A 2018 Bank Australia Customer Grants recipient, Kiwanis Echuca-Moama have a storied history of helping the local community. Their latest feat? The refurb of MV Kiwanis: the Murray River’s most-loved barbecue boat.
“Our signature project, if that’s what you want to call it, is the boat,” says 71-year-old Terry James, treasurer (and sometimes president) of Kiwanis Echuca-Moama. “But I still can’t get a firm answer about how exactly it came into the club…”
The boat Terry’s referring to is the MV Kiwanis – a humble, barbecue-equipped vessel that enables the local Kiwanis contingent to take people living with a range of different disabilities out on the Murray River.
Spending some time on the Murray – Australia’s longest river and the third longest navigable river in the world – mightn’t seem like a big deal, but to people with accessibility issues who’d otherwise be unable to spend time in nature, the positive impact cannot be overstated. “We’re a relatively small town, so I’ll often see these people down the street,” says Terry. “They’ll smile at me and say, ‘Kiwanis!’ or just ‘boat!’ And I’ll say, ‘Yes! I remember you. You came out on the boat with us!’ And they just love it.”
The benefits of spending time in nature are widely-reported. From relieving stress to restoring mental energy and boosting our immune systems – and Kiwanis see no reason for anyone to miss out on those benefits, regardless of their individual situation.
A recipient of a $5,000 Customer Grant from Bank Australia this year, Kiwanis Echuca-Moama put the money towards upgrading the MV Kiwanis’ hot water system, toilets, kitchen cabinets and wheelchair ramp. “It’s really flash,” says Terry. “It doesn’t look flash, but it’s probably the most versatile boat on the river for what we do – especially when it comes to getting people with wheelchairs on and off the boat easily.” The grant will also cover maintenance for MV Kiwanis engine for the next couple of years.
Once aboard the MV Kiwanis, which might take to the water a couple of times a month (it’s available for booking for local assisted care services and schools), some members of the makeshift crew will have a drive. Others like to help prepare for the barbecue or have a go at cooking. They once even took a specialist school on a fishing trip. “Many of our groups can’t verbalise what they feel,” says Sandra Carey, project manager at Community Living & Respite Services in Echuca-Moama, who regularly take their clients out on MV Kiwanis. “But we know by their reactions and smiles the relaxation that being on the river brings.
“Kara loves to chat to the driver, and to put her feet up and wave at other boats and people on the riverbank. Stephen loves to have a steer, the barbecue lunches and being with his friends. Arianna loves seeing the water and hearing the boat. Amanda loves to feel the vibration of the boat, and hear the paddle steamers go by. Georgie loves it not being crowded, and the quiet times.”
The upgrades completed earlier this year aren’t the only work the MV Kiwanis has seen in its lifetime. When the boat first came to Kiwanis in the early 2000s, it was supported by 44 gallon drums. Now, thanks to the Kiwanis volunteers, it’s got proper solid steel pontoons. In 2013, the boat underwent major refurbishment, which included a new motor and ramp for disabled access. Most of the funds for the works come from Kiwanis hosting fundraising barbecues throughout the year, as well as government and club grants.
The work of Kiwanis Echuca-Moama isn’t limited to the locally-famous barbecue boat, either. The volunteers work hard to encourage younger Australians to participate in community efforts, and provide support for disadvantaged children and families. Recently, among other efforts, they’ve made donations to Cystic Fibrosis, the local Community Living & Respite Services tea rooms, local scouts, the local toy library and Echuca Specialist School. They also built a chicken pen at the Murray Human Services Facility with help from some of the clients and their parents, and helped organise and run a mega successful New Year’s event along the banks of the Murray.
Founded in Detroit in 1915, Kiwanis is the third largest and second oldest community service club in the world, with the Australia contingent having popped up in 1967. On an international level, Kiwanis is working on Project Eliminate – which aims to eliminate neonatal tetanus in developing nations. Terry’s been involved since 2006, when his wife persuaded him to get involved. “It’s just a good crowd of people,” says Terry. “I’m not a do-gooder. I just like to be useful. It’s a good thing to do.”