Paddlesteamer coming down the Murray
Historic inland river port.
At one time Echuca was the state's most
substantial inland river port. It is this aspect
of its history that has become the basis for the
town's reorientation as a tourism centre,
particularly since the restoration of the old
port area began in 1973. Paddlesteamers again
travel the local waters, albeit for purely
recreational and nostalgic purposes. Moreover,
the survival of many original buildings has
enabled a meaningful renovation of the old
streetscape. It was the port area's authentic
appearance which attracted the makers of All The
Rivers Run who used it as the setting for their
television series on the riverboat era.
Echuca is located 205 km north of Melbourne
via the Hume and Northern Highways and 96 m
above sea-level in a largely irrigated pastoral
and agricultural district. There is some
manufacturing and stock saleyards in town but
tourism is the main industry now.
Prior to European settlement the area was
occupied by the Yorta-Yorta Aborigines. Explorer
Charles Sturt passed through the district while
overlanding cattle from Sydney to Adelaide in
1838 but the first European in the immediate
area was a British-born ex-convict named James
Maiden, who took up the Perricoota station
c.1843-45. The area became known as Maiden's
Punt when he established a punt service and an
inn on the northern bank of the river around
1845. It was the first cattle crossing on the
Murray River and thus became a major access
route. A settlement grew as other businesses
began to cluster around the inn and thus Moama
came to be gazetted in 1851.
Meanwhile, in 1850, another ex-convict named
Henry Hopwood took over Isaac White's punt at a
point further downstream. Hence this latter area
was initially known as 'Hopwood's Ferry'. In
1853 he added a slab hotel, ensuring his custom
by closing down the punt at nightfall just
before the arrival of the passenger coaches.
In 1852 the Mary Ann became the first
paddlesteamer to trade on the Murray; Moama
being the outermost stop on its maiden voyage.
However, it was Hopwood who capitalised on the
event and laid the foundations of Echuca's
success by suggesting the government establish a
river port on the southern bank.
The river trade was to prove crucial to the
economic development of the nation as it enabled
the opening up of Australia's interior, the
extension of land given over to primary
industries (particularly wool) and the capacity
of those properties to transport their goods to
the national and international marketplace.
In 1854 the government surveyor approved the
site chosen by Hopwood and renamed it 'Echuca',
a Yorta-Yorta term said to mean 'meeting of the
waters'. Land sales proceeded in 1855 and by
1856 Echuca had become dominant over Moama. In
the subsequent years Echuca emerged as the
colony's largest inland port.
In the twelve months from June 1856-June 1857
around 150 000 head of livestock crossed the
river at Echuca. Noted steamboat operator
Francis Cadell made the town his base, merchants
and importers began to set up shop in town and,
for a time, leeches were exported to London for
medical purposes. Settlement was further
encouraged by the 1862 Land Act which freed up
land in the district.
The development of the port led to a proposal
that the government link Melbourne directly to
the river trade by extending the emerging
railway system to Echuca which was the closest
Murray-River town to the capital. Its arrival in
1864 further enhanced the material progress of
the town with the population trebling within
twelve months. The rail link also prompted the
construction, in 1865, of an enormous wharf
which would ultimately extend to 1.2 km.
Shipbuilding and foundries subsequently
became substantial industries and Echuca further
benefited from the the growing demand for local
red-gum timber which proved ideal for wharves,
railway sleepers, mining props and building
generally. A dozen timber mills were soon in
The town reached its peak in the 1870s and
1880s and was nominated as a possible national
capital in 1891. However, the development of the
railway system, its extension to other Murray
River towns, the unreliability of water levels,
the lack of a national strategy for the
interstate river trade and improvements in road
transport ultimately led to the demise of the
trade on the internal waterways. Fortunately
however, many of the old structures associated
with the port were left standing, if neglected,
when the focus of business shifted to another
part of town.
Pig farming and dairying developed in the
1890s and 1900s with the consequent
establishment of bacon and butter factories.
Closer settlement expanded agricultural
production, particularly with soldier settlement
after World War I. Echuca was declared a city in
The Riverboats, Jazz, Food and Wine Festival
is held in February, the Rotary Steam, Horse and
Vintage Rally on the Queen's Birthday weekend in
June, the Port of Echuca Steam Heritage Festival
in October and the Agricultural Show in
November. The Southern 80 waterski race from
Torrumbarry to Echuca takes place in February.
