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Echuca Wharf, 52 Murray Esp, Echuca, VIC, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (26/04/2007)
Place ID 105777
Place File No 2/06/208/0008
Summary Statement of Significance
Echuca Wharf is an outstanding survivor of the booming Murray River trade of the late 1800s, which during the pastoral boom transformed Australia’s economy, and contributed to the forces which ultimately led to Federation.
The building of the original wharf was commenced in 1864 and completed in 1867.  The construction of the wharf and the rail link to Melbourne transformed both pastoralism, and the economy.  Echuca Wharf serviced the pastoral districts of the Riverina and Western New South Wales.  By providing cheaper and more direct access to markets it facilitated the expansion of pastoralism in these districts, thereby increasing the demand for river trade.  Echuca Wharf quickly became the pre-eminent port on the Murray River, and the second biggest port in Victoria.  At its peak in the early 1880s, over 200 vessels used the wharf each week and over 93 000 tons of goods were transported annually.
The wharf was extended several times, reaching its ultimate length of 332 metres, until the river trade began to decline in the 1880s, as the financial crisis of the 1890s hit the local economy hard, and the extension of the railway network in New South Wales and Victoria took away valuable trade.
The giant red-gum timber structure towers above the river and the surrounding landscape.  75.5 metres in length, the wharf is three stories high, allowing for the possible 10 metre variation in river height between summer and winter, and enabling the wharf to operate year round.  The longest extent of the wharf (332 metres), is evidenced by some remnant pylons which are visible at low water. 
The infrastructure on the wharf, including the railway lines, cargo shed, cranes and jib reflect the crucial relationship between the railway and the river, which facilitated the passage of trade from the Riverina through to Victoria’s sea-ports.  These elements, together with the paddle-steamers which still operate from Echuca Wharf, now servicing the tourist trade, contribute to the sense that Echuca Wharf retains, of a ‘working port’.
Official Values
Criterion A Events, Processes
Echuca Wharf reflects the importance that the Port of Echuca played in the economic growth experienced by the colonies of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia in the second half of the 19th century.  The construction of the wharf and railway at Echuca in the late 1860s facilitated the movement of goods to and from the pastoral districts of the Riverina and western NSW to the ports of Melbourne and Adelaide.  More direct access to markets led to a rapid expansion in the scale and value of these pastoral districts, and in turn to increased river trade, requiring the extension of the wharf.  The Port of Echuca became the pre eminent port for Murray River trade (estimated to be £5 million per annum in 1882), and Victoria’s second largest port up until the 1880s.   The wharf and railway at Echuca were crucial in the process of Melbourne wresting the status of Australia’s economic capital from Sydney.  The massive red gum structure of the wharf in its current configuration, the timber remains showing the longest extent of the wharf and the visual dominance of the wharf within a relatively undisturbed setting together provide evidence of the importance of Echuca as a pre-eminent trading port.  The cargo shed, cranes, jib, fence and railway track, although not original, contribute to an understanding of the functioning of the port, the use of the wharf by paddle-steamers, and the relationship between the port and the railhead.
The Echuca Wharf is 75.5 metres in length (its previous ultimate length was 332 metres, before parts of the wharf began to be dismantled) and is over ten metres, or three stories, high, enabling the wharf to operate in both high and low rivers. The wharf is constructed from river red gum (felled and milled locally).   Various parts of the wharf and associated infrastructure have been renewed and/or restored throughout the years.  Remnant timber pylons (visible only at low water) some distance from either end of the current wharf demonstrate its ultimate length.
The remaining wharf structure is the central section of the original structure, largely original but with repairs over time. Within the main wharf frame, several piles, braces and beams have been replaced. The catwalk has been reconstructed and the staircases to the north and south ends are presumed to include early elements. The wharf decking is replacement fabric (using the same type of timber as the original), date unknown. The northern crane occupies the site of an earlier crane and is different to the original cranes on the wharf. The southern crane is similar to one of the original cranes installed in 1865; it was sourced from a station yard at Wacool. The jib closely matches evidence of an earlier crane at the wharf (from the 1877 extension) and may have originally been part of wharf. The post and chain fence along the edge of the wharf is a reconstruction of the original fence, although the eye through which the chain passes appears to be smaller than the original. There were originally many more railway tracks than those currently represented.
The nominated area also contains a relocated cargo shed (now used for interpretation purposes) which is not original but is of the same style and vintage of sheds which were on the wharf, a relatively recently constructed railway platform and relocated station building, a relocated pedestrian overpass, a small shed (not original), several relocated early lamp-posts and numerous introduced props.

