22 March 2011

Opening the line

The Dubbo to Coonamble railway line was opened officially when the Department of Public Works transferred the line to the Railway Commissioners on 18 February 1903.  The Department’s 1902/03 Annual Report provides a summary of the works constructed.  Amongst other matters, the Report notes that:

Station buildings with the necessary sidings have been provided at Talbragar (nee Brocklehurst), Goonoo, Coalbaggie Creek, Balladoran, Gilgandra, Berida, Curven (sic), Galar (nee Gulargambone), Combara and Coonamble.

Water supplies are obtained at Coalbaggie, Gilgandra, Gula (sic) and Coonamble.

At Coalbaggie water is being pumped to a 20,000 gallon tank in the station yard.

A 20,000 gallon tank has also been erected at the Dubbo Junction.

The line is laid throughout with 60-pound flat-bottomed steel rails spiked to round-topped sleepers, 2464 to the mile, packed with earth ballast, except in station yards and at bridge ends, where stone ballast is used.

The ruling grade with the load is 1 in 75 and against the load, 1 in 100.

The line is unfenced, except at station yards, which are fenced with 7-wire fencing.

So, 22 years after it had been first seriously proposed, Coonamble had its connection with the New South Wales railway system, and Eumungerie was part of that link.

The celebrations over the opening of the railway appear to have been modest or went largely unreported.  On 21 February 1903 Dubbo’s newspaper reported:

The Coonamble line was taken over and worked by the railway Commissioners on Wednesday.  The old carriages have been superseded by more up-to-date vehicles, which render travelling on the line far more comfortable than hitherto.  Mr George Emilhaing, an old identity of Dubbo, has been appointed guard on the line.

The Railway Commissioners instituted a thrice-weekly service conveying passengers and goods carriages - known in railway parlance as a mixed service.  A train was timetabled to leave Dubbo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:25am. 

It would require the entire morning to reach Gilgandra, observing a four minute rest break at Talbragar at 9:40am and Goonoo (Mogriguy) at 10:15am.  Arriving at Eumungerie at 10:47am an eight minute period was available to passengers.  The next stop at Balladoran at 11:16am afforded a further eight minute break.  Gilgandra was reached at 11:54am, whereupon a 30 minute break was taken.

The second stage of the journey was to Gular.  On the way a four minute pause was taken at Kamber from 12:42pm, seven minutes at Curban from 1:04pm and six minutes at Armatree at 1:38pm. 

Once at Gular 27 minutes was provided prior to embarking on the final stage of the journey at 2:39pm.  This final stage of the journey was punctuated by a four minute stop at Combara at 3:16pm prior to arrival at the terminus at 3:55pm.  The entire trip had taken six and a half hours, including nearly two hours at intermediate stations for shunting and locomotive servicing activities.

The return journey from Coonamble was even longer – being only ten minutes shy of a full seven hours.  On Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays a mixed service departed Coonamble at 10:35am.  Stops of similar duration to the outbound journey were taken at all intermediate stations, including a ten minute stop at Eumungerie at 3:44pm.  Dubbo itself was not reached until 5:25pm. 

The return journey was extended by nine minutes over the outward journey to allow for additional shunting and goods trafficking in this direction of operations.  This reflected the line’s major purpose as an exporter of produce.  The actual travel time was also extended by nine minutes to recognise the more sizeable traffic task in this direction.

The formal opening of the railway may have been less of a cause to celebrate than originally considered by the local citizenry.  Daily works trains had been providing regular service for some months, albeit seemingly at only a moderate level of amenity.  The reversion to a thrice-weekly service brought dismay from the some of the citizenry.  After just two weeks of operation press criticism of the service emerged.  On 28 February 1903 the front page of Dubbo’s Liberal newspaper conveyed the following report:

The new mail arrangements rendered necessary by the alteration of the train service on the Coonamble line from a daily to a tri-weekly one are causing intense dissatisfaction to the residents of all parts adjacent to the line from Coalbaggie northwards… the people of Coalbaggie, Balladoran, Gilgandra and so on northward are deprived of their Saturday’s mail altogether, and the situation is now far worse than in the old coaching days… if an important business letter is posted in Dubbo for, say, Coalbaggie at 9am on Friday, it will not get to its destination until Monday – three days to reach 22 miles.

