Paddle Back in Time at Echuca Moama in Victoria

The romance of the river is alive and well in Australia’s Paddlesteamer Capital, where the twin towns of Echuca and Moama ooze a rich history.

Abandoned steamboats and barges, tall red gum wharfs, small towns that show evidence of once having been much larger, and old station homesteads that face the river are all constant reminders of the days when hundreds of steamers raced along the Murray, opening up large areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. For many settlers they were the only source of supply and contact with the outside world.

From the earliest days of its history, growth and development of the Echuca Moama area has been intimately linked with the Murray River System. The paddlesteamer days of 1865 to 1910 were a prosperous time for Echuca.

A great spot for fishing

Echuca’s close proximity to Melbourne and the ambitions of the city’s founder, led to the Port of Echuca becoming the largest inland port in Australia. The riverboat trade was of national importance because it had the effect of opening up inland Australia for settlement and thereby increasing the country’s production of wool.

When the rail link with Melbourne was established in 1864, Echuca, being the closest point on the Murray to Melbourne, grew rapidly. Paddlesteamers traded along the Murray Darling River System, bringing wool from isolated stations in outback Australia to the railhead at Echuca, for eventual sale and shipping overseas. During the boom period, products worth a quarter of a million pounds were handled annually.

For many years Echuca was the main ship building centre for the river transport industry. As the ship building industry grew, so did the demand for red gum as a durable timber for wharf piles, railway sleepers and building materials.

The riverboat days were glorious times for Echuca until a great depression hit in the 1890s. As the railways were extended in New South Wales and road transport improved, the river trade declined and the old wharf, built in 1865, was defunct by the 1920s.

Try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding

Today the nostalgic whistle is still a familiar sound, as the wharf is home to the world’s largest fleet of operating riverboats. Cruises run throughout the day aboard the PS Pevensey (star of the TV mini series “All the Rivers Run”), PS Alexander Arbuthnot, PS Canberra, Pride of the Murray, and PS Emmylou, a beautifully restored steamer that offers overnight cruises.

Echuca’s other star attraction is the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre, where you can step back in time to 1860 and relive the authentic steam port, explore the revitalised Wharf and watch the steam driven saw mill in operation.

The pedestrian-only Murray Esplanade is lined with historic shops, cafes and hotels with plenty to engage the visitor as they wander this precinct. Echuca Moama is far from living in the past though. Its lively spirit can be experienced in and around the township, where you can find great eateries, friendly pubs, alfresco cafés, chic wine bars and country-style bakeries. There are many specialty shops located in heritage buildings in and around Old Echuca Town.

With three great rivers—Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe— converging here, fishing, boating, swimming, camping, biking and bushwalking are naturally big attractions—and you don't want to miss the opportunity to spend a few nights relaxing on a houseboat and enjoying the sheer bliss of the mighty Murray.

Echuca and Moama are perfect spots for a picnic in the countryside

Roshan Sukhla
About the author

Editor of Where Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast)