Life on the boats just a ‘ticket in the book’ for young captain-in-waiting

Celebrating 230 years of history on the River Murray
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(ABC Regional: Damien Peck)
Although the PS Marion now belongs to the river town of Mannum, the boat was first registered in 1900 and lasted until her final voyage in 1963 before being restoration began in the 1990s.For Captain Bromhead, passing on the skills to the next generation like Mr Wickham is important for its legacy.”Well, I mean what’s not to love?” he said.”It’s the river, it’s the old boat, it’s just — well you can feel it just being here.”It’s something different, isn’t it?”Watch Back Roads on ABC TV 8pm MondayPast episodes or extras are on iView or at

#BackRoadsHeather Ewart returns to the Back Roads of Australia, to discover more resilient country towns and the inspiring people who live in them. (Back Roads: Ron Ekkel)
The young jack-of-all-trades has been learning the craft from current skipper Dick Bromhead — one of hundreds of volunteers who have helped restore the PS Marion to its former glory.”You pick up stuff from everywhere and just even just watching, you don’t need to listen to them talk or tell your story or something, you just watch what they do,” Mr Wickham told ABC TV’s Back Roads program.Ever since he was three years old he knew what he always wanted to do.”I sort of got interested in boats when I was three — so that’s 15 years ago now,” he said.”Most river people grow up with it their whole life, they’re second, third, fourth or fifth-generation rivermen.”I’ve been here all my life pretty much … just something moving and you can see the paddles, and you see the smoke out of the stack and the whistle and that … this is a creature sort of thing.”

For about 70 years, paddle-steamers like the PS Marion were the main method of transport along the Murray River. Photo:
Captain Dick Bromhead helped restore the PS Marion to its former glory after it rested as a museum for more than 30 years. Photo:
The paddle-steamer is one of few in the world that still rely on wood for fuel. (Back Roads: Ron Ekkel)
Captain Bromhead said there were about 250 steamers in total at its peak, but the restoration of the PS Marion was important to preserve for its history.”The river was the lifeline for all these little cockies up the river,” Captain Bromhead said.”They had trading boats, which this one was at one point, she was like a big floating store.”They built a big house on her and you walked up the steps at the front, walked in and you were in the general store.”From the 1850s to the 1920s, the paddle-steamers were used as the easiest form of transport between towns along the Murray.Without them, goods and services would have been hard to come by for towns along the world’s third-longest navigable river.”They were very, very essential. Photo:
Jackson Wickham has been interested in boats since he was just three years old. When the river was the only road, this was how you travelled,” he said. A boat captain-in-waiting is making his mark as one of Australia’s youngest skippers along the Murray River.Paddle-steamers have long remained the lifeblood of the mighty Murray, and at 18-years-old Jackson Wickham is doing everything he can to ensure that boats remain a passion for future generations. She meets communities whose good humour and inventiveness will inspire and uplift. (Back Roads: Ron Ekkel)
Long term, Mr Wickham knows that he’s got to tick the right boxes to be make his dream career happen with boats.”I hope to live on one and work on one as captain and engineer, shipwright … mainly captain that is,” he said.”That’s the first goal and then you sort of branch out so by the time you cark it you’ve got all your tickets in the book.”

Jackson Wickham has been learning about the PS Marion from Captain Dick Bromhead. (Back Roads: Ron Ekkel)
History makes its mark with restorationToday, the PS Marion is more than 120 years old and is one of the few restored wood-fired-paddle steamers still in operation in the world.
Paddle steamer's Murray voyage marks half century

Back Roads


Damien Peck


June 18, 2018 06:30:00

Video: Jackson Wickham has been training to become a skipper of a paddle-steamer for his dream job. (ABC News)
Communities commemorate a century of lock building on Murray River
Mannum 5238
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