30 December 2010

From the east


And now for the third way to get to Coonamble.... from the east.

A Mudgee to Coonamble railway was first seriously studied by the NSW colonial parliament at the end of the Whitton era.  As early as 1880 the Legislative Assembly had voted on legislation for the Mudgee line’s extension to Coonamble.  At that time, the decision of the Assembly was to reject the proposal by 57 votes to 13.  Despite the comprehensive rejection of the proposal in this vote, in the 1890s two serious proposals for a railway line from Mudgee to Coonamble emerged.

The first proposal involved a short extension from Mudgee to Gulgong, then north-west through Cobborah (now Cobbora) and Munderoon (now Mendooran), before traveling west to Gilgandra, the north to Gulargambone and Coonamble.  It is notable that this proposal extended the railway from Coonamble, northward onwards to Walgett.  Survey work commenced in 1890 and the 1891 Annual Report of the Railway and Tramway Construction Branch of the Department of Public Works noted that an exploration of an improved route had been made.  By mid-1892 the proposal for the Cobbora route was in final form including the extension from Coonamble to Walgett.

The Department of Public Works also reported that 1891/92 brought a trial survey of an alternative route from Mudgee.  It is not clear whether this proposal involved Gulgong as parliamentary debates note that the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works eschewed Gulgong on the basis that it was reputed to have ‘sufficiently sound roads to meet demand for transportation’.  However departmental records concerning this route appear to clearly contemplate Gulgong as part of the route.

This small uncertainty aside, the general direction of the route was to be much to the east of the Cobbora route.  Instead the line would travel through Leadville in order to ‘tap the Mount Stewart Mines’.  From this point, the railway was proposed to cross to Caigan, then north to Gulargambone and onwards to Coonamble.  Apparently this route was to remain on the eastern side of the Talbragar River, whereas the earlier proposal shadowed the western side of the river as did the eventual line from Dubbo.  This proposal is also notable for its advocacy for a separate spur from Gulargambone to Coonabarabran as part of the overall scheme of railway development.

By mid-1894 the Department of Public Works had finalised both surveys of the Mudgee to Coonamble railway.  While additional surveys were undertaken subsequently by 1898 the second Mudgee to Coonamble proposal appeared then to be the only politically viable alternative to Dubbo to Coonamble route.

18 December 2010

From the south west


It is the series of proposals to link Coonamble with the railway from the south-west which best sums-up the length of time of deliberation over a line to the Castlereagh district.  During the 1870s the proposal was not from the south-west but the south south-west, with a line from Narromine.  No departmental records reviewed indicate that survey work was ever performed.

As the construction of the railway line to Bourke continued westward from Narromine a subsequent proposal for a railway from Nevertire to Coonamble developed.  This proposal was debated by the NSW Parliament in the early 1890s but then delayed by the Parliament for further consideration.  It appears that the agitation for an intermediate railway along the same route, linking Nevertire with Warren, may have somewhat overshadowed the larger Nevertire to Coonamble proposal.

Serious work exploring the intermediate railway from Nevertire to Warren commenced in 1892 with the commencement of a trial survey.  By 1894 survey work to Warren was complete.  Survey teams pressed onward to Coonamble and had the entire route surveyed by mid-year.

Legislation authorised the construction of a 21 kilometre (13 mile) branch line from Nevertire to Warren in 1896.  It would bring Coonamble to within 103 kilometres of rail-head at Warren by the time the intermediate line was opened on 24 January 1898.  Thus what had commenced as a proposed 175 kilometre branch line from Narromine in 1879 had been nearly halved to 100 kilometres over the nine year period of debate.

The extension of the railway beyond Warren and eventually to Coonamble was clearly contemplated at the time of construction of the branch line.  The 1897 Department of Public Works Annual Report notes that ‘station accommodation will be provided at Warren and, as this may not remain as a terminal station for any great length of time’ a triangle of trackwork was provided for the turning of locomotives rather than a more expensive locomotive turntable.

The Warren to Coonamble proposal was supported initially by the Railway Commissioners during the mid-1890s.  However it appears that this support was withdrawn during 1897 in favour of the proposed Mudgee to Coonamble railway.

The proposal for this connection appeared to have been removed from all political consideration in 1897 when it was rejected by the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works.  While this rejection of the Warren to Coonamble route removed it from further political consideration in the short term, work continued at a departmental level on exploring a railway from the south-west.  The following year, the Department of Public Works reported that it expended ₤15 19s 3d on a trial survey over this route.

