With memories of my March Echuca mini-break fading, I decided it was time for another short break travelling by train. This trip was to Swan Hill, about 155km NW of Echuca and, like Echuca, on the south bank of the River Murray which separates Victoria and New South Wales.
The Echuca and Swan Hill lines share the same track as far as Bendigo (164km/100mi from Melbourne), after which the line to Swan Hill branches off for the 183km/114mi run to Swan Hill.
The railway reached Swan Hill in 1890, subsequently being extended for a further 42km, now freight-only, to Piangil. No prizes for speed – the journey takes 4:42, an average speed of 74kph/46mph – but the leisurely pace is made up for by the affordable comfort of travelling first class – the return fare was just A$108/£60. I stayed at the Jane Eliza motel across from the station and was very comfortable there.
What to do? There are a number of attractions in the area if you have a car, but if on foot there’s really just one, the Pioneer Settlement. It claims to be Australia’s first open-air museum and opened in 1963.
The train arrived at 1227 giving me time to check in at the motel and then get down to the Settlement for the river cruise.
It’s a good job that the tickets cover admission for two days since I spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the next day there, and I’m still not sure whether I saw everything. You can find lots of information on the Settlement’s history, buildings and contents in Heritage Victoria’s report recommending that it be added to the state register. Not everyone wants this.
Highlights for me:
The PS Pyap cruise: In contrast to Echuca, there’s just this one paddle steamer offering a one-hour cruise each afternoon. Shades of George Washington’s axe, she was built in 1896 but has been re-hulled, re-decked and her engine replaced with a Gardiner diesel.
Wandering round the now-static PS Gem, the largest paddle steamer to trade on the Murray. She was built in 1876. In 1882 she was sawn in half by hand, and the two parts were pulled apart by bullocks to allow an extra one third to be built in between the two parts. In more recent times several cruise ships have been cut and stretched, though without the use of bullocks!
A ride in the Settlement’s 1924 Dodge Tourer (included in ticket price, as is the carriage ride)
Seeing the Castlemaine-built D3 locomotive – like many of our exhibits at the Newport Railway Museum in need of some TLC.
Victorian Railways Dd fleet ran to 261 locos from nine builders including Baldwin in the USA and Beyer Peacock, Manchester
More than a few exhibits, especially the traction engines, were a reminder of Britain being the workshop of the world.
Watching a blacksmith at work is always compelling
Visiting all the Settlement buildings – I went to the laser light show so was also able to see them after dark.
I did say that the Settlement was Swan Hill’s one real attraction but I’ll end with mentioning Swan Hill’s contribution to Australia’s fixation with giant things, the Giant Murray Cod.
With this trip done, I’ve just one more Victorian rail line to ride: the line to Bairnsdale. Watch this space!