The celebrations were likely muted for other reasons.  First, the immediate countryside was in a serious drought.  The Railway Commissioners’ 1902/03 Annual Report made much of the breadth and depth of the drought – reckoned to be the worst seen in the history of the colony/state.

One further factor muting the celebration was the situation in Coonamble at the time of the railway’s official launch.  In the edition announcing the line’s opening, the Liberal also informed its readers that a typhoid epidemic was ‘now raging in Coonamble’ which had been traced to a ‘shop doing extremely large business in milk shakes’.  It was no insignificant matter.  One week later the Liberal reported that 138 cases of typhoid had been recorded thus far, including seven deaths.  Hardly the sort of thing to encourage Coonamble as a travel destination.

15 March 2011

Constructing the railway

Planning for the Dubbo to Coonamble route had preceded the passage of the legislation.  During the earlier part of 1899 a further trial survey was commenced.  By mid-year the Department of Public Works had expended ₤131 on this work and the trial survey was completed prior to the completion of the legislative debates.

On 15 January 1900, less than one month after Royal Assent of the legislation, the Department of Public Works commenced a full survey of the route.  Two surveyors were assigned to the work and by 30 June 1900 the Department could report that 27 miles had been fully surveyed, with tangents for a further 50 miles ‘marked on the ground at the Coonamble end of the line’.

The same departmental annual report also announced that contracts had been let for 40,000 timber railway sleepers, along with ‘timber and ironwork for two timber truss bridges over the Talbragar River’.  This suggests that the 27 miles of surveyed railway had been completed from Dubbo end of the line – and also suggests that surveyors had already passed through the Coalbaggie district by this time.

The survey continued to make rapid progress throughout 1900.  By 24 November 1900 the Department could announce that the full survey was complete and that a railway of 95 miles and 40 chains required construction.

The conclusion of the survey nearly coincided with the commencement of construction of the railway, which involved work commencing at the Dubbo end of the line on 15 November 1900.  The construction work was to be performed throughout the construction period by the Department’s day labour force. 

The public servants moved quickly about their work as, by 30 June 1901, the Department had managed to spend nearly ₤42,000 in construction funds out of a total departmental construction budget of ₤207,285.  The Department’s 1900/01 Annual Report also provides the first assessment of the construction task.  It states that the ‘country along the line is almost level and that are no works of magnitude’, with the result that the earthworks were nearly complete, even at this early stage of construction. 

The same Annual Report noted that:

The Talbragar River and Colbaggie (sic) Creek are the only two places where bridges of any size are required.  The bridge over the Talbragar River consists of two 60 foot 1 inch timber truss spars, with two 24-foot and four 14-foot timber approaches… (while) over the Colbaggie, one 40-foot and two 38-foot 6 inch truss spans, and three 24-foot and two 14-foot timber approaches (are required).

The Report notes that the ‘Talbragar River bridge is complete, the Coalbaggie Creek bridge is underway’, and contracts ‘have been let for all the piles and timber required for the line, and also for about 140,000 ironbark sleepers’.

Rapid progress continued to be made throughout the construction period.  Construction was observed as being underway in the Coalbaggie district in November 1901.  The Department’s June 1902 Annual Report summarised the swift progress, noting that:

The rails are laid for a length of 90 miles.  The bridges and culverts are nearly finished.

A contract was let on the 23rd September 1901 to Mr W H Hudson for the erection of station buildings at Brocklehurst, Goonoo, Coalbaggie, Balladoran and Gilgandra, and the works are nearly finished.  In May 1902 a contract was let to Messrs McCarthy and Allibone for station buildings at Berida, Curben (sic), Gulargambone, Combera (sic) and Coonamble, and the works have been started.

