB Rothbury

Built 1881 as a tug boat for freight and logs.
The wheel HouseThe wheel House
The wheel House

PB Rothbury
The CoonawarraThe Coonawarra
The Coonawarra

Once a passenger steamer, now privately owned.
PS AvocaPS Avoca
PS Avoca

Older than the Rothbury. Withdrawn from the Tourist service a few years back and sold. Sadly it sunk a couple of years back, but was re-floated more recently.
Was he excited?Was he excited?
Was he excited?

David with his desert. I think Mary got a little too!
Adrian unexcited.Adrian unexcited.
Adrian unexcited.

He didn't get desert but instead tried on Rilla's sun hat
Water floods inWater floods in
Water floods in

PS Melbourne needed to be raised 3.5 meters today.
Wide Load?Wide Load?
Wide Load?

7.5 meters wide actually. This is one of the removable weir pieces for the Mildura Weir.
Close shaveClose shave
Close shave

The owner of this parked car is lucky to find it unscathed.


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