24 April 2011

Dubbo's planned branchlines 1920 - 1930

If Eumungerie was conspicuous by its absence in discussions over railway expansion in the first twenty years of the 20th century, this was to change.  Indeed, notwithstanding the competing claims from Gilgandra and Coonamble itself, during this decade Eumungerie vied for the epicenter of railway boosterism in the Castlereagh region – ultimately unsuccessfully, of course. 

A proposal for a junction at Eumungerie was proposed as part of a railway to Quambone in 1924.  Its prospects for success could be adjudged as slim given the number of other attempts to establish a railway to Quambone from other locations.  In order to sort out the mess of competing claims, the Public Works Committee journeyed to Dubbo to take evidence in October 1924.  The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Public Works Committee took evidence on 6 October 1924 specifically concerning the Warren to Quambone railway, against the alternative railway proposals.

A Mr Charles Henry Clemson indicated to the Committee that the line should start between Dubbo and Eumungerie, and go through Collie to Quambone. This would negate the necessity for a separate bridge over the Macquarie River, entailed by an alternative route from Narromine and would save a larger area of agricultural country.  Mr Clemson apparently noted that to go round by Narromine would increase the distance to Sydney, which was a party to 70 per cent of the trade in the area.

A Mr Doe drew the Committee’s attention to the alternative route through Gilgandra, as authorised by Parliament. Presciently he noted that the current suggestion would nullify that. Witnesses before the Committee alleged that farmers served by Mr Doe’s alternative route were already hauling their produce 20 miles to the railway.

Mr Charles Cadell supported a line from Eumungerie or Talbragar, nearer Dubbo, noting it would pass through first-class agricultural land as far as Collie. From there to Quambone was first-class pastoral land, in Mr Cadell’s opinion. 

There was further support for the Eumungerie option - Mr A T Blackett, president of the Dubbo Progress Association, said that a larger area of wheat land would languish if the line was built from Gilgandra. This allegation was well-supported by Mr T A Nicholas, who was the secretary of the Progress Association.  Mr Nicholas produced statistics to show that there were 43 landholders having 20,250 acres under wheat. This would increase threefold to 61,000 acres if the line was built from Talbragar to Collie, and then to Quambone.

Nought came of these deliberations.

A further three years passed before the Sydney Morning Herald could again report that a deputation had met with a new Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Buttenshaw) to advocate the construction of a cross country railway line from Gilgandra to Walgett to connect the western and north-western railway systems.  The deputation was alleged to represent the various railway leagues in the districts which would be served by the proposed lines.  The deputation argued that the proposed line was an absolute necessity and, if constructed, would be particularly useful in time of drought. 

While what was being suggested was not a pioneer line, apparently the Minister replied to the delegation that he had called for a report on the suggested line from Eumungerie
to Collie, and indicated that he would also procure a report on the line from Walgett.  He undertook to give their representations earnest consideration and stated that the policy of the Government was to construct lines such as these for the reason that they would open up fresh settlement and especially give transport facilities to districts which were not already served.

Again this talk led to little immediate action.  This was to change a year later, where a ‘special representative’ filed two long stories to the Herald in June (1928) under the byline ‘Railway Proposals in the North West – A Neglected Corner’.  The representative indicated that he had spent five days in the region, as the guest of the rather enterprising railway leagues of Collie, Bullagreen, Quambone, Carinda and Walgett, who were co-operating by this time.

While the report published on 12 June 1928 laid out the general propositions surrounding extending railways in the area, in the following day’s report no punches were pulled.  Noting that the junction of a proposed line to Collie would be of utmost importance as it would determine the country through which the line would bisect, the representative argued persuasively for Eumungerie’s case. 

Noting that the Railway Commissioners had already selected Eumungerie as the junction point, the representative seeks to explain why.  Given the significance of this decision, a lengthy extract from the Herald is warranted and is so provided:

With few distinguishing features to differentiate it from hundreds of Australian townships, Eumungerie is favoured with a school apparently out of keeping with its immediate surroundings.  The reason for this is not far to seek.

On its journey northwards, the daily train makes a couple of stops which find no mention in the timetable. On the first occasion a glance from one window reveals no adequate reason for this delay. Anxiety to acquit the railway staff of more caprice leads to a look on the other side, when it will be found that several children are clambering from the rail level on to the train en route for school.  This incident is repeated later, and on arrival at Eumungerie the youngsters who have (been) collected from sidings and impromptu stopping places troop off to their classes. By accident or design, the returning train arrives at an opportune moment in the afternoon and teachers are on hand to bid farewell to their charges.