Trucking yards are in the course of erection at Gilgandra.

At Coalbaggie Creek an excavated tank has been made and the water diverted into it from the creek and from thence pumped into an elevated tank at Coalbaggie station yard.

At Gilgandra cylinders are being sunk in the bed of the Castlereagh River from which the water will be pumped to an elevated tank in the station yard.

At Gulargambone and Coonamble water supplies are also under consideration.

Despite a severe drought limiting the availability of quality timber for railway sleepers, by the start of 1902 the authorities could announce that trains would be running between Dubbo and Gilgandra by March of that year.  This proved to be the case.  Progress continued such that the Commissioners could commence unofficially operating goods, passenger and mail and works trains over the entire length of the line on 4 August 1902.

Of course, these trains were just works trains - elderly semi-repatriated locomotives, carriages no longer used in services on the seaboard - working to slow timetables.  The precarious nature of these operations can be gleaned in one of the first mentions of services connecting Gilgandra with Dubbo by the Sydney Morning Herald. The newspaper reported he breakdown of the locomotive on a special train of Gilgandrians returning home after visiting the Dubbo Show on 2 May 1902.  Apparently the locomotive failed somewhere near Coalbaggie.  The whole train was then returned to Dubbo in order to secure a fresh locomotive. Ah, the national ignominy of breaking down in Coalbaggie!

In the next post more stories of the coming of the railway will be relayed....

12 March 2011

Review by the Legislative Council

The second stage of the parliamentary process involved the review of the Assembly’s legislation by the Legislative Council.  The Council was at the time an unelected body, appointed by the colonial governor.

The legislation was formally introduced to the Council on 7 December 1899 and debated during the Second Reading stage on 14 December.

The Council’s consideration of the legislation was not as exhaustive or comprehensive as that which occurred in the Assembly.  However, it was notable in several ways. 

One may have expected that opposition to the legislation would have dissipated following the comprehensive decision of the Assembly only three weeks previous.  This was not the case.  In opposition to the legislation the Hon Mr G H Cox noted the substantial public meeting held in Mendooran (Mundooran) opposing selection of the Dubbo to Coonamble route.

The Honourable Mr Cox also reported the strong concerns of the Cobborah (sic) Railway League, and joined with the League in its condemnation of the poor rainfall in the selected route.  In very strong parliamentary language which was ultimately also proven very wrong, he described the 40 miles to Gilgandra as being very poor and ‘unsuitable for either agricultural or pastoral purposes’.

Opposition to the proposed railway again involved the Railway Commissioners.  This time the entire letter at the centre of the controversy from the Commissioners was read into the Hansard record of debate.  This part of the debate also noted the willingness of several graziers along the Mudgee route to donate land for that line’s construction.

While there was a considerable rehashing of the relative merits of the Mudgee route over the Dubbo to Coonamble railway, only one new argument of substance was raised.  The Honourable Mr Cox noted the need for the harnessing of what he considered to be the second greatest wheat producing area of the Colony, between Mudgee and Coonamble.  It would be necessary in his view that this region be developed immediately in order to offset the deleterious impact of farmers in the Murray region forwarding their produce to Melbourne once Federation and railway links in that region were properly established.  In short the Castlereagh region would supplant the Riverina as the cereal bowl of New South Wales.

Those supporting the Dubbo to Coonamble railway also relied extensively on the arguments already ventilated in the junior chamber of the legislature.  In proposing the Bill the Honourable Mr J A H Mackay stated that ‘this seems to me to be a line about which there can be hardly any cavil, because it is a line to which the district is undoubtedly entitled’. 

The Honourable Member also made it clear that the debate over the legislation should not be seen as a debate over the competing merits of the two rival routes.  He explicitly stated that if the legislation was not to pass that evening it would be ‘many years’ before Coonamble would see a railway line as the Government was opposed to a Mudgee to Coonamble solution.

