History of the Queen.

History Of The Paddle Boat Murray River Queen

The Murray River Queen holds a special place in the history of the paddle boats of the Murray River. Built at Hindmarsh Island, near Goolwa between 1972 and 1974, she is steeped in the traditions of the hundreds of paddle steamers that hauled freight and passengers up and down the Murray River between the 1850’s and 1930’s.

The Murray River Queen was the first of the ‘new era’ passenger carrying paddle boats, and was the first major paddle boat to be built for the Murray River trade in over fifty years.

By the early 1970’s there were just two paddle boats offering overnight cruises on the Murray River and they were both timber hulled boats that had originally been built for the cargo trade.

When launched in 1974 the Murray River Queen was the largest vessel ever to ply the Murray River, and she remains the largest ever side wheel paddle boat and the third largest vessel overall to ever navigate the river.

The decision to build the vessel was a cooperative one between the late Captain Keith Veenstra and the South Australian Government – led by the innovative Premier Don Dunstan. Captain Keith Veenstra had wanted to build a new vessel to conduct day trips out of Goolwa, whilst the South Australian Government wanted a new, large, purpose built paddle boat to offer overnight cruises on the Murray to help kick start tourism on the South Australian section of the river.

Funding was sought and granted and so the Murray River Queen came into being.

During the planning of the vessel Keith Veenstra visited the two existing overnight paddle boats (the Wanera and the Coonawarra) as well as the long retired passenger boats of an earlier age (the Gem, the Marion and the Ruby) to gain ideas on what did and didn’t work. These ideas were incorporated into the Murray River Queens design.

However, when launched it became apparent that the Murray River Queen had some problems.

A tendency to “drag” water at the stern was identified, which affected her performance. But the bigger problem was that her paddle wheels were seen to be undersized. So, after six weeks she was withdrawn from service so these problems could be rectified. It is still possible to see the weld line along the sponson deck where it was increased to allow for the wider paddle wheels.

When returned to service the Murray River Queen soon earned herself a reputation as one of the fastest and most maneuverable paddle boats on the river. Her twin, powerful Scania diesel engines drove two side paddle wheels fitted with enormous floats which allowed her to reach her cruising speed of 14 km/h from a standstill, and then, when thrown into reverse, to come to a stop; both within her own length.

Despite all this, initially the ‘Queen’ struggled for patronage.

This was until renowned television personality Bill Peach came aboard and featured her in an episode of his popular series ‘Peach’s Australia’. From that moment on passenger numbers soared. For the next 17 years the ‘Queen’ operated at 98% capacity. 

Such was her popularity an additional eight cabins were constructed on the top deck. Over the next two years these cabins paid for a second new passenger boat – the Murray Explorer – launched in 1979.

A third vessel, the Murray Princess followed in 1986. However it was the Murray River Queen that remained the favorite with both passengers and crew. Despite the improvements in design incorporated in these later boats, repeat passengers always wanted to book on the ‘Queen’.

By the late 1980’s a number of economic factors saw a decline in the tourist trade along the Murray River. The Murray Explorer was taken from the river and shifted first to Queensland and then Sydney.

1993 saw the Murray River Queen retired from regular service.

The next ten years were a sad period for the vessel. She spent time as a floating hotel in Goolwa and then was virtually abandoned, derelict and unwanted in a small channel off the Murray River upstream of Mannum.

In 2003 she was offered a lifeline when a consortium of business people from Waikerie purchased her and brought her to that town. Initially the plan was for her to operate purely as a static hotel/restaurant/cafe. However the lure of taking her cruising again proved to be too strong and she was soon running regular 5 hour dinner and lunch cruises as well as monthly 4 night trips to Loxton and back.

In 2012 our family purchased this magnificent vessel and for 3 short years we operated in Waikerie as a backpacker hostel. Supplying the local community with a labour force they needed for their farming requirements.

In the summer of 2015 the decision to renovate, and relocate the Queen to the Tourism Mecca of Renmark was hatched.  The Queen received a refreshing make over, and re-opened with our Modern Asian restaurant, larger accommodation cabins and Regional Cellar Door. Firstly operating in Waikerie and eventually relocating in late 2017 to the main town wharf of Renmark.  The Journey saw another famous paddle boat the PS Oscar W tow the Queen – over a 4 day trip to its now current location.

The Queen is now truly at home in Renmark with thousands of visiting boat enthusiasts each year. With its 3 different eating area’s it’s truly a food and wine experience not to be missed in the Riverland. 


We look forward to looking after you soon.

Matthew and Susan Major


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