TWO LINKS IN THE NORTH COAST LINE
(From a paper prepared for the Bowen Historical Society by Jess Cottrell)
‘Early in its existence, the infant Colony of Queensland realized the importance to its economy of the twin steel ribbons that were to span out over its vast distances to give it additional means of transport. Even in the short space of time that elapsed ‘a little over 40 years’ before the Commonwealth was formed and the Colony became the State of Queensland, many miles of track had been constructed and the faster and more reliable transport provided by the railway had replaced or supplemented the old bullock drawn or horse-drawn wagon.’
Lines to Nowhere !
A glance at the 1897 map will show that lines ran from Cairns to Mareeba; from Townsville to an unmarked point beyond Hughenden; from Rockhampton to Longreach. All these lines linked the West to the coast. Communication between North and South still largely depended on the sea, for the coastal railway had only pushed as far North as Gladstone portion of this being still under construction. In the great length of coast from Gladstone to Cairns there was but one tiny strip Bowen to Bobawabba (then Wangaratta). This was completed in 1891 and remained for 20 years just a strip of line going nowhere in particular. The main reason for the delay in continuing was a violent controversy which raged as to the route to be taken from this point Northward. (During these years of indecision Ayr successfully agitated for a railway to the North). At a meeting in Townsville in 1899, the Townsville Municipal Council, the Thuringow Divisional Board and the Ayr Divisional Board resolved to form a joint board under the Local Authorities Act to be called the Ayr Tramway Board. This board successfully constructed 44 miles of line for an amount of £77,000 odd, believed to be a record low for Queensland. The line was completed ahead of schedule and opened in 1901. It was controlled by the Board until the end of 1910 when it was taken over by the Government. It had been run most successfully and after the Government had paid for it, and the Board was dissolved, there remained in the vicinity of £30,000, which was divided between the participating Local Authorities.
Bowen Links Up
By 1911, the route North was finally decided upon and work began from Bobawabba on 24th July. Bowen was linked with the Burdekin in June 1913; and to Townsville when the Inkerman bridge was opened in September of that year. To the South another spur went out from Bowen, the Bowen-Proserpine Tramway opened for traffic on 18th July, 1910.
All the gaps were finally closed in 1923 and Fox’s History of Queensland (vol.3 page 866) says: “˜On Saturday, 1st December, 1923, direct railway communication was established between the North and the South when the Minister for Railways drove the first train across the connecting link at Proserpine. It is now possible to travel by rail from Dajarra in North West Queensland to Perth in Western Australia ” a distance of nearly 5000 miles ” the longest stretch of rail in the Empire.’
A gigantic and fascinating achievement and one about which many accounts have been written. However our interest in this particular paper is confined to the two small strips which radiated from Bowen ” the Bowen-Bobawabba Line of 48 miles, and the Bowen-Proserpine Tramway, 38½ miles.
Bowen to Bobowabba
The first surveys were ordered in 1883, Bowen to Ayr. As the Burdekin River was the only engineering difficulty it was decided to start the survey there and work both ways. This survey had been run 26 miles from Ayr toward Bowen when instructions were received to survey the Bowen to Haughton Gap Line. The survey was completed and Parliament passed £150,000 for the line to go from Bowen, via Clare, through the Haughton Gap to the 37 mile peg on the Great Northern Railway.
This line, with a branch from Clare to Ayr, was intended to give the West the shortest direct access to the harbour of Port Denison. It would enable Charters Towers to get fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy produce from the Burdekin Delta lands; allow Burdekin sugar to go to Bowen, and supply Poole Island Freezing Works, for without a line sheep from the West could not get through the spear grass country.
For several years there were no developments, then a public meeting in Bowen (5th August 1885) urged the approval of plans for the first 30 miles of the Bowen-Haughton Gap Railway; signified its approval of a deviation via Ayr to suit that district, and further urged the claim of Bowen, rather than Townsville, to build the coast line to Ayr. It was claimed that the Haughton Gap railway was the only work authorised by Parliament but that the then Ministry had refused to proceed with it. There was fear that the district could be deprived of the money voted and that this might be used instead for the Townsville-Ayr Line. The local Member was urged to get the money authorised for the Haughton Gap Line spent on the Bowen-Ayr Line which would then form part of the chain of coastal lines.
