No cruise this year! Well not the cruise I’d planned anyway, on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Sydney. But needing a break, I decided to revisit Echuca, famous for hosting the largest paddle steamer fleet in the world and, of course, took a couple of boat trips.
As a tourist from UK I’d visited Echuca in 1989 on a day trip but not since so a revisit was well overdue.
This time round I went by train – another of my ambitions, not a particularly ambitious one, is to ride every rail track in Victoria. Only Bairnsdale and Swan Hill left! Echuca has a fine railway station but it now gets but one train per weekday, two a day at weekends.
Echuca was first settled by Europeans in the 1850s and by the 1870s was Australia’s largest inland port, being the point of shortest distance between the Murray River and Melbourne. Across the river, on the New South Wales side, is Moama. The first bridge was constructed in 1878. A new bridge is now under construction.
The railway arrived in 1864, about the same time as the wharf was constructed. Until the 1890s depression the town flourished, but during the first half of the twentieth century the expansion of the rail networks on both sides of the river meant there was less need to for paddle steamers to bring cargo to Echuca. 1944 saw the removal of 80% of the wharf, cut up to provide firewood for Melbourne.
From here on the story might have been one of progressive decay, but from the 1960s the importance of Echuca’s heritage and its tourist potential was realised.
Today tourism is Echuca’s largest earner, given a boost by the TV series, ‘All the Rivers Run’ (I bought and am now watching the DVDs).
Apart from the wharf and multiple paddle steamer trips, there’s an excellent and free Discovery Centre, numerous preserved buildings in the port area and elsewhere, an excellent museum, the National Holden Motor Museum and more.
Next year, if plans work out, I’ll be back in Echuca, taking UK friends to see the sights. If you have the chance, do so too.