Brisbane River royalty up for sale

First the Island party boat went under, now the grand old dames of the Brisbane River are up for sale as the long-time owner-operator of the Kookaburra River Queens looks for new blood behind the wheel.

Brisbane Cruises boss Jim Kelly today announced the two paddlewheelers would be auctioned off in October this year after nearly 30 years under his captaincy.

Mr Kelly, who operates several other craft in his tour boat fleet, said the decision to sell was not motivated by financial problems.

“I've been with them for long enough – 27 years – and I can't live forever,” he said.

“So I'm looking for a new, enthusiastic Queenslander to take on these iconic boats.”

Mr Kelly said the new owner would be in for a good deal following recent upgrades to the craft, which meant major maintenance would not be necessary for another 30 years.

But he said that more work could be done to promote tourism on the Brisbane River.

“It's a major transport link, a transport hub, but probably we could see more people using the river for leisure,” Mr Kelly said.

“There are a lot of private operators who do chartered cruises of the river though – it's been great to see the way people's attitudes towards it have changed over the years.”

The long-time mariner remembered a time before Expo '88, when the watery stretch was thought of as little more than a service passage and open drain.

Over the years, people had come to recognise the waterway as a defining feature of the city.

“You look at patronage and you see that about 50 per cent are tourists, the rest are locals enjoying days out on the water,” Mr Kelly said.

“I'm not sure about the idea Brisbanites are abandoning the river – you look at RiverFire to see how much people love the river.”

Mr Kelly said he would like the business to go to someone from Queensland, but would make an exception to a New South Wales interest so long as they “passed the test”.

“That means they'd have to be willing to wear the maroon jersey,” he said.

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