Unemployment was sever in Bowen in 1886 and there was a general feeling that Government would proceed with he Bowen railway. In the Legislative Assembly on 5th October, Macrossan complained that although plans for sections of line from Bowen towards Ayr were ready when the then Government came to power, this railway was put into a batch of second priority business. Plans for section 1, being 30 miles, were approved on 26th November.
In 1887, in the Legislative Assembly it was claimed that the £150,000 voted in 1883 for the Bowen-Haughton Gap Line and the money voted in 1884 for the Bowen Coalfields Line were both diverted in 1886 to the Bowen-Townsville Line.
This is an interesting sidelight, for it shows how early the Bowen Coalfields Line was envisaged although it was not completed until 1922. There is ample material in the Society’s files for a history of the construction of this third important line radiating from Bowen and since many people who were involved in the operation are still in the district and could be interviewed it would be a very worthwhile paper for someone to prepare.
To The Burdekin
Also in 1887 permanent centers were laid out for the first 30 miles and continued for about 10 miles towards the Burdekin River, at a point where there was a favourable site for a bridge, 10 or 12 miles from Ayr. There was much difficulty due to tidal flats behind Bowen, which were liable to be submerged to a depth of 7ft., and there were also numerous freshwater swamps.
On 6th November, 1888, plans for section 2, i.e.: 30 miles to 52 miles, were approved. Earlier the same year a contract was let to Mackenzie and Sutherland to construction section 1, 30 miles, to be completed 30.9.89 at a contract price of £54,707.
Alex Mackenzie Came To Stay
This introduces into the paper one person who is connected with the story of both lines, one North and one South, from Bowen. He was Alex Mackenzie, and the accepting of this contract brought him to Bowen where, after one brief absence, he finally settled and lived out a long life as an active member of the community. There have been Mackenzie descendants living in Bowen ever since and I think at this point it might be permissible to include a brief picture of him and his activities. As almost everyone here is aware, he was my grandfather.
A Highland Scot, he was born in 1843 in Loch Carron in Ross Shire, and came to Australia at the age of 20 landing in Melbourne after a long voyage by sailing ship. He spent his first 12 years wandering through the Eastern States, experiencing the ups and downs which was Australia in those days. In 1876 at Rockhampton he was appointed Storekeeper on the construction staff of the Chief Engineer of Central and Northern Railways. The line from Rockhampton West was then being built and after a few years’ experience he joined a firm of contractors and successfully tendered for and built, several sections of this, the Great Western Line. coming to Bowen in 1888 with this partner Mr. Sutherland to construct section 1 of the Bowen-Ayr Line, he moved on again after its completion to construction the third section of the Cairns Line and the section of the North-Western Line into Hughenden. When his contracting work was done he returned with his family to settle in Bowen. he was appointed Clerk and Overseer of the Shire of Wangaratta in 1901, and he retained this position until neglecting a cold, he died of pneumonia in 1927 at age of 84.
Back to the all important line. It is evident that to the people of Bowen its beginning was an ‘occasion’ with an capital ‘o’. Anyone reading through the early ‘Port Denison Times’ will have noted that the little community viewed any such event as worthy of celebration, usually with some sort of public ceremony. On this occasion the ‘P.D. Times’ reports the turning of the sod for the first rail link in the North Coast Line as being on 14th June 1888. The route of the procession was down Herbert Street and along Dalrymple Street to the site. Kennedy Masonic Lodge sent out invitations to the ceremony and the Masonic fraternity was well represented. Wor. Bro. Buchanan dressed in the full regalia of the Scottish Constitution called on Wor. Bro. Alexander Mackenzie, as one of the contractors, to announce that all was ready and then the Mayor, Donald Miller, solemnly turned over the first sod.
