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Echuca, VIC

Historic inland river port on the Murray River.

Echuca, like much of the area around the Murray River in northern Victoria, is inordinately proud of the fact that it receives more sunny days than Queensland's Gold Coast. This doesn't really change the fact that it can get very cold in winter. Today Echuca, once Australia's most substantial inland river port, is an important service centre for the surrounding agricultural region and a very popular tourist destination. Paddlesteamers cruise along the Murray River; historic buildings which were once vital parts of the port are beautifully preserved; and a local commitment to making the experience memorable and genuinely educational have made Echuca an important adventure into the hugely successful period of the late 19th century. 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 and started the town's current tourist boom.

Location

Echuca is located on the banks of the Murray River 216 km north of Melbourne and 96 m above sea-level.

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Origin of Name

It is accepted that "echuca" is a Yorta Yorta Aboriginal word meaning "the meeting of the waters".

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Things to See and Do

Port Of Echuca Discovery Centre
The old port area is now a total experience which can be seen with a guided tour (11.30 am and 1.30 pm) or by simply getting a map (it is available at https://www.portofechuca.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=58) and exploring the Discovery Centre; the Shipwrights and the PS Success (which is being restored); the steam traction engines and Evens Sawmill; the Steam Display with its original working steam pumps and engines; the Earnshaw Walkway; the Echuca Wharf with its 100-year-old redgum timbers; the paddlesteamers that are moored at the wharf; the Cargo Shed Museum with its interactive models and history of both Echuca and the International Wool Trade which was so central to the port; the Guard's Van and Breakdown Van - remnants of the railway; the Wet Dock where paddlesteamers were repaired and restored; the Payne Walkway; the reconstructed 1890 original footbridge; and the Star Hotel with its 1897 escape tunnel and underground bar. The hotel lost its license in 1897 and consequently it built a special escape route for drinkers so that they could get away during the police raids which commonly occurred. The wharf was originally built from 1865-1867. After extensions in 1877 and 1879 it ended up as a 1.2 km long structure with three levels to accommodate the rising and falling levels of the river. Due to a shortage of wood, 80% of the wharf was demolished in 1944.

Guided Tour
There is a 90 minute Historic Town Walk which leaves every Wednesday and Saturday at 10.00 am from the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre, tel: 0456 223 184 or check out http://echucahistoricalsociety.org.au/ for further details.

Horse-and-Carriage Rides
Billabong Carriages operate a horse-and-carriage service around the Port Precinct on weekends, public holidays and school holidays. The most popular vehicle is a Cobb & Co stagecoach. Check out http://www.billabongranch.com.au/carriages for details or tel: (03) 5483 5122.

Riverboats, Canoes and Houseboats
There are currently seven riverboats operating out of Echuca and offering cruises along the Murray.
The P.S. Alexander Arbuthnot (1916) began life as a barge and became a working steamer in 1923 towing barges laden with timber to the Arbuthnot Sawmill at Koondrook. It offers one-hour heritage cruises, tel: (03) 5482 4248 or 1300 942 737 or check http://www.echucapaddlesteamers.net.au.
The P.S. Pevensey (1909-11) was used in the TV mini-series All The Rivers Run. Historically it was used to ship bales of wool to and from Echuca. It could carry 815 bales at a time with more being towed behind. Today it is used for one-hour heritage cruises, tel: (03) 5482 4248 or 1300 942 737 or check http://www.echucapaddlesteamers.net.au.
The P.S. Emmylou, named after the country singer Emmylou Harris, offers 60 and 90-minute cruises, as well as twilight dinner cruises and overnight cruises, on a wood-fired steamer with a la carte dining and tea and coffee. The engine dates from 1906. The trips are organised by Murray River Paddlesteamers, tel: (03) 5480 5244 or check out https://www.murrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au/cruises/daily-cruises.
The P.S. Pride of the Murray (1924) and the P.S. Canberra (1913), are traditional steamers and offer one-hour river cruises with commentary. The trips are organised by Murray River Paddlesteamers, tel: (03) 5480 5244 or check out https://www.murrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au/cruises/daily-cruises.
The M.V. Mary Ann (1981) is a fully-licensed cruising restaurant offering lunch and dinner cruises with commentary, tel: (03) 5480 2200.
The P.S. Adelaide (1866) is the oldest, wooden-hulled, steam-driven boat in the world. It is moored in the wharf area but is not used for cruises. There are occasional barge-towing demonstrations and short excursions.