The year 1898 had appeared to be the last in which the Department of Public Works would expend effort in relation to this route.  However in late 1899 the original Narromine to Coonamble proposal resurfaced.  The Department conducted a full survey from Narromine, at a cost of ₤57 17s.

This last glimmer of bureaucratic effort coincided with Premier Lyne’s expressed view as part of the parliamentary debates over the Dubbo to Coonamble Railway Bill 1899 in November of that year.  He expressed a personal preference for the Warren route but noted that as the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works had demurred the time for its championing had passed.

In retrospect the concept of a route from the south-west to Coonamble was the least attractive of all of the railway proposals.  From the nearest significant township of Dubbo it was 47 per cent longer than the direct route via Gilgandra.  Moreover once a railway left Warren there was no intermediate township of significance before reaching Coonamble.  This was in contrast to the direct route which at least boasted Gilgandra and Gulargambone.

Finally the Warren to Coonamble route posed logistical concerns not faced by the Gilgandra route.  Crossing only several minor creeks after leaving the Macquarie River at Warren the railway could not secure reliable supplies of water.  The alternative route through Gilgandra did not face this issue, as 96 kilometres of the railway would parallel the Castlereagh River.  It is also trite to note that the difficulties faced by the railways in securing a reliable water supply would also have been faced by any civilisation along the line.

It is notable though probably coincidental that the Standing Committee on Public Works received the report concerning the Warren to Coonamble railway on the same day that the final report on the Pilliga route was tabled.  While it was not a good day for the advocates of expansion of railways it did leave the two most meritorious options for a railway to the Castlereagh region alive for debate, which is a good spot to leave this story.

02 December 2010

Coonamble from the north


Given that there is a fair chance that sometime tonight parts of the township of Coonamble will subside into flood waters, I thought it timely to add a few words about the alternative railway lines proposed to get to that location. 

As I’ve blogged elsewhere, the line through Eumungerie to Coonamble was not the first option considered by colonial administrations.  The first route, one from the north, proposed a connection between Coonamble and northern New South Wales using the Werris Creek trunk line.  By 1882 this route had been extended from Werris Creek to Wee Waa.  From here, it was proposed that the 147 kilometres of railway line would proceed to the south and the south-west, following the southern bank of the Namoi River to Pilliga and then proceeding south-west through the great Pilliga forest.

While the initial agitation for this railway appeared in parliamentary debates in the mid-1880s it was to be a further decade before serious exploration of the route was undertaken.  The Department of Public Works undertook a trial survey at a cost of ₤150, bridging the two financial years to 30 June 1898.  The northern, or Pilliga, route was then considered by the NSW Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Works.  It tabled its report to the Legislative Assembly on 13 August 1898.

Little parliamentary consideration appears to have occurred in relation to this proposed extension of the rail network following tabling of the Committee’s report.  The recommendations contained in the report and reasons supporting such recommendations did not rate a mention in either that year’s the Department’s Annual Report or the NSW Parliament’s consideration of the survey.  In the absence of such it is still possible to surmise that there was an equivocal response to the survey of this route – as trial surveys ordinarily led to permanent surveys if a firm endorsement was the outcome.

The demise of the Pilliga route could also be a by-product of the vocal promotion of the alternatives from Dubbo and Mudgee.  Nevertheless it is almost certain that the Standing Committee would have noted that the Pilliga route was a most circuitous way to reach the colonial capital.  It would place Coonamble at a very distant 744 rail kilometres from Sydney - the equivalent of the distance from Sydney to Cobar.

Hypothetically the demise of the Pilliga route may also be partially attributed to the fact that such an extension would have likely caused the produce of the Castlereagh district to flow to the north-east rather than the south-east.  This may have benefited commercial interests in Brisbane rather than those of Sydney and elsewhere in eastern New South Wales.

Despite these drawbacks the Pilliga route still had its supporters throughout the period of deliberation.  During the NSW Parliament’s eventual consideration of the Dubbo to Coonamble route in 1899 the Member for Barwon confirmed his continued view of the viability of such a line.  The Department of Public Works’ Annual Report for that year also records an additional ₤3 3s in expenditure on the trial survey, which was unlikely to advance its consideration too much further.

The eventual construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway line did not diminish the ardour of some parliamentarians for a northerly route into the Pilliga district.  Echoing the June 1898 proposal in August 1901 a Mr Collins of the NSW Legislative Council questioned the NSW Government as to:

in view of the large amount of settlements and enormous quantity of valuable timber on the south side of the Namoi … (would the Government)… take into consideration a line of railway from Wee Waa to Pilliga?

The Secretary of Public Works declined to commit the Government ‘this session’ of the Parliament.

