Category Archives: Railways

Two nights at Swan Hill

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

Map (source Echuca Discovery Centre)

With memories of my March Echuca mini-break fading, I decided it was time for another short break travelling by train. This trip was to Swan Hill, about 155km NW of Echuca and, like Echuca, on the south bank of the River Murray which separates Victoria and New South Wales.

The Echuca and Swan Hill lines share the same track as far as Bendigo (164km/100mi from Melbourne), after which the line to Swan Hill branches off for the 183km/114mi run to Swan Hill.

Swan Hill lift bridge

Swan Hill lift bridge

The railway reached Swan Hill in 1890, subsequently being extended for a further 42km, now freight-only, to Piangil. No prizes for speed – the journey takes 4:42, an average speed of 74kph/46mph – but the leisurely pace is made up for by the affordable comfort of travelling first class – the return fare was just A$108/£60. I stayed at the Jane Eliza motel across from the station and was very comfortable there.

PS Pyap

PS Pyap

What to do? There are a number of attractions in the area if you have a car, but if on foot there’s really just one, the Pioneer Settlement. It claims to be Australia’s first open-air museum and opened in 1963.

The train arrived at 1227 giving me time to check in at the motel and then get down to the Settlement for the river cruise.

Swan Hill Settlement village by night

Village by night

It’s a good job that the tickets cover admission for two days since I spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the next day there, and I’m still not sure whether I saw everything. You can find lots of information on the Settlement’s history, buildings and contents in Heritage Victoria’s report recommending that it be added to the state register. Not everyone wants this.

Highlights for me:

The PS Pyap cruise: In contrast to Echuca, there’s just this one paddle steamer offering a one-hour cruise each afternoon. Shades of George Washington’s axe, she was built in 1896 but has been re-hulled, re-decked and her engine replaced with a Gardiner diesel.

PS Gem at Swan Hill

PS Gem

Wandering round the now-static PS Gem, the largest paddle steamer to trade on the Murray. She was built in 1876. In 1882 she was sawn in half by hand, and the two parts were pulled apart by bullocks to allow an extra one third to be built in between the two parts. In more recent times several cruise ships have been cut and stretched, though without the use of bullocks!

Swan Hill D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

D3 locomotive and 1924 Dodge Tourer

A ride in the Settlement’s 1924 Dodge Tourer (included in ticket price, as is the carriage ride)

Seeing the Castlemaine-built D3 locomotive – like many of our exhibits at the Newport Railway Museum in need of some TLC.
Victorian Railways Dd fleet ran to 261 locos from nine builders including Baldwin in the USA and Beyer Peacock, Manchester

Swan Hill blacksmith at work

Blacksmith at work

More than a few exhibits, especially the traction engines, were a reminder of Britain being the workshop of the world.

Watching a blacksmith at work is always compelling

Visiting all the Settlement buildings – I went to the laser light show so was also able to see them after dark.


Swan Hill Giant Murray Cod

Giant Murray Cod

I did say that the Settlement was Swan Hill’s one real attraction but I’ll end with mentioning Swan Hill’s contribution to Australia’s fixation with giant things, the Giant Murray Cod.

With this trip done, I’ve just one more Victorian rail line to ride: the line to Bairnsdale. Watch this space!

Three nights in Echuca

Map (source Discovery Centre)

Map (source Discovery Centre)

No cruise this year! Well not the cruise I’d planned anyway, on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Sydney. But needing a break, I decided to revisit Echuca, famous for hosting the largest paddle steamer fleet in the world and, of course, took a couple of boat trips.

As a tourist from UK I’d visited Echuca  in 1989 on a day trip but not since so a revisit was well overdue.

Echuca railway station

Echuca railway station

This time round I went by train – another of my ambitions, not a particularly ambitious one, is to ride every rail track in Victoria. Only Bairnsdale and Swan Hill left! Echuca has a fine railway station but it now gets but one train per weekday, two a day at weekends.

PS Alexander Arbuthnot passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

PS Alexander Arbuthnot (1916) passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

Echuca was first settled by Europeans in the 1850s and by the 1870s was Australia’s largest inland port, being the point of shortest distance between the Murray River and Melbourne. Across the river, on the New South Wales side, is Moama. The first bridge was constructed in 1878. A new bridge is now under construction.

Echuca wharf

Echuca wharf

The railway arrived in 1864, about the same time as the wharf was constructed. Until the 1890s depression the town flourished, but during the first half of the twentieth century the expansion of the rail networks on both sides of the river meant there was less need to for paddle steamers to bring cargo to Echuca. 1944 saw the removal of 80% of the wharf, cut up to provide firewood for Melbourne.