Things to see:
The Echuca-Moama Visitor Information Centre is
located in the old Pump House (1884) which was
built to pump water from the river for the steam
locomotives, hydraulic wool presses and
hydraulic cranes on the wharf. It is situated
near the the 4000-ton, 580-metre iron bridge
(1875) in a pleasant reserve with a lagoon and
billabong and a range of birdlife in the
treetops. The centre is open from 9.00 a.m. to
5.00 p.m. daily, tel: (03) 5480 7555 or
free-call (1800) 804 446.
There are some good walking and cycling
tracks along the river banks and around town and
the information centre will outline the routes
for you on a town map.
|The Cobb & Co
Royal Mail coach outside the Echuca
Port Of Echuca
The old port area is under the supervision of
the 'Port of Echuca' which has its headquarters
at 101 Murray Esplanade. It is open from 9.00
a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily and is responsible for
the Wharf Museum Tour which explores the port
area, including the old wharf, paddlesteamers
and barges, and historic buildings such as the
Bridge and Star Hotels, tel: (03) 5482 4248.
Two doors along you can watch a woodturner
and blacksmith working in the traditional
A horse-and-carriage service operates along
Murray Esplanade aboard immaculately restored
buggies and carriages which operate regularly
The Echuca Wharf was originally built from
1865-1867. After extensions in 1877 and 1879 it
ended up as a 1.2-km structure with three levels
to accommodate the changing level of the river.
Unfortunately, due to a shortage of wood, 80% of
it was demolished in 1944. There is a vintage
train on the adjacent track, which was used to
facilitate the exchange of goods at the wharf,
as well as cranes and the old cargo shed. The
latter now features a video and a diorama which
reflect on the port's history and working models
which demonstrate how the wharf worked when the
boats were in.
Adelaide, one of the oldest paddle
steamers in the world
There are currently six riverboats operating out
of Echuca and offering cruises of various sorts
along the Murray.
The P.S. Alexander Arbuthnot (1916), offers
one-hour heritage cruises, tel: (03) 5482 4248.
The P.S. Canberra (1912), takes visitors on a
one-hour cruise with commentary on a daily
basis. You can inspect the original steam
engine, tel: (03) 5482 2711. The P.S. Emmylou
offers 90-minute and overnight cruises on a
wood-fired steamer with a la carte dining and a
private cabin. The engine dates from 1906, tel:
(03) 5480 2237.
The M.V. Mary Ann is a fully-licensed
cruising restaurant offering lunch and dinner
cruises with commentary, tel: (03) 5480 2200.
The P.S. Pevensey (1909-11) was used in the TV
mini-series All The Rivers Run. It is used for
one-hour heritage cruises, tel: (03) 5482 4248.
The P.S. Pride of the Murray (1924) offers
one-hour river cruises with commentary on a
vintage paddlewheeler, tel: (03) 5482 5244. The
P.S. Adelaide (1866) is the third-oldest
steam-driven boat in the world. It is moored in
the wharf area but is not used for cruises.
However, there are occasional barge-towing
demonstrations and short excursions.
Echuca Boat and Canoe Hire is located by the
boat ramp in Victoria Park (tel: 03 5480 6208)
and there are a number of houseboat-hire
services in town - Dinky-Di Houseboat Holidays
(03 5482 5223), Magic Murray Houseboats (03 5480
6099), Murray River Houseboats (03 5480 2343),
Rich River Houseboats (1800 032 643) and
Riverina Houseboats (03 9772 9009).
Murray Esplanade Cellars
Opposite the wharf, at the corner of Murray
Esplanade and Leslie St, are Murray Esplanade
Cellars, located within the old Customs House
(1884) which serves as a reminder of the days
when the two states were separate colonies. The
cellars offer sales and free tastings of local
wines and are open daily, tel: (03) 5482 6058.
Sharp's Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade
A few doors north along Murray Esplanade, in
what was the old Bond Store (1858), is Sharp's
Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade. This unusual
attraction recreates the kind of place which was
popular with holidaymakers at the turn of the
century. There are a huge variety of old penny
arcade machines and the proprietors have an
interesting collection of old films including
old newsreels, shorts and early Australian
films. It is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00
p.m. and a ticket is valid all day, tel: (03)
Hotel in the Port of Echuca complex
Another few doors along is the former Star Hotel
(1867) which has an underground bar and escape
tunnel. The hotel lost its license in 1897 and
consequently, although it continued to serve
customers, it built a special escape route for
drinkers so that they could get away during the
police raids which commonly occurred.