In this way the Railway Commissioners are co-operating in effective and symmetric fashion with the Education Department in coping with the difficult problem of providing school facilities in the sparsely populated centres. Without the railway the education of hundreds of country children would be sadly hampered.

So, while the raison d’ĂȘtre for the line to Collie was the economic imperative to encourage closer settlement of the region, it was actually the social imperative of improving the education of the settlers’ children which dictated its path!

The Herald report continued to provide startling revelations about the proposed route:

The official attitude towards the choice of Eumungerie as a starting point (for the Collie line) is indicated in a letter from the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr Buttenshaw) to the local member (Mr Thorny).  This has naturally gratified the residents along the route from that centre to Collie.

In this letter he states: "I have already intimated my decision to refer to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works the proposal for the construction of a line from Eumungerie, via Collie, to Quambone.  As a matter of fact, the Railway Commissioners have submitted to me their statutory report on the proposal, and all would be in readiness for a reference to that committee when other proposals are being placed before that body in the next session of Parliament. The suggested line from Quambone, via Carinda, to Walgett has formed the subject of deputations to me, and I have informed those advocating the line that I would obtain a statutory report from the Railway Commissioners."
With regard to suggested alternative routes to Walgett, via Gilgandra, Talbragar, or Narromine, Mr. Buttenshaw stated that those three proposals served similar country to the Eumungerie-Walgett proposal for the greater part of their length. They only differed in regard to their commencing points, and Eumungerie was chosen as the junction on the recommendation of the Commissioners...

The residents (along the proposed railway)... comprising the little centres known as Cobboco and Kickabil, have struggled manfully for years to get their claims for better communication recognised.  Now that they have allied themselves with their bigger brothers further north, their objective is appreciably nearer.

Thus, once again, the idea of a pioneer line was shifting towards a much larger cross country railway. 

Unsurprisingly, this later proposal gained little support from places to north of Eumungerie.  The same report noted that:

The branching-out of the line further south does not accord with the wishes of Gilgandra, whose representatives claim that a line direct to Collie, 24 miles distant, would be a cheaper and more obvious route. The history of this proposal has been a distinct disappointment to them, as the line was favoured by the Works Committee of the day, and Parliament decided on its construction. A start was made just previous to the outbreak of war, when the shortage of rails necessitated a postponement. Subsequent promises have been made by Ministers for Works and Railways that the line would be proceeded with.

Local people claim that all the circumstances which then favoured the Gilgandra connection still remain, but with even more convincing force, owing to the greater development of the town and district that has taken place in comparison (against the alternatives).

A further claim for the Gilgandra connection is that the sleepers for the construction
of the line could be obtained more easily and in greater numbers from the Gilgandra
depot than from depots further south, where the ironbark resources have been depreciated to a much larger extent...

The business people of Gilgandra claim that its resources as a commercial and social centre,
with flour mills, wheat silos, and hotel accommodation, warrant very careful consideration before the selection of any alternative starting point for the Collie railway.

In the face of this opposition and logic, the option of further debate was always likely.  Still, the Herald could report 14 months onwards, that:

The Public Works Committee commenced operations today at Eumungerie inspecting and gathering data for alternative railway routes from Eumungerie to Collie, and from Talbragar to Collie. The work will continue for about a week.

At the end of all the controversy, Quambone never got a railway, and neither did Collie.  Residents of Carinda in the north west, and Cobboco and Kickabil just to the west of Eumungerie, remained untroubled by the shrill steam whistle.  Perhaps these lines would never have turned a profit, though it seems equally likely that the State missed a clear opportunity to bring closer settlement to an area the equal of the Coalbaggie in terms of agricultural production.

Finally the most logical railway proposal from a geographer’s aspect was to extend the existing railway beyond Coonamble along the Castlereagh and Barwon Rivers.  This would have taken the Coonamble railway into regions subsequently occupied by the pioneer lines from Narrabri to Walgett and Collarenabri, and Coonabarabran to Gwabegar.  Again this proposal also lays within the definition of a cross-country line, but this time in a north-south direction.  However it would seem that its eventual proponents were more modest and provincial in their aims.

No record of departmental work in relation to a northward extension to Walgett features in reports immediately beyond 1903 which is somewhat surprising.  Similarly, no record of extensive parliamentary debate over an extension of the Coonamble railway along this type of proposal could be uncovered though it was the subject of several questions raised by relevant local members prior to 1925.


This brings to an end, for the time being, a ramble through a few historical sources, testifying to the grand plans of the people of the Castlereagh over a 50 year period from 1880.  The Great Depression and the Second World War brought an end to this railway boosterism in the region.  By the time that Australia recovered from these two great interruptions, other modes had made significant incursions into the Castlereagh's passenger and freight transport task.

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