Popeye (The) - River Torrens: Keith plies the Torrens in the Adelaide City region of South Australia

There's really only one way to see Adelaide from the River Torrens and that's on board the Popeye. We've been doing it for generations because the Popeye first started 75 years ago.

The tradition began in 1935 when Gordon Watts built a solid jarrah boat on the banks of the Torrens. It plied the waters under his command for nearly 30 years before the current owner, Keith Altman took over.

Keith Altmann, 'Popeye' owner: "We started in 1962 and have been running for 48 years and we're still going. The boats are good enough to go for a number of years yet."

Almost five decades of memories are captured in Keith's photo albums. He recollects massive floods which swept the boats onto the lawns at Elder Park - they had to use a crane to lift back into the water. Then there were the times the fleet was left high and dry thanks to droughts, bridge works and even a technical hiccup or two when the lake was drained. But despite the ups and downs, seventy five years of faithful service has earned Popeye a listing as a state icon - and rightly so, after all it's hosted everyone from heads of state to Royalty.

Keith Altmann, 'Popeye' owner: "We turned one of the Popeyes into the Royal Barge. We took the hood off and put a platform up the back and the Queen and Duke sat back up there. That went off very well."

Keith's new fiberglass fleet received Prime Ministerial approval with Malcolm Fraser the first to take the helm in 1982. That was one of the boats David Robertson has been driving for 20 years so he's part of the history too. And his laid back commentary ensures everyone sees the highlights.

David Robertson, 'Popeye' skipper: "Passengers love seeing the Torrens Lake Weir. It holds the water back to a depth of approximately seven metres. There are two steel gates on the heavy chains which regulate the height of the lake. When the water runs over the spill-ways on either side, the gates automatically lift, release four inches of water then they lower themselves down and seal off. This is the way the lake maintains its level."

Further up the river we come to the University Footbridge. "The University Footbridge was donated to the university to allow students easy access to their playing fields on the northern banks."

After passing under the Albert Bridge which was built in 1879 and is the oldest bridge on the River Torrens, David carefully nudges Popeye into the upper reaches of the river up behind the zoo. It's hard to believe we're smack bang in the middle of a city of a million people.

David points out a colourful bird roosting in a tree. "That's a Rufus Night Heron. We've been seeing more of them over the last year or two.

"Popeye brings a lot of memories back to people; especially the older generation bringing their children because they remember when they were kids their parents and grandparents used to take them up to the zoo on the boat."

The city skyline, the riverbanks and lake have changed a lot over the years but Keith Altmann reckons some things remain the same.

Keith Altmann: "A waterway means more to a city than anything else in a city in my view. If you've got a good waterway and look after it and have entertainment on the river that makes the river."

The Popeye is up there with the frog cake, the hills hoist and the Glenelg tram - they are all officially a State Heritage Icons. So why not hop on the Popeye again soon. It operates on weekends and school holidays from the landing at Elder Park. If you hasve any further questions please email info@postcards-sa.com.au

Elder Park landing
Weekends & School Holidays

Published 15th August 2010

Back to Postcards