Tag Archives: Railways

Museums in the Blue Mountains

The following museums in the Blue Mountains not only preserve items of historical interest but involve the preservation of buildings and grounds of heritage significance.

FAULCONBRIDGE:  Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum.14 Norman Lindsay Crescent. This National Trust property was formerly the house and gardens of artist Norman Lindsay, and includes his studio.

LEURA:  Leuralla New South Wales Toy & Railway Museum. 36 Olympian Parade. The museum is in the heritage-listed house ‘Leuralla’. Displays include items relating to Alice in Wonderland. The model railway displays include an outdoor garden railway. The Doc Evatt Memorial Room has photographs of international political figures of the 1930s-1950s. An amphitheatre is used for weddings. The house was at one time owned by C.R. Evatt, brother of H.V. Evatt and himself a parliamentarian.

MOUNT VICTORIA:  Mount Victoria & District Historical Society Museum. The museum is in part of the heritage listed Mount Victoria Railway Station. Items document the crossing of the Blue Mountains and early stages of settlement.

VALLEY HEIGHTS:  Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum. Tusculum Road. The museum is the Blue Mountains Division of the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum. The old Locomotive Depot buildings are preserved, along with items documenting the history of the railways in the Blue Mountains. [A six-month project to catalogue the museum’s exhibition items began on 1/2/2011.]

WENTWORTH FALLS:  Tarella Cottage Museum (Blue Mountains Historical Society). 99-101 Blaxland Road. This cottage was built in 1890 by Sydney solicitor and parliamentarian John McLaughlin on land granted to him on Cox’s Road. His daughter Beryl McLaughlin, who died in 1988, left the house, contents and what remained of the land to the Blue Mountains Historical Society. The museum contains items from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The nearby Hobby’s Reach Research Centre, named after that stretch of Cox’s Road, built by Lieutenant Thomas Hobby, holds historical archives.

WOODFORD:  Woodford Academy. 90-95 Great Western Highway. This is a National Trust property preserving the Blue Mountains’ oldest group of buildings, dating back to the time of a land grant to former convict Thomas Pembroke, who erected the first building c. 1834. It has been the site of an inn (the Woodman Inn, the King’s Arms, Buss’s Inn), a residence, a boys’ school (Woodford Academy, 1907-1925) and a school for local children, a guest house and a boarding house.

Clive Evatt: Chris Cunneen and John Kennedy McLaughlin, ‘Evatt, Clive Raleigh (1900-1984)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 17, [date?], pp. 367-368, and online; ‘The Hon. Clive Raleigh Evatt (1900-1984)’, Parliament of New South Wales. Dr Evatt: G.C. Bolton, ‘Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894-1965)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 14, 1996, pp. 108-114, and online; ‘Mr Herbert Vere Evatt (1894-1965)’, Parliament of New South Wales. Norman Lindsay: Bernard Smith, ‘Lindsay, Norman Alfred Williams (1879-1969)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 10, 1986, pp. 106-115, and online. John McLaughlin (associated with Tarella Cottage): ‘Mr John McLaughlin (1850-1918)’, Parliament of New South Wales.

Postscript reference: Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum cataloguing project: cf. ‘Chance to preserve rail heritage’, Blue Mountains Gazette 2/2/2011.

The Blue Mountains as a challenge to available technology

When the First Fleet arrived from England in 1788, no attempt had been made to survey the region preparatory to forming a new settlement. It must have been both intriguing and disquieting to scan the range of mountains on the western horizon and wonder what mysteries they held and what lay beyond.

For many years the mountains were regarded as an impassable barrier to westward exploration and expansion. The rugged, densely forested terrain with its many spurs, valleys and cliffs offered no easy way forward, and the continuous nature of the mountain ranges to the north and south meant there was no immediate way around.

The credit for finding a way through goes to the expedition of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813 – twenty-five years after the colony had been established. Following their lead, George Evans made a complete crossing later in the same year. In 1814 William Cox, using convict labour, supervised construction of a road across. The work took six months, from July 1814 to January 1815.