PS Pevensey (aka Philadelphia in 'All the Rivers Run')

PS Pevensey (1910) (aka Philadelphia in ‘All the Rivers Run’)

From here on the story might have been one of progressive decay, but from the 1960s the importance of Echuca’s heritage and its tourist potential was realised.

Today tourism is Echuca’s largest earner, given a boost by the TV series, ‘All the Rivers Run’ (I bought and am now watching the DVDs).

Holden Museum, Echuca

Holden Museum, Echuca

Apart from the wharf and multiple paddle steamer trips, there’s an excellent and free Discovery Centre, numerous preserved buildings in the port area and elsewhere, an excellent museum, the National Holden Motor Museum and more.

Next year, if plans work out, I’ll be back in Echuca, taking UK friends to see the sights. If you have the chance, do so too.

 

Silo art 2: St James, Devenish and Goorambat

St James silo art

St James silo art

Here’s a look at three more of the silos I visited last month.

The first are at St James, a small town 148 miles north of Melbourne. It was first settled in 1870 and reached by railway in 1883, St James then being the end of what would become the Oaklands line.

The silo art depicts the history of wheat farming in the area, with one silo featuring a portrait of Sir George Coles (1885-1977). George Coles snr ran the St James store, selling it to his son in 1910 for £4500. From this grew the Coles Group supermarket empire we have today.

The silo art is by Tim Bowtell who also painted the Colbinabbin silos shown in my last piece

Devenish silo art

Devenish silo art

One stop along the line is Devenish, also settled in the 1870s. The silos were painted by Cam Scale and completed on Anzac Day 2018.

These two, built 1943, show a modern day combat medic and a nurse from WW1 – special to me since my maternal grandmother (who I never knew) served as a [British] army nurse in WW1. Fifty young men and women, one sixth of the then Devenish population, enlisted for service in WW1. Seven never returned.

The other silo, not shown here shows a Light Horse man.

Goorambat silo barking owl

Goorambat silo barking owl

The next stop on the line, the last before it joins the main line at Benalla, is Goorambat. The silo art is by Jimmy DVale. Shown here is a Barking Owl, an endangered species with fewer than 50 breeding pairs left in Victoria. What a magnificent depiction of a magnificent bird.

I’ve shown you four of the seven silo groups in NE Victoria. If you ever get the chance go and visit them yourself!


Australia Silo Art home page

 

Silo art 1: Colbinabbin

As previously mentioned, only eleven weeks ago one of our politicians (to spare his blushes I’ll call him ‘Jason Wood’) was telling us that “if NSW could manage with around twenty cases per day, then why does the Victorian Labor Party and our stubborn Premier want to reach this ridiculously unrealistic target of a 5 case average over 14 days?!” Thanks to Daniel Andrews’ ‘stubbornness’, today is our 59th consecutive day without a community-contracted case of Coronavirus. On November 9th he promised us a COVID-normal Christmas as a reward for our long hard winter of coronavirus restrictions and that’s what we’ve had. Sadly most of the world hasn’t been so fortunate.

R-class loco and grain train

R-class loco and grain train

As part of that long winter lockdown, from the start of August we weren’t allowed to travel more than 5km (3 miles from home). Then from November 8th we were free to travel anywhere in Victoria, so I decided to take a break visiting the silo art in NE Victoria. Much as I love Melbourne, it was so good to be able to go away.

For my base I chose to stay at the Addison Motor Inn in Shepparton which I can thoroughly recommend. On day one I visited the silos at Colbinabbin and Rochester – it was seeing an R-class loco pictured on one of the Colbinabbin silos that first gave me the idea for this trip.

Colbinabbin silo art

Colbinabbin silo art

Pictures do not though begin to convey the scale of these artworks. Look at the size of the person standing in front of the silo and you’ll get an idea of the size of these silos.

Originally only the concrete silos were to be painted, then it was decided to paint all six. The artwork, by Tim Bowtell, was started in April 2020 and took just 50 days to complete. This was his second silo art project after St James.

Colbinabbin - Farmers picnic (close-up)

Farmers picnic (close-up)

The overall theme is the story of the railway and its significance to the Colbinabbin district. How wonderful to see a vision come to fruition and congratulations to everyone involved.

History notes

Colbinabbin was the terminus of the Rushworth railway line, opened 1913, closed 1987. The concrete silos are of the Williamstown type – 57 were built in Victoria between 1935 and 1950. The steel silos are  of the Ascom design. From the 1930s until privatised in 1999 all grain passed through a government body known as the Australian Wheat Board which built these silos.


