October 4, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo | Image: One of Murray River Paddle Steamers other vessels cruising on the Murray River

In a boost for business events in Echuca and along the Murray River in regional Victoria, the state government has backed development of the first luxury paddle steamer with an investment of $2.25 million.

The 35m vessel is designed for functions and overnight cruising for up to 40 guests in 20 ensuite cabins, offering a unique incentive and corporate meeting option, and will cost about $6.75 million to put on the water.

It is expected to be built in Mildura by Murray River Paddle Steamers but will operate out of the historic port of Echuca where the company also operates PS Canberra and PS Emmylou.

Named PS Australian Star, it will offer overnight cruises of up to seven days and is expected to launch in late 2024.  Accommodation suites, bars, a restaurant, lounge and dedicated function space will be available on the three-deck vessel.

The 2.25 million in financing is coming from the government’s Regional Tourism Investment Fund. During the build, the project will generate 13 local construction jobs and 19 ongoing employment positions afterwards.

The appeal for the tourism industry is the vessel’s ability to generate economic activity in riverside communities up and down the Murray and to extend the overnight stays by visitors to the region to an average of 4.5 nights, while also boosting the average guest spend to $1,180 per night.

Billed as the largest paddle steamer in the Southern Hemisphere and the only five-star paddle steamer with accommodation in the world, it will also be unique as the only one to be powered by wood, with a refurbished 1907 Richard Garrett and Sons wood-fired steam engine.

An international attraction

Echuca’s history in the mid-1800s as the largest inland port in Australia was because it was the closest town on the Murray River to Melbourne. Deliveries of wool, fruit and even mail came through Echuca from the Murray Darling basin communities in northern New South Wales before being taken to Melbourne by rail and road.

At its peak there were 240 boats plying their trade through the port of Echuca.

The paddle steamer is expected to appeal not only to domestic visitors but also to the international market given that the Murray River is more than 2,500km long, stretching from Kosciusko National Park in the east to Goolwa in South Australia.

With 200km of it navigable, Environment South Australia says the Murray is the world’s third-longest navigable river, behind the Nile and the Amazon.