It is worth noting that, while not linked directly to the Coonamble railway, in June 1898 a parallel proposal was advanced for a pioneer railway leaving the north-western line at more eastern township of Narrabri.  This line was also proposed to pass along the southern bank of the Namoi River before reaching Pilliga and eventually Walgett.

This later proposed route also involved traversing an area north of Walgett in order to pass through Eurie Eurie.  It was this proposal that formed the basis of what eventually transpired.  In January 1901 a trial survey of a direct route from Wee Waa to Walgett was explored along with a branch line to Collarenabri.  By January 1908 trains were running from Narrabri to Walgett with Eurie Eurie as the penultimate stopping location.

The connection of Walgett to the Werris Creek line appears to have created a final breath of life for the Pilliga route in 1909/10 as the Department of Public Works again inspected its earlier work along the Namoi River.  Nothing more eventuated apparently from this proposal in the lead-up to the Great War.

So that’s enough for tonight... happy sailing, Coonamble!

28 November 2010

The Panorama...

OK, after that last post all readers deserve something a little more graphic, with a little less prose.  So, its time for another Sunday Night Special.

Around the time that I snapped 4911 (see below), I also took it upon myself to trespass upon NSW Government Railway property - being one signal ladder.  Now, I am no signalling expert but I am rather partial to be considered an expert.  So, until told otherwise, I reckon I climbed the Up Home Accept - which ordinary folk would understand as the signal which allowed trains from Gilgandra to enter the station platform.  

Of course, I could be completely wrong in which case I would appreciate a correction - which I will publish with an undercurrent of churlish and petulant editorial expression.  Anyway, back to the ladder.

I reckon I hoisted myself up about 10 rungs to get this shot.  It may have taken a quarter of an hour or so.  This was far enough to give a fair horizon.  It also tested the structural integrity of the signal, which was waning to the extent that it was replaced only a couple of years later.  So, balancing carefully on a wobbly signal ladder with a near-new camera, I pressed....


Several weeks later when I collected the result from Figtree K-mart (which had a cut price developing lab) I learnt an important lesson about levelling the horizon - or not relying on railway property to be on the dead horizontal.  Still, I rather like this photograph, for a few reasons.

First, it is remarkably undisturbed.  Sure, a couple of things had been removed by 1979- like the goods shed and the 'lamp room' (aka men's toilet).  But this is pretty much Eumungerie circa 1945, if you can ignore the monstrosity of the wheat bulkhead which arrived around 1968.  Just ignore it - I do.

Second, it is nicely uncluttered.  There is no extraneous, irrelevant or over-engineered structure.  Everything in the frame does its job, just... including the signal ladder.  

Third, look at those telegraph poles.  The first has a couple of galahs perched on it, of a galah species unlike the one on the signal ladder.  They are also a curious mixture of steel and timber poles, and are quite unevenly placed.

Finally, I also like the dilapidated station building.  It wasn't really - it just needed a fine coat of paint, which it got just before it was bulldozed some years later. You can see just how nice it looked as the photograph at the top of this blog dates from the mid-1980s, after the railway painters had visited with their tins of green paint.

Looking at this photograph reminds me that when I strip away all the subjective reasons I have for wanting a nice 1:87 scale model of Eumungerie in my man cave, objectively its also a very interesting and relatively easy/forgiving modelling proposition.  And that is the lead-in to another post, in days to come.


27 November 2010

Westward Ho!

I have been threatening a lengthy piece on the travails and machinations which brought the railway through Eumungerie.  So here’s a thousand words on the subject.

To understand why Eumungerie almost entirely missed out on its railway, it is necessary to first appreciate the rationale underpinning John Whitton’s earlier master-plan for a series of trunk railways radiating out from Sydney and Newcastle to the NSW hinterland.

The first 20 years of NSW railways had brought glacial-like expansion at considerable cost, largely due to Whitton’s ongoing insistence for reasonable standards of mainline railway construction.  A total of 954 route kilometres (468 miles) had been established by 1875, an average of only 35 kilometres (22 miles) each year.  These reasonable standards of railway construction came at a significant cost to the colony’s treasury, and railway construction was intermittently slowed or stalled due to the lack of available capital funds.

Other constraints on the rate of railway construction involved the geo-physical challenges caused by formidable natural features, particularly the Great Dividing Range in the west and the south, and the Hawkesbury River in the north.  Equally effective in slowing progress were the political debates over the relative merit of Whitton’s plans (against alternatives such as tramways, wooden-railed lines and horse-drawn railways) and the general level of uncertainty in applying what was, at the time, an emerging and largely untested technology.

