Ajax and Achilles Barge Wrecks – a bit of Murray River History, in the Riverland

The Ajax and Achilles Lakes, little known by Berri and Loxton locals, are located less than a kilometer from Lock 4, and less than 6km from Berri (as the crow flies).  If you’re wondering what to do in Berri, hiring a canoe and going for a paddle to have a look is a good option.



The Ajax and Achilles Lakes are home to, (and named after) the Ajax and Achilles barges which were pulled up onto the bank and left there to rest after a lifetime of hard work.  Now the remains of these 2 barges are easy to spot, and are still clearly the remains of boats, consisting of rusting metal frames and  weathered boards held on loosely with rusting bolts.  One of the barges is filled with reeds and the other is open and empty with a clear view of the internal metal framework  It is important to note that all shipwrecks and land based heritage sites should be respected and not interfered with any way.  Also please note that the lakes adjoin private property, so please don’t make yourselves unpopular by wandering around  where you haven’t been invited.

In a recent chat with the gentleman whose land they are on, he recollected as a child, that when his dad bought the barges for scrap, they went to collect them from Lock 4 with the intention of towing them home behind their small motor boat,  Unfortunately their boat quickly developed engine failure, and his Dad had to row their small boat, towing the 2 large barges along behind.

According to http://bit.ly/12oicAZ these barges were built at Murray Bridge, and were owned and used as work boats by the Engineering and Water Supply Department of South Australia,     I haven’t tracked down the date they were built, or abandoned, however the photos show them in use between 1905 and 1959   “Ships of the Inland Rivers” by Ronald Parsons, published by Gould books in 1987,   tells us that the Achilles barge had a 65 ton capacity, was 86x18x4’3  and was built by  J.G. Arnold,   The name Arnold may be familiar to residents along the Murray in SA – he was a Swedish captain who, in Australia, progressed from working as a deck hand at Mannum, to owning and commanding his own vessel.  In  1896 he held the first mail contract for a service between Murray Bridge and Blanchetown.  In 1911 he bought the Mannum Dry Dock from William R. Randell and began to build and repair ships.  In 1913 he formed the Murray River Shipping company.  By the 1930’s aware that the carriage of cargo had been lost to land transport he tried to interest his fellow directors in running a tourist vessel on the Morgan-Mildura run.  Captain Arnold died in 1949.

These barges were pulled behind paddle steamers, carting all sorts of loads, including firewood and excavators.  I would presume that the firewood was to keep the paddle-steamers fueled.  Photos exist of the barges in use at Murray Bridge and Lock 4.  Apparently the excavators were used to dig trenches to drain marshlands.  According to State Records  they were also used by  the Department of Mines for drilling along the river.

Hayley Morton, the Library Services Coordinator at SA Water, very kindly hunted down the following images for me.  For copyright purposes I won’t paste the images in here – but they’re worth following the link and having a look.

Ajax and it’s Captain in 1910  http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/mpcimg/35000/B34794.htm

Ajax in 1959 http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/godson/1/00250/PRG1258_1_41.htm

Both barges being towed by a paddle steamer in 1921 http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/searcy/32/PRG280_1_32_90.htm

Achilles transporting an excavator in 1918 http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/godson/2/02000/PRG1258_2_1775.htm

Achilles transporting wood in 1905 http://images.slsa.sa.gov.au/godson/1/00250/PRG1258_1_1.htm

If you’re wanting to photograph them, afternoon is the best time.  And, of course, canoe/kayak hire (and guided tours, if you wish) is available at https://canoeadventure.com.au   04211 676 45


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