Published on February 3rd, 2011 | by Ann Rickard10
ON BOARD THE MURRAY PRINCESS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Every time I go on a river cruise, Mother Nature decides to turn on a heat wave. (Germany, on the Rhine, in July last year, seriously hot, unprecedentedly hot).
I’m on the Murray River now in South Australia on board the Murray Princess and the temperature is over 40C. After months of wet wet wet Queensland it’s marvellous to be down here on the river on this lovely big paddle steamer in dry heat. The air-conditioning is pumping away so there is plenty of cool escape inside.
Well, my friends, this is the first of (hopefully) (definitely) travel blogs for 2011. It’s January 30 today as I write, which co-incidentally happens to be my birthday. I don’t want to tell you my age because the figure is frightening, but let’s just say it is an age where I can legally demand a discount on the bus (and… hooray… at the movies). That’s all I’m saying.
Being a woman of advanced years is serving me well on board the Murray Princess because if I may be frank with you for a moment, and say with all the humorous goodwill in the world, that every passenger on board is more advanced in the advanced years stakes than I am. That, my friends, is very advanced. Never before assembled in the one place have I seen so many:
- Walking frames
- Varicose veins
- Neck braces
- Bushy eyebrows
- Bulbous noses
- Knee supports
- Bald heads
- Swollen ankles
- Prescription glasses
- Nose hair Safari Suits (admittedly only one, but a nice beige one)
- Walking sticks Very (really, very) short shorts (on the men)
- Long socks with sandals (ditto, on the men)
- Flabby bellies (mostly mine)
- Orthopaedic shoes
- Pink plastic gums
- Hearing aids.
- Spreaded bums
- Belts worn beneath large guts (not mine, gave up belts long ago.)
I can understand why older people are attracted to this cruise. We are pampered and cosseted, have nothing to think about, our itinerary is given to us day by day, food of exceptionally high standard is continuously fed to us in over-generous quantities, there are tea, coffee and cookie stations all over the place and a friendly barman to pour us dry sherry and make us creamy easy-to-digest cocktails. What is not to love?
This morning at breakfast, I turned from the buffet where I’d finished piling my plate with fried eggs, hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, sausages and bacon, to look around the dining room to see where my dear Geoffrey was sitting – he’d gone up ahead of me – and do you think I could find him? His shiny bald head was just one amongst a veritable river (a bigger river, dare I say, than the Murray in full flood) of bald heads. Every man looked identical. Disconcerting it was. I could have been married to any one of those bald headed old blokes in short shorts and long socks sitting there contentedly eating his All-Bran.
So, now I’ve told you about the fellow creaky passengers, let me tell you about the Murray Princess. She is a gracious large old paddle steamer, all wood-panelled inside with brass railings and stairwells, leather arm chairs and mahogany tables. There are three levels of cabins and lounge/dining and bar space.
In the aft lounge (sorry to sound seaman-like but I am on a ship) where I sit writing to you, my dear mates, there is a floor to ceiling glass panelled wall where outside the giant paddle turns at great speed, throwing up a waterfall of water on the glass. It’s very exciting.
We boarded the Murray Princess at Mannum in South Australia, a sedate and pretty town on the Murray about a two hour drive out of Adelaide. We are partaking of the three night cruise which is short but very good, enough I think.
We’re in a state room, darlings, a state room. It’s a spacious place with a double bed AND a single bed, good sized bathroom, fridge, good lighting, nice toiletries and air-conditioning.
We sailed downstream along the mighty Murray which is probably at the very best it has been in decades. The floods, you see. There is much water flowing down the Murray. And it attracts the birds of course. White cockatoos and flocks of birds with strange names unknown to me (yet) (we will have a nature talk later) swoop across the river and glide high over the trees. We have sailed past towering rust-coloured limestone cliffs and on past green and lush banks. Weeping willows line the banks, trailing their petticoats in the water. Grand and small house boats are moored at intervals all along the river, and of course there is the reassuring ubiquity of the gum trees on both sides of the banks. It’s all very Australian bush country and very beautiful.
I can’t remember when I’ve been so relaxed. We’ve slept soundly until 8 each morning, whereupon we rise and rush up (as much as we can rush at our age) to the dining room, threading our way through the walking sticks to the buffet for eggs and sausages and bacon and hash browns and baked beans and mushrooms. Breakfast is always a concern on cruises; it’s impossible to forgo these normally forbidden treats and a couple of kilos have piled on already.
We stopped at Murray Bridge, an historic (as far as historic gets in Australia) town where the first bridge spanning the Murray River was built in 1879. The bridge was brought out from UK in pieces but languished in storage for five years until the authorities finally gave the go ahead to build it. A fine big bridge it is too, the first one to span the Murray.
Near the bridge, on the bank of the river, is an historic house called the Round House (‘cos it’s round, don’t say you don’t learn anything from me). This is the house where the governing bloke of the time lived with his family. It later because council chambers, the post office and community house.
The Murray River became an inland road and was vital to enterprise back then. (Still more learning from me.) In 1881 100 steamers and 200 barges plied the river. What would have taken months to transport with carts and bullocks by road, took just a day on the river. (Yet more learning from me.)
Inside the historic Round House, volunteers from the Murray Bridge Historic Society tell you all manner of interesting historic things as you wander from old room to room. I find it a little unsettling looking at historic homesteads full of furniture and curios and bric-a-brac from the past as I recognise most of it as stuff from my childhood. In the kitchen: bone-handled cutlery, Mrs. Beeton’s cook books, canister sets for flour, tea, rice, sago. In the ‘good room’: fine china with rose patterns, a piano, old tattered song sheets with songs I remember well. ( “How Much Is that Doggy in the Window”.)
