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River Murray Towns: Goolwa

  • Located near the mouth of the River Murray, Goolwa is about 80 kilometres south of Adelaide.
  • After Charles Sturt made his way down the Murray in 1829-30 it was realised that to establish a settlement near the Murray mouth would aid the development of river trade and transport.
  • 'Town on the Goolwa' was surveyed as early as 1840, but was resurveyed in 1853 and proclaimed the town of Goolwa in March of that year. It was originally known as Port Pullen.
  • The name Goolwa is probably derived from a Ngarrindjeri word meaning 'elbow bend', describing the bend of the River where Goolwa is located.
  • To extend the river trade, it was decided that Goolwa must be connected to Victor Harbor or some other seaport so that river cargo could be transferred and exported to overseas markets.  Schemes to build a canal from Goolwa to Victor Harbor were considered, but the final decision was to build a railway.
  • In 1854, the first public railway (horse-drawn) in Australia connected Goolwa with Port Elliot on the coast. The railway was extended to the safer harbour of Victor Harbor in 1864, after several shipwrecks at Port Elliot.
  • The Goolwa Regatta Club was established around 1854 and is believed to be the first of its kind in Australia. The Club organised an annual event of races and competitions between Goolwa's fishing boats and the whaling fleet from Victor Harbor. The Club went into decline after the Second World War but was revived under the new name of the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club in 1969.
  • On 10 September 1857, Goolwa was officially proclaimed a port; the first on the River Murray and the first inland port in Australia.
  • At the peak of the intercolonial riverboat trade Goolwa was one of the most important ports in Australia. It was home to ship building works, an iron foundry and flour and saw mills.
  • After a railway was built to Morgan in 1878 and wool sales began being held in Adelaide, the significance of Goolwa as a port declined.
  • Today Goolwa is a popular tourist destination. It is known as the wooden boat capital of Australia; the Wooden Boat Festival is held at Goolwa each March.

Further reading

Tolley, JC. South Coast story, Port Elliot: District Council of Port Elliot, 1968

Links - Goolwa

SteamRanger Heritage Railway enthusiast site See: Lineside guide: Goolwa to Port Elliot

Visit Alexandrina - Goolwa

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