The Boat from Snowy River. By Winsome and Graeme Andrews. Trailing a wisp of steam Curlip II leaves her berth at Marlo with a load of trippers.
   Mention of the restoration of the great paddle steamer Ruby in Afloat April 2009 brought several notes telling of the only paddler on the Snowy River.
   We’d heard rumours but now we had something to go on and a little sleuthing soon had enough information and a destination – Marlo at the mouth of the fabled Snowy River.
   Armed with the above information and with one week between minding grandkids – we left the trusty caravan to sulk in its shed and sallied forth, south through Cooma, Bombala, Cann River and into Orbost, home of the headquarters and museum display that backs up the little steam paddler Curlip II.
   Sadly the once magnificent wild river Snowy has much less water now, since the days of the Snowy Mountains Authority’s great project, and only canoes can float at Orbost these days. So we went to the Snowy River mouth hamlet of Marlo. And there we found Curlip II!
   Curlip II is a visual semi-replica of an earlier Curlip which served the settlers of the area from 1890 to 1919. In that year she was washed out to sea by a big flood and smashed and that was the end of commercial shipping on the Snowy until 2008.
   Curlip was used to tow stores barges out to ships at sea where they would be loaded and vice versa. She was certified to carry 25 passengers or just 10 when towing and she worked as far as 20 miles upriver beyond Orbost. She was built at the instigation of Sam Richardson using timber cut in his own mill on the Brodribb River, tributary of the Snowy.
   A chance discussion with friends in 2002 by Sam’s great grandson Gil Richardson, led to the formation of PS Curlip Inc. The intention was to re-create Curlip in such a way that it would become both a tourist attraction and a tribute to the settlers who could do so much from their own physical resources.
   Curlip (1) was 42ft 6ins long and had a displacement tonnage of 10. Her namesake had to be large enough to ‘carry a bus’ (of passengers) and the result was 65ft (19m) with a displacement loaded of about 50 tonnes.
   Sam Richardson built his Curlip when and how he felt like. Today’s Curlip had to run the gauntlet of a dozen government departments, two of which contributed major funding, pressure groups including the ubiquitous ‘greenies’ and the usual false starts and construction problems when something ‘new’ is being done largely by volunteers and committees.
   The ship was built in a large shed in Orbost and received considerable support from the local community. Timber was donated by the Victorian government. Local millers and timber carriers donated their skills and equipment.
   Shipwright Bill Jones started the real work in August 2006, aided and abetted by many volunteers, many of whom, no longer young, could still work an adze and a trimming axe. The volunteer list reached 200 with a hard core of about 10 who did most of the real heavy lifting.
Curlip II splashes past the grand wharf at Marlo on the Snowy River.
   Curlip II is built mostly from local Blue Gum with planking of 50mm. Her lines are rather different from a conventional river paddler as the original was intended to be seaworthy enough to cross the Snowy River bar while towing barges. She is almost rectangular in cross section, of hard chine form with a well defined sheerline. Her stern is of almost cruiser form.
   Curlip II is driven by two steel 3.3m paddle wheels with wooden paddle floats, turned by a twin-cylinder (as opposed to compound) steam engine with a capacity of some 300kW. Her diesel-fired boiler, which was built in Melbourne, is rated at 100psi and the new paddler can make 10kph or about 5.5 knots.
   One of the many valued donations that the Curlip crew received along the way was the rights to two newly-penned songs about the little paddler by the singer and composer Brian Venten and the Briagolong Bush Band. This group entertained at the official commissioning ceremony on November 29, 2008.
Looking forward over Curlip’s boiler with the main steam pipe leading towards the steam engine.    Travellers aboard Curlip travel on what looks very much like an open-sided craft but roll-down clear awnings all around provide shelter when needed and a copy of the original aft cabin has become a servery which offers various ‘goodies’ during a paddle along the river. Fold down seats all around the rails, allow open deck space or seating as needed for the possible 55 passengers. Curlip II has already been used for a wedding.
   There is little here that actually duplicates the original Curlip. She certainly did not have a chemical toilet and a shore-based pump-out station. Her owners now have almost two years to grapple with the daunting problem of where to slip her when needed or for marine board survey. The Snowy River has had no commercial traffic since 1919. There is no slipway.
   To launch the boat a vastly expensive mobile crane was used. If this method is used every two years for survey or more, Curlip II will go broke!
Curlip II’s twin-cylinder engine was probably built in the 1930s. No-one really knows.    Finding a professional crew for a craft such as Curlip II was another interesting problem. Orbost has had no need for professional seamen since 1919. The river had no commercial traffic and very little in a recreational sense.
   From NSW came Captain Keith Appleby, background in coastal commercial fishing. He is backed up by local masters Peter and Helen Euman.
   From Echuca – well-known for paddle steamers, came engineer Alan Bartsch, supported by reserves Peter Euman and John Freestone with several others including Keith Appleby working to gain a steam endorsement on their diesel machinery tickets. The organisers are trying to build a ‘pool’ of casuals over a considerable area who can be called on in emergencies but it’s something of a task.
   Curlip II is backed up in Orbost by the Curlip Centre which is run by Sharon Eller. This rather grand building was built for Parks Victoria as a rainforest and tourist display. As Curlip II cannot get near Orbost, it is hoped that passing trade will be attracted to this display and from there head to Marlo to the boat.
Looking aft past the helm and the machinery space illustrates how much room the new paddler offers travellers.    Curlip II runs two 90-minute cruises every Wednesday to Sunday inclusive, with Monday and Tuesday for maintenance or for particular charters. There are three destinations from which to choose. The boat can go up the Brodribb River almost to the site of the construction of Curlip (1). To do this she has to fit under the road bridge. The original had a tilting funnel for this type of situation. The new boat has a windlass which raises and lowers the stainless steel smoke-stack vertically, as needed.
   A second destination takes the paddler along the Snowy via a local lake for several kilometres and the third takes her down the Snowy to the ‘port’ of Marlo. Here visitors will see a very grand and modern wharf, suitable for berthing sea-going fishing boats of considerable size. But, Curlip II is the only commercial craft likely to be on the river and the wharf is older than she is. Very odd that!
   Is Curlip II a notable addition to Australia’s maritime history? Most certainly. She’s a little hard to find and her owners will have to continually grapple with attracting visitors because she is rather off the normal tourist tracks.
Looking upstream from the new Orbost bridge it is hard to imagine any kind of commercial shipping traffic on the river.    She’s lovely to look at and lovely to listen to and she works really well. She’s a great example of the ability of Australians to take an idea and physically work it into something of community value and interest and quite quickly at that.
   Curlip II is the only wooden paddle steamer working on Australian coastal rivers since the withdrawal of the 1988-built replica William IV of Newcastle. The only other steam paddler in a coastal river is the Decoy on WA’s Swan River and Curlip II is much easier to reach. h
   Curlip II can be seen at www.paddlesteamercurlip.com.au
   Postal address is PS Curlip Inc, PO Box 358.Orbost, NSW 3888.
   Phone: 03 4154 1699
   Email: info@paddlesteamer.com.au