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History from the "Murray River Charts"

Abandoned steamboats and barges, tall red-gum wharves, small towns that show evidence of once having been much larger, old station homesteads that face the Murray.

To the river traveller all these are 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.

After Sturt first discovered and named the Murray in 1830 after Hamilton Hume first discovered it near Albury in 1824. it was over twenty years before the first two steamboats made their way upstream. In 1853 the 'Mary Ann', skippered by William Randell, and the 'Lady Augusta', under Captain Francis Cadell, ran an unexpected race up-river, each sure of being the first to open up the Murray for traffic. When the 'Lady Augusta' passed the 'Mary Ann' just above the Murrumbidgee Junction, the race was on, resulting in the 'Lady Augusta' arriving at the tiny settlement of Swan Hill only hours before the 'Mary Ann'. Both were greeted with much enthusiasm and hospitality by the few settlers along the way. Randell took the 'Mary Ann' on up to Moama, while Cadell, after travelling a short distance upstream, turned back for Goolwa.

By 1860 there were seventeen steams trading and operating on the river, and by 1863 the new town of Echuca had a population of 300. Less than ten years later the population was 1600, and Echuca was Victoria's second largest port with 240 boats annually trading in all types of goods, particularly wool. Steamboats pushed up the Darling, Murrumbidgee, Murray and the many small tributaries, opening up just on 4000 miles of waterway, and making it one of the longest navigable river systems in the world. Weirs have now reduced the navigable length considerably.

Land serviced by the Murray-Darling system was rapidly opened up, as transport of produce was assured and supplies of equipment, labour and stores became readily and cheaply available.

By the turn of the century the steamboat era was already passing as railway lines linked many river towns with the larger cities.

Eventually boats were tied up all along the Murray, waiting for work that never came. Some sank or were broken up. A few ran half-way into this century, as fishing boats, logging steamers and passenger boats. The P.S. 'Industry' was still operating as a snagging steamer in the 'bottom end' well into the 1960s. During the 1956 floods the P.S. 'Success' was put into commission to take wool from floodbound stations on the Darling, and passenger steamers still operate on the Murray, taking tourists along the peaceful reaches of our biggest river. The Murray is still navigable for 1986 kilometres.

Interest in restoring and using old steamboats has been revived, and there are some, like the 'Etona' and 'Melbourne' which, to the delight of steam enthusiasts, keep their steam engines in defiance of diesel power. Others like the'Pyap' 'Canberra', 'Coonawarra' and the 'Murray River Queen', carry on the tradition of the passenger steamers and provide interesting and unusual excursions for visitors.

As river trade declined and skippers left the river, many of their old charts were lost or destroyed, but a few were kept and still remain in private collections, museums and libraries. These tell the story of the Murray and the steamboat era as well as any novel - Bunyip burned here - Bitch and Pups - snaggy corner - Mallee Cliffs Hotel - Scotties wood pile - rocks 2 feet under at 3 feet 6 inches Euston - Cal Lal police station - customs house - clay bars in the bights - 'Gem' sank 1948.

Navigation of the Murray has always been intermittent because of variations in river levels from month to month and year to year. As far back as 1863, proposals were made for improvement of the River Murray system. Irrigation began in Victoria in the 1870s, and made in imperative that an agreement be reached between the three states.

Commission came into existence to put this into effect and to establish a policy of river management and water sharing between the States.

The first agreement allowed for construction of dams, weirs, locks and snagging and dredging of the Murray.

The River Murray Waters Agreement has been amended at various times as community requirements of the River have changed. The Agreement on 1983 broadened the scope of the Commission to enable it to consider water quality, recreation and environmental issues.

In 1988 the River Murray Commission was superseded by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and its role expanded to give it the responsibility for advising the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council on water, land and environmental matters in the basin. The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council was established in 1985 and comprises twelve Ministers from the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Their responsibility is to promote planning and management of the land, water and environmental resources of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Working closely with the Murray-Darling Basin Commission are the New South Wales Department of Water Resources, the Rural Water Corporation of Victoria and the Engineering and Water Supply Department of South Australia who man, operate and maintain the various storages and structures for the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

For more information on Randell & Cadell


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