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Australians surprised by sister city snub

You may not know it, but if you are a Whitehorse resident you are entitled to a free paddlewheeler ride.

You may not know it, but if you are a Whitehorse resident you are entitled to a free paddlewheeler ride.

Of course, you have to travel to Echuca, Australia, first.

Our sister city Down Under offers the trip as a welcome to all Whitehorse residents.

But get there quick — it’s a limited time offer.

Whitehorse city council is considering ending its sister-city relationship with Echuca.

Luckily, Echuca politicians don’t know about this yet, so you have some time to cash in on the free ride down on the Murray River.

Echuca became Whitehorse’s first sister city in November, 1977.

Though they’re on opposite sides of the Earth, the similarities between the two cities are remarkable.

Echuca has a history of being a staging point for paddlewheelers, which used to travel upriver — opening up Australia’s interior.

Whitehorse also has a much-revered history of paddlewheeler traffic.

Both cities were also relatively close to gold fields.

And Echuca was once led by an ex-convict by the name of Henry Hopwood who, in 1850, bought a small punt to ferry settlers across the river.

The Yukon has its own colourful history of questionable, yet enterprising characters.

On June 2, Whitehorse staffers proposed to sever the sister-city connection with Echuca as well as Castries, St. Lucia.

From the beginning, the relationships between those two cities have been strictly ceremonial in nature, council was told.

There was nothing more than an agreement that each city would fly one another’s flag once a year to commemorate the signing of the friendship.

Council was not, however, told of the free paddlewheeler rides to Yukoners.

Another reason given for cutting ties with our sister across the sea, was that Echuca had ceased to exist.

In 1994, the state amalgamated a number of local councils and Echuca merged with some of its neighbours to become the Shire of Campaspe.

However, Echuca isn’t a ghost town.

The city’s population is about 15,000 people, but there are also many rural farms in the surrounding area.

If you look at the Echuca district there might be more like 40,000 who use Echuca as an urban centre.

That’s larger than the Yukon’s population.

“Echuca’s still a township in its own right,” said Sandra Ennis, of the executive office of the Shire of Campaspe.

“So, we considered the sister-city relationship continued between Whitehorse and Echuca.”

Echuca flies the Whitehorse flag every November and, like a pen pal, sends updates about the goings on in the city, said Ennis.

“We probably stopped doing that about three or four years ago, probably similar to Whitehorse, I think.”

Actually, Whitehorse continued the tradition.

But even without flags, the scant relationship did not die.

Last September, the Riverine Herald, Echuca’s newspaper, ran a story of a local man travelling the world in a 1969 Fiat 500.

The story ran with a picture of the Fiat in front of a sign reading: “Welcome to Whitehorse.”

Brian Crist, the city’s director of operations, visited Echuca around the same time.

“I wasn’t on official business with the city of Whitehorse,” said Crist on Thursday.

He was in Australia with his family during a six-month vacation.

While in Echuca, the Crist family spent five days camping and touring around the riverine village.

“They actually provided us passage onto one of their paddlewheelers that goes up and down the Murray River,” he said.

“They were warm and really nice to us.”

Crist also made contact with a couple of the shire’s officials — the city manager and his director of operations counterpart.

But even with firsthand knowledge of Echuca, Crist is hesitant to fight for it to remain a sister city.

“My experience is one thing, but apart from that there’s really no other interaction that happens,” he said.

“I guess the question is, do we really need five sister cities?”

“At this stage Whitehorse hasn’t written to us or communicated with us regarding what they’re going to do with the friendship,” said Ennis.

As a civil servant, Ennis couldn’t guess how the Capaspe council would react to news that Whitehorse was ending the relationship.

“But I know that they say the sister-city relationship with Whitehorse is not active, it’s not like we have community exchanges or anything like that.”

People from Whitehorse do occasionally turn up in Echuca, visiting specifically because of the sister-city relationship, she said.

“We always try to look after them and we always try to give them some passes to go on a paddle-steamer, or something like that to say welcome.”

“That doesn’t cost anything to do, as such,” said Ennis.

“But you know, whether you need it or not, obviously council of Whitehorse has made their decision, haven’t they.”

In fact council hasn’t yet.

Council has not yet voted to cut ties with Echuca and Castries.

But no one has yet voiced any opposition to the proposal.