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From the 1850s river boats brought wool and produce to Goolwa
Goolwa was Australia's first inland port and the 'end of the line' for the River Murray trade. It was the only river port with shipbuilding facilities for all aspects of boat construction and maintenance.
From the 1850s river boats brought wool and other produce downriver to Goolwa, where it was off-loaded at the wharf and transported via tramway to the sea ports at Port Elliot and (later) Victor Harbor.
In the days when the Murray Mouth was deep enough, the port also catered to vessels passing between the river and the sea. Goolwa's heyday lasted nearly 40 years, until the building of railway links upriver at Morgan and Murray Bridge.
Building River Boats
Shipbuilding at Goolwa began in 1852-53 with the construction of the Eureka. By 1913 a further 60 vessels (including 37 paddle steamers) has been built here, making Goolwa the most productive shipbuilding port on the South Australian section of the river.
A number of people and shipyards built these shallow-draught vessels but one of the most successful was Abraham Graham. From 1867 he was the owner of the Goolwa Patent Slip and Ironworks. Today the State heritage-listed Chart Room is the only visible reminder of Abraham Graham's facilities.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was a resurgence of shipbuilding in the Goolwa area, when Captain Keith Veenstra built modern paddle liners at Narnu Bay on Hindmarsh Island. Veenstra's first vessel was the Murray River Queen in 1973. Other paddlers construction at Narnu Bay included the Goolwa, the Mundoo and the huge sternwheeler Murray Princess in 1986.
The Wreck of the PS Melbourne
The loss of the paddle steamer Melbourne. In November 1859, highlighted the difficulties associated with navigation through the Murray Mouth. The disaster reinforced the use of the overland link from Goolwa to Port Elliot and led to a decline in the number of vessels attempted to pass between the river and the sea.
At the time of its loss, the Melbourne was one of the most modern vessels on the River Murray. It left its home port of Goolwa in fine weather, on the last leg of a long trip downriver from Swan Hill to Port Adelaide. On board were ten passengers and six crew as well as a cargo of 114 bales of wool, a quantity of skins and a prize sheep.
As it negotiated the narrow channel near the Mouth, the steamer scraped on a sandy spit and began taking on water. The furnaces went out and the vessel floundered in the surf. All the passengers and crew, as well as most of their luggage and personal items, were landed safely.
After a few hours the beach as strewn with wreckage but most of the cargo and fittings were salvaged. All but two of the wool bales were recovered and, although damaged, the fleece was later repacked and sold.
Today very little material remains from the Melbourne and the exact wreck site is unknown. The ship's bronze bell is displayed in front of Goolwa's St John the Apostle Catholic Church.
The PS Melbourne is a significant South Australian shipwreck protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981.
GPS: Zone 54 E 0299301 N 6068958
On the riverfront at Amelia Reserve, north of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge
Interpretive panels are located at:
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Published with permission of Government of South Australia
Department for Environment and Heritage
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