But the road was rough, often steep, and boggy in wet weather. Bullock drays carrying goods found the going extremely slow. A railway locomotive would be more powerful, but could a railway be successfully built across such a landscape? In 1857 Captain Hawkins of the Royal Engineers reported that a direct line could not be built from Sydney to Bathurst for a railway or tramway.

Persistence paid off, however, and ten years later a railway across the Blue Mountains was well on the way to completion. After another ten years (during which a bridge had to be built over the Macquarie River), in a land where hunter-gatherers had roamed the mountains and plains for millennia, a steam train arrived in Bathurst.

‘Railways: The Great Western Extension’, Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1865, p. 7. The literature on technology includes: Fellows of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (comp.), Technology in Australia 1788-1988: A condensed history of Australian technological innovation and adaptation during the first two hundred years, Melbourne, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 1988; online edition 2000, updated 21 November 2001.

Travelling to the Blue Mountains in 1876

In October 1876 the New South Wales Government announced a regular week-end excursion train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and return.

Advertisements placed in the Sydney Morning Herald notified travellers that the train would leave Sydney at 7.25 a.m. on Saturday morning and arrive back in Sydney on Monday morning at 9.24. Return tickets for the full distance cost 12/10 1st Class; 2nd Class tickets were half price at 6/5. Passengers could also book to travel to any one of the listed stations and re-join the train on its return journey.

The advertisements list the places at which the train will stop and the cost of return tickets to the various stations. Some of the station names are no longer in use. After Parramatta the train stops at Penrith, Emu Plains, Wascoe’s, Springwood, Woodford, Blue Mountain, Weatherboard, Katoomba, Blackheath and Mount Victoria. On its return the train stops at the same stations.

The list of ten stations can be compared with the twenty stations of today: Penrith, Emu Plains, Lapstone, Glenbrook, Blaxland, Warrimoo, Valley Heights, Springwood, Faulconbridge, Linden, Woodford, Hazelbrook, Lawson, Bullaburra, Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Medlow Bath, Blackheath and Mount Victoria.

For much of its length the railway across the Blue Mountains runs close to the road. The unfamiliar station names Wascoe’s, Blue Mountain and Weatherboard are derived from the names of inns along the road – important places of refreshment and accommodation in an age when travel was often slow and difficult.

Sydney Morning Herald 3/11/1876, p. 2.

From railways to resources

It would be hard to imagine Alexander Johnston, railway contractor, involving himself in the sort of idealistic scheme which William Lane promoted under the name ‘New Australia.’ If Mr. Johnston had been involved in such a scheme, one could readily imagine him making a success of it. He certainly would not have neglected to organise the money and machinery necessary to make it work.

Alexander Johnston (1839-1916) had emigrated from Scotland in 1856. He had been in Queensland for a time, then came to New South Wales. As partner and contractor he was involved in a number of construction projects, including tramways in Sydney, a section of the railway between Goulburn and Cooma, construction of cattle yards at Homebush, parts of the Nepean water supply, and water works in Melbourne. With his accumulated wealth he was able to invest in and contribute to a number of enterprises which benefited from his experience in the fields of engineering, geology and project management.

In the 1890s, while the ‘New Australia’ colonists were trying to establish an ideal society in Paraguay, Alexander Johnston was helping to open up the North Shore of Sydney to investment and development. He was associated with a private syndicate (the North Sydney Tramway and Investment Company) responsible for construction of the North Shore (or Long Bay) Suspension Bridge (which gave the suburb of Northbridge its name) and the opening up of new land. Progress was not without its problems. There was a protracted period of delay caused by complications over ownership. Finally in 1912 the bridge was handed over as a gift to the New South Wales Government. The elaborate stone superstructure remains. Although the old metal deteriorated and a concrete arch now supports the weight, the structure is still referred to informally as the suspension bridge.

