History of Echuca Moama
The Echuca Story
Abandoned steamboats and barges, tall red gum wharfs, small towns that show evidence of once having been much larger, old station homesteads that face the river, all these are constant reminders to the river traveller 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.
The Paddlesteamer days back in 1865 to 1910 were a boom time for Echuca. From the earliest days of Echuca’s history, growth and development of the area has been intimately linked with the Murray River System.
Echuca was founded by one of the most enterprising characters of the early colonial days, an ex-convict named Henry Hopwood. In 1850 he bought a small punt, which operated across the Murray river near the Campaspe Junction. Originally known as “Hopwood’s Ferry” the name was changed to Echuca as the town grew.
Hopwood worked to establish a town, which eventually had a major influence on the development of the great inland river system. When he died in 1869 he left a thriving town where nothing had existed 16 years earlier, when he built his first slab Inn.
After Sturt first discovered and named the Murray in 1830, it was over twenty years before the first two steam boats made their way upstream. In 1853 the “Mary Ann” skippered by William Randell, and the Lady Augusta under Captain Frances Cadell, ran an unexpected race up-river, each sure of being the first to open up the Murray for traffic. The Lady Augusta passed the Mary Ann arriving at the tiny settlement of Swan Hill only hours before the Mary Ann. The few settlers along the way greated both with much enthusiasm and hospitality. Randell took the Mary Ann on up to Moama, while Cadell after travelling a short distance upstream, turned back for Goolwa.
Echuca’s close proximity to Melbourne and the ambitions of the city’s founder, led to the Port of Echuca becoming the largest inland port in Australia. The riverboat trade was of national importance because it had the effect of opening up inland Australia for settlement and thereby increasing the country’s production of wool.
When the rail link was established with Melbourne in 1864, Echuca, being the closest point on the The Murray to Melbourne, grew rapidly. Paddlesteamers traded along the Murray Darling River System, bringing wool from isolated stations in outback Australia to the railhead at Echuca, for eventual sale and shipping overseas. During the boon period, products worth a quarter of a million pounds were handled annually. For many years Echuca was the main ship building centre for the river transport industry. As the ship building industry grew, so did the demand for red gum as a durable timber for wharf piles, railway sleepers and building materials.
In the 1870’s the district supported a dozen mills cutting in excess of 1000 logs each week. Felling was carried out in the Barmah, Moira and Perricoota Forests surrounding Echuca. Before long the two industries began to rely on each other.
The riverboat days boomed at Echuca – until the great depression of the 1890’s. As the railways were extended in New South Wales and road transport improved, the river trade declined and the old wharf, built in 1865, was defunct by the 1920’s
By an accident of good fortune Echuca’s subsequent growth moved away from the river, leaving the old wharf and the original buildings in decay but intact.
Now the old Port of Echuca has been restored and the century old buildings are open for inspection and business once again. The entire Port Area was declared an historic precinct in 1975.
There are lots of stories to be told about the riverboats and the colourful characters that crewed them. Stories too about the customs strife between Colonies that helped shape the free trade provisions of the Australian Constitution.
Please click here to download the Heritage Cluster's 'Tracking down history in Echuca Moama' brochure. This brochure contains information from The Echuca Historical Society Inc, The Echuca Moamra Family History Group Inc and Friends of Old Moama.
The Moama Story
Moama has had a chequered history. When the settlement began in 1845, it was known as Maiden’s Punt, named after James Maiden – punt owner, station manager, publican and post master. Three years later the village area was surveyed and lots were put up for sale when the town was renamed Moama, in 1851.
Situated on the main cattle route from Southern New South Wales to the gold fields at Bendigo in the 1850’s, the settlement became a cattle market and crossing place and big deals took place across the bar of Maiden’s Junction Inn. There were great celebrations in the small town in 1843 when Captain William Randell, the first person to travel upstream from Goolwa, arrived in the paddle-steamer, “Mary Ann”. The trip was the forerunner of the boat building industry and river trade that was to bolster Moama’s fortunes in years to come. Moama declined when the cattle market crashed in the late 1850’s though competition from Echuca, a short way downstream was partly to blame.
The little settlement hung on and in the 1860’s, police barracks, a school, post and telegraph office were established giving an air of permanency to the township. Unfortunately the feeling of stability was dispelled by disastrous floods that occurred in 1870 when almost every building in Moama was inundated or submerged by flood-waters.
A temporary wooden bridge spanning the Murray River was built in 1876 until the Iron Bridge was completed in 1878. The new rail bridge that currently exists was built in 1989.
This was helped by many selectors who took up land to the North of Moama from 1862. Their wheat crops were sent to Palmer’s Flour Mill in Meninya Street after 1880, and a larger grain shed was constructed in 1889 (where the Moama Bowling club is today), to store grain for the mill. Coach builders, black smiths, boot-makers, carpenters, stock agents, storekeepers, and other businesses that made up a township at that time became firmly established. Moama Agriculture show was held annually and organisations and clubs were in full swing. Most religious denominations were in evidence – along with many hotels.
By 1880 Moama had a population of 700 and a district of 1000. It was proclaimed a Municipality with two wards on 30th December 1890. The first Council meeting was held on 16th March, 1891. Known at first as the Council of Municipality of Moama in February 1907. Moama retained this status until 1953 when the municipality became part of the Shire of Murry.
Appreciation to Judy Hearn, author of “Galleries of Pink Galahs”, for supplying this article.