Echuca Farm Yard
Adjacent is Echuca Farm Yard which is situated
in the old salt factory, where salt from Lake
Kunat Kunat was processed from 1870-1920. It
offers children the chance to get close to, and
feed, a range of farm animals and is open daily,
tel: (03) 5480 7334.
At the corner of Murray Esplanade and Hopwood
Place is the Bridge Hotel. This two-storey
building was erected in 1858 by town founder
Henry Hopwood across the way from his punt and
pontoon bridge. It has been restored to its
original design, including upstairs rooms
furnished in period style with an expansive
squatter's suite built for the accommodation of
wealthy pastoralists. These rooms can be seen as
part of the Wharf Museum Tour.
On the other side of Hopwood Place is Hopwood
Gardens, a lawned area with picnic and childrens'
play facilities. Bullock teams waiting to cross
the river on Hopwood's punt once gathered here.
Nearby, in Murray Esplanade, is a log buggy
which once transported red gum logs from the
forests to the local sawmills and, in an
adjacent lawned area, the barge Alison (1907).
Courthouse and Museum
On the other side of the gardens is the old
courthouse, built as the shire hall in 1872.
Opposite, at the corner of Dickson St and
Warren St, is the Echuca Historical Society
Museum, housed within the former police station
and lock-up (1867). It has old river charts,
photographs and other material relating to the
river trade, the local timber industry, Henry
Hopwood and the town. It is open from 11.00 a.m.
to 3.00 p.m. on weekdays and from 10.00 a.m. to
3.00 p.m. on weekends, tel: (03) 5482 4225.
Diagonally opposite, at the corner of Warren and
Campbell Sts, is the National Holden Motor
Museum which has over 40 immaculately restored
Holdens, rare prototypes, historic film footage
and souvenirs. It is open daily from 9.00 a.m.
to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5480 2033. On the other
side of Campbell St, adjacent the Campaspe
River, is the former Saleyards Hotel (1879), now
the Cock-and-Bull Restaurant.
Walk back along Warren St and turn right into
High St which has a multitude of specialty shops
to cater to the tourist trade. On the right-hand
side is the former Bank of Victoria (1860),
which retains its original safe (it is currently
a pancake parlour).
Over the road is the Murray River Aquarium which
has a native fish and reptile display, tel: (03)
World In Wax
A little further along is World in Wax which, in
the manner of Madame Tussaud, displays realistic
wax effigies of a vast range of notable (and
infamous) historic figures. There are also
likenesses of monsters for the kids and 30
miniature dioramas. It is open daily from 9.00
a.m. to 5.00 p.m. at 630 High St, tel: (03) 5482
High St Continued
On the other side of the road are the Shamrock
Hotel (1885) and the Echuca Hotel. The latter
was erected in 1873 to replace the 1858 original
which was built for famous explorer Thomas
Mitchell. Turn right into Leslie St and walk
along to the banks of the Campaspe. It was here
that Hopwood had another of his punts.
Return along Leslie St and turn right, back
into High St. To the right are the Classical
design of the former Bank of NSW, which was
built in 1877 and now privately owned, and a
store built by Henry Hopwood which was the first
brick building in Echuca (it is now an
At High and Radcliffe, to the left, is the
former Town Hall Hotel (1860s), now Fiori's
Cross Radcliffe St. To the right are Millewa
Chambers, built as a Bond Store in 1878 (now a
private residence), and the former Redman's
Commercial Hotel (1862), once a staging post for
Cobb & Co on their journey to Shepparton. There
is a bridal shop on the lower floor.
The library, at High and Heygarth, was built
in 1869 as a courthouse. It became the town hall
in the 1920s and the library in the 1950s. It is
a simple building with decorative brickwork
designed by W.C. Vahland who designed some of
Bendigo's more imposing buildings.
Cross over Heygarth St. To the left is the
Anglican Church (1865) which features a
stained-glass window of its sponsor, Henry
Further south, adjacent the primary school at
High and Pakenham, is Sims Butter factory, built
as a store in the 1860s and now Tangled Garden
Bookshop. The school was built in 1872 and was
relocated to this spot in 1994.
On the other side of Pakenham St, to the
right, is the old Coffee Palace which was one of
a chain of Temperance Hotels throughout
Victoria. Coaches left here on a daily basis for
Bendigo and Melbourne until the railway arrived
in 1864. It is now privately owned and has
recently been restored.
