Full steam ahead for river celebration by Andrew Spence
A 132-year-old paddleboat with a chequered history is being recommissioned next week as part of a steam celebration on Australia’s longest river, the Murray.
The bi-annual All Steamed Up Festival at Mannum, South Australia, is a celebration of boats, blacksmiths and engines to be held on November 19 and 20.
Presented by the Mannum Dock Museum at Mannum, the restored PS Mayflower will be recommissioned at the event on November 20 following two years of restoration works by volunteers.
Mannum Dock Museum Executive Officer Deb Alexander said the PS Mayflower would have been classed as the oldest paddle steamer in South Australia if it had not been switched to diesel power.
She said its “chequered history” began in the Victorian town of Echuca when its original owner “Black Alexander” used it as a floating liquor store on the Murray.
“He got in trouble with the banks and they were literally chasing him down the river,” Alexander said.
The vessel then passed through many owners, including Pirate Billie Wilson, and in the mid 1950s it enjoyed a showboat revival with the late Captain Alby Pointon in Mildura.
PS Mayflower was purchased by the museum and Mid Murray Council in 2014 with support from Pam O’Donnell and Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford Wines.
The finishing touches are being put on the vessel, which is being returning to her 1913 fishing boat era when owned by the Creager family in Renmark
“It will be the first time in about 40 years it will be running as a passenger vessel – that’s what this recommissioning is all about,” Alexander said.
“You don’t see it happen very often because of the work required to restore these vessels back to survey form.
“The history behind these vessels is enormous and for people to be able to enjoy it is fantastic.”
The Mayflower will join the 1897 paddle steamer PS Marion at the Mannum Dock Museum and will be used for short cruises on the Murray in the future.
Alexander said about 8000 people were expected to attend the All Steamed Up Festival, in the river town 100km east of the South Australian capital Adelaide.
She said the event would also include the largest group of blacksmith’s assembled in the state at one time, demonstrations by international blacksmiths, cruises and steam engine displays.
“We’ve got 50 boats registered at this stage and we’ll be holding the Mannum Freshwater Classic where the boats go on a cruise down to Bow Hill and we’ll be having a grand flotilla parade on the Sunday with the Mayflower leading, which should be quite a spectacle.”
Captain William Randell built the first River Murray’s first paddle steamer, the Mary Ann, near Mannum in 1853. The first steam-powered car in Australia, which will also be on display at the festival, was built in Mannum by David Shearer in 1898.
“Mannum is the birthplace of the paddle steamer and that gave rise to river trade,” Alexander said.
“Before the introduction of trains, river trade was the only source of retail.
“So to have another heritage vessel in the fleet at the Mannum Dock Museum really profiles Mannum as that birthplace and keeps that history alive.”