Situated on opposite sides of the Murray River, Moama & Echuca have interesting histories.They are due north of Melbourne at the closest point of the Murray River to Melbourne. In 1865 an article in the "Pastoral Times" newspaper declared that Moama was 'neglected by the Government of New South Wales' and that Echuca was 'nurtured by the Government of Victoria.'
The area was of importance to the early white settlers as cattle being overlanded from New South Wales to Melbourne and South Australia travelled along three stock routes which converged at the Murray River in this area and it became obvious very early that a punt was needed.
Convict, James Maiden, who arrived in Sydney on the "Bengal Merchant" in 1835, met up with John Clarke, Licensee of Perricoota Station and the two of them became involved, with others, in the overlanding of cattle.
By 1838 they had a punt in operation on the Goulburn River in Seymour. However when Maiden moved back to New South Wales to run a mob of cattle on Perricoota Station he realised that a punt was required on the Murray River. At first it was on Perricoota but was soon moved upstream to the future site of Moama.
Maiden went on to build a larger punt about a kilometre east of present day Moama and erected the Junction Inn adjacent to it. He was granted a licence in 1846. The inn was very basic but Maiden's interest really was cattle and Moama was to become the largest cattle market outside of Melbourne. Following the discovery of gold in Victoria, business boomed as the need for meat in Bendigo and Melbourne increased. Also wool and other goods were being transported across the river by bullock teams. By 1856, Maiden owned 18,000 head of cattle and 600 horses. He was a millionaire.
The site of Moama first appeared on a survey map dated 1842 and was indicated as a police barracks, but the first sale of town allotments was held in 1851 in Moulamein, New South Wales. As Maiden and the Chief Constable were the only people who had access to the "Government Gazette" which advertised the sale, they were the only people at the sale. Maiden bought up most of the town.
1853 saw the arrival at Moama of the first paddle steamer which had travelled up the Murray River from Goolwa in South Australia. This was the "Mary Ann" with Captain William Randall at the helm. Now there was trade up and down the river and people were employed on the wharf and in boat building. There were boiling down works and a timber industry provided fine blocks of red gum for roads in Melbourne and railway sleepers in India.
Increasing competition from across the river at Echuca where there was another punt, started to affect Maiden. Government charges on all stock and goods crossing the river, high living, and poor management by Maiden and a feud with Henry Hopwood in Echuca caused the decline of his fortune and also the decline in Moama. It was described as ' a miserable specimen of a township.' Maiden sold Perricoota and his other stations and moved to Bendigo where he died penniless in 1869.
Henry Hopwood was a convict like Maiden and they may have been acquaintances in England. Hopwood arrived in Van Diemen's Land on the "William Metcalf" in 1834. He became a police constable shortly after his arrival, but spent some time imprisoned at the Port Arthur Penal Settlement. He eventually moved to the mainland where he ended up at the Perricoota boiling down works. He decided to build his own Inn, the New Road Inn, on the southern side of the Murray River and he set up a punt on the river to rival Maiden's. Hopwood called his settlement 'Hopwood's Ferry' but at the first land sales in April 1855 the little township was called Echuca, meaning 'meeting of the rivers.' The rivers referred to being the Murray, the Campaspe and the Goulburn.
A severe flood in 1870 washed away a number of buildings in Moama, and Moama was moved a little to the west onto higher ground.
An iron bridge was built across the Murray River in 1878. This enabled the railway line from Melbourne to Bendigo to be extended to Echuca and continue on to Moama and Deniliquin in New South Wales. In the 1990's a separate railway bridge was built, but the original bridge, built in horse and buggy days, has become inadequate for today's traffic.
Henry Hopwood died of typhoid fever in 1869, the same year James Maiden died. He was an enterprising man who helped Echuca to flourish. He has three memorials to his name, two in Echuca and one at the Melbourne General Cemetery.
Shirley Durrant and Pearl Collins are members of the Echuca Moama Family History Group Inc. They recommend the local Perricoota oranges and appreciate the importance of farming in the area, but they also see tourism as vital. Both Echuca and Moama have sporting and club facilities which attract huge numbers of people. The rivers are beautiful, making the cities anything but 'miserable.'
List of Newsletter Articles |
Back to Home Page