River people like to rally; in the 1980s there were regular gatherings at Mildura for Signal Point races, with boats from both ends of the river meeting in the middle.
A 2001 'Source to Sea' event (to mark the centenary of Australian federation) was to be tinnies from Khancoban, then a fleet from Echuca to Goolwa. Low water resulted in the tinnies being on trailers, and the fleet commencing at Mildura.
A 2003 'Randell Cadell' event (to mark the 150th anniversary of the first commercial navigation on the Murray-Darling system) did succeed in reaching Echuca from Goolwa.
A subsequent attempt by Oscar W to celebrate its centenary by voyaging to Echuca, the port where it was built, could go no further than Swan Reach.
In 2011, the water was good, and the river set out to mark the centenary of PS Industry at Renmark by rallying from Goolwa and Mildura. This would have been the first reunion of the of the two big passenger boats (PS Marion & PS Ruby) for 50 years. MDBC hadn't opened the navigation pass at lock 2; the downriver fleet was stranded, and the reunion didn't happen.
All omens augured well for the centenary of PS Melbourne in Mildura in 2012: the water was up; all locks or navigation passes would be available; the bridge at Swan Hill (out of use for 4 years for overhaul) would be ready. Preserved boats would voyage from Goolwa, Mannum & Renmark, and Echuca.
These would be joined by a large range of private vessels: paddle & screw, steam & diesel, metal hull & wooden. Many WBA and SLOA members would trail their boats to Mildura for the key weekend; they had happy memories of attending the 2010 Wentworth Junction Rally, where a picnic fleet ventured through lock 10 and return.
It all came to pass, and almost hitch free. PS Adelaide left Echuca on Sat.25.8; PS Oscar W left Goolwa on Tues.28.8, the two accumulated other vessels along the way, but the fleets had to cope with strong currents and strong winds.
Lower Murray and upper Murray boats assembled at Wentworth (junction of the Murray and Darling, and the division point for the two river halves) on Fri.7.9, then ran as a combined fleet to Mildura on Sat.8.9.
The big day was Sun.9.9, and the weather was perfect: the wind had vanished, the sun was bright, even more local and visiting boats joined the festivities, forming a triple parade in the morning, then the speeches and cake cutting, then an afternoon of short trips on the commercial vessels, and a grand parade at 15.15. A crowd of 15,000 fitted with ease onto the extensive Victorian and NSW banks. Visiting vessels stayed for a further week, with a mini fleet running to Red Cliffs and back to Psyche Bend for an overnight stay Wednesday into Thursday, followed by short cruises to Coomealla on Saturday and to Wentworth on Sunday as the SA boats set forth for home.
There has been extensive coverage in papers, tv and now youtube. The best is a 13 min documentary at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJl_hkB1fXE. It incorporates the 7 min ABC newsclip, which includes a short section when I was interviewed. It concentrates on the big boats, with only fleeting glimpses of the small one.
The fleet had 26 paddleboats (25 parading; one static), of which seven were steam. There were at least nine wooden and/or steam launches.
A full report and lots of photos are spread over four pages at www.paddleducks.co.uk/smf/index.php?topic=5968.30