The big boat that could

Michael R Williams

“It’s been very very emotional for me the whole thing, you know.

“When we just pulled her out of the water, and who should go past but her sister boat, the Emmylou.

“She blew her horn, and I thought to myself ‘that’s the last time she’s going to see her sister’.

“Just to see her leaving her home was sad, but she’s going to ride another couple of chapters in the Longreach waterhole.”

The Pride of the Murray, built-in 1924 in Echuca, has been operating as a tourist boat since 1977 on the river of its namesake, the Murray.

However recently, it has been purchased by entrepreneur and Outback Pioneers owner and founder Richard Kinnon who was in need of a larger vessel as tourist numbers have ballooned in Longreach.

“We didn’t have seats for them on the Starlight’s river cruise that we do on the Thomson River,” Mr Kinnon said.

“It was worrying me that we were sending people off disappointed that they were unable to get onto the river cruise.”

Mr Kinnon and his team toyed with building a new boat for the Thomson, an act which he said would have been much easier.

“We were just starting to order the materials for a new boat—but it just didn’t sit right with me because all of our tourism is all about storytelling,” Mr Kinnon said.

“We immerse them in the experience where they can taste and feel and see it.

“I decided to go for a look and see if we could find something that could suit.”

Mr Kinnon said he chose the “Pride…” as a sidewheeler, a type of boat he is fond of because of its history.

“The story of the sidewheeler is very unique to Australia,” he said.

“There’s not one paddle wheeler that’s the same.

“It is an amazing world when you look into it—with Longreach as a wool town, and they regarded central Queensland as the wool capital of the world, a lot of our wool would have gone south and would have been taken down the Murray on a paddle wheeler.

“It just made a lot of sense—I have no doubt that I can make the “Pride…” work.”

It has been a long journey for the Pride of the Murray – over 1700 kilometres along the Mitchell Highway – but Mr Kinnon said it was mostly smooth sailing.

“Once we got over the border and onto those outback roads, we started really making miles,” he said.

“The last three weeks have been an incredible eye-opener for me; that here, in Longreach—it’s become a storytellin’ centre of Queensland, if not Australia.

“As you know, Longreach is where Qantas started, we have the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, we have the dinosaurs just down the road.

“It’s so much storytellin’.”

Echucha is a straight line to Longreach, Mr Kinnon and his team trekked through much of outback Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

“Every community welcomed us with open arms,” Mr Kinnon said.

“They were in the hundreds; in little communities, and station people came out to their front gates to wave us past.

“The support and connection that the “Pride…” has created have been absolutely mind-blowing.”

Mr Kinnon said he sees the movement of the “Pride…” as a part of a larger growing body of tourist attractions in the central west.

“We have been approached by American and Japanese travel agencies already,” he said.

“This has taken Outback Pioneers to a whole new level—a level I never dreamed possible.”

When Outback Pioneers won gold at the National Tourism Awards, Mr Kinnon said “the sleeping giant of tourism in Australia was about to wake up.”

“I can’t believe how prophetic that came to be,” he said.

“It’s as if I tied a big red rope onto a red in Echucha and fed it all the way here, and I really feel this movement of the Pride of the Murray has connected all our outback communities—and they’re all coming to Longreach; all we have to do is pull the rope now!”