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Full steam ahead for river celebration

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A 132-year-old paddleboat with a chequered history is being recommissioned as part of a steam celebration this weekend on the River Murray.

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The bi-annual All Steamed Up Festival, presented by the Mannum Dock Museum at Mannum, is a celebration of boats, blacksmiths and engines to be held on November 19 and 20.

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 says 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 says.

The vessel then passed through many owners, and in the mid 1950s it enjoyed a showboat revival with the late Captain Alby Pointon in Mildura.

PS Mayflower was bought by the museum and Mid Murray Council in 2014, with support from Pam O’Donnell and Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford Wines.

The vessel is now being returned to its 1913 fishing boat era, when it was 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 says.

“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 (below) at the Mannum Dock Museum and will be used for short cruises on the Murray in the future.

ms-marion

Alexander says about 8000 people are expected to attend the All Steamed Up Festival.

The event will also include the largest group of blacksmiths 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 says.

“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.”

This article was first published on The Lead.

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