Towns along the Murray are orchestrating a new era of river tourism, led by old-fashioned paddle-steamers.

Story John Dunn   Photo: Destination NSW

Richly painted in cream, with a contrasting burgundy trim, the Emmylou is a stylish sight as she sits sedately by the bank of the Murray at Echuca’s busy river port. Craft of all kinds are moored around, but the Emmylou is clearly the queen of the fleet. This historic boat, the world’s only wood-fired cruising paddle-steamer, is looking good after a half-million-dollar upgrade, which has provided modern facilities ranging from en suite cabins to fine dining and strategically placed viewing decks in readiness for leading a new wave of sailing along Australia’s greatest waterway.

“The Murray is recognised as Australia’s iconic river,” says Mark Francis, chief executive officer of the Murray Regional Tourism Board. “It’s an area with a strong Indigenous heritage and was pivotal to opening up the inland after colonisation. It’s also a significant environmental asset and features internationally recognised habitats along its course. There is much interest in the role the river played in our history and this is reflected in the strong growth of visitor numbers.”

A trio of Victorians – businessmen brothers Craig and Rohan Burgess and long-time boat skipper Neil Hutchinson – share the positive view that the river, which was once the nation’s vital inland lifeline, is being reborn as a fresh and fascinating travel destination. So, four years ago, they formed Murray River Paddle Steamers to bring visitors to sail this great waterway and experience the geographic diversity of the country it traverses. They bought the Emmylou and two other boats, PS Canberra and Pride of the Murray. “The Emmylou is our flagship and we are confident it will revive the river trade, not with cargo, as in the past, but with present-day travellers,” former Asian trade executive Craig says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #128

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2020