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Loxton is a renowned stretch of difficult river to navigate

Loxton mapLoxton

This stretch of the Murray is renowned for its hairpin bends, narrow channels and dangerous sandbars, before the weirs, water levels were seasonal an boats often spent more time heaving than steaming.

Even after the weirs were completed in the late 1920s, low water during droughts exposed sand patches and mudbanks, and boats and barges need to be hauled across the shallows by wire ropes secured around nearby trees.

In some cases cargo was unloaded to smaller boats and reloaded once the lighter paddle steamer had crossed the barrier. Sometimes a steamer was able to continue downstream after persuading the lockmaster to release enough water to raise the river level. Even today, a larger boat may occasionally need water to be released from the weir.

William Drage, author of Riverboats and Rivermen, spent much of his life on river boats and recalls a number of 'heaving' episodes along the Renmark to Loxton stretch of the river, including one memory of the PS Marion, in the 1930s, struggling through what he describes as 'teacupfuls of water'.

River Wrecks

Jolly Miller

The Jolly Miller, built at Goolwa in 1866, was the first iron steamer constructed in South Australia from raw materials, rather than imported in sections and reassembled. It was named Jolly Miller for its owner, William Basham, who was the miller in Port Elliot. The river boat sank near the Pyap Pumping Station (downstream from Loxton) in 1933.

The paddle steamer was both a passenger and cargo vessel. It had accommodation for six men in the forecastle, three sets of four bunks for women in the stern, a main cabin and two officers' cabins. Its draught was light, enabling the boat to navigate the shallows during low water.

In 1869, while hawking (trading), the Jolly Miller was impounded by Customs Officers for carrying illegal goods.

Floating Shops

MerleSome of the earliest, and arguably the most important, vessels on the river were the hawking boats (trading) that brought goods and stores to isolated river communities. William Randell's Mary Ann, the first steamer on the Murray in 1853, traded as it travelled along the river.

The remote stations, the development settlements, the woodcutters and the fishermen all needed supplied and welcomed the floating stores.

These vessels sold everything from foodstuffs, cooking wares, axes, wheelbarrows, nails and boots to rolls of cloth, the latest fashions, music and books.

When families could not afford to buy what they needed, they bartered milk, eggs, fruit, meat or other produce, which was then sold by the captain as the boat moved along the river.

The trading boats not only sold goods but were a source of information and a focus for social activities. A visit by a hawker gave people a chance to gather together and an excuse to dress up.

Some vessels, such as the Prince Alfred, were specifically built to be floating stores. Read about John Egge.

Other such as the Queen and the PS Marion operated in this role at various times. The largest and longest-servicing hawking vessels was the Merle and the Flo D barge carrying additional stock.

GPS: Zone 54 E 0460180 N 6188032
Panel in the riverfront park to the rear of Loxton Historical Village

Interpretive panels are located at:

River Boat Trail | Border Cliffs | Renmark | Berri | Loxton | Waikerie | Morgan | Blanchetown | Mannum
Murray Bridge | Tailem Bend | Wellington | Meningie | Point Malcolm | Milang | Goolwa

Please do not interfere in any way with ship-wrecks and land based heritage sites

Published with permission of Government of South Australia
Department for Environment and Heritage


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