His Honour also introduced a single new reason for the construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble route.  He noted that the Mudgee route locked Castlereagh district farmers and graziers into the Mudgee and Sydney markets only.  However the Dubbo route would enable the same farmers to transport agricultural product to the western districts in New South Wales; to Bourke and beyond.  He noted that this would not only benefit the producers in the Castlereagh but also those farmers in the far west as transport costs of fodder would be reduced substantially in times of drought.

The final sting for the proposed Mudgee line was brought to the debate by the Honourable W J Trickett, who raised the evidence given by a traffic manager of the Mudgee line to the Parliamentary Committee.  It had been the evidence of the manager that the Mudgee line was unsafe in parts due to slippages in alignment around the Capertee area and that it was necessary to operate a ‘pilot (engine) every night in front of each train’. 

His Honour drew on the manager’s estimate that at least ₤100,000 would be required to build a deviation around the problematic area, thereby raising the real construction cost of the Mudgee option to nearly ₤600,000, almost three times the cost of the Dubbo route.

The debate over the legislation occupied almost all of the entire sitting on 14 December 1899.  However it should be noted that the Council’s hours were far more leisurely, having commenced at 4:00pm on that day.  So it was, as the anointed time for the evening repast approached, that the Government’s legislation was passed by a clear majority of members shortly after 6:00pm.

The Council’s final consideration of the legislation occurred on its next sitting day, 19 December 1899.  This was the formality known as the Third Reading of the Bill.  Thankfully, it required only cursory attention from the honourable members.  The Bill was through!

The final step of the legislative process involved the granting of Royal Assent.  This occurred on 22 December 1899, which was three days following Parliament’s final approval and a year precisely from the day that the proposal had been referred to the Public Works Committee.

So nearly two decades after first being proposed the residents of the Talbragar, Coalbaggie, Balladoran, Gilgandra, Gulargambone and Coonamble districts received a near-Christmas gift unparalleled in its capacity to bring prosperity, civilisation and happiness to those seeking the closer settlement of the region.

05 March 2011

Debate in the People's House

Its been a month since my last post - hopefully the length of this one will assure readers that the gap between posting is proportionate with the effort entailed in preparing the next post!  So here goes with the parliamentary process...

The day that the Dubbo to Coonamble Railway Bill 1899 was introduced to the NSW Legislative Assembly for its First Reading the protectionist Lyne Government had held office for just over a month.  In introducing the legislation on 2 November 1899, the Secretary for Public Works, Mr O’Sullivan, proposed that the House:

… consider the expediency of bringing in a bill to sanction the construction of a line of railway from Dubbo to Coonamble, provided that before commencing the said work certain land required is contracted to be conveyed to the Crown, or an indemnity is given for the cost of resuming the same; to amend the provisions of the Public Works Act 1888, so far as they relate to the duty of the constructing authority to make and maintain fences along the said line of railway; to authorize (sic) the construction of the said line on certain public roads.

A cursory view of the Dubbo to Coonamble Railway Act 1899 may lead to the conclusion that it is a modest and unassuming piece of legislation.  It occupies less than two scant pages of the 1899 statute book.  It contains only six clauses and one schedule.  Excluding the preamble it amounts to a princely 359 words.  The long title of the legislation occupies one-third of its content.  Yet the majority of the Second Reading debate over the Bill in the Assembly was a torrid and robust affair, which occurred on the evening of 22 November 1899.

The controversy commenced shortly after 9:00pm when Mr W T Dick, the Member for Newcastle East, rose to oppose the legislation.  Noting that he had been the sole member of the Standing Committee who had voted against the Dubbo route in Committee, he again stated his opposition. 

