Orbost, in Far East Gipplsand, straddles the banks of the legendary Snowy River. This was the home of Paddle-Steamer Curlip when the Snowy was a mighty river, the district’s lifeblood and main artery. In centuries gone by, almost every year the river flats of the Snowy were swamped and replenished by roaring floodwaters.
Paddle Steamer Curlip II is a replica of a workhorse vessel that plied the Snowy estuary from 1890 to 1919. Thirty tonnes of local bluegum and thousands of hours work by master boat builders and determined volunteers have gone into recreating a piece of the Snowy River’s history, and the community will celebrate its achievement with the Curlip on the Snowy Festival later this year, 28 – 30 Nov 2008.
Landline tells us Gil Richardson’s great grandfather and his sons built the original Curlip in 1890. It was a supply line for the pioneer town of Orbost for just on 30 years. It was 48 feet or 12.5m long, with a 19 foot beam, its 6 horsepower engine gave it a top speed of 7 knots. It was distinctly flat bottomed to allow a large payload and to enable it to negotiate the Snowy’s shallow sand banks.
No plans of the Curlip have ever surfaced but its dimensions were known, and Jones studied photographs to devise his own plans! The new ‘Curlip’ is on a slightly grander scale, 20m or 65 feet in length and capable of carrying 55 passengers and a crew of four.
Where the mighty Snowy meets the Southern Ocean is where the Curlip came to grief, ‘Out to sea and back on the beach, broken up’… a sad ending for the paddle steamer which for so long was an integral part of the economic and social fabric of the district.
After a town meeting several years ago a small group of people got together to form Paddle Steamer Curlip Incorporated. They all worked very hard getting timber together and getting the manual part of it done and soon a new life was taking shape in the old Orbost butter factory. The shed now has a gift shop filled with Curlip souvenirs, many of them fine pieces made from local timbers.
Gil Richardson admits the group was ‘going nowhere’ till Jan Read, the group’s secretary/treasurer came on along and managed to ingrain herself into the funding bodies. And after 12 months of hard work the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services contributed $600,000 and Victoria’s Community Services Department almost as much. In 2006 the local community has already donated more than $200,000.
The new Curlip’s engine was built prior to 1930 and was restored by students. It will be refurbished by the Orbost Secondary College who will have it certified and in working order.
The new Curlip will be a community asset – built by the community, all the materials sourced in the community, and the community will run it for the benefit of the community.
“There’s a whole untapped area of tourism here that needs packaging… it’s going to be the icon, the drawcard that pulls people into the region, ’cause there’s something to see and do.”
“Our aim is to involve tourist, hospitality and accommodation operators, sporting organisations, art, craft and commercial businesses in tourist packages to explore the district from Buchan to Cape Conran. As well as accommodating individual tourists and groups, we will invite urban tour operators to participate in a four night, three day exploration of our district.”
FYI It’s local folklore that the steering wheel was the only thing salvaged from the wreck of the original Curlip in 1919, but it’s never been verified.
In November 2008 the festival will kick off with a Pioneer Ball on the Friday night, before P S Curlip comes down the river accompanied by a flotilla of wooden boats on the Saturday, before being open for inspection at the jetty in the afternoon. There’ll be an art exhibition and demonstrations of axe and adze work and black smithing and live music and fireworks over the water in the evening.
On Sunday at Forest Park in Orbost, on the banks of the Snowy, there’ll be market selling wonderful East Gippsland produce. From this park you can take a river side walk, from the historic Slab Hut along a heritage trail through town or you could visit the Rainforest Centre nearby. The Orbost Exhibition Centre next door is opening its ‘Talking Wall’ project in the afternoon.
This event is free…sounds inviting…