Paddleboats have been popular on the River Murray since the early days of settlement. Their popularity comes from their shallow draft and they are less likely to snag on grass than screw propellers.

Before the arrival of railways to the Riverina and Northern Victoria, paddleboats were the only way to move goods to the towns along the river. They arrived first because it was faster to set up a paddleboat service than to build a railway. By 1900, the railways were in place and had taken over the place of paddleboats as the primary means of transporting goods in this region.

During wet years, paddleboats also operated along the Darling River, almost reaching Queensland. These days the Darling River is too dry to operate boats on.

Paddleboats on the River Murray

Paddleboats are almost always steam powered because by the time diesels came along, road and rail had taken over. Some boats have one paddlewheel on each side and other boats have the paddlewheel at the stern. They are less efficient than screw propellers and are much larger than screw propellers for the thrust they produce. Even though screw propellers were available, paddlewheels were chosen for their reliability in operating on shallow rivers. A modern replacement for the paddlewheel is the waterjet, which can operate on shallow drafts and a filter can keep grass and other snags away from the impeller.

You will find many jetskis and small boats on the river today, but the occasional paddleboat will steam on by. They certainly look more majestic than modern vessels.

These days road and rail have completely displaced the need for paddleboats. In the 21st century, paddleboats are used as a tourist attraction and a fun means of getting out and about on the River Murray. Everyone loves the smell of well oiled machines and the unique sounds of their whistles.