Boat and Canoe Hire
Echuca Boat and Canoe Hire is located by the boat ramp in Victoria Park (tel: 03 5480 6208). Canoeing is a delightful way to explore the Murray. The river is very slow moving. Echuca is only 96 metres above sea level and the Great Southern Ocean is over 1,000 km away. It is also possible to hire an aluminium motor boat from the same location. Tel: 0419 756 225 or http://www.echucaboatcanoehire.com.

Sharp's Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade
Located in the Bond Store (1858) at 43 Murray Esplanade, Sharp's Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade has a huge range of old penny arcade machines (more than 50 including a very old soccer game, golf game and Personality Indicator) and an interesting collection of old films including old newsreels, shorts, early Australian films and short comedies featuring Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It is open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, tel: (03) 5482 2361 or check http://www.epak.com.au/sharpsmoviehouse.

Bridge Hotel
At the corner of Murray Esplanade and Hopwood Place is the Bridge Hotel, an impressive two-storey building which was erected in 1858 by town founder and ex-convict Henry Hopwood. It was strategically located near his punt and pontoon bridge. It has been restored to its original design, including upstairs rooms furnished in period style. A cafe is now part of the building.

Hopwood Gardens
Opposite the Bridge Hotel is Hopwood Gardens, a beautiful garden area with picnic and childrens' play facilities. Historically it was a place where bullock teams waited before crossing the river on Hopwood's punt.

Courthouse and Echuca Historical Society Museum
On the far side of the Hopwood Gardens is the old courthouse, built as the shire hall in 1872. Opposite, at the corner of Dickson Street and Warren Street, is the Echuca Historical Society Museum, housed in the former police station and lock-up (1869), a National Trust building. It has been operating since 1960 and has impressive collections of old river charts, records of floods, photographs and other material relating to the river trade, the local timber industry, Henry Hopwood and the town. There is a guided tour every Friday at 11.30 am. It is open from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 5480 1325. Check http://echucahistoricalsociety.org.au for more details.

National Holden Motor Museum
Located at 7-11 Warren Street 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 am to 5.00 pm, tel: (03) 5480 2033 or check out http://www.holdenmuseum.com.au.

A Walk Down High Street
In a way Echuca has so many historic buildings, and so many of them are still in use as cafes and gift shops, that it is almost impossible to cover every one. However a pleasant walk from the Echuca Museum down High Street is worth the effort. There is a detailed Heritage Walk - Echuca brochure which lists a staggering 80 buildings and places of interest. Although it doesn't describe the history of many of the buildings it is very useful for identifying their location and therefore this list of interesting buildings on the town's High Street is made much easier to follow if you have the brochure. It can be accessed as a downloadable PDF at http://www.echucamoama.com/LiteratureRetrieve.aspx?ID=127431. The buildings are easy to identify:

* The former Bank of Victoria (1860) retains its original safe. It is currently the Courtyard Cafe). (No. 60 on the Heritage Walk)

* The Shamrock Hotel (1885) and the Echuca Hotel. The latter was erected in 1873 to replace the 1858 original which was built for the famous explorer Thomas Mitchell. (nos. 57 and 58)

* A Classical design defines the former Bank of New South Wales which was built in 1877 and is now privately owned. A store built by Henry Hopwood which was the first brick building in Echuca is also still standing. (No. 66)

* Millewa Chambers, built as a Bond Store in 1878 and now a private residence.

* The former Redman's Commercial Hotel (1862), once a staging post for Cobb & Co on their journey to Shepparton.

* The library, at the corner of High and Heygarth Streets, 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.

* Further along High Street is the Anglican Church (1865) which features a stained-glass window of its sponsor, Henry Hopwood.

* On High Street and on the other side of Pakenham Street, to the right, is the old Coffee Palace which was one of a chain of Temperance Hotels throughout Victoria. Coaches left there for Bendigo and Melbourne until the railway arrived in 1864.

