Desperately seeking skipper: Hunt for paddle steamer captain to steer town's key tourist draw (2024)

In short:

A NSW council is desperate to find a captain for a paddle steamer it says is its number one tourist attraction.

The PV Jandra is a reimagining of a historic vessel of the same name that was built in the 1800s.

What's next?

The council says it is prepared to offer accommodation to anyone capable of helming the vessel.

The outback river town of Bourke in New South Wales is desperately seeking a paddleboat captain to keep the local tourism industry afloat.

Bourke Shire Council said the paddle vessel Jandra, which meanders along the Darling River, was out of operation because there was no-one to take the helm.

Economic development manager Melanie Milgate is urging anyone qualified to put their hand up.

"They might even be towing a caravan and could just take four weeks, or even two weeks," she said.

"We'd take two weeks at the moment — we're desperate.

"It's our number one tourism attraction here at the back of Bourke."

Ms Milgate said the council would even throw in accommodation for the right candidate if it was needed.

"You can imagine all the rules and regulations we need to follow," she said.

"It's always great to have fresh eyes and new thoughts from people that provide us with their experience."

Desperately seeking skipper: Hunt for paddle steamer captain to steer town's key tourist draw (1)

Bush ingenuity

The original Jandra, built in the late 1800s, was one of the region's famous steam paddle boats.

It covered nearly 2,000 kilometres on trips between sheep stations and Bourke, dropping supplies off and bringing the wool back to town.

Historian Paul Roe said the Jandra of today was a reimagined version that started operating in the year 2000.

It was built by local farmer Russell Mansell to a standard that impressed even the toughest critics, especially given that he did not use a plan.

"It tells you something about the ingenuity of some of these blokes who live in the bush," Mr Roe said.

"When you ask Russell about it he just says, 'Oh, it's just common sense.'"

Desperately seeking skipper: Hunt for paddle steamer captain to steer town's key tourist draw (2)

Mr Roe said a maritime inspector sent to Bourke to check the new Jandra found Mr Mansell's creation in a huge farm shed on his property.

"He was astonished to see a 70-foot steel-hull boat sitting there in a fruit shed," he said.

"And he said, 'Well, I'd better have a look at the plans' and Russell said, 'Well, there aren't any — I just built it out of my head.'

"So, he just looked at pictures and designed it himself."


Mr Roe said there were also some extraordinary tales related to the original Jandra.

It caught the attention of one of the founders of the Australian War Memorial, the famous World War I correspondent Captain Charles Bean.

Captain Bean wrote about the Jandra, and the Brown family that ran it, in the early 20th century.

"He said the trip on the Jandra was the best he'd ever had," Mr Roe said.

"He described the skipper, who was a real character, and said he had a co*ckatoo who would sit with him in the wheelhouse and he would do things for an almond.

"And there was a harmonium organ on the boat and he and his brother would run church services at the sheep stations they stopped at."

Desperately seeking skipper: Hunt for paddle steamer captain to steer town's key tourist draw (3)

'People just love it'

Mr Roe said the modern Jandra provided a special connection between the region's past and present.

"Sitting there, the splash of the paddle wheels, it's going slowly down the river past these big gums and the birds are singing — people just love it," he said.

"It's bringing history to life because the Darling River was the great highway to the back of the state for 30 years and played a huge part in the development of that part of the state."

Ms Milgate said she was hoping to hear from experienced captains who would join the interesting list of people who have taken the wheel before.

"Recently we had a captain from the Hawkesbury region who, before he came back into boats, he was a 747 pilot," she said.

"He landed the plane that's currently at the Qantas Hall of Fame in Longreach."

Bourke's Jandra paddleboat meanders up the Darling River for an hour twice a day during the week and for two hours on Sundays.

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Desperately seeking skipper: Hunt for paddle steamer captain to steer town's key tourist draw (2024)
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