Political developments to the north of Australia offered a new field for enterprise. The British Government had long been wary of French designs in the Pacific. Then in 1884 Germany annexed the north-eastern part of New Guinea. Britain responded by proclaiming a Protectorate over the south-eastern portion, which was extended to neighbouring islands. This gave a new context for imperial and colonial action in suppressing lawlessness and fostering business expansion in the region. The discovery of gold on some of the islands off the east coast of New Guinea in the 1890s prompted a gold rush in a number of places, including Woodlark Island (also called Murua) from 1895 onwards. Despite the difficulties of the climate and the problems of disease, many individual prospectors took up claims. There were reports from time to time that the gold was giving out; whether this was an entirely objective assessment or a way of deterring possible competitors, the methods of extraction being used were fairly primitive and the gains were necessarily limited. Circumstances were ripe for a man like Mr. Alex Johnston, one of the directors of the Woodlark Island Proprietary Gold-mining Company, formed in 1899, to buy up small prospectors and introduce technically advanced methods to locate, identify, mine, process and transport gold and other deposits, and so prove that the riches of Woodlark Island and elsewhere were far from exhausted.

It was an era when able people, energetic and optimistic, were expanding the reach of investment and technology, with profound implications for political and economic control over land, resources and populations, in Australia and elsewhere.

‘Death of Mr. A. Johnston’, Sydney Morning Herald 17/6/1916, p. 11. Gold on Woodlark Island: e.g. Sydney Morning Herald 31/8/1897, p. 6. Sydney gold syndicate: e.g. Advertiser [Adelaide] 18/7/1899, p. 5; Sydney Morning Herald 21/12/1899, p. 9.

After the railways, the water problem

The work of extending a system of railways across New South Wales was spread over many years, largely because of the need to finance such a large scheme in stages. The line from Goulburn to Cooma, for example, cost well over a million pounds. Once such works were completed, there was the question of what should be done next.

It was obvious that climatic conditions presented the country with major challenges. The availability of water was very variable. Drought was frequent and severe. The persistent dryness of much of the land, and alternating patterns of drought and flood, were extremely frustrating. Given the magnitude of the problem, could successful responses be devised that would provide farmers and pastoralists with stable conditions from year to year?

In October 1886 the Queanbeyan Age reported a speech delivered in the NSW Legislative Assembly by Hon. Edward O’Sullivan, the member for Queanbeyan. Mr. O’Sullivan argued that, ‘we had already done our duty to the people in the matter of railway construction, and other public work, and the next great national work which would have to be undertaken would be that of the conservation of water and distribution of water.’ The entire community suffered, in inconvenience and expense, through not having a national scheme for these purposes. It was a case of human ingenuity against the forces of nature:

We must, in fact, show that human intelligence was superior to nature by initiating a comprehensive scheme of water conservation and irrigation.

This meant storing and diverting water, creating irrigation systems, and multiplying wells, tanks and dams. Mr. O’Sullivan was optimistic that this could be done. There were already natural features to assist. The snow in the Snowy Mountains provided water that could be diverted into the Murrumbidgee and the Murray, for example. There were natural reservoirs such as Lake George that could store flood-water. Private enterprise had already shown on a small scale that irrigation could increase yield and support stock. Other countries, such as India and Spain, had successfully employed irrigation systems with rainfall at similar or even lower levels.

There was already in progress in New South Wales a Royal Commission on the Conservation of Water (10 May 1884 – 9 May 1887), set up ‘to make a full inquiry into the best method of conserving the rainfall, and of searching for and developing the underground reservoirs supposed to exist in the interior of the colony, and also the practicability, by a general system of water conservation and distribution, of averting the disastrous consequences of periodical droughts.’ Mr. O’Sullivan drew on some the findings of the Royal Commission to support his arguments.

These were some of the early efforts that eventually led in the twentieth century to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the extensive use of irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin, and other water conservation and irrigation measures.

We are in a better position now to judge whether ‘human intelligence’ is ‘superior to nature.’

‘Water conservation and irrigation’, Queanbeyan Age 9/10/1886, pp. 2-3. ‘Royal Commission on the Conservation of Water’, NSW State Records. Bruce E. Mansfield, Australian Democrat: The Career of Edward William O’Sullivan, 1846 – 1910, Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1965; idem, ‘O’Sullivan, Edward William (1846-1910)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 11, 1988, pp. 106-108, and online. ‘Mr Edward William O’Sullivan (1846-1910)’, NSW Parliament website.