Echuca/Moama is regarded as the home of the largest number of paddleboats in the world (  The wharf is still operational, open to the public 364 days of the year, with three tourist cruising paddle-steamers (P.S. Adelaide, P.S. Alexander Arbuthnot and P.S. Pevensey) leaving from the wharf daily.  
Archaeological evidence indicates that by the early nineteenth century, the central and lower Murray River and the lower Darling were among the most densely populated areas of Aboriginal Australia (Mulvaney and Kamminga, 1999, p69).  In 1841, pioneer settler E.M. Curr estimated the Bangerang people of the region to have numbered 1200 and to have been divided into a number of localised groups including the Woollathara (Wollithiga), who were particularly associated with Echuca (Howitt, 1996, p53).  Introduced disease reduced the numbers of Aboriginal people in the region throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. 
Following the establishment of the colony of South Australia in 1836, navigation of the Murray River seemed to offer the new colony favourable economic prospects.  Recognising this, in 1850 the government offered a prize of ₤2000 each to the captains of the first two iron vessels to reach the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers (Lee, 2003).  The prizes were successfully claimed in the spring of 1853, though an amendment to the prize conditions was made, making timber hulled boats eligible.  All of the steamers active during the period of intense commercial navigation proved to be timber-hulled (Lee, 2003).
Between 1855 and 1859, various voyages established the practical limits of trade, taking vessels up the Murray to Albury, the Murrumbidgee to Gundagai, and, amazingly, up the Darling to Walgett, 1,650 miles (2,660 km) upstream from the Murray Darling junction.  Trade was, however, dependent on highly variable water levels.  (That variability being reflected in the 10 metre height of Echuca Wharf, built to accommodate three dock levels, to service the river both in flood and low water.)  In drought, most of the Darling and the Murrumbidgee Rivers were rarely navigable, and even on the Murray the only reliably navigable waters were from Echuca downstream (Lee, 2003).
The Murray River trade quickly became economically important.  The river was recognised as an easy route for transporting produce to service the expanding markets of the Victorian goldfields.  By 1857, merchandise from Adelaide carried by steamer to Albury exceeded 1 million pounds sterling.  By 1866 there were 36 steamers plying the Murray River.  The trade was varied. Steamers carried passengers, mail and supplies to the stations and returned with station produce for coastal markets.  By 1870 the Murray was the main channel bringing inland wealth to the coast.  The establishment of the river trade transformed inland pastoral industries.  Station owners began to change from cattle, a good option when the only transport to market was overland, to sheep, because river transport of wool made sheep farming a better economic option (Murray Darling Basin Committee).
Echuca quickly became the key centre for this burgeoning trade.  The town of Echuca, the nearest point on the Murray River to Melbourne, was established in 1854 at a prominent river crossing with transport by punts to Moama, NSW, on the north bank of the river.    As early as December 1855 it was recognized by the Victorian Government that Echuca was located on one of the most important roads in the colony, being at a crossing point to New South Wales, from where Victoria gained stock for food (Lee, 2003).
By 1864 two essential factors in the growth of Echuca were in place: the port of Echuca and the railway linking to Melbourne.  Their construction ended South Australia’s short dominance of the Murray River trade.  The Echuca port and the river trade for which it was built facilitated the movement of goods through Echuca, from points throughout the Murray Darling catchment, including the rich pastoral districts of the Riverina, to the salt-water ports of Melbourne.  The partnership which developed between the river trade and the railway locked in Echuca’s, and subsequently Melbourne’s economic supremacy over its inter-colonial rivals until well into the 1890s (Lee, 2003). 
The building of the wharf was commenced in 1864 and was completed in 1867, reaching 303 feet 6 inches (92.4 metres) in length (Ward, 1992).  The Wharf was erected by the Public Works Department, and constructed by G. Dwyer and Co (National Trust citation FN B1993).  As the trade grew, so did the wharf, being extended in 1877 and 1879, and sheds and cranes added.  Final extensions to the wharf were completed in 1884, the wharf ultimately reaching 332 metres in length (Ward, 1997).  Echuca became the second busiest port in Victoria (Lee, 2003).
