We had registered Penguin to go around to Narooma for Boats afloat festival, which is always a good trip and event. The slide on was packed and Penguin’s trailer all but hitched up to the car.

However, over the past month or two we have moved my parents into Aged Care with all the work that that entails, and we had to sell their house. The Estate Agent wanted to see us to list the house, the night we were supposed to already be gone. Then there was a huge amount of packing and clearing to be done before the first potential buyers came through over the weekend.

It all got too hard and we could not justify running off for a boating weekend 700 km’s away through all that. So we shelved the trip and got stuck into the house spending a couple of full days with the help of family and friends and got it to an acceptable state for open days.

Meanwhile our son Andrew was crewing on the Paddle Steamer Alexander Arbuthnot, from Echuca downstream to Koondrook/Barham, for the opening of their new wharf on the following Monday. He said why don’t you come to Koondrook? It is not too far. As we were already packed, our calendars were cleared and we could do no more on the house in the short term, we decided to go to Koondrook. Koondrook is located on the Murray river about an hour’s drive west of Echuca, near Cohuna and Kerang.

The council have built a new interpretive wharf that winds among the trees on the spot of the original Koondrook wharf, with a pontoon extension suitable for Paddle Steamers.

The Arbuthnot was built in Koondrook as a barge in 1916 by the Arbuthnot saw mills, then was converted to a steamer in 1923. She was the last Paddle Steamer built on the river in the paddle steamer age. It was the first time in about 70 years that she had been back to Koondrook, and of course this made quite an event for Koondrook and when we arrived, she was already busy taking one hour cruises.

The opening of the wharf occurred on Monday, and despite it being a weekday, all the politicians and councillors were there and all the community turned out as well and a surprisingly large crowd witnessed the opening. The wharf is a great feature for the town, and I think it is a case of “build it and they will come”. For boats travelling on the river it is a convenient stopping spot with good mooring and the town services are right there.

As well as the Arbuthnot, other paddle steamers had travelled from Echuca. In all there was about seven, including Canberra (1913), Etona (1898), Billy Tea, Black Shag, Ranger, and Adventurous. Our little putter made eight boats overall.

The river was still effected by flood and was right up to the banks so using the launching ramp in Gunbower creek was interesting as the ramp was all underwater, and there was a row of posts in the water that I had to avoid, not sure what was under or around them.

The current was swift, running at about 4 to 5 kmh, and Penguin and t}he paddle steamers worked hard when heading upstream. The Arbuthnot took about 2 days to get downstream to Koondrook, but took 3 and half to get back to Echuca. The river there was also effected by what they are calling “black water” All the leaf matter from the flooded areas has been washed into the river and the carbon has sucked all the oxygen from the water. There is great distress about the fish which were dying, and the Murray crayfish were even coming out of the water to breathe.

After completing the cruises, the Arbuthnot prepared to depart for Echuca. Provisions were restocked and many tonnes of firewood that had been donated by the Arbuthnot sawmills had to be loaded. All the crew and some others including myself, formed a chain gang and in about an hour had all the wood loaded. The hold was full and there were large stacks of wood on the front and rear decks. There was enough firewood to get her back to Echuca.

Fellow WBA member Roderick Smith was also there and came for a run with us in Penguin to farewell the Arbuthnot as it departed for Echuca.

Next day we also headed off but went via Deniliquin and launched Penguin on the Edward river which we have not been on before. Again, the river was still at minor flood level and the caravan park was just recovering from inundation. We had a lovely cruise upstream with no other boats around. We tied up to a tree for morning tea in a peaceful location with a nice sandy beach.

At Deniliquin there is an amazing engineering achievement called the Lawson Syphon, built about 1939. The Mulwala channel runs from Yarrawonga through NSW, to Deniliquin but is much higher than the Edward river. So that the water in the Mulwala channel can be used to irrigate areas further west, a tunnel was built that takes the channel under the Edward river for a distance of about 1.5km’s then pops up on the other side, and continues on its way west. – (And we all thought the Burnley tunnel under the Yarra was a new thing). Water from this channel is also partly diverted to the Edward river in times of flood like now, as a bypass getting around the narrows of the Barmah Choke which restricts the water flow in the Murray. Sort of a heart bypass for the river. With all the froth and bubble, it also was serving to oxygenate the Edward river, and the black water had disappeared in Deniliquin.

After a couple of days there we headed back to Echuca, where the Arbuthnot was expected to arrive any day. We launched Penguin again and set off downstream to meet her. However our times did not work out and after a couple of hours of waiting we turned around to go back to the caravan park and just as we were mooring, we heard the whistle from the Arbuthnot arriving at the Echuca wharf about 6.30pm. Next day Jenny returned to Melbourne on the train and I brought Andrew and his gear back with me in the ute.

The Arbuthnot set a few records on that trip, travelling the furthest it had for 70 years, going back to where it was built, and when one of the smaller boats broke down, doing a little towing just like it used to do.           ( David Stott)

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