During the following four hours and thirty-odd minutes Mr Dick was followed by the Members for Goulburn, Rylstone, Mudgee and Hartley (the later-to-be sixth Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Cook).  The eight core arguments advanced by these members against the construction of the Dubbo to Coonamble railway were:

1.             the alternative route through Mudgee would bring Coonamble 34 miles closer to Sydney than a line through Dubbo – this would produce lower freight charges and transit times;

2.            the Dubbo route passed through land which was unsuited for grazing, particularly the first 40 miles from Dubbo (including the Coalbaggie district);

3.            the Mudgee route would open up more land for settlement (as would be expected for the longest route);

4.            the extension to Coonamble would convert the loss-making Mudgee route into a financially viable line (in 1898 alone the Mudgee route lost approximately ₤26,000);

5.            the Dubbo route would put the station at Coonamble on the western side of the Castlereagh River whereas the town was placed on the eastern side (which was where a terminus of a line from Mudgee would be located);

6.            the Mudgee to Coonamble route would be preferable as it would open access to the mineral deposits in the Gulgong area;

7.            the construction of the Mudgee route would relieve traffic pressure on the already congested Great Western Line while the Dubbo route would only increase congestion on the Line; and

8.            some of the Dubbo route would pass through private land which would require resumption at some cost prior to construction.

The parochial views about the Mudgee line were to be expected from the Members for Mudgee and Rylstone as that line operated through those electorates.  However both members assured the chamber that their views were drawn from a deeper concern about the wider public interest and not from narrow sectional concerns.

The Member for Mudgee, in providing a vigorous testament to the utility of the line from his electorate, managed to spontaneously re-route the Mudgee railway through a large number of townships within his electorate.  This hybrid proposal for the line brought confusion and then mirth from a number of members.  It is perhaps best to explain this circuitous route by noting that it was advanced after 12:20am on the morning of 23 November at the end of a lengthy sitting day.

If parochial interests were evident from those opposing the legislation the parochial interests in favour of the Dubbo route were no less strident.  While it is somewhat difficult to explain the support from the members for East Maitland and Young (the latter of whom was the later-to-be third Australian Prime Minister, Johannes Watson, in 1904), the members for Bathurst, Dubbo and Barwon exclaimed that their support for the Dubbo line was equally motivated by a deep commitment to developing a great public work.

In professing his support, the Member for Barwon said little about the railway but much about the land around the Coalbaggie district.  It was his testimony that:

… a great deal has been said about what they call the inferior lands out to Coolbaggie (sic)… there is a lot of red sandy soil which is overgrown with pine and other scrubs… it is some of the best wheat producing land we have…

Incidentally, this appears to be the first reference by name to the Coalbaggie district in the colonial legislature.

It was however a 29 minute speech by Mr H MacDonald, the Member for Coonamble, which simultaneously provided the greatest ambiguity and depth of reasoning.  Facing an almost no-lose outcome for his electorate MacDonald opened his remarks by supporting the Mudgee route as the best for the township of Coonamble.  It was only after advancing a series of reasons concerning the wider and superior interests of (voters in) the Castlereagh district that he indicated that he would support the alternative Dubbo route.

Perhaps understanding that the only way Coonamble could lose from the debate that evening, MacDonald’s major contribution to the parliamentary discourse was a ‘fair protest (that) after twenty years of vexatious delay’ that the Assembly would ‘further delay consideration of the matter in which there is not one tittle of fresh evidence.’

The single greatest contribution to the debate came from Mr Willis, the Member for Barwon.   In 28 minutes bridging midnight he demonstrated a considerable familiarity with the land in which the two routes were proposed, the economics of railway administration and a commitment to the wider settlement of the region.  Willis opened his comments by noting that:

…I have travelled over both routes, and in the mind of any sane man there can be no doubt that the Dubbo – Coonamble line is the proper and legitimate route from every standpoint.

