Kevin Hutchinson has breathed new life into the river boat capital of Echuca by restoring five grand Murray River paddle-steamers.

Story & photos by Richard Shaw

With a deafening blast from its steam whistle, the PS Adelaide sets off, then the hypnotic sounds of hissing steam, clanking metal cogs and paddlewheels chopping through the water take over. It’s poetry in motion as the world’s oldest surviving wooden-hulled paddle-steamer, built in 1866, chugs along the mighty Murray River near the Victorian town of Echuca.
More than a century ago, some 200 of these magnificent vessels plied up and down the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers, opening up Australia’s interior and providing a vital transportation lifeline to the pioneers who came to explore Australia’s inland agricultural potential. But the role of paddle-steamers in the nation’s history was supplanted by the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century. In 1960, the PS Adelaide was laid to rest in Echuca’s Hopwood Park, a symbolic death knell to the grand old paddleboat days and a time when Echuca was Australia’s largest inland port and a bustling town of commerce.
As boats like the Adelaide withered away in parks or rotted on riverbanks, young Kevin Hutchinson was becoming increasingly despondent. Kevin, who grew up further downstream on the Murray in Mildura, had developed a boyhood fascination with the boats. “To see one sinking, being cut up for scrap or dismantled was not a good sight,” he says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #49

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2006