On the foreshores of Lake George

The first public railway line in Australia – twelve miles long – was opened in Sydney in 1855. The final stage of the Great Southern Railway between Sydney and Albury was opened in 1881. From Sydney the line goes south to Goulburn, then turns west, passing through Yass, Wagga Wagga and so on to the Victorian border.

The line from Sydney to Goulburn was completed in 1869. In 1881, the year that the Great Southern Line was completed, the NSW Government gave the go-ahead for a branch line from Goulburn to Cooma via Queanbeyan. The first stage, the Goulburn Bungendore Railway Extension, was constructed by Topham, Angus and Co. and completed in March 1885. The next stage, from Bungendore to Michelago, was constructed by Messrs. A. Johnston & Co. and completed to Queanbeyan by September 1887 and to Michelago by December of that year. Messrs. Walker and Swan began construction of the final extension, from Michelago to Cooma, in January 1886, and the line was opened on 30 May 1889.

The senior member of the firm Messrs. A. Johnston & Co., railway contractors, was Mr. Alexander Johnston. When the line for which he was responsible had been built from Bungendore as far the Molonglo River near Queanbeyan, he and his wife invited a party of ladies and gentlemen to accompany them on the first passenger journey along the completed portion of the line (‘No. 2 Section’), a distance of just over eleven miles.

Accordingly, on Monday 24 May 1886 a party of some thirty ladies and gentlemen arrived by horses and carriages and met the waiting train at the Molonglo Bridge, ‘back of Forrester’s Hotel.’ With his customary energy and forethought Mr. Johnston had made arrangements for the care of their horses and carriages while they were away for the day. The locomotive, the ‘Segenhoe’, with two trucks behind for passengers and provisions, was there ‘with steam at high pressure’, and with a cry of ‘All aboard’, a signal and a whistle, the party started off on their expedition.

Those on the train included Mr. and Mrs. A. Johnston and family, Mr. McNeilly and children, Mr. Parr and the two Misses Parr, the two Misses McLeod, Mr. and Miss Gale, Mr. and Mrs. J.J.M. Wright and Miss A. Wright, Mr. and Mrs. Little, Dr. Taylor, Mr. M.H. Kelly, Mr. E.E. Morgan, and Mr. Symons. Mr. Gale is presumably Mr. John Gale (1831-1929), proprietor of the Queanbeyan Age, to whom we may be indebted for the description of the day’s events. Meanwhile Mrs. McNeilly, Miss Johnston and Mr. Tovey proceeded on horseback.

The train covered the distance along the main line at a speed of over thirty miles an hour. There were several large cuttings and high embankments. Before the final run down to Bungendore the train stopped to allow passengers to inspect the beginning of a tunnel, one of three between Bungendore and Queanbeyan. At the other end of the tunnel were special earthworks designed to keep storm water from damaging the embankments and the line.

Then came the next stage of the adventure. Branching off from the main line was a rough line to the gravel pits on an old foreshore of Lake George, about a mile from the furthest extent of the lake at that time. Ballasting was needed for the railway line, and this was obtained by excavating several acres of gravel in this area, sometimes to a depth of 15 feet. There was still enough gravel left from this ‘inexhaustible supply’ for ballasting the whole of the line to Cooma, but it was expected that shingle from the bed of the Queanbeyan River, just as good if not better in quality, would be used later on.

The train proceeded more slowly along the rough branch line, which had been constructed for the purpose of conveying the gravel. After safe arrival at the projected destination, the entire journey having taken twenty-seven minutes (including stopping to inspect the tunnel), ‘About six hours were spent at the Lake in a very pleasant manner.’ Members of the party amused themselves in boating, rambling, cricket, rifle-shooting and other activities. Luncheon was at two o’clock. A long table was improvised, covered with ‘snow-white linen,’ and the guests with appetites whetted by their exercise ‘fell to in their heartiest fashion,’ partaking of a meal which, compared with ordinary picnicking, was quite exceptional in its scale and style. There was an abundance of food and an abundance to spare.

