Mildura Weekly : Friday December 19 Vol 9 No 7 2014
24 NEWS MILDURA WEEKLY FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2014 By ALAN ERSKINE A FLOTILLA of river vessels of every shape, size, vintage and historical value have made Mildura their Christmas/New Year stop-over en route to the annual SA Wooden Boat Festi- val near the Murray Mouth at Goolwaa. The 10 boats and their crews are on the inaugu- ral Great Australian Inland Cruise, an epic 1720 kilometre trip down the Murray River. They will be joined by at least two Mildura-based pad- dle boats for the remainder of the journey, with other boats from downstream moorings also expected to join the flo- tilla at various stages. Co-organiser Bob Mc- Grath, 65, from Avenel near Seymour, expects around 20 boats by the time the fleet hits Lake Alexandrina. His boat is the Billy T (he changed it from Billy Tea...an idea he got from the Oscar W). A former 20-year Austra- lian Army veteran who left the service as a Sergeant-Major, Bob said the trip wasn’t a cel- ebration or commemoration of any particular event, but for many participants, simply a celebration of life, and the achievement of a long-held dream by a number of enthu- siasts to take their boats down Australia’s most iconic river. He started organising the trip after casual talks with a mate, Stave Thorne, around two years ago. The boats include a 14ft home-made tugboat, five pad- dle boats of varying size (in- cluding a double-storey boat owned by former cleric Harry Monro and his wife Margaret), a 1920s vintage putt-putt boat, and other assorted traditional craft. The boats left Echuca on November 22, and are cover- ing around 50km a day, with plenty of rest days and stop- overs, either at townships, or selected camping sites. They are due at the festival on Feb- ruary 21. “We have planned a safe, compliant and enjoyable trip down river by a group of in- teresting people in highly in- dividual craft,” Bob said. “It’s not a race, so speed isn’t a high priority. The emphasis instead is on safety, working together and sharing this life experi- ence, spending time absorbing and appreciating the character of the river and local commu- nities.” Bob said the welcome and support from people between Echuca had been exceptional. At Barham, the town virtu- ally shut up shop to watch the flotilla go under the raised lift-span bridge. Even the kids It started with two boats, now there’s 10, with more on the way...this is the half-way mark in a historic 1720km river epic by boat lovers from four States... Mildura Christmas for eclectic boat flotilla were given the day off school to watch. Bob and fellow organiser Garry Spencer have arranged for the river adventure to be recorded, as still life, as well as a documentary, and on canvas, from land, water and from the air, with a commem- orative booklet planned after the boats return to their re- spective upstream moorings. They have also estab- lished close relationships with town Mayors, RSL clubs, Maritime services, police and river identities along the way, with celebrations planned at each major stop-over. The flo- tilla will be farewelled from the Mildura riverfront on Sat- urday, January 3. The two-week stop-over in Mildura is also a welcome boost for the local economy, with the boats and up to 60 owners and crew stocking up on fuel, food and other essen- tials, and making any neces- sary repairs to their craft. One boat falling into the latter category is a pur- pose-built aluminium boat nick-named ‘The Phantom’ because it is so quiet. It has engine problems, but the owners, American-born John, 66, and Jane Montz, have ar- ranged for local mechanics to identify, and hopefully fix, a problem with the motor. The couple were born and raised in New Orleans, and came to Australia in 1975, John to look after the then ju- venile detention centre Langi Kal Kal, and Jane as a special educator in Ballarat. They loved Australia so much they decided to stay permanently, travelled widely, and worked for many years in and around Darwin in the NT. Their two children, both girls, were born in Australia. ‘The Phantom’ was only a hull when John and Jane picked it up in Cheltenham, Victoria, and they took it by trailer to Darwin, where John spent about three years on a fit-out, complete with galley, shower and toilet. A Murray River trip had long been on their ‘bucket list,’ so they transported their boat 3000km from the Top End to Yarrawonga to start their downstream journey, coinciding with the start of the Great Australian Inland Cruise. They had to be towed the last few kilometres into Mildura, but it’s been the only hitch in 1080kms of riv- er travel so far (apart from a tree branch that went through a side canvas...being repaired this week as well). The rest of the boat is al- most bullet-proof. It is built from 6mm thick aluminium plate, the same as off-short Australian Navy patrol boats, and has higher-than-usual sides...after all, as John says, the crocodiles in NT rivers have a fair leap! Bob said that overall, the boats had experienced only minor hiccups - the main ones being negotiating hid- den reefs and sand bars, but with all boats and crews working as a team, all prob- lems had so far been over- come. • Trip organiser Bob McGrath, right, river historian Frank Tucker calls in for a chat, BELOW, and LEFT - ‘The Phantom.’ • FLEET STREET: Bob McGrath on the deck of ‘Billy T’ with some of the other boats nearby. Old fashioned, country style hospitality with modern, self-contained accommodation. 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Friday January 2 Vol 9 No 8 2015