Since retiring from elite competition in July, netballer Sharelle McMahon is only too happy to leave Melbourne for a holiday on the banks of the Murray. A childhood spent at Bamawm, nearby Lockington and Echuca has left her with a deep appreciation of nature and the region’s heritage.
“I just love being in open spaces,” says the goal shooter, who has won world championships and gold and silver Commonwealth Games medals, and who carried the Australian flag in the opening ceremony at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
On a recent holiday, McMahon combined coaching clinics and speaking about her journey to captaining the Australian Netball Diamonds with visits to family, dining out and a round of golf.
She also took a guided tour of Echuca’s old port area and new Red Gum River Walkways, an area that showcases Echuca’s unique history.
Once the country’s largest inland port, with hundreds of paddle-steamers bringing wool and timber to local sawmills, Echuca is still a working port. It is home to the largest collection of paddle steamers in the world.
There are some beautiful walks along the river.
The streets around the port have a wealth of impressive restored old buildings, and draught horses are again in use – these days they pull a tourist carriage along Murray Esplanade.
“I was married and had my reception here, too,” says McMahon. “It was January. It rained a little but there was birdsong and the toot of the odd iconic paddle-steamer plying the waters of the Murray – very special.
“My husband, Brek, and I love bushwalking. There are some beautiful walks along the river,” she says. “Through Victoria Park, in particular, there is a lovely walk along the two rivers, the Murray and the Campaspe.
“When I was growing up, it was wonderful to go camping and water-skiing. We occasionally still go camping on the river between Torrumbarry and Echuca, simply to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”
Since her recent retirement from elite sport, McMahon has run a personal development business, Pivot Performance (pivotperformance.com.au), with netball teammate Bianca Chatfield.
However, the McMahon family is still sporty. Brek is “a very good golfer”, Sharelle’s parents, Olive and John, are keen golfers, as is Sharelle’s sister, Kate, while younger brother Paul plays football.
“We have a family tradition each Boxing Day, to play golf at the nearby Rich River Golf Club Resort (richriver.com.au) – with bragging rights for the year.”
No weekend away is complete for McMahon without indulging in treats from the Echuca Chocolate Company, having coffee at BYL Espresso and buying jams, preserves and wines from the Echuca Farmers Market.
Port Picnic Bikes are free bikes available for visitors to use to cycle around town and the river (echucamoama.com). However, on this holiday, McMahon took a 30-minute cruise on the PS Alexander Arbuthnot (echucapaddlesteamers.net.au), one of a handful of paddlesteamers that moor at Echuca, to visit Morrisons Riverview Winery and Restaurant (morrisons.net.au) for lunch. It’s a popular place year-round, and the restaurant’s design and verandah showcase river views and stands of beautiful gums.
For dinner, the one-hatted Oscar W’s Wharfside (oscarws.com.au), with its key menu of regional and seasonal produce, is top of McMahon’s list. She and her husband have celebrated several wedding anniversaries there. ‘‘It’s a beautiful spot at dusk with the birds in the trees as the sun sets,” she says.
The city’s myriad dining options include the recently refurbished American Hotel, which serves contemporary fare accompanied by live music on Friday and Saturday nights; the Greek cuisine offered at Nik’s Taverna; and the Mediterranean-influenced fare served at Ceres.
McMahon’s other favourite is The Mill Echuca (themillechuca.com), set in a converted 1881-built flour mill on Nish Street, where chef Josh Pentreath leads the kitchen.
“Although they also serve main meals, Josh is also known for his amazing tapas dishes,’’ she says. ‘‘My favourite is the twice-cooked lamb and arancini balls.”
Where to stay
Within walking distance of several restaurants, and the port, is the Adelphi Apartments (adelphiapartments.com.au). The Steampacket Inn (steampacketinn.com.au), a handsome two-storey National Trust-listed B&B is also a favourite of the netballer.
Other recommendations include Madison Spa Resort (madisonspa.com.au), whose 40 rooms have tranquil bush views; the romantic 1871-built Charlotte’s Cottage (charlottescottage.com.au); and Cadell Bed &Breakfast (cadellbedandbreakfast.com.au), which is housed in a gracious 1904-built mansion and named after pioneering river captain Captain Cadell.
In Echuca, McMahon enjoyed a guided tour of the historic wharf and new Red Gum River Walkways (portofechuca.org.au) and learnt more about this once bustling town. At the port, an admission ticket ($8.80 an adult; $5.50 a child), gives visitors entry to the wharf’s Cargo Shed Museum, as well as the opportunity to board one of the historic paddlesteamers moored at Echuca Wharf.
A Heritage Package ticket ($45 an adult; $22.50 a child) includes entry to the wharf walk, a one-hour paddlesteamer cruise, and entry to the National Holden Museum, Great Aussie Beer Shed and Echuca Historical Society Museum. Echuca’s Port Picnic Bike program is free: pick up a bike, cycle the town and perhaps picnic by the river, too.
Food and wine
Morrisons Riverview Winery and Restaurant serves estate-grown wine and excellent hearty dishes such as caramelised beef short rib and braised beef cheek with confit artichoke, vegetable slaw, fig and rosemary jus.
The city’s acclaimed Oscar W’s Wharfside was built overlooking the Murray River using recycled timbers, galvanised iron and stainless steel. Inside is a huge open fire and antique lounges for guests. The Mill is a rustic space with restored timbers and brickwork where the seared snapper and suckling pork dishes share a menu alongside inventive tapas dishes.
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