These challenges were all addressed and all were largely conquered during Whitton’s administration. 

Looking westward, by February 1881 the railway had crossed the Great Dividing Range and reached Dubbo.  It had taken two and a half decades.  During the period of construction of the Great Western Line, as it was so-named, successive NSW governments also pursued construction of railway lines into the north-west of the State.  The line to Werris Creek was opened by October 1878 and the line to Mudgee was completed by September 1884.

Thus, by the late 1870s the base framework of western railway main lines was largely in place, or well under construction.  It involved a neat partitioning of the upper half of the colony west of the Great Dividing Range - the railway to Werris Creek produced a vertical boundary, the line to Dubbo was the horizontal axis and the Mudgee line approximately bisected the two.

With this trunk framework established in the late 1870s, political and public attention shifted to the development of branch lines which would facilitate settlement of the hinterland.  This attention produced 15 years of extraordinary railway construction from 1876 - with 2,814 kilometres (1,748 miles) of new lines being constructed at an average of 188 kilometres (117 miles) each year – over five times the rate of progress of the first two decades.

The first component of the westward expansion of the railway involved the extension of the Great Western Line beyond Dubbo to Bourke.  This was proposed to tap the primary produce then being carried down the Darling River from Queensland and New South Wales to Victoria and South Australia with a commensurate loss of excise royalties for the other colonial governments. 

Such inter-colonial rivalry was no abstract political concern.  In 1878, the NSW Parliament was told that ‘almost all’ of the 50,000 bushels of Wellington’s previous year’s wheat harvest had gone to South Australia, 1,271 road-kilometres away.  This was despite that Sydney lay only 270 kilometres in the other direction.  Of course the opening of the railway at Wellington in 1879 had an immediate, opposite and irrevocable impact on the direction of the flow of produce out of that district.

With such imperatives, the speed of railway construction was bound to increase.  Once established at Dubbo the Great Western Line was extended the further 361 kilometres (224 miles) to the Darling River at Bourke within only five years at an average of 72 kilometres (45 miles) each year for this line alone.  It is worth noting that Bourke was not intended by some to be the end of the line.  In 1894 brought two further planned extensions of this line to the Queensland border, with the Department of Public Works undertaking separate trial surveys from Bourke to Hungerford and Bourke to Barringun – into country which was truly the back of Bourke.

While the railway line from Dubbo to Bourke carried the designation of main line for the greater part of its life, its construction standard, goods carried and associated infrastructure meant that it was effectively the first of what would become a series of branch lines radiating from Dubbo.  Among the railway lines proposed to join the Bourke route was the Dubbo to Coonamble railway.

It was in the early stage of this initial period of growth during the early 1880s that a railway line north from Dubbo to Coonamble was first proposed.  In 1881 the Governor’s speech opening the NSW Parliament indicated the intention to construct a line from Dubbo to Coonamble as part of the Watson Government’s railway policy.  The Colonial Treasurer of the day, the Honourable James Watson, reiterated these plans.

According to Watson, the primary purpose of this line was not to open up the land surrounding Dubbo but to connect Coonamble to the NSW railway system.  At the time, Coonamble was the centre of the increasingly prosperous Castlereagh district.  The Castlereagh district was and remains broadly bounded by the river of the same name, which flows westward in a giant ‘U-shape’ from the Warrumbungle Range near Coonabarabran, southwest to Merrygoen, west to Gilgandra, then north through Coonamble before flowing into the Barwon River midway between Walgett and Brewarrina.  Eventually the waters of the Castlereagh River empty into the Darling River, then the Murray and onwards to the Southern Ocean in South Australia.

While the river system provided pastoralists with a lengthy river voyage to a sea-going port, the Castlereagh, Barwon, Darling and Murray were all navigable at certain times.  Thus the Government’s rationale for the Coonamble railway was consistent with its earlier decision of a railway to Bourke – to tether the western NSW sheep run to Sydney by rail and not to Adelaide by the Darling River.

This political will did not precipitate an immediate response from the bureaucracy.  The Government’s announcement of a railway to Coonamble was followed by a two-year interregnum which only came to an end when a survey for the route from Dubbo to Coonamble was authorised by the Secretary of Public Works, the Honourable F A Wright on 12 June 1883.  This survey was no speedy affair either as it was not completed until 1885.

In similar circumstances construction of a line would have followed within the next three to five years.  However, eleven further years were to elapse until 1896 when the Hon J H Young as Secretary for Public Works approved an amended survey which had been commenced in 1893.  This delay reflected the considerable political uncertainty about the railway’s route to the Castlereagh.

