Current Issue #488

Queen of the river


Childhood nostalgia for the river town of Mannum combines with the new-found need to holiday within our own state to make for some river dreaming.

My grandmother was born at Wongulla, just north of Walker Flat on the mighty Murray River. From good Irish Catholic stock, she lived the era of the paddle steamers, raised in a house of men after her mother died when she was very young. When she met my grandfather, a descendent of the German Reschke clan who arrived in South Australia on one of the earliest boats, she converted to the Church of England, married, moved to Mannum and never left again.

The happy outcome of this tale is that most of my childhood was spend at Mannum enjoying the sort of freedoms that today’s children can only dream about. Pootling about in rowboats, checking nets for yabbies and shrimp (which Grandma boiled, soused and stuffed into sandwiches made with heavenly soft white bread and butter), and, of course, swimming.

I’m not sure how many yabbies or shrimps have survived the decades since I last went looking for them but most of the other things I remember doing as a child are still very much available to visitors to the town.

The main drag of the village is elevated which means, if you are driving in from Adelaide, you get a panoramic view over the town and the river below as you round the corner just above the war memorial. If you take the first hairpin righthand turn at the top of the main street, you descend to River Lane, where my grandmother’s cottage still stands sentinel at the front of a row of historic sandstone homes facing what we kids always (and still do) called The Rec (shorthand for Recreation Ground). This wide strip of green lawn edges the broad river, coloured green, brown or milky white depending on the time of year and whether our eastern neighbours have left any water in the system to find its way down to us.

This park hosts all kinds of activities, from family picnics to entire festivals. It also has the main jetty for the surviving paddle steamers to dock at, allowing their passengers to chat to any resident pelicans and enjoy the delights of Mannum before chugging a little further up or downstream.

The Rec has always been meticulously maintained and a recent day trip confirmed nothing has changed here. In the great flood of 1956 it was completely submerged, along with half of the town and I remember a more recent flood in the 70s that caused me to wade with my cousins to reach the point where we knew the true riverbank to be. Great adventure!

The paddle steamers still ply the waters. The now restored PS Marion was a ruin when I was a kid. Thanks to the connections my dear Uncle Bill Reschke had with the custodians, my cousins and I were often allowed to play on its rotting decks, pretending to captain the august ship in turns.

Almost as much fun as this was spending the day with the punt operator next door to where the Marion was berthed. We would delight in crossing back and forth, watching the cables emerge from the murky water as they dragged us across to the other bank to collect another load of farmers, caravaners and other assorted travellers. The novelty never wore off and on a recent visit with friends we all posed at the front of the punt for selfies with the Murray.

Mannum is just 84 kilometres from Adelaide and the route, if you eschew the South East Freeway, takes you through some of the most picturesque and dramatic countryside South Australia has to offer. Be sure to watch out for the Bear – a strangely shaped piece of granite on top of a hill that someone thought to paint years ago. It thus became the highlight of every family road trip to grandma’s. What would the Bear be wearing this time? I’m pleased to say, the tradition continues.

If you can’t stay with grandma, there is an excellent caravan park that also offers cabins right next to the punt at the far end of the town. If you’re still in touch with your inner 8-year-old, you won’t have to walk far for entertainment.

Amanda Pepe

Publishing Director/Editor
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Amanda is a journalist, editor and publisher who has dedicated much of her career to independent media in South Australia. She is currently editor and publisher of The Adelaide Review.

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