Gayle is an accountant. Shh – don’t tell. She thinks she’s a writer.
Published November 23rd 2014
Restoring a grand old dame of the Murray
We hadn't expected to find much in Wentworth, it is a small town around 30kms or 20 minutes from Mildura, with a population of less than 2,000. We came to see the merging of the Murray and Darling Rivers but at the Visitor Information Centre, a cheerful lady told us of the PS Ruby, a 1907 side-wheeled paddle steamer.
The PS Ruby moored at Fotherby Park for renovations.
The Ruby is moored at Fotherby Park and is being renovated by volunteers. Visitors are allowed on board while the volunteers are working. They are working now so armed with a map of town we stride across a bridge over the Darling River, the top deck of the PS Ruby coming into view as reach the other side.
Fotherby Park is on the Silver City Highway. A Massey Ferguson TE20 tractor sits atop a pole commemorating its role in fighting the 1956 floods. The park also houses a drop log cabin built as Wentworth's first courthouse in 1863, a talking statue of 'Possum', a 1900's 8HP steam engine called 'The Demon' and some historic farm equipment.
'Demon', a 1900's 8HP steam engine on display at Fotherby Park
We drop a donation in the box as we enter the gate to the PS Ruby and wander down a gentle slope past a wooden bench stacked with timber and paint cans. There is a wheelbarrow at the ramp entrance. A note on a pole warns of trip hazards on deck and threatens to feed running children to the Murray River cod.
A steel railing surrounds the engine bay. We look down in admiration at a mostly red Robey engine both serviceable and beautiful. A huge black boiler sits beneath, a cage of cut logs in front of it. The boat is 132 feet 9 inches or 40.5 metres long. We walk down a narrow passage past cabins, the crew quarters, on the lower deck. Beyond the cabins other visitors gather in a covered area open at the sides, where I guess cargo was once carried. A man plays a piano and sings. I am surprised to find he is also a visitor.
Steep ladder-like stairs lead to the second deck where we find the passenger cabins. In a long room a video of the Ruby's history is playing and benches are lined with memorabilia. A table and chairs give visitors a place to sift through books and photos both of the boat's history and of the renovations.
The wheel of the PS Ruby
More stairs lead to the third and upper deck. My husband goes up to explore the wheel house and the funnel which stands behind the captain's quarters. Heights and steep stairs are not my thing. I return to the lower deck and practice photography on mooring ropes and engine components. The PS Ruby is magnificent.