By 1882, trade being conducted on the rivers was estimated at £5 million per annum, a large amount of that being in wool imported into Victoria from NSW.  It was the more densely settled areas of the Darling and Albert districts and the Riverina that provided trade advantages, and it was to these areas that trade was directed.  Prior to 1882 runs in these areas of 45,000 to 50,000 sheep were considered large, but the more direct access to markets and competitive advantage provided by river traffic, resulted in stations like ‘Dunlop’ and ‘Tirale’ running more than half a million sheep each in that year (Painter, 1979).
In addition to facilitating the shipment of western NSW produce through Echuca and Melbourne, another factor contributing to the development of Echuca was the difficulty experienced by South Australia in establishing a viable river trade.  The sand bar at the mouth of the Murray necessitated the transportation of goods by railway from Goolwa on the river to Port Elliot, and after 1854 to Victor Harbour.  From these ports the cargo had then to be shipped to Adelaide.  In all it was a cumbersome and expensive operation (Ward, 1992).
After the 1880s the river trade started to decline, with the financial crisis of the 1890s hitting the local economy hard. The extension of the railway network in both New South Wales and Victoria also took away valuable trade.  The NSW rail network was expanded south to reach Wagga and Narrandera in 1881, and ultimately Hay in 1882.  By 1885, the rail line also reached the Darling River at Bourke and began to siphon off the lucrative wool trade from the area (Ward, 1992).  In Victoria railway lines reached Wodonga in 1873 and Wahgunyah in 1879, cutting off most of the short haul river traffic between Echuca and Albury (Ward, 1992).  While the extensions of these rail networks affected the previously prosperous river trade, the most significant feature of railway operations on both sides of the border was the application of preferential rates.  All traffic west of Hay and Mossgiel was subject to a lower rate by the NSW Railways if it went to Sydney.  Southern and Western Line consignors were similarly advantaged.  The effect of this was that wool from the areas east of Hay and in the vicinity of Bourke, which had previously been exported through Echuca and Melbourne, now went to Sydney via the new railway (Ward, 1992). 
The population of Echuca began to decline in the 1880s and the wharf fell into disrepair, though it still saw some commercial use.  During World War II, Victorian Railways began to demolish the wharf to provide firewood for Melbourne, reducing it to only 75.5 metres, one quarter of its ultimate length.  The original spur railway line to the port was removed in 1971 (Lee, 2003). 
Since the 1960’s, the wharf and paddle-steamers have found a new life, servicing the ever increasing tourist trade, attracted to the romance of the river and the ‘Age of the Paddle-steamers’.

By 1971 Campaspe Shire Council had received two government grants and had a committee in place to manage the development of the Port Precinct.  The aim of this body, now the Port Authority, is to undertake development compatible with maintaining the historical integrity of the Precinct.    In May 2000, a grant of $150,000 was allocated by the State Government to help rebuild the spur line from the railway station.

Condition and Integrity
The wharf has been restored to its appearance during the river port era.  Substantial works have taken place over the years on the portion of wharf which remains, including the renewal of original piles, braces, beams, cross-heads and sheeting (Ward, 1997).
The railway and wharf are both intact although not complete.  The red gum wharf was at its greatest extent 332 metres in length.  About a quarter of it remains, although this is the original quarter, and is thoroughly representative of what was demolished. The wharf has had a continual renewal of fabric (of the same material)  and further repairs are required and planned.
In order to ascertain the integrity of the structure, a major engineering study was undertaken in 2001.  This study found the wharf to be safe, and recommended a ten year maintenance works program, with an estimated cost of $2 million.
52 Murray Esplanade, Echuca, comprising:
1. the area bounded in the east by the edge of the wharf platform; in the south and west by the picket fence and in the north by the edge of the wharf platform and its alignment (between the timber walkway and souvenir shop) to its intersection with the picket fence;
2. Two old retaining walls extending for approximately 36 metres from the northern edge of the wharf;
3. Remnants of old piles extending approximately from MGA point 297280mE 6000244mN to 297308mE 6000195mN;
4. Old retaining wall extending approximately from MGA point 297321mE 6000137 to 297363mE 6000079mN;and
5. Old retaining wall extending approximately from MGA point 297383mE 6000092mN to 297399mE 6000102mN.
Australia Post:
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Williams, Rod 2003.  Pioneering Pathways: 150 years since the commencement of the river trade, 1853-2003.  Terry Howe Printing.  Blair Athol, SA.
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All the Rivers Run 1.   Crawford Productions.
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A Grand Old Lady.  Vic T V 1991.
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Report Produced  Wed Sep 17 02:50:12 2014