First Railway Bridges
During 1883, most earthworks was completed. Don River and Euri Creek bridges were delayed through lack of timber and through depth piles having to be drived for these using two 60 foot high piledrivers. The line was completed seven months behind schedule, official reason for delay being quoted as ‘mainly due to extra waterways and heavy floods’.
Section 1, Bowen to Guthalungra 29 miles, was formally opened by the Governor on 1st May, 1890, and trains began running for public traffic on 2nd Junes.
The contract for section 2, Guthalungra to Bobawabba 19 miles, was let to Jesser and Company on 25th April 1890, to be completed by 1st May, 1891, for a contract price of £29,967.
In the ‘P.D. Times’ of 2nd March, 1890, there is a comment on this: ‘Messrs, Jesser and Company’s tender for the second section of the Bowen railway was the lowest received and will in all probability be accepted. We regret that Mr. Mackenzie should have failed in securing this contract, as we believe the first section was not profitable and he was contemplating making his home here and has invested rather largely in Normanby Mines. The life of a contractor, like that of most callings, is not all beer and skittles’.
This failure to secure the contract for section 2 was probably the reason tha Mackenzie and Sutherland moved on North to the Cairns Line and later to Hughenden.
Section 2 was also behind schedule, due tot he maritime strike which delayed bridge timber and to a heavy wet season. The line, 48 miles in all, from Bowen towards the Burdekin was finally opened on 1st October, 1891.
Station accommodation was built by Spare and Hansen (or Spane and Hanset) at a cost of £2,875, and comprised station, carriage shed, goods shed, engine and erecting shed, station master’s residence, horse and carriage shed, lamproom and closets.
Until 1895 the line ran at a loss even though it was being worked much cheaper than any other railway in the Colony – almost as low as consistent with safe running – and even though, at first, rates being charged were 33 1-3 higher than other railways. The loco branch consisted of one fitter and one fireman, the fitter acting as driver on the two day each week that trains ran.
Meatworks Lease The Line
In 1895, the opening of the meatworks at Merinda was expected to improve finances.
In January 1903, the line was closed and all staff dismissed. It was then leased to Bergl Australia Limited to whom all stock was handed over. During that year it was only operated in connection with Bergl Australia Company’s business. The only passenger train was one run from the works to town on Saturday’s, returning at 1pm. As the result of an approach by the Wangaratta Shire Council, the Railway Department again took over the line, and it was re-opened for public traffic in November 1904.
It was almost certain that the success of the Ayr Tramway Board inspired the formation of the Bowen-Proserpine Tramway Board.
A preliminary reading through the massive accumulation of data on the tramway made me feel rather like the philosopher who, when faced with the task of writing a history of mankind, wrote: ‘They were born, they suffered and they died!’ How very easy it would be to say of the Board: ‘It was formed, it completed its task, and it was dissolved!’
A writer in Cummins & Campbell’s magazine states: ‘It can be readily realised that the Ayr Tramway and the Proserpine Tramway movements created great progress and hastened the growth of population in the North. They were experiments that led to the construction of the North Coast Line through to Cairns. As local enterprise they gave testimony to the splendid public spirit of the residents of Townsville and Bowen in those days.’
This is undoubtedly true, but the poor Bowen-Proserpine Tramway project was dogged almost through its entirety by so many mis-understandings, squabbles, jealousies and petty pin-pricking that it is a wonder it was ever completed. The Engineer in Charge remarked at one point that ‘he was supposed to be constructing a line, not a board’.
The original application for the constituting of the Board was hand-written, and signed by Henry Field, Town Clerk, and John H, Mayor, under the Common Seal of the Municipality of Bowen, 12th October, 1901; and Alex Mackenzie, Clerk, and W. Dalrymple Davidson, Chairman, under the Common Seal of the Division of Wangaratta, 9th October, 1901.
