I was 11 years old when our family decided to purchase the then, Paddle Steamer Mundoo. The family business was already fully established (since 1955), and I knew the stories of how my grandparents restored other paddle boats along the Murray; but the P.S Mundoo was the first that was added to the Mildura Paddle Steamers fleet, whilst I was in existence. In fact, she is technically only a year older than me, being built in Goolwa, South Australia, in 1987, as a replica of the original P.S Mundoo (1875).
It all started with an auction. An auction in which my Pa, Captain Alby Pointon, and my Uncle, Captain Christopher Pointon, were to attend, as mere spectators. They didn't have any intention of purchasing the P.S Mundoo, but to check out the proceeding auction and essentially, suss out who does purchase it to see where it may end up along the river ports. On arrival, Pa and Uncle Chris were quick to note that nearly 300 people were lining the Goolwa wharf, mostly to watch the auction, like themselves, but they noticed that there were at least 4 parties interested in the P.S Mundoo. Bidding began, with these 4 parties driving the price, but it was passed in. The next auction of the day, was for the Murray River Queen, so the crowd shifted its attention to her, whilst Pa and Uncle Chris started to walk back to the car, which involved passing the P.S Mundoo one last time.
Uncle Chris wanted to have one last look at the engine, in which Pa agreed, that it was a beautiful engine. In fact, it was the original engine from the Paddle Steamer Pyap. Shortly after, the owner noticed Uncle Chris and Pa looking back over the PS Mundoo, and went to have a chat with them, as he had assumed they were not interested. Pa had said straight out again, that they weren't interested, and yet, the owner handed him and Chris the keys and told them to go into the hull and right down the back and come right through the whole boat. Pa always told us that he and Chris were amazed at how good it was, that everything about it was incredible.
The owner was waiting for their return and asked if they had changed their minds and named a price. The price shocked Pa and Uncle Chris, as it was very close to what it passed in for at auction. Pa asked why he didn't just let it go at auction, to which he responded that although there were 4 groups bidding for it, he didn't want any of them to have it. There is so much sentimentality amongst the riverboat community. I think they saw that Pa and Uncle Chris truly care about the restoration and preservation of these historic vessels, which made them uniquely qualified to potentially own this owners pride and joy. The next issue was convincing "the boss", also known as Ma, Alby's wife Freda. The deal was, to give Pa two weeks to persuade Ma, and to see if it was financially viable for the business.
This now comes to my favourite section in the Mundoo story. It is the part that sums up Ma and Pa, the brains and the brawn. I have heard this part of the story so many times, that I can no longer recall if I was actually there on the day, or I just remember the details so vividly explained by Pa. The following is an excerpt of a transcription, in which Pa himself explained what happened:
"I came home and came through the front door. Freda was up the sink and I crept up behind her and I clapped my hands and I said,
"Dear, we've just bought another paddle steamer!"
She didn't say anything. So I clapped louder and I clapped as loud as I could and I said, "Dear, we've just bought another paddle steamer!"
She still didn't say anything. She walked to the bench, took off her apron and walked to the door. The she turned back and looked at me. "And I am bloody leaving," she said.
For those invested - Ma didn't leave. But it took the full two weeks for Uncle Chris and Pa to convince Ma and Lyn (Alby and Freda's daughter), that it is a worthwhile investment and much needed addition the the fleet of vessels. My parents, brother and I travelled down to look at the Mundoo. I think Mum needed to see it for herself to see why Uncle Chris and Pa were so adamant to bring her to Mildura. Once we saw how stunning it was, to walk up the stairs and enter the dining room, we knew it would be a great function vessel, we could see the potential for conferences, events and weddings!
So on Sunday December the 5th, 1999, the Paddle Steamer Mundoo began her epic 888km voyage from her birthplace in Goolwa, South Australia, to Mildura, Victoria. It was decided to leave at 4.30pm, while it was calm and in the twilight, to go across Lake Alexandrina. There were a lot of young men on the trip. They were keen to get going. Crewing her on this journey, were Captain Alby Pointon and his wife Freda, their sons, Captain Chris and Robert, the previous owner; Jock Veenstra, Captain Greg Evans, Captain Alan Bartsch, Captain Andrew Cook, Steam Engineer John Lauder and General Purpose Hand, Bev Martin.
The plan was to get across to Wellington and pull up for the night. Alby and Freda went to bed in "Princess Diana's room" (that is a story for another time), and a couple of others had set up beds in the hull. It was not long before we found the engine was too small, making her under powered and it wouldn't turn very well. The engine never had enough draft in it and they were averaging about 3kms/h. Captain Andrew Cook got something out and flattened it to allow more draft in. When Ma and Pa woke up the next morning, they were astonished to realise they were a lot further upstream then Wellington! They were passing under the well known "two bridges" at Murray Bridge. I fondly remember Pa retelling this part of the story a lot, and always says - "The young buggas had been working all night!". It was said with such pride, but also the tinge of regret, that he no longer had the physical ability to work all through the night, like he once did - he was in his late 70's by this stage!
They then began to average 8kms/h, continuously travelling upstream on rotating shifts, day and night, stopping only to gather supplies and firewood, or to wait for entry into the Locks along the way or bridge lifts. They then stopped at Renmark for a couple of days, as it was the Christmas season after all, and we needed the Captains back, working on the PV Rothbury and PS Melbourne for functions in Mildura. This also then allowed for a crew change, in which Captain Peter Payne and Engineer Brad Harris joined the team.
Once at Wentworth, my parents, brother and myself came on board, for the final leg of the journey, arriving in Mildura on the 16th of December, 1999. We had a banner on the side of the boat, given to us by the tourism committee in Mildura, and followed upstream from Apex Park to Lock 11 by the now sister ship, the PV Rothbury. I cannot speak for the rest of the family, but for me, it was one of the most exciting things I have been a part of! I remember being up in the wheelhouse with Pa as we exited the Lock channel, heading towards Mildura, and the excitement in his voice for me to stand out on the wheelhouse landing to wave to the people who had come to see us arrive, it was such a surreal feeling. But even though he was excited, he was still very humble. The focus was on him for bringing another Paddle Steamer to Mildura, but he was always so quick to turn the story around to the dedicated employees, and his family, that made it all possible in the first place.
I remember him also saying, that finally he has a paddle steamer that he doesn't have to restore. It wasn't long after they realised that the engine was under powered for the size of the boat, and that it couldn't turn efficiently. The decision was then made to remove the steam engine and replace it with a Cummins Diesel Hydraulic. So now, the Captain's use the rudder predominantly to steer, but if need be, they have the ability to split the paddles, independently from one another, to assist to turn the vessel. The arduous task to remove the steam engine and boiler began, with Pa supervising nearly every move, but enjoying the task being undertaken by the younger generation of riverboat men.
This December marks 20 years since Ma and Pa, dedicated crew, family and friends brought the Paddle Steamer Mundoo to Mildura, Victoria, adding an essential asset to service the event, conference and wedding market, in an unique and versatile way. To celebrate this occasion, we are hosting a Jazz Cruise on board the now, Paddle Boat Mundoo, on Sunday the 15th of December. The cruise will depart the Mildura Wharf at 3.00pm and return at 5.00pm and consist of a live Jazz Band and charcuterie platters per table. Bookings are essential. So come along, celebrate this momentous occasion, or just sit back, enjoy a cruise along the Murray River at Mildura, whilst dining on gourmet platters, serenaded by a Jazz Band!