A railway line to Bendigo was constructed by the government-owned Victorian Railways Department and opened in 1862. In 1864, it was extended to Echuca, connecting with paddle-steamers that transported produce to and from farms along the Murray River. Dubbed the ‘meeting of the whistles’, this made Melbourne the principal sea port handling produce from southern New South Wales.
Prior to the arrival of the railway, goods were carried up and down the rivers of the Murray Darling basin by paddle steamers. Access to many of the upstream ports was dependent on the level of the river and in dry years the steam-driven paddle-wheelers, despite their shallow draught, ran the risk of being stranded if the water dropped.
River transport had begun in 1853 and the port of Goolwa near the Murray mouth became the staging post for goods transported from as far away as the Queensland border. Goods were transported by rail to Port Eliot and later Victor Harbour, where sea ports were established. Goolwa continued as a significant port through the 1880s, but the ‘meeting of the whistles’ meant much of the trade from south-eastern New South Wales now went through Melbourne.
As railways became more extensive, the importance of the paddle-steamers declined. The last steamers ceased operating in the 1930s.