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  • OLD SALT
    Peter Harris
    I lived on the Murray River a few years ago. It was during the time when there was a revival in the paddlesteamer story. Various enthusiasts were banding together and rebuilding and repairing old boats for the growing tourist industry.

    It was exciting to be part of that revival and a lot of knowledge and lore began to be preserved. One paddleboat, the Avoca was brought from the bottom end to Mildura and after much effort was turned into a cabaret vessel, doing short trips up and down river from Mildura. Two old retired captains, Bill and Norm Collins played an important role in passing on their knowledge to a new wave of skippers.

    This song listens to the story of one such "Old Salt". It features Peter Greeds portraits of Bill and Norm Collins, and footage from Richard Sievers which gives a glimpse of days long past on the river.

    I met him just the other day, he was down by the river
    Feeding the pelicans, with his eye on the weather
    Will it rain I asked idly, it'll pour before long
    But the wheat is down below
    And the wool is under cover
    The oranges are inside
    So the weather doesn't really matter...

    So stoke up the fire
    Keep the furnaces fed
    Keep her safe in the channel
    There's a reef up ahead

    I asked him if he travelled north to the dry country stations
    He replied with a smile and a wry exclamation
    My boy, he said proudly, I know every inch
    Of the rivers to the north
    When the channels when they're flooding
    Are like the seas of Hell
    And the Devil does the bidding...

    What about the wool and wheat, did they come from the Darling
    They came from the east, where the 'Bidgee was falling
    The wool was a close one, I winched over sand bars
    And loaded up before dawn
    And left with the sunrise
    If I'd taken just another hour
    We'd be stuck there till the springtime...

    The wheat I took on board from just below Echuca
    The oranges they came from the orchards of Mildura
    And I'm taking them down to the railhead at Morgan
    And when I'm on the way back
    I'll visit the stations
    Hawking them a good load
    Of wood and provisions..


    By Peter Harris
    ©2010