Echuca and Murray-Darling Trade, Victoria

The wool trade along the Murray was vital to British-Australia. Echuca was a major port for paddle steers. Learn and explore more on a Odyssey Traveller small group package tour of Victoria and the goldfields for mature and senior travellers, couples or singles with a curiosity. Understand the relationship of the Murray river to Echuca to Adelaide and Mildura.

21 May 20 · 5 mins read

Echuca and Murray-Darling Trade, Victoria

The ‘paddle-steamer capital of the world’, Echuca on the Murray River might be Victoria‘s prettiest small town.

The name Echuca is an Yorta Yorta Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting of the waters’. It is here that three great rivers meet: the Goulburn, the Campaspe, and the Murray.

The Yorta Yorta were the traditional owners of the land around Echuca. The European settlement was established in 1853 by the ex-convict Henry Hopwood, who settled on the banks of the Murray, converted some rough sheds into an inn and a store, and then established punt and ferry crossings over the Murray and Campaspe Rivers. The Gold Rush had meant that a large number of cattle were being moved from New South Wales to the Goldfields: by developing a monopoly on transport over the river, Hopwood prospered.

Echuca, Victoria.

Over the following years, Echuca became a focal point for the extensive Murray-Darling River trade. It was Australia’s most important port, a centre of the paddle-steamers which moved down the river, transporting wool from sheep stations to the city, and consumer goods from the city to the stations. In 1864, Echuca was linked to Melbourne and Bendigo by rail, enabling wool to move to the major market of Melbourne; and to be shipped to the even bigger markets in the United Kingdom. From 1861 to 1871, the town’s population grew threefold to 4789; while the population eventually reached around 15, 000, with more than one-hundred pubs in the city centre.

The still Murray was suddenly in perpetual motion, as paddle-steamers passed up and down the river. The paddle-steamers were of an Australian design, particularly adapted for the Murray. Flat-bottomed with a broad brim, they offered greater stability, and usually had two decks or more. Steam powered the paddles, usually at the back or on the sides of the boat.

From 1865 to 1867 a huge wooden wharf of red gum was built – 10 metres high (to cope with tidal change), and 75 metres long. By 1884, it was 332 metres in length.

However, Echuca’s fortunes shifted in the 1890s. The expansion of road and rail networks deeper into the Australian outback reduced the significance of the paddle steamers. Cargo transport on the Murray River through the Port of Echuca ceased in the very early 20th century.

The early 20th century saw the lands around Echuca irrigated, and the town convert to agriculture. Today, agriculture and tourism are the major industries supporting a population of almost 15,000.

Echuca remains home to the biggest fleet of paddle-steamers in the world, today in operation transporting tourists up and down the Murray on cruises. The PS Adelaide, built 1866, is the world’s oldest operating wooden-hulled paddle steamer. Other historic vessels include the PS Pevensey (1911), PS Alexander Arbuthnot (1923), PS Canberra (1913), and the PS Pride of the Murray (1924). The PS Emmylou (built 1980 with a steam engine in use from 1906) hosts dinner cruises and longer, 3-4 day journeys.

Echuca paddle-steamer
Paddle-steamer on the Murray River, Echuca.

The history of the paddle-steamers can also be explored on the red-gum Port of Echuca, still in use for the leisure cruises. The heritage-listed wharf remains in its original form, though the 1884 extension was removed in the 1940s. The Port of Echuca Discovery Centre is home to an interactive museum devoted to the port’s history and paddle-steamers. The wharf’s cargo shed offers an audiovisual presentation depicting life on the paddle-steamers. Stop in at the Star Hotel, and look for the underground tunnel, which helped drinkers avoid the police in the days when the pub was a ‘sly grog shop’.

The nearby Sharp’s Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade is an authentic and fully restored penny-arcade, with heritage machines – you’re given a fistful of pennies on entry.

The Red Gum Works is a historic sawmill that recreates the old timber-milling days, with wood-turners and blacksmiths working on traditional equipment.

Odyssey Traveller visits Echuca and the Murray River as part of our tour of Victoria. The tour begins with three nights accommodation in Melbourne, giving you the chance to explore the city’s Victorian laneway architecture, and grand historic homes. We then head to the gold rush city of Ballarat, stopping off for a tour of Werribee Park and Garden. In Ballarat, we visit Sovereign Hill, and enjoy a guided walking tour of the city’s historic architecture.

From Ballarat, we head to the gold rush town of Castlemaine, stopping at the spa towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs on the way. Our time in Castlemaine also includes a trip to the well-preserved town of Maldon, where we enjoy a guided tour of an 1880s gold mine. After our time in Castlemaine, our guided tour heads to Echuca, stopping on the way for a day tour of Bendigo, where we enjoy a walking tour of this historic city. From Echuca, we make a day trip to the wetlands of the Barmah Forest.

After Echuca, the trip heads to the historic towns of Chiltern and Beechworth, stopping for a wine tour of the All Saints Winery on the way. The tour then heads to Benalla, home to an important regional art gallery with fascinating exhibitions, and Yarra Glen, in the Yarra Valley. Finally, our tour of regional Victoria ends in Melbourne.

Every Odyssey Traveller small group private tour is designed for mature and senior travellers, who want an authentic experience of their destinations for a maximum of 12 people. We are lead by a tour operator/tour guide, chosen for their expert knowledge of history and culture, and are joined by expert local guides, and provide detailed information and context before the tour. We move in small groups, and have built a strong community of like-minded people, passionate about travel.

The tour price includes 15 nights accommodation, entrance feeds for attractions, and several meals, ranging from lunch to dinner to morning tea.

Odyssey Traveller has specialised in world travel since 1983. In recent months, with the federal and state government travel restrictions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, we have shifted our focus toward Australia tours for the Australian and New Zealand markets.We are excited to begin to support Australia‘s tourism industry, a major employer of students and other young people, and people in regional areas that would otherwise see significant financial hardship.

Our tours are designed for a range of fitness and health levels. If you have any concerns, please seek expert advice from a health service before you book, or call or email us for a consultation about the tour.

Murray River.
Murray River, Echuca.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

You can see all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Victoria:

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