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.   

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