Starting with Dubbo, there are at least a dozen major villages or landmarks along the Coonamble railway line. So, lets start with a bit about Dubbo…
Dubbo’s creation as a regional centre commenced in 1823 when Robert Delhunty established a land-holding of the same name in the vicinity. By the 1840s several stores were located in the area prompting the formal proclamation of the village in 1850.
The construction of the railway from Orange to Dubbo commenced in July 1878 with a contractor named William Watkins tasked with the responsibility. The railway was opened as far as Wellington on 1 June 1880. This event was followed a fortnight later with the crossing of the Macquarie River at Wellington by the contractor’s locomotive on a temporary track in order for the commencement of construction towards Dubbo.
The construction of this component of the Great Western Railway took only a further seven months. On 1 February 1881 Sir John Robertson, the Acting Premier, opened the railway at Dubbo. McKillop notes that the opening occurred on the hottest day recorded since white settlement in the area, with a modest 42°C (106°F) was achieved as the official train steamed under a triumphal arch constructed across the line.
At the time of the opening of the railway Dubbo had grown to record a population greater than 3,300. The 1881 Census Compiler noted that this had been achieved through a 29% annual increase in the population over the previous decade. In relative terms, Dubbo was approximately half the size of Bathurst, or a third of the size of Newcastle. The size of the locale even demanded that the opening would require two special trains to transport the invited dignitaries.
The establishment of the railway at Dubbo in 1881 was marked with a major passenger rail terminal from the colonial administration. Although being of single story construction the sandstone facade signaled a significant and enduring punctuation point on the Great Western Railway. The substantial passenger terminal was matched by the double-story station master’s residence. Both were constructed of sandstone quarried from an area in West Dubbo.
However the magnificence of the station buildings was not matched by the locomotive servicing facilities or the railway yard, which were rudimentary. It suggested an initial departmental view of Dubbo as being anything other than that of a major railway junction.
The centre-piece of the locomotive servicing facilities was a small locomotive shed covering two roads built by a Mr H Brigg in 1879 and 1880, a year prior to the official opening of the railway at Dubbo. Major servicing of locomotives remained the responsibility of the already-existing locomotive depot at Wellington, 50 kilometres to the southeast.
The further westward extension of the Great Western Railway appeared to bring the continuing status of Dubbo’s railway infrastructure into question. According to Forsyth just five years after its construction the first locomotive shed was moved to Nyngan. Presumably a second shed was constructed in its place, although it too was a small, two-track affair.
The 1890s did bring some modest enhancements to the railway infrastructure at Dubbo. In May 1891 a coal stage was constructed from old railway sleepers. A wool stage followed in September of the same year. In March 1897 a carriage shed was constructed, while September 1898 brought an extension to the western (Bourke) end of the station platform.
However, it was the establishment of the railway to Coonamble that brought a new maturity to the Dubbo railway precinct; by giving it the status of a railway junction. Hopefully the next post will carry a little bit of useful information about Dubbo in that role.