In the bedroom: iron bedheads, white wooden cots, wicker pram, jugs and wash bowls, shoe horns, hair nets, butterfly clips, chamber pots. It makes me feel very old that these are antiques, yet I remember all of them from my family home as a part of ordinary life. It’s a depressing thought, but on the bright side, it makes me fit in so well with my fellow Murray Princess passengers.
Food on board is very good. At lunch yesterday, we ate Meddling Matilda Chicken and Jolly Jumbuck in a Tuckerbag. Fellow passengers have come from as far as the UK, New Zealand and the US for this cruise so these menu names enchant them. We are, after all, on an iconic Australian river. It’s just a little disconcerting that the Cruise Director is a NZ woman with a decidedly strong Kiwi accent. She’s very nice and helpful and kind, so we forgave her when she announced over the loud speaker this morning: “chef is preparing brickfast now, and he’s putting on a special of pencakes.”
Okay, now I’ve found out what some of the birds of the area are called. Hoary-headed Gebes; Great Egrets; Cormorants; Sacred Ibis; red Capped Plovers; Whiskered Terns. You really do learn so much from me.
What else can I tell you about this cruise? Geoffrey and I have had great fun shocking Gary the barman with our excess. On our first day we topped the list for Biggest and Lustiest Drinkers, ordering three bottles of wine, one gin and tonic and five Cascade Lights. (Not, all at once.)
The next day, in the interest of keeping our top spot, we ordered the same amount with the addition of one margarita and one more gin and tonic.
Our entertainment on board – apart from watching fellow passengers struggling to get up out of deep leather armchairs – has been very laid-back and relaxing. Bill plays tunes on a saxophone and keyboard every lunch time and evening, and once again my friends, I find his selection of tunes disconcertingly familiar. Aka Bilk – Stranger on the Shore…a good example . I know all the old tunes. I have an uncanny talent for hearing a tune once and remembering the lyrics. I’m not talking about today’s modern lyrics (although I can join in with Amy Winehouse and sing a few lines of “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no’’ ), I’m talking about old songs like “A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation…stuff like that.) Well, Bill, knows all these tunes and plays them really well. I sing along very loudly and shimmy my shoulders which entertains the other passengers who are obviously intrigued by the fabulous old sheila who knows all the songs.
There is an interesting passenger on board I’ve been watching over the past two days. He’s an Italian man, in his 70s, and reminds me of Silvio Berlusconi but without the hair dye and the hair transplant. This man is almost dashing in a Berlusconi-kind of way. And how about this – he is travelling with four women – very Berlusconi. While his harem could not be likened to that of the naughty Mr. Berlusconi’s by any stretch of the imagination, it has been interesting to watch this Italian man shuffle the four ladies, individually, slowly around the dance floor each night.
In your interest, my lovely readers, I had to find out his story.
“You’re Italian,” I said to him (I am perceptive) after he’d slowly pushed lady number three around the dance floor for four shaky circuits.
“Yes,’’ he replied.
“Where are from?”
“Adelaide.” Not quite the reply I was looking for.
“I mean originally.”
“A small town near Naples.” This was more like it. “I came here 57 years ago.”
“Wow. That’s impressive. Did you come to Adelaide and open an Italian restaurant?” I said, certain this man would have been one of the pioneers in influencing Australia’s emerging culinary scene.
“No, I drove the bus for all that time,’’ he said.
After I’d absorbed that little shock I asked him about the women. “My wife’s friends,’’ he said, further shattering the Berlusconi image.
It’s very tranquil on the river and it evokes many recollections for us. We used to holiday on the Murray every year when we lived in Melbourne, driving about three hours north to a place called Yarrawonga which will be familiar to all you Melbourneites. Seeing all these houseboats on the river now brings back a lot of memories. We had a modest little boat ourselves and used to yearn to own a houseboat, but such a luxury was always out of our reach. Back then, to have your own house boat, especially one moored at Eildon, meant you were very rich and usually superior (and often snooty.) Now when I look at the various sized and shaped houseboats moored on the river, I just think “thank Christ we don’t own one of those big mothers.’’ They must be expensive to run. Much better to climb on board a big paddle steamer like Murray Princess and let a Captain and crew look after you.
In the very early morning just as the sun is rising, the river is at its calmest and the reflections of the gum and willow trees on the water are particularly beautiful. Rising early has its rewards (I’ve done it once) and standing on the decks, leaning on the rails watching the reflections with the birds gliding above is magical.
We’ve had a lovely trip on board the Murray Princess, gained a few kilos, made some new friends and won the doubtful title of Biggest Bar Bill on Board. Our bill was twice the amount of the runner up – something to be ashamed of, although Gary the barman thought it great stuff.
We’re going to do another cruise with this Captain Cook Cruise line in April, around the Fijian Islands. Captain Cook also do a variety of cruises on Sydney Harbour, dinner cruises, lunch cruises, even coffee cruises.
You will love a Murray River cruise and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. But if you are under 50, you might like to be prepared for some mixing it up with the old folks. There is nothing wrong with that (seeing as I am one of them.) These people have had a ball, they teamed up, made friends, swapped contact details and many of them have agreed to host the others in their individual home towns. You can’t ask for more than that.
Murray River Princes
Captain Cook Cruises,