The purpose of this Queen’s Birthday long weekend expedition was to meet our South Australian compatriots (the SA WBA) at the border of our respective territories. Our plan was to voyage together up the Glenelg River in convoy on the Sunday afternoon to see how far we could reach into the remote gorges of the National Park.

The Victorian contingent was led by our President,Chris Kelly (“Taker” - Michael Storer punt), with a diverse team consisting of Andrew Campbell (“Mars” – Berkeley Engineering Mini tug), Leigh and Jo Hayley and family (“Atlas” - 1940 Williamstown built workboat), Graham Signorini (“Nebari” – self designed and built pedal kayak), Stuart McGarvie and Bob Lewis (“Speewah Jack” – 15% extended Caledonian Yawl) and Leigh McNolty (“Blue Wren” – Hartley 16)

The South Australians were led by their President Barry Johnson (“Gumleaf” – 15 ft Blaxland Chapman powered restored clinker putt-putt) with an at least equally diverse group of boats including Rosi and Graham Hardy (“Impulse” 1928 Clausen clinker putt-putt with its original Blaxland Pup), Tim and Anne Potter (“Red Ned” Dehavilland 8ft tinnie- tender to their wooden Hartley motor cruiser (not trailable)), Andreas and Lina Oest (“Ms Lina” – Glued lap ply David Payne Cinema design) and Kevin and Josephine Whiteley (“Josephine Paule” self designed and built strip plank motor cruiser).

By a fortunate co-incidence there were two whaleboats from Portland and Port Fairy making a trip down the river over the weekend. A replica irish curragh was accompanying them on the trip and we had a mass meeting of all the above boats at Hutcheson’s landing 15km upriver from Nelson on Sunday afternoon as a culmination of this wooden boat gathering.

To go back to the beginning, we arrived at Kywong Caravan Park in Nelson on Friday afternoon after a 500km drive from Melbourne. Chris, Graham and I settled into our cabin while Andrew Campbell made himself at home aboard his tug boat on the trailer. The Hayleys rented a house nearby.

Gathering at the Nelson pub on Friday night we met some of the local Glenelg River Classic Boat Club members, including Ally McLeod and Bruce Mackereth who introduced us to the whaleboat and curragh crews.

On Saturday morning the launching ramp at Simpson’s landing near the caravan park was abuzz with revving outboard motors as boats slid off their trailers. Our Victorian group set off in drizzle with Graham out in front in Nebari proving that pedal power can beat petrol power. Our aim was to reach Donovan’s Landing to meet Stuart and Bob on Speewah Jack. They had been on the river for a couple of days living aboard and testing out how everything worked on the newly launched boat.

At Donovans Landing, about 5km upriver from Nelson, we found a sheltered spot for lunch and had a look at the Glenelg River Classic Boat Club clubhouse where we were to meet the South Australian contingent that night for a BBQ dinner.

On the way back to Nelson there were some sunny moments before it bucketed down with rain for a while. While the rest of us got wet, Andrew Campbell on “Mars” just shut the cabin door and continued on as usual. All the machinery on our boats worked without a hitch and we were satisfied with the shakedown cruise as preparation for the big day tomorrow.

That night we arrived back at the clubhouse by car for the BBQ in the dark at 5.30pm – this is midwinter! The South Australians arrived at the same time half an hour earlier! Potential confusion was avoided as long as we always specified Victorian time or South Australian time as part of our conversations. Some people had modern devices which changed the time setting as they crossed the border -not necessarily helpful if you are not aware that your “i thingo” is doing this.

The clubhouse at Donovan’s Landing was a warm and inviting venue on a cold wlnter’s night for the dinner where members of all three clubs could get to know each other. President of the Glenelg club, Bruce Mackereth, welcomed us with a brief talk about the history of the club before he took over the barbequeing of the meat that guests had brought with them. Country hospitality was taken to a new level with the dinner that Glenelg club members had prepared for us.

After dinner our president Chris Kelly and the South Australian WBA President Barry Johnson each made thank you speeches and presented club burgees to be displayed in the clubhouse. Plans were made for a 10.00am departure from Simpsons Landing the next day, a lunch stop at Princess Margaret Rose caves and to continue upriver until we need to turn back so that we are back in Nelson about 4pm.

Sunday morning the sky was clear and the wind was light. The cold air around Simpsons Landing was soon filled with the sound and fumes of Blaxlands, Chapman Pups and sundry outboard motors. The expedition didn’t start with a bang, more of a putt-putt. A couple of the bigger boats joined us after launching at the main Nelson ramp and the fleet was on its way.

As we headed into the river gorge in convoy, Chris Kelly in his speedy punt was able to travel from boat to boat relaying messages and information about the route ahead. You are always looking ahead to the next bend in the river and finding new aspects to the rock formations, wildlife and little settlements as progress is made upriver.

Riverside shacks abound for at least the first five kilometres from Nelson, and with names like “Misbehave-Inn” and “The Beer Cave” you wonder what goes on in them. One of them seemed to have been unable to withstand the partying, (or was it the overstocked fridge?) and collapsed into the river.

Hayley’s Ford 10 powered work boat “Atlas”(too powerful to be called a putt-putt) pushed up into the lead, dragging a sternwave behind them that would please a wakeboarder. It looked like they were in danger of sinking when viewed from astern, or that they would be swamped by that sternwave if the engine cut out.

Two South Australian putt-putts, Barry Johnson’s “Gumleaf” and Graham Hardy’s “Impulse” graced the river with their classic sheerlines, varnished woodwork and rhythmic exhaust notes.

A couple of more recently built South Australian boats, “Ms Lina” and “Josephine Paule”, kept their occupants comfortable in well fitted out cabins.

A lunch stop at the Princess Margaret Rose Caves landing allowed us to go ashore and mingle with the other crews. Some jumped ship to other vessels at this point and so, as we disentangled the mooring lines we were on our way to our furthest point upriver

That point turned out to be Hutcheson’s landing, about 18kms from Nelson as the river flows. With perfect timing the two whaleboats arrived on their journey downstream to meet with the replica irish curragh at Hutchesons Landing. Rafting up all these boats at the small landing was a challenge, but there were no mishaps and we immediately had a crowd of garrulous wooden boaties on the jetties with standing room only. It was a mini wooden boat festival at a remote and beautiful location.

Neither South Australian time or Victorian time would slow down to allow us to linger here for long. Getting back to the launching ramps before dark now became the objective. It was a long motoring trip made interesting by looking at the features of the gorge from a different angle to the voyage out.

That night we had our final get together at the Nelson pub, sharing information about how our clubs operate and discussing ideas for future events. Proposals for a meeting of the SA, Vic and NSW WBA’s on the Murray were conceived and await further incubation.

On the Monday morning we looked forward to the trip home and returning to families, but we could look back on a successful event in the wooden boat calendar with possibilities for further contact with our interstate counterparts in the future. We had got to know a waterway of limestone gorges which is unlike any other part of Victoria. And we had strengthened the wooden boating community a little by making new connections with people and showing what our boats can do and where they can take us.

Leigh McNolty