Richard Kinnon says he'd rather make Australia's history come alive than create it but the 2300km journey of his newest tourist attraction has given western Queensland a modern legend.
Believed to be the largest overland marine transport operation ever seen in Australia, the Kinnon family's massive undertaking to move the 98-year-old Pride of the Murray paddlewheeler through three states, from Echuca in Victoria to Longreach in Queensland concluded successfully on the banks of the Thomson River on Sunday morning.
The 60 tonne load on a 154-wheel trailer inched its way through the streets of the western Queensland crowd with hundreds watching the skill of the driver and his team negotiating traffic islands that might have been made for road trains but not nine-metre wide loads.
Watching on with them, exhausted tourism entrepreneur Richard Kinnon said it was the thousands of people and support offered on the journey northward that made him feel the six weeks he'd been away overseeing the project, and the grey hairs he'd grown, were all worth it.
"Many a corner has been turned between here and Echuca, many a bridge, many obstacles, but I must say, the most inspiring part of the whole trip has been the outback people welcoming us into their communities and waving us goodbye out of them," he said.
"To me, it is for Longreach and the people of the outback.
"It's not about Outback Pioneers, it's about outback tourism and the stories we're telling.
"I'm just very lucky to be in a spot where I'm telling our pioneering stories through immersion.
"We can take them through the bulldust and mail tracks and now we can put them on the river on a real paddlewheeler."
Built in 1924 as a barge to tow behind other boats, with 80-100 tons of wool aboard, with an engine later added to transport timber, the Pride of the Murray is slated to become the newest attraction for the Outback Pioneers tourist enterprise, which features Cobb and Co stagecoach rides, an old-time tent show telling the story of Harry Redford, and station experiences.
It's the century of history the boat's timbers can tell that inspired Mr Kinnon to undertake the epic removal, rather than construct a new 100-seat replica for starlight cruises along the Thomson River at Longreach.
You can hear the passion he has for history as he talks about looking inside the "old girl" and seeing the wear marks made by a century of skippers at the wheel.
"You see where the chains at the back pulled the rudder from either side, and the corners that rudder could tell, and the corners it's put this old girl around," he said.
"It's done over a million ks on the Murray River and her sister, the Emmy Lou, has done the same.
"When we were leaving the Murray River and the Emmy Lou went past for the last time, she blew her horn and said goodbye to her sister, it was pretty emotional, I can tell you."
Before the trip north, the 'eggabout' at Longreach was regarded as the most challenging obstacle but looking back on Sunday, Mr Kinnon said the drivers had time sitting in their cabs over the four-day trip to plan out the logistics of that.
"We did not have a hiccup at all, we only had to lay a sign down," he said.
"Looking at it in hindsight, I think the last bridge coming over the Murray River at Tocumwal was probably the biggest challenge.
"We had 100mm - 50mm either side of the load - that the truck driver had to drive through railings for 12 kilometres.
"It was an incredible effort by those boys."
The shipwrights who form part of the 40-person team that moved The Pride of the Murray to Queensland, and who had been monitoring its condition, gave it the thumbs up on Sunday.
The inside of the hull was lined with hessian sacks that were kept wet to limit the amount of shrinkage in the timber, and Mr Kinnon relayed the news that it was ready for recaulking.
"They'll start on the work this afternoon and they'll be pretty much working around the clock now until we push her in the water on Thursday morning," he said.
The first cruise is set for June 25 and is booked up for a month.
Before that, the wheelhouse, removed for the journey because of height restrictions, needs to be reconnected
"We've got to get the old girl's top back on," Mr Kinnon said. "For once in her life she was topless, for 2300 kilometres, now we're going to dress her again."
Australia's paddlewheeler trade used to travel as far up the Darling River as Bourke to take wool brought in from the west on bullock wagons, which Mr Kinnon says is one of the historic connections between The Pride of the Murray and its new home.
"Even though we didn't have paddleboats on this river we still had a big connection," he said. "This is history, another whole chapter for this dear old lady and we'll love her to bits."
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