Just before 5 o’clock the train whistle sounded for all passengers to climb on board for the return journey. But before they started off it was a moment for speeches. Mr. Parr was Master of Ceremonies, and Mr. Gale gave a speech of thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Johnston for their hospitality. On the Royal Birthday they had given a splendid ball, and now they had made possible this singular trip, the first passenger train journey to the shores of picturesque Lake George. In his thirty-two years of knowing the lake, he had seen it a dry bed and an inland sea; he never dreamt he would live to come by train to the shores of what was now a sanatorium that thousands would surely visit. Thanking Mr. Johnston for this privilege and Mrs. Johnston for the excellent meal, he led the group in three hearty cheers.

Mr. Johnston gave a speech of thanks in reply, in the course of which he let out a secret: the idea had been his wife’s – ‘the conception and carrying out of the entire project’ were attributable to Mrs. Johnston.

After three cheers for the Queen and a verse of the National Anthem, the train departed and a journey of twenty-three minutes brought the party back at last to the Molonglo Bridge about dusk.

‘To Lake George by rail: Progress report on contract for No. 2 Section Goulburn to Cooma Railway’, Queanbeyan Age 29/5/1886, p. 2. Gravel near the Queanbeyan River: Queanbeyan Age 25/9/1886, p. 2.

Pure luck and pure water

Mr Alex Johnston, senior member of the firm of railway contractors Johnston and Co., was necessarily a man of energy and resourcefulness. In May 1886 the Queanbeyan Age had occasion to report on two unusual incidents in his career, which incidentally throw light on the challenges of travel in New South Wales in the 1880s, progress in railway construction, and the difficulties of an exasperating climate.

The first incident concerned his recent adventures in trying to get from Sydney to Queanbeyan for an urgent meeting which he could hardly afford to miss. He had started off from Redfern in a sleeping car, expecting to be woken to get off at Goulburn, from where he needed to take a different train for the following stage of his journey. Next morning he awoke to find himself out at Bowning, the other side of Yass, some distance from Goulburn. Fortunately an up-train was about to go through, and he was able to signal this down and return to Goulburn. At that point his good fortune continued: a goods train was about to leave for Bungendore, which was on the way to Queanbeyan, carrying materials to be used by his own company in railway construction. From Bungendore the firm’s ballast engine took him to the Molonglo River, six miles from Queanbeyan, and he was able to travel the rest of the distance by buggy and arrive in good time for his meeting.

If that experience was heart-stopping, the other incident was distinctly odd. The countryside around Queanbeyan was extremely parched. The Queanbeyan River was almost dry. The water had ceased to flow and in the vicinity of Queanbeyan the river was a bed of mud and rubbish. People were getting their water from dirty puddles. Mr Johnston came to the rescue in a curious way. The piers of the new railway bridge were hollow, and were found to contain an ‘inexhaustible supply’ of pure water. How this could be, the article does not explain. Presumably excavations had tapped into an underground water-source. If people were willing to use this water, Mr Johnston was willing to instal a temporary pump for their benefit. The newspaper comments: ‘This generous act of Mr. Johnston’s is worthy of public commendation and gratitude.’

The praise for Mr Johnston was no doubt genuine. Two months later we find him being praised very fulsomely, at a farewell party for some of his staff, for his qualities as an employer and for his public-spiritedness.

Another month went by and the newspaper was reporting heavy rains in the area and significant catches of fish in the river. By December of that year the Molonglo River, into which the Queanbeyan River flows, was above the high flood marks. At Queanbeyan a man attempting to cross the flooded river on horse-back was swept away a considerable distance and had to be rescued.

Two incidents: Queanbeyan Age 18/5/1886, p. 2. Farewell party: Queanbeyan Age 29/7/1886, p. 2. Rain and fish: Queanbeyan Age 10/8/1886, p. 2;  2/9/1886, p. 2. Horse and rider: Queanbeyan Age 9/12/1886, p. 2.

The Molonglo River flows into the Murrumbidgee River on the western edge of Canberra.