The paddle steamer Oscar W was built in 1908 by Franz Oscar Wallin (commonly known as Charlie Wallin) at Echuca. He named the vessel after his son Oscar whom he no doubt hoped would continue his shipping business but young Oscar was killed in action in World War I.
Above: A young Oscar Wallin pictured
At the time Oscar W was built, Wallin already owned the steamers Australien and Julia and the barges Adam, Federal and Impulse. He later went on to own a number of other vessels. On completion the Oscar W did her trials in the Goulburn River , and was then put into service on the Murrumbidgee River and Upper Murray trade.
Charlie found the Oscar W a difficult vessel to handle and in 1914 sold her to Permewan Wright. By 1919 the falling off of the river trade was taking effect and the Murray Shipping Company was formed out of the amalgamation of the shipping interests of a number of companies including Permewan Wright. Oscar W was one of the vessels that went to the new company. Charlie Wallin did not join Murray Shipping but continued to trade in his own right until his death in 1934.
Above: Oscar W - 1925
By 1942 Murray Shipping had turned to the tourist passenger trade to survive and the old work boats were sold off.
Oscar W was sold to George Ritchie of Goolwa. Ritchie came from a shipping background, the Ritchies being among the crews that bought the earliest steamers out to South Australia in 1855.
Ritchie planned to turn Oscar W into a tourist vessel, but wartime shortages of materials and manpower meant that this was not possible so in 1943 he sold the vessel on to another Goolwa syndicate who very quickly found the same problem. They sold the Oscar W later in 1943 to the South Australian Government Highways Department where she was used to service the ferries along the river. The Department converted her to oil burning in 1945, because of the lack of cut wood along the river. By 1959 a new vessel was needed to carry out this work and Oscar W was replaced, and in 1960 sold to Paddy Hogg for £50.
Paddy took the vessel to Mildura where he used her as a tourist vessel and also in any general work that could be found. Probably the best known task for the Oscar W was the towing of the old steamer Gem from Mildura to Swan Hill in 1963. The Gem was to be used as part of the historical village being built there and it was expected that the voyage would take about two weeks.
The trip was straightforward although the river beyond Wakool Junction is quite narrow and can be treacherous and there is a notorious reef, the Bitch and Pups a few miles in from the Junction. The voyage went well until this point was reached and low water stopped them here. It was almost eight months before enough water came down to allow the vessels to cross the reef and continue to Swan Hill.
In 1964 Paddy Hogg sold The Oscar W to Allan Moritz and she then headed back to the bottom end of the river.
Allan started the long process of restoring the vessel and in due course she was slipped for major hull repairs. Unfortunately Allan Moritz died before this work was completed and no funding was available to assist, so Oscar W was sold in 1985 to the SA Tourist Commission who were involved in the establishment of an interpretive exhibition at Goolwa.
Funding was made available and the Oscar W was put back into river worthy condition and steamed to Goolwa arriving on 31 March 1988.
The Oscar W is maintained at Goolwa as a working exhibit and is used to demonstrate how the vessels were worked on the rivers. The Barge Dart forms part of the "plant" to demonstrate this.
Since returning to Goolwa the Oscar W has taken part in many events along the river, the most notable one being the return to Echuca in 1991 on a 7 week voyage. During this trip, the vessel also ventured into the Murrumbidgee River for 25 miles, the first vessel to do so since at least the 1956 flood and possibly earlier. We also took her up the Darling River for 38 miles, and while at Echuca went up the Goulburn River to Stewarts Bridge , now the limit of navigation on the Goulburn and 1083 river miles from Goolwa.
Another trip was a record breaking run to Wentworth in 4 days 23 hours towing the barge. This trip was a 24 hour a day run done in four hour shifts.
In 1994 we took part in the Centenary celebrations for Waikerie and on return the Oscar W was taken out of commission because of the condition of the boiler. We investigated the possibility of rebuilding the boiler, but due to age and the possibility of a limited life we decided to have a new boiler built.
This meant a huge amount of work and fund raising and with the help of funding from the Tourism Commission, Council and our own funds we were able to contract Forbes Engineering to build the new boiler in 1996. The boiler was installed in February 1997 with just 2 weeks to go before the Wooden Boat Festival, and all of the plumbing work still had to be done. This was achieved and the Oscar W was in steam for the Festival weekend.
Since then work has continued on general maintenance and working towards having the vessel in survey as a trading vessel.
The frames have been replaced and the hull has been re-planked. Remaining work involves the installation of automatic bilge pumping and fire fighting equipment along with a bit more work on the steel upper hull depending on the availability of funding. The decks have all been replaced or repaired and the forward hatch cover re-planked. After this a lot of smaller tasks mainly to do with safety are required to bring the vessel up to survey.
The Centenary of the Oscar W occurred in 2008 and there were extensive celebrations along the river.