Essie sailed past her 95th birthday

By Charmayne Allison

ASK locals about Essie Nisbet and they’ll likely wax lyrical.

The local paddlesteamer legend turned 95 on Thursday and friends, family and past colleagues gathered to celebrate.

Essie was a deckhand on the PS Canberra for 35 years, her bright smile (and never-ending lollipop supply) a fixture of the local paddlesteamer.

For Murray River Paddlesteamers director Neil Hutchinson, memories of Essie stretch back to childhood.

And while most of them are full of mischief (mostly on his part), they are also memories he will treasure forever.

"As a kid I’d go to jump on the boat for a ride and if she had something heavy to carry she’d say, ’If I give you a lollipop will you carry this down for me?’" he laughed.

"She had a box filled with lollies and chips and when she wasn’t looking we used to pinch the chips.

"Eventually she put a padlock on the lid of the box but it had no bottom on it, so we’d just lift up the box and pinch chips from underneath."

But no matter how mischievous, Essie was always gentle with young and old.

"She was famous for looking after every kid that came on the boat," past PS Canberra owner Tod Collins said.

"Out of her 20,360 cruises she must have had half a million kids on board she looked after and gave a captain’s ticket to say they steered the boat.

"There was never a problem with the captains because Essie would sort them out."

This serene smile remained through thick and thin — as past paddlesteamer skipper Jenny Watson can testify first-hand.

"We had some real adventures. Things would break down and she’d just say ‘It’s alright Jen, we’ll fix it. Don’t worry, we’ll get there’," Jenny said.

"Nothing phased her."

And while 95 years may have passed, everyone agrees Essie stays the same.

"The smile you see today is still Essie’s smile," Tod said.

"Nothing’s changed, she’s still a beautiful, friendly, loving lady."