The Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement Museum: With Keith Conlon in the Riverland region of South Australia
On our journey down the mighty Murray we've dropped into a number of Victorian and New South Wales towns with plenty of SA connections but none more so than Swan Hill.
The Giant Murray Cod in Curlewis Street is proof that you've arrived in Swan Hill - a river settlement dating back to 1846. But according to Joe Blake of the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement Museum, its real boom time followed the dramatic arrival of two South Aussie paddlesteamers, the Mary Ann and the Lady Augusta.
"When the Mary Ann heard a noise behind them they took off and started racing. They crashed into trees and bashed things about around a bit so stopped racing. But they ended up arriving in Swan Hill at exactly the same time - 17th of September 1853. That was the start of the riverboat trade."
Today the PS Pyap - named after one of the failed socialist river settlements on the South Australian Murray - pulls into Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement Museum to pick up passengers keen to relive those heady river boat days. More than 150 years earlier, the Mary Anne and Lady Augusta had raced up here in a bid to cash in on the wealth and trade generated by the Victorian gold rush.
Soon it was full steam ahead for the local economy of Swan Hill - and it's Pioneer Settlement Museum pays homage to its early settlers and the riverboat trade that lead to a mad land grab up and down the Murray.
"Everything went crazy," said Joe. "The price of land went up by a factor of five. And people started moving here because there had been very few people living along the river. Once the riverboat trade got going they could get the wool out, get the wheat out and bring the supplies in."
Hop on board the Cobb and Co Coach behind old Harry - the trusty Clydesdale - and you swing through old streets and past shop fronts you'd swear harked back to the 1860s. But all of this was specially built - in some cases brick by brick - a century later. The Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement is Australia's first outdoor museum and here you clip clop your way through river history.
Kangaroos graze peacefully at the back of the replica pub, while the blacksmith hammers away for the benefit of another batch of sightseers. They come here to marvel at an endless parade of rural inventiveness that transformed Australia
In a back ally sits a classic piece of SA ingenuity - the Ridley Stripper. Designed by John Ridley on Yorke Peninsula, it reaped the harvests abandoned by South Australian farm workers who'd left for the Victorian goldfields. But according to Joe, our bearded "bushie" guide not everything went according to plan at the stripper's official unveiling.
"He got all the journalists, the farmers and crowds out to look at his great model. But he only gets about 50 metres down the track and it stops taking in the wheat. Absolute disaster - what a humiliation!
"So everyone goes home and he goes back to his house and he's very unhappy. He got so upset he got his shotgun and put a shot right into the thing. The next morning he went back out and it worked perfectly.
"Because the thing was air tight it wouldn't take the grain in so once he got the holes in with the shotgun the air was able to go through and vent it. That was part of the inventive process."
As you can see SA connections abound here at Swan Hill all the more reason to take in it's River Murray past.
The Pioneer Settlement Museum is located about half a kilometre from the Swan Hill Best Western Motel. The Best Western chain has a series of accommodation options scattered along the Murray Valley Highway, offering the ideal way to plan your road trip along Australia's most famous waterway.
The Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement Museum
Open 9.30am - 4pm
Tuesday to Sunday
Best Western Swan Hill Resort
405 - 415 Campbell St
Ph 03 5032 2726
Published 15th July 2007