However, despite a number of false starts, the building of a railway line to Coonamble was never in doubt – the only disputed element was the way to get there.  At various times from 1880 onwards six definite routes were explored seriously to link Sydney with Coonamble – one each from the north and south and two each from the south-west and east!

Thank you for getting to the end of this - before I post details of the six routes to Eumungerie, I probably owe everyone (all 13 of you) a bit of light relief.

24 November 2010

It starts here...

Well, sort of...

Technically the Coonamble branchline commenced in the middle of Dubbo railway yard, fairly close to a large signal gantry under which trains departing Dubbo yard would pass. However, for most passengers the journey either started in the eastern dock at Dubbo station or straight off the main platform.

There were no direct passenger services from the branchline to anywhere but Dubbo, so this is also where everything finished too.  I guess my point is that - whether it was the start or the end of a journey along the Coonamble line - rail travellers passed by this point.  And no doubt many detoured to magnificent and now-closed Railway Refreshment Rooms adjacent to this location.

The following photograph shows CPH 6 resting in the eastern dock during the Labour Day long weekend in October 1985.  Well, at least I think it was 1985.  Definitely was October.  

Anyway, at this time CPH 6 was under the stewardship of the Macquarie Valley Railway Society, and was performing tourist trips to exotic locations in the Dubbo hinterland such as Geurie and Wongarbon.  Doubtless such trips just made the long weekend fly past.

I suppose it is slightly misleading to post this photograph as being indicative of the style of travel available to Eumungerie, as CPH-type railmotors were not frequent travellers along the Coonamble line.  As later posts will no doubt elaborate well past the point of eye-glazing detail, for the majority of the seven decades when regular passenger services were provided on the branch, these were hosted by locomotive-hauled carriages or larger capacity diesel rail-cars.  Sure, CPHs were used for a number of years in the middle of the 20th century, which is a story in itself worth saving for a later blog.  

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the delightful No. 2 end of railmotor CPH No. 6.  And once you have finished, you can contemplate just how tidy a station may be kept when there are no passengers around, messing it up.

22 November 2010

The 1st photo...

This blog needs a little more colour and movement.  But before I do either, I think I need to try B&W and stills.  So, as a slight diversion, here's the first photograph that I know I took at Eumungerie.  

It was May 1979 and I was the proud half-owner of a new Praktica SLR camera - thanks Mum and Dad.  I also wish to thank those craftsmen of the former German Democratic Republic for making a half-decent camera.

My failing memory tells me tonight that this was the first moving image captured by this junior lensman.  So, congratulations to 4911 and its motley collection of empty bogie wheat wagons which were on their way up the line for refilling.  You made my day - not the least because I think this was a Saturday and trains never ran on weekends in those days.

At the time I photographed the train, it was just another tuscan (indian red, actually) diesel, doing something that steam did much better only a decade previous.  Now when I look at this photograph, I can still smell the grain wagons as they passed, still feel the burrs from the grass.  Even the wave from the crew as they kept a weather eye on that 15 year-old in his T-shirt, stubbies and thongs.


There is much more in this photograph, which I  will doubtless return to discuss in future entries.  Until then, its time to return to a point 31 years hence.

21 November 2010

Explaining Eumungerie...

Its Sunday night, so its not time for a lengthy post.  So I thought I'd add just a little to how the railway’s identity at this location shifted through several guises during the early years.  

During the construction phase the location was known as Coalbaggie Siding, principally so as to distinguish it from the settlement at Coalbaggie Creek which was approximately ten kilometres away.   
This distance somewhat questions the rationale for the use of Coalbaggie Siding .  Ten kilometres is not an insubstantial distance to walk from the Siding to the Creek , where several sly-grog shanties were reputed to exist.  Doubtless a mis-informed traveller would have developed a suitable thirst after such a walk.

 At the station’s opening on 18 February 1903 the location was designated as Coalbaggie Creek.  Three months later in May 1903 the station was designated as Eumungerie, although it was also described clearly on a 1905 parish map as Eumungerie Siding.  Later versions of the Parish Maps published in 1913 describe the station by its final and current name, simply Eumungerie.

The name Eumungerie was not adopted uniformly by other Commonwealth and State agencies at the time it was adopted by the Railway Commissioners  It appears that the post office was known as Eumungerie for at least 18 months before the station carried this name.  Similarly, the school’s transition to ‘Eumungerie Public School’ occurred in late 1904.  Earlier it too had carried the Coalbaggie nomenclature as ‘Coalbaggie Provisional School’.

So, spare a thought for a long-forgotten mail clerk attached to the Western Mail, trying to decipher jthe intended destinations of letters in his charge.