Australian Silo Art home page

About the art

Colbinabbin Silo Art Trail Facebook page

 

Adelaide 2020

As outlined in my last post, my 2020 cruise’s first port of call was Adelaide. I’d been there four times before so with no pressure to do anything in particular. I decided to revisit the National Rail Museum (NRM) and make a first-time visit to the South Australian Aviation Museum. Both these, along with the South Australian Maritime Museum, which I’d visited before, are at Port Adelaide, an 11-stop 10.2km train ride from Outer Harbour, where we were docked (the train station is conveniently next to the cruise terminal).

As a volunteer at the Melbourne Newport Railway Museum, railway museums now have a special interest to me, and on this second visit to the NRM I was able to see a number of exhibits with fresh eyes.

National Rail Museum Loco 504

National Rail Museum Loco 504

A great find last year was the book, ‘Kings of the Iron Horse’, the story of two of Australia’s greatest railway engineers, Alf Smith and Fred Shea. Shea was Chief Mechanical Engineer (1923-39) of the South Australian Railways (SAR). Working with William Webb, Chief Commissioner, he oversaw a massive re-equipping of the SAR during the 1920s. The 500 class, built by Armstrong Whitworth UK, was over twice the size of the biggest pre-Webb engine, and was the most powerful locomotive in Australia. 504, seen here was in service from 1926-1962.

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

One of Australia’s big mistakes was not building its railways to one gauge – South Australia has all three: 3’6” narrow gauge, 4’8½” standard gauge and 5’3” Irish or broad gauge.

Over time standard gauge interstate lines were constructed. Finally on 23 February 1970, just 50 years ago, the first Indian Pacific service left Sydney for Perth, becoming the first direct train to cross the Australian continent. GM2, here, built 1951, hauled the train from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie, a distance of nearly 1800km.

Fokker F27, South Australian Aviation Museum

South Australian Aviation Museum

These are but two highlights of the NRM and by the time I’d dragged myself away I only had an hour for the Aviation Museum. Lots of to see and all very well arranged and signed. This Fokker Friendship was used for scientific research.

Then back to the Queen Elizabeth and on to Hobart.

2019 – Good memories

Another year ends and the 20s are about to begin. I can look back on 2019 with almost unalloyed satisfaction. High spots of the year:

  • A two-night mini break by rail to Warrnambool.
  • Seeing our church continue to grow, with the opening of a new service in Docklands.
  • Being headhunted to help with our church ‘mums and bubs’ midweek meeting creche. For some reason this old single guy seems to be quite good at looking after little people!
  • A four-night cruise, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, made even more special by being upgraded to a suite. No upgrade for my 2020 cruise though!
  • Visiting Brisbane for the first time.
  • Through the year working as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Yea.
  • Visiting friends and family in the UK – when I emigrated I promised to go back and visit them each year, a promise I had to break in 2018 following surgery, and taking a first-time stopover in Singapore on the way home, something I will do again
  • Through the year working as a volunteer guide at the Newport Railway Museum, also joining the works team.
  • Taking a winter holiday in Port Hedland – seeing big boys toys close up.
  • I only got to see one musical but it was a superb one, ‘Come from away’, the remarkable true story of thousands passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them in the aftermath of 9/11
  • And continuing to run my software business, which celebrated its 30th birthday in April and once again reached my annual sales target (just).

Warrnambool mini break

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Warrnambool, ocean in background

Christmas here marks the start of the summer holiday so not too much happens in January. With the forecast for Friday Jan 4th correctly predicting 42C in Melbourne, I hit on the idea of a mini-break to Warrnambool, a small city on the Southern Ocean, 265km/165mi SW of Melbourne, not somewhere I’d previously visited.

Why Warrnambool? The decider was that it’s at the end of one of our few surviving regional rail lines so I could sit back and let V/Line drive.This section of the coastline is known as the ‘shipwreck coast’ for good reason and as you look south the next landfall is Antartica – just the place to go if you’re escaping heat!

V/Line carriage reversible seats

V/Line carriage reversible seats

The comfortable trip took 3½ hours from Melbourne. I opted for first class, A$94 (about £50), v. $77.20 for economy, a no-brainer really. First class carriages have 52 seats v. 88 in economy – why V/Line set their pricing so as to make much less per carriage off their premium passengers I don’t know?

The first class seats are on swivel mounts and are rotated to face the direction of travel at each end.

Warrnambool station

Warrnambool station

The railway line from Melbourne reached Geelong in 1856 and was progressively extended, reaching Warrnambool in 1890. A fine station building survives.

With two nights and one full day there, I couldn’t see everything but I had a good time. I certainly escaped the heat: the forecast 30C for Friday was reached about 10.30 and then the temperature dropped sharply, making me wish I’d taken my cardigan.

