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. 

17 November 2010

What's in a name?

Before I get too far into talking about things railway, its probably best to get a few things straight about the language used in this blog.  So, what's in a name?

Typical of the pioneer approach of the time the villages and townships in the Castlereagh region began in inauspicious circumstances, often with titles of confused or obscure origin.  With the effluxion of time, a standardisation of spelling and even changes in titles resulted.  Eumungerie is a good example of this transition – during the first five years of the twentieth century it laboured with four different names at different times.  At several points, the two most important communication points within the village – the railway station and the post office – even had differing names!

Throughout this blog, I'll attempt to use the name used currently for a particular location  unless earlier or derivative names are required to illustrate a point.  The major exception to this involves the name of the district – Coalbaggie - for purely sentimental reasons.   From white settlement to 1976, this modest water course of 57 kilometres was known as Coalbaggie Creek – but pronounced phonetically as ‘Coolbaggie Creek’.  This Creek provided the district its name.  In 1976, the NSW Geographical Names Board remedied this phonetic inconsistency in a sound manner by renaming Coalbaggie to Coolbaggie.  Despite this most sensible decision this blogger will retain the original spelling as a salute to those nineteenth century grammarians involved in naming the central west of New South Wales.

Before leaving the issue of Coalbaggie it is apposite to also clear two present-day geographic confusions.  Approximately six kilometres to the south-east is the Coolbaggie Nature Reserve.  Approximately 13 kilometres to the south west of Eumungerie is the nominated site of the village of Coolbaggie.  It is this location which seemed to create much of the initial confusion.

Geographical nomenclature is not the only problematic lexicon.  The NSW rail administrations have bent to accommodate linguistic fashions, dictums and fads for 150 years.  Drawing successively from English, Irish and North American influences over the period, goods trains have become freight trains, trucks have become wagons and engines are now known as locomotives. 

Added to this has been a peculiar bureaucratic penchant for reordering, renumbering and recoding.  Perhaps the most visible item on a railway – the engine or locomotive – has been renumbered under three different systems, with major changes occurring in 1878 and 1924.  For the sake of uniformity, all locomotives are referred to in this blog under the 1924 classification system.  Where references involve a working prior to 1924, I wil bracket the the earlier coding in the text.

So, that's what's in a name!

13 November 2010

A few starting thoughts...

There is nothing like a history lesson to start a blog, so here goes...

The village of Eumungerie lies 36 kilometres north of Dubbo in mid-west New South Wales.  It is situated just north of Coalbaggie Creek.  Its western boundary is the Drillwarrina Creek, which empties into the Coalbaggie.  Apart from these two water courses, the natural environment around Eumungerie is unremarkable.  The land in the district is as flat as is possible, and its use for agricultural purposes over the last 150 years has evened out whatever remaining undulations existed previously.  Stands of stringy bark and other eucalypts are scattered across the landscape, although far fewer than existed two centuries ago.

The original inhabitants of the district were the Wiradjuri people, a tribe from the Kawambarai people.  The district was also visited periodically by the Wailan from Gilgandra and Coonamble, the Wongaibon people from Nyngan and Cobar, as well as the Kamilaroi from Coonabarabran and Gunnedah.  It was as late as the second quarter of the nineteenth century before these traditional arrangements were disturbed significantly.

The earliest settlement of the district by Caucasians occurred in the 1840s, with sheep grazing and timber-cutting well underway by the early 1860s.  The area continued to be settled during the second half of the nineteenth century, although development in the Coalbaggie district was eclipsed by the Castlereagh River region (Gilgandra to Coonamble) to the north and the Macquarie River region (Wellington to Dubbo) to the south.

This organic process of settlement is in stark contrast with the two-decade saga from 1880 which led to the eventual construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway.  The political maelstrom surrounding the preferred route of a railway joining Sydney and Coonamble involved the Coalbaggie district, but it was a fight fought elsewhere – in the colonial parliament in Sydney, and in town meetings in Mudgee, Dubbo and Coonamble.  Nonetheless, this debate had a profound impact on the district as it delayed railway construction for nearly 20 years and almost resulted in the district being entirely cut out of the colony’s rail system.

Despite the absence of a railway, white settlement in the Coalbaggie district did develop eventually.  However it was insufficient to warrant the formal establishment as a village until the coming of the railway in 1903.  The almost simultaneous birth of the railway and the village in 1903 set a tenor for the next century in which Eumungerie has led a largely unexceptional existence.  Indeed, similar sentiments may be expressed about the entire railway line from Dubbo to Coonamble on which Eumungerie is located.

Throughout the twentieth century the Coonamble railway was almost entirely sustained by its freight task, which had been the original rationale for the railway’s existence.  The advocates for the construction of the Coonamble railway had foreseen significant quantities of sheep, grain and timber journeying from the Castlereagh region to Dubbo through the Coalbaggie district.  These predictions were realised almost immediately upon the railway’s inception and remained accurate until the mid-1960s.  Indeed, the initial prosperity emerging from the district caused planners to consider expansion of the local railway network, including a branchline from Eumungerie to Quambone.

Despite this profitable early period, following 1945 the original diversity of the freight task narrowed.  Today bulk grain transportation task is the sole remaining reason for the line’s continued use beyond Talbragar.  The number and size of grain receival facilities operating on the Coonamble line still generates considerable traffic levels at certain times of good farming years.  However, it would be unfair to describe the line as now being busy or as ever having been busy.

A close nexus joins Coalbaggie Creek, the village of Eumungerie and the Coonamble railway line.  This nexus makes it reasonable to conclude that if the Coonamble railway line had not been built where and when it was, it is also unlikely that the village of Eumungerie would have been formally established until road transport infrastructure had developed in the district much later in the twentieth century. 

Even more certainly, the delayed development of the Coonamble railway line from the early 1880s to the early 1900s influenced the character and style of the township of Eumungerie and the railway infrastructure provided in the locality, with a resulting impact on the district’s built and natural environment.  Not the least of the impacts on the country arising from this delay was the missed opportunity to establish and consolidate the district during the prosperous 1880s. 

Nonetheless the eventual coming of the railway enabled the grounding of closer settlement of the Coalbaggie district and sustained it almost exclusively for five decades until road transport developed in the areas with the construction of that part of the Newell Highway from Dubbo to Coonamble. While the significance of the railway has declined steadily from 1945 , the capacity to rail bulk grain products still provides the most significant influence on the local growers who continue to constitute a significant proportion of the district’s population.

So, I have survived my first post, and I hope you have too.  I promise to make future posts shorter.  In the next instalments I will attempt to detail the coming of the railway to the Coalbaggie district and its impact - not the least of which was the utter confusion regarding the transition from Coalbaggie to Eumungerie at the turn of the twentith century.