Walk east along Pakenham St to the Hare St
corner. St Andrew's Presbyterian (now Uniting)
Church was built in 1889. Diagonally opposite is
a marker. The wavy line records the height of
the 1870 flood.
Head north along Hare St. At Hare and Percy
is St Mary's Catholic Church (1865). The former
Union Club Hotel, on the other side of Percy St,
was built as the Bank of Australasia in the
1870s (it is now a chemist's). Just along Percy
St is the town's oldest church, the Wesleyan
(1865), although it has recently been purchased
by the Catholic Church who want to demolish it.
Wine Tasting and Sales
At the northern end of Hare St, cross over
Radcliffe St to the corner with Murray Esplanade
where you will find the Echuca-Moama Wine Centre
which has over 110 wines. It is open Wednesday
to Sunday and every day in school holidays, tel:
(03) 5480 2005.
Echuca Wharf Pottery
At Murray Esplanade and Little Hopwood St is
Echuca Wharf Pottery which has hourly pottery
demonstrations. It is open daily from 9.30 a.m.
to 6.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5482 6111.
Old Brothel and Steampacket
Turn into Little Hopwood St. To the left, set
furtively back from the road, is that other
mainstay of a busy port - the old brothel (1875)
which consists of two floors, each with three
small rooms. Mannequins are positioned in period
The Steampacket Inn (1860s) is located at the
corner of Murray Esplanade and Leslie St.
Echuca Gem Club/Railway Station
Echuca Gem Club has a display of jewellery and
rock specimens which can be seen from 1.00 p.m.
to 4.00 p.m. on Saturdays, 11.00 a.m. to 4.00
p.m. on Sundays and on school and public
holidays, tel: (03) 5482 4642. They are located
in the railway station (1879) in Sturt St. The
enormous and well-made engine shed (1864-65)
serves as a reminder of Echuca's former
significance as a railway terminus.
Oz Maze has a large wooden maze built in the
shape of Australia which offers the challenge of
finding your way through to each capital city.
In the centre is an elevated platform (Ayers
Rock) from which to regain perspective. The
excursion takes about half an hour and is
located near the roundabout by the bridge, tel:
(03) 5480 2220.
Raverty's Motor Museum
Raverty's Motor Museum is located at the corner
of Ogilvie Ave (the Murray Valley Highway) and
Mitchell Rd. It has a collection of vintage and
classic vehicles, tel: (03) 5482 2730.
channel to the south of Echuca
Scenic Drive is a loop track which starts near
the high school in Crofton St and runs around
the perimeter of Victoria Park, at the
north-western corner of town. It follows the
Campaspe River to its confluence with the Murray
where there is a picnic area overlooking the
The circuit then heads east, hugging the
southern bank of the river through a large river
bend where there is a billabong to the right and
a swimming area. It then return to Crofton St.
Victoria Park has a memorial to Hopwood, a
caravan park and a boat ramp. Echuca Boat and
Canoe Hire is located by the boat ramp in
Victoria Park, tel: (03) 5480 6208.
Eastern Riverbank Trek
Another walking-cycling option is to follow the
southern bank of the river westwards from the
bridge through Banyule Park State Forest and
beyond, returning to the information centre via
River Ave, Goulburn Rd, Packenham St and Sturt
En route there are picnic-barbecue facilities
at Bowers Bend and a swimming area. Sawmills, an
abbatoir, a tannery and fellmongery, a shipyard
and the houses of employees were once situated
in this area.
Chambers Bend is the site of the first
European habitation, where James Maiden
established a punt service c.1845. Today there
is a boat ramp. Another way to get there is to
follow the graded road that heads north-east off
Pakenham St through the forest and then turn
right. Sunny Beach is 150 metres downstream at
Connors Bend (turn left off the graded road).
Another walking-cycling option is to start at
the corner of High and Anstruther Sts. Head west
along Anstruther, taking the footbridge over the
Campaspe, then follow the western bank of the
river as it heads south past the Echuca Golf
Course and a picnic-barbecue area, to the Murray
Billabong Horse Trail Rides operate within the
Banyule Park State Forest, tel: (018) 507 828.
Brett Sands Water Ski Resort, tel: (03) 5482
1851 or Southern Cross Water Ski School with
fully catered waterski day trips, tel: (03) 5482
Torrumbarry Weir is a very pretty location
within a bushland setting with birdlife,
fishing, barbecues, playground equipment and a
caravan park. Head north-west along the Murray
Valley Highway for about 27 km to a signposted
turnoff which is about 4 km past the tiny
settlement of Torrumbarry.