In reviewing the countryside through which the two competing routes would pass, Willis opined that:

…when you leave Mudgee and go to Gulgong, you get very good agricultural land, but most of it is alienated.  Then you go on until you get near Talbragar, within a few miles of which you get good land, but from there to within 50 miles of Coonamble it is barren waste, the home of the dingo and the kangaroo.  I travelled sheep over that country and I know it is very inferior country… there are tens of thousands of acres laying as waste land.  What are they to do with their sheep there? The little “cockies” have to build yards of stone and light fires around them so as to frighten away the dingoes.  They come down from their breeding places in the desert.

On the other route from Dubbo to Coonamble, a great deal has been said about what they call the inferior lands out to Coolbaggie (sic).  I admit there is a lot of red sandy soil there which is overgrown with pine and other scrubs; but I do not admit that it is land if cleared and put to proper use will not produce wheat.   It is some of the best wheat producing ground we have.  It is on par with the magnificent lands we have about Narromine, Trangie and Nevertire… The land between Dubbo and Coolbaggie, or 50 or 60 miles further towards Coonamble from Coolbaggie… is loose, loamy, sandy soil… when you get “cockies’ – the small men – onto it... they will get rid of the scrub and plough it up, and it will teem with fertility.

Willis concluded his speech by noting the various promises made to the people of Coonamble who had waited ‘twenty five years for railway communication’ with the competing proposals from Dubbo, Mudgee, Werris Creek, Nevertire and Wee Waa/Pilliga.  Shortly before resuming his seat he stated:

… the time is opportune; the hand is on the clock; the hour has arrived to give these people their railway and I don’t think we should have any more quibbling about it.  It has been demonstrated beyond all shadow of doubt that the most legitimate route has been chosen for a railway to Coonamble, every interest considered.

By the time that the Secretary for Public Works rose to make the Address-in-Reply, it was eight minutes past 1:00am on 23 November.  His and the previous speakers’ core arguments had been:

1.             the overall cost of the Dubbo route was less than half of that proposed for the Mudgee route, which would lessen the call on the Government’s borrowings whilst still unlocking the Castlereagh district;

2.            the Dubbo route had generally easier grades which would reduce maintenance, operating costs and the need for more powerful locomotives to work to Coonamble;

3.            while the land surrounding the Dubbo route was not suitable for a ‘sheep walk’ it was eminently suitable for crops, with estimates that land which would ‘not carry more than one sheep for every ten acres could produce 30 bushels of wheat or four to five tons of cut hay for each acre’;

4.            the establishment of crops would encourage closer settlement and sustain higher populations than grazing country;

5.            the Dubbo route would unlock the ‘great ironbark’ forest north of Dubbo and opportunities for pine sawmilling;

6.            the land along the Dubbo route had already been opened up to settlement and was in the process of being sold – meaning that the colonial treasury would receive an immediate  windfall from the higher rents from leases and receipts from land sales if the railway line proceeded immediately (but this would be lost if the construction of the railway was further delayed);

7.         the Dubbo route would connect the already established centres of Gilgandra and Gulargambone whereas the Mudgee route traveled through 90 miles of virtually uninhabited country;

8.            the cost of construction for each mile of the Dubbo route was also considerably lower than any alternative;

9.            the view of the experts was that the line would likely operate at a small loss in the initial year (under ₤2,000) but was forecast to develop traffic quickly so as to become a profitable branch line within three years; and

10.         the amount of good land served by the Dubbo route was greater than the Mudgee route – while the latter would open up more land in total it would also skirt the non-usable Warrumbungle Range for a considerable distance, meaning that it would only receive custom and produce from one side of the line only.

Following the Secretary’s commendation of the Bill to the Assembly a division resulted in 40 members supporting the legislation and nine members opposing it.

Immediately upon its passage, the Secretary for Public Works moved an amendment.  It required construction to be delayed until all land required for the line outside of townships of Dubbo, Gilgandra, Gulargambone and Coonamble was conveyed to the Crown free of cost.  It was adopted at 1:19am, but only after a subsequent amendment from the Member for Rylstone was also accepted which excised the requirement for conveyance ‘free of cost’.