On the 9th September 2012, it was 100 years since the keel was laid for the PS Melbourne and a major celebration was held at Mildura to celebrate. Jenny and I with Penguin, Rob and Pat Ripley with Green Bean and Norm and Jen Boreham in my other boat Curlew all made the trip to Mildura.

It was the biggest gathering of paddles Steamers seen for many decades. The Adelaide made the 880 km trip from Echuca, taking 12 days to cover the distance. It has been 60 years since the Adelaide has left Echuca, and was a major undertaking for a boat that is 146 years old. In Echuca she does tours locally and never has to work hard. For this trip she steamed all day every day to make the distance in time. Lift up bridges had to be negotiated, many of which had not been lifted in years, as well as the locks. The river is still very high and in some places almost in minor flood, so at some bridges clearance was touch and go.

The way to negotiate the bridges when going downstream is to back through so the boat can be under power and retain steerage then inch her way slowly through. A stick was fastened above the towing pole to be sure there was enough clearance. The only mechanical issue experienced was that the support for the fire grates in the boiler collapsed at Swan Hill, due the extended use and intense heat. Local steam enthusiast at Swan Hill rushed to assist providing equipment and materials and even spares from their own engines and within a day Adelaide was again underway. All along the river communities turned out to watch the Adelaide pass by, in a scene not witnessed before for most. The communities were fantastic in their support. On a number of occasions people turned up with trailer loads of firewood and at other places food supplies. Our son Andrew crewed on the boat the whole way as the cook, and learned to master the old wood fired stove in the original galley.

From the bottom end of the river the Oscar W steamed up from Goolwa, joining the Marion from Mannum and the Industry from Renmark and other smaller boats to meet the Ruby at Wentworth. Ruby and Marion are sister ships, and had not been together for 80 years. On the Friday night about 12 boats assembled at Wentworth for the trip back upstream to Mildura. We assembled at Curlwaa to watch the last bridge lift, and the procession of boats pass through, with whistles and steam galore.

When the fleet arrived at Mildura there were about 30 paddle boats including most of the large and original steamers that still exist. Unfortunately the Ruby did not make it due to major boiler problems, This was a great disappointment for her supporters as she was the closest and the most recently restored. There was some talk of the Adelaide towing her to Mildura, as the Adelaide’s role back in the day was as a tow boat often pulling two fully laden barges. However the current was very swift and the wind strong and this would have made for a dangerous tow.

On Sunday in Mildura the upstream boats met the downstream boats in a wail of whistles, then paraded up and down the river for the day. The river banks were lined with an estimated 15,000 spectators. Cruises were offered by six steamers and they were kept busy all day.

The Adelaide is currently moored at Mildura until a crew can be assembled to bring her back upstream to Echuca. It has been suggested that as she is already half way down the river that continuing down to Goolwa for the Wooden Boat festival in February 2013. This would be fantastic, but it would be a very long way back upstream.

This was a most remarkable event to see so many paddle steamers together in one place, something that won’t be seen again or for a very long time. Nowhere else in the world does there exist so many original paddle steamers.

David Stott.

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