Old Brothel and Steampacket Inn
Turn into Little Hopwood Street from High Street and on the left, set back from the road, is the old brothel (1875) which consists of two floors, each with three small rooms.(No.20). The Steampacket Inn (1860s) is located at the corner of Murray Esplanade and Leslie Street.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Horseshoe Wetland and Floodplain Reserve
Horseshoe Wetland and Floodplain Reserve, located on the north-eastern bank of the Murray River beyond the main bridge and on the Moama side of the river, is a tranquil 145 ha bushland area set around a horseshoe-shaped lagoon, a billabong and wetlands. It is populated by over 90 species of birds as well as possums and gliders, lizards, snakes and turtles. The river, lagoon and billabong are home to native fish. Walking tracks and well maintained boardwalks meander beneath enormous stands of river red gums. An elevated walkway spans the lagoon and leads to Moama Wharf. There is an excellent, downloadable brochure. Check out http://www.murray.nsw.gov.au/images/documents/murray/New%20Site/Recreation/Cycling/horseshoe%20lagoon%20brochure.pdf. The brochure explains: "The area includes a ‘horseshoe’ shaped lagoon, a billabong, and a small depression that fills during high rivers. The environment is typical of floodplains along the Murray River. It provides homes for native birds, animals, plants and fish. The area also contains important environmental features. The reserve is widely used for walking, bird watching, running, bike riding, seed collecting and other low-impact activities. It can also help you to learn about the importance of wetlands and floodplains along the mighty Murray River."

Barmah National Park
Located only 16 km north-east of Echuca, the Ramsar listed wetlands in Barmah National Park are large water bird breeding areas. With more than 200 recorded bird species "It is one of Victoria’s largest waterbird breeding areas. Brolgas, Night Herons, Spoonbills, Sea Eagles and Azure Kingfishers can all be seen in the park. River Red Gums line the Murray River for most of its length. These iconic trees can reach 45 metres and live for more than 500 years. The trees need periods of flooding and can survive inundation for months. Their seeds are washed onto higher ground during a flood and germinate and grow before the next flood reaches them. Hollows and broken branches provide nesting for Galahs, Cockatoos, Cockatiels and various Parrots; while fallen branches provide habitat for other animals. The park  protects 38 rare or threatened plants including Fruit Saltbush and Winged Peppergrass. Yellow and Black Box grow on the ridges. Wildlife abounds throughout the forest. Grey Kangaroos, Emus and Koalas are common." For more information and a useful map download the Barmah National Park brochure at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/315732/Barmah-National-Park-Visitor-Guide.pdf.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was occupied by the Yorta Yorta Aborigines.

* The explorer Charles Sturt passed through the district while overlanding cattle from Sydney to Adelaide in 1838.

* The first European to settle in the 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 James Maiden 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 became and important route across the river.

* In 1850, another ex-convict named Henry Hopwood (he had been transported for 14 years for receiving stolen goods) took over Isaac White's punt at a point further downstream. The punt became known as 'Hopwood's Ferry'.

* In 1852 the Mary Ann became the first paddlesteamer to trade on the Murray; Moama was the most upriver stop on its maiden voyage.

* In 1853 Hopwood added a slab hotel on the southern side of the river. He often closed down his punt at nightfall just before the arrival of the passenger coaches thus ensuring extra business for his hotel.

* In 1854 Hopwood suggested the Victorian government establish a river port on the southern bank.

* In 1854 the government surveyor approved the site chosen by Hopwood and renamed it 'Echuca'.

* Surveyed land on the townsite was sold in 1855.

*  By 1856 Echuca was larger and more important than Moama. It became the colony's largest inland port.

* In the twelve months from June 1856 - June 1857 an estimated 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, local leeches were exported to London for medical purposes.

* The 1862 Land Act freed up smaller holdings in the district.

* By 1864 the port was linked to Melbourne by rail. Echuca was the closest Murray River town to the state capital. The arrival of the rail saw the population treble in twelve months.

* The rail link also prompted the construction, in 1865, of an enormous wharf which would ultimately extend to 1.2 km.

* The town reached its peak in the 1870s and 1880s. Echuca benefited from the growing demand for local red-gum timber which proved ideal for wharves, railway sleepers, mining props and building. A dozen timber mills were soon in operation cutting over 1,000 logs a week.

* During the years leading up to Federation, Echuca was one of the many contenders for national capital. It was nominated in 1891.

* Pig farming and dairying developed in the district in the 1890s and 1900s. Bacon and butter factories were established.

* Closer settlement expanded agricultural production, particularly with soldier settlement occurring in the district after World War I.

* Echuca was declared a city in 1965.

* The old port area was redeveloped in 1973 making it one of the most important tourist destinations on the Murray River.

* In 1983 Echuca was used as the main location for the TV miniseries All The Rivers Run. This prompted a tourist boom.

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Visitor Information

Echuca Moama Visitor Information Centre, 2 Heygarth Street, Echuca. It is open from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 5480 7555 or free-call 1800 804 446.

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Useful Websites

The official local website is http://www.echucamoama.com. It has useful information on booking river cruises, accommodation and eating.

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