Thursday evening was spent walking down to the beach and back through to city centre in search of a good dinner. Friday morning started off with a walk in the sun by Lake Pertobe – between 1974 and 1980 what was a swampy area was turned into a recreational lake surrounded by parkland.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Then off to one of Warrnambool’s main attractions, Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. The museum is laid out like an 1870s period village and incorporates the original lighthouses and Warrnambool Garrison. A period-costumed guide gave us a really interesting and informative tour. Friday evening was spent at the huge summer market next to the lake, then on Saturday it was time to come home.

There’s much more to Warrnambool – in the winter, whale watching is a big tourist draw, and the city has also been brought to prominence by the film ‘Oddball’, in which trained Maremma dogs protect the fairy penguins from marauding foxes. It’s well worth watching.

Will I go back? Definitely as there’s lots more to see. I’ll either hire a car once down there or drive so I can go further afield. But I’ve got a few other Victorian train lines to check out first.

 

The final journey – by rail

hearse car

Restored hearse car

Today I went on our Railway History Society‘s June 2018 outing, taking in the Craigieburn and Upfield lines. After a good lunch we finished up at Fawkner Cemetery where a restored hearse car is on display.

From the early 1890s new cemeteries were needed in Melbourne. A Northern Suburbs Cemetery Conference, held in 1902, suggested a 284 acre site which included Fawkner Railway Station, and this was adopted. The first funeral, that of four year old Dorothy Knapp, was held on 10th December 1906.

Hearse car information

Hearse car information

From the outset the new cemetery was linked to the city by a dedicated rail service. One service per day ran from Flinders Street Station platform 10 east, the mortuary platform, and this ran as an ordinary passenger service with additional hearse cars attached. Each hearse car could take twenty coffins.

The regular funeral train service was discontinued in 1939 though occasional trains would be run until 1952. The hearse cars were sold for scrap and assumed to be lost,  before three were found on a farm in 1990. After restoration this one is now on display next to Fawkner station.

FAWKNER MEMORIAL PARK Conservation Management Plan

 

A bus trip to Yea

Habitat Yea 31 May 2018

Habitat for Humanity Yea 31 May 2018

As many of you know, I’ve been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for eight years and have spent the last six years working on our Yea (125km/75mi NE of Melbourne) project, putting in a day or two most weeks.

Following surgery last month I’m temporarily not allowed to drive or build. I did though take the chance today to ride the V/Line bus from Southern Cross to Yea and back, which gave me a couple of hours to see what’s happened in my absence (lots) and catch up with my building friends.

The bus ride: About 2:15 each way (driving takes 90 minutes). Until its closure in 1978 Yea was a key stop on the Tallarook – Mansfield branch line. Lance Adams’ history of the line is well worth a read.

Riding the Overland

History

Overland crest

Overland crest

From the beginning both South Australia and Victoria used broad (Irish) gauge (1600mm) for their main lines, so providing an inter-capital connecting service was just a question of joining the lines. The Melbourne-Adelaide train has operated since 1887 when South Australia’s Adelaide-Wolseley line was extended to meet Victoria’s broad gauge line at Serviceton. The service was given its current name, The Overland, in 1926. Diesel locos took over in 1953.

In 1995 the line was converted to standard gauge, finally enabling through running between all the mainland state capitals.

Today

The Overland ready to leave Adelaide

The Overland ready to leave Adelaide

The Overland now operates a twice weekly daytime in each direction, the journey taking about eleven and a half hours.

The train departs at 0745 with passengers asked to check in from 0645. Checking in is more like airline checking in, though thankfully without security scanning. Checked baggage travels in a baggage van and is collected at the journey’s end.

Enjoying the Overland experience

Enjoying the Overland experience

Most  passengers travel in standard class carriages, 15 rows of seats with 2+2 seats per row. I paid the $100 extra for a Red Premium seat – these seats are in a separate carriage, arranged as 12 rows of 2+1 seating, each seat having a retractable tray table. The additional fare also includes meal service at your seat – breakfast, morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. For lunch I opted for camel curry and it was very acceptable.

Look below the seat armrest and you’ll see a small foot pedal. This lets the seat be turned round to face the direction of travel, or you can set two rows to face each other as you can see behind me.

The first part of the journey leaving Adelaide includes some demanding climbs, the rationale for Shea’s ‘big engines’ but after this it’s through open country, with grain stores giving way to sheep country. The last section of the journey is arguably the most interesting to rail enthusiasts, the standard gauge line following the broad gauge line from North Geelong to Newport, then diverting round the Sunshine freight line and back through the Footscray Bunbury Street tunnel to arrive at Southern Cross station’s platform 2.

All in all a very pleasant trip and one I hope to do again.

Update June 2020

The Overland had been threatened with closure in 2020 following a proposed withdrawal of government funding. The Victorian government has now come up with funding to secure the service for the next three years. Hopefully once the current virus restrictions are no more, lots of those who campaigned for the service’s retention will be patronising it.