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Delicate 1700km move for historic wooden paddlewheeler

In a truly mammoth and unique transport task, an historic 100-year-old paddlewheeler will make its way across three states, travelling on a 1700-kilometre journey to its new home.

It’s believed to be the largest ever move of a boat of this size by road in the Southern Hemisphere.

The much-loved vessel will travel from Victoria to Longreach in Queensland’s outback, with Freightlancer tasked with co-ordinating the logistics of the move.

It will travel on a 26-metre long, 8.7-metre wide gooseneck float trailer built by Drake, that’s rated at 192 tonne; pulled by a 700hp Volvo FH16.

Warrick Corney of Freightlancer admitted this freight task was certainly one that has kept him up at night for the past four months.

“This is unique for us and it’s unique for the Australian transport industry. I’m yet to check the data thoroughly but I believe it’s the single largest boat move in the Southern Hemisphere by road. It’s specialised equipment, specialised drivers. That’s difficult in itself and takes months and months of planning,” Corney said.

“Then we’ve got the issues of jumping through the legislation hurdles – of permits and police and power companies, it just goes on and on. We have to lift powerlines, we have to make sure that we don’t hit any trees of power poles, or any roadside furniture like signs and things like that, all the way from here to Longreach. It might sound easy but it is a massive undertaking,” he continued.

The massive job of lifting the delicate 100-tonne ‘Pride of the Murray’ vessel from the Murray River in Echuca has been completed, with the epic road trip set to get underway soon.

According to previous skipper of The Pride of the Murray, Neil Hutchinson, this is only the second time the paddlewheeler has ever left Echuca. “The first was last year when she went to Swan Hill to put it on the dock for maintenance work,” he said.

The paddlewheeler was purchased by Queensland grazier and tourism entrepreneur, Richard Kinnon of the Longreach-based Outback Pioneers (pictured left).

“Everyone thinks I’m mad. To build a purpose-built boat from scratch would have been a significantly cheaper option but it didn’t meet my own brief which is for our Longreach-based tourism operation to remain true to history,” explained Kinnon.

“When I found out the Pride of the Murray was looking for a new home, I knew I’d found a genuine outback pioneering artefact we just had to preserve. The only problem: this perfect piece of Australian history is giant and 1750 kilometres from Longreach.

“As we got here and I was standing on the back of her, and her sister boat went past, you won’t believe it, I felt sad because these pair of sisters have passed one another for 100 years and it was pretty emotional for me because it felt like I was taking her away from her mates.”

The age and construction of the vessel was another hurdle in the move; meaning it can only be out of the water for a maximum of seven days, before the timber begins to shrink, so timing is also crucial.

Corney added, “This is not a move that has ever been attempted before in Australia. However, the Kinnon’s have that true pioneering spirit in spades and are so dedicated to history conservation, we’re going to make the impossible, possible.

“It’s an extremely delicate operation. It’s a 100-year-old boat we are lifting out of the water and putting it on top of a trailer before we drive it from Victoria to Queensland. The route we have specifically chosen because it’s quite straight and had less obstructions for a mega road train.”

Watch below to see how the vessel was lifted from the Murray River and placed on the trailer.

Before the boat was winched from the water, the wheelhouse was removed because of height restrictions and placed on a separate truck.

The remainder of the boat was then winched out of the water and laid across large inflatable bags before being placed on stands, with the 26-metre trailer then backed in underneath it and the boat gently lowered down.

“The trailer itself is massive,” Corney said. “To give you a visual of the size of it, the trailer alone is rated at 192 tonne and the entire rig has 106 tyres under it to soften the pressure on the road.”

With the trailer being 8.7 metres wide and some of the bridges it will travel on being narrower than that, it will need to be lifted higher for parts of the journey to ensure it doesn’t hit any guard rails.

“It’s big machinery but a delicate operation, so the maximum speed of travel is 80km/h. It will also be tall, so we negotiated to have crews from each electrical company travel with us along the way to lift up power lines as we come through areas where they are low,” Corney said.

The entire convoy will be supported by police and pilot vehicles and can only travel during daylight hours, so it will stop overnight in regional towns along the way.

Because it’s an old wooden boat, Corney says it needs to be kept wet during the trip.

“We have a limited amount of time it can be out of the water, so we are hoping the drive only takes three days,” he said.

“Before it came out of the water, we used old techniques and lined the inside of the hull with wet hessian sacks.”

The most difficult part of the entire trip will be negotiating the last roundabout as they enter Longreach.

As the boat hadn’t been operating, Kinnon looks forward to giving it a new lease of life. “She is certainly going to write another few chapters. We’ll treasure her up there. She’ll be out on her own up there but I tell you what, she will be the grand old lady of the outback, I can tell you,” he said.

Kinnon admits it’s going to be a stressful journey but will be worth it in the end. “We are putting a 100-old-year vessel like Noah’s Ark on a truck and bringing it to the outback of Australia,” he said.

“We’re passionate about educating people about Australia’s proud pioneering history and once the paddlewheeler is recommissioned, 100 people a day will get to relive an authentic river experience.”

The vessel will be restored in Longreach over the coming months.

“The incentive for me and the Kinnon family is millions of tourists will get to enjoy riding the Pride of the Murray on the Thomson River for another 100 years,” Kinnon added.

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