On 7th August, 1902, a Government Order in Council constituted ‘The Bowen-Proserpine Tramway Joint Board’ for the purpose of the construction and maintenance of a tramway from Bowen to Proserpine. The Board, to consist of two members to be elected by the Bowen Council, and four members to be elected by the Wangaratta Divisional Board, was to hold its first meeting in the Town Hall, Bowen, on Thursday, 21st August, 1902.
This does not agree with most ‘potted’ accounts of the construction of the tramway, which state that the Board was formed in 1908, but the above Order in Council appeared in the Government Gazette. The Board certainly did function, for in 1902 and 1903 there are letters and telegrams signed by Henry Field, as Hon. Sec. of the Joint Board, and in 1903, in a letter, he quotes the Board as being comprised of, for the Shire: Donald Miller, John J. Palmer and F. G. Champion; and for the Town: Chas. T. H. Cheffins (Mayor), George Harvey and John T. Payne. This correspondence was mostly about technicalities regarding the route.
Petition from Proserpine
After consideration, the Board decided that the settlement and production of the Proserpine district did not then warrant the expenditure, and so there was no further development until 1907. In April of that year a deputation waited on the Premier at Bowen, with a petition from 260 residents of the Proserpine district, praying for a railway to Bowen. In August, Surveyors Cooke and Gwynther commenced to survey the line, but were taken off the job and sent to Cloncurry, possibly because the survey had already been done in 1901 by E. H. R. Greensill. Dissatisfied at the delay, a public meeting on 5th October petitioned both Councils, which were unanimous in their agreement to take steps to expedite the matter. In the same month, the Joint Board applied, under the signature of Mr. George Turner, Secretary, to the Treasurer for a loan of £70,000.
Still nothing was done, and in August of 1908, a duplicate application was sent to the Treasurer, enclosing petitions of ratepayers, maps, plans, estimates of cost and expected revenue, Queensland Government Gazettes, copes of ‘Port Denison Times’, ‘Proserpine Guardian’ and ‘Bowen Independence’, and urging him to take the necessary steps to have the loan approved by the Governor in Council.
More delay, whilst the Government required explanations of why the advertised estimate was £85,000 odd whilst the advised estimate was £82,000 odd; and where did the Board propose to get the additional £13,000 over and above the £70,000 promised. This was eventually all satisfactorily explained. Surveyor Greensill’s original estimate having been £62,000, the Board had added a percentage to cover increased cost and come up with the figure of £70,000. Premier Kidston had then replied that there was no point in asking for £70,000 if £80,000 was required. The Railway Department then made a trial survey and estimated the cost at the £85,000 figure for 14 foot formation with 2,640 sleepers to the mile or the £82,000 figure for 12 foot formation with 2,288 sleepers per mile. On the recommendation of the Railway Department, which approved the plans, the load of the higher figure was granted in October 1908, and the Treasury advanced £250 for preliminary costs.
Before the end of the year, rails and fish-plates and fish-bolts were ordered through the Agent General in London, for delivery on Bowen jetty. (Value £23,883, duty £2,238). Dog-spikes and washers were obtained locally for £1,912/4/0. After approval by the Railway Commissioner, the Chief Engineer of the Department and the Under Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Hugh Fraser, was appointed Construction Engineer, released from his Departmental job in Atherton and had gone to Brisbane for consultations before starting construction. We learn that ‘Men are now at work and material being secured, money is urgently required’.
There was a lot of confusion about payments, the Treasury was doling out bits and pieces of money on receipt of vouchers, and there was a lot of fuss about how the money was to be paid, the Treasury wanting to pay it into the Queensland National Bank at Brisbane. The Board objected on account of the heavy exchange on transfers, there being no branch of the Q.N. Bank in Bowen. However they straightened this out by opening an account with the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane.
Red-tape, Government wise, and lack of coordination in Bowen resulted in delays and confusion. Memos were sent from one Department to the other, and the same queries were the subject of telegrams from both Councils and the Board.
The line was to go from the ’2 Mile’ and on 13th November, 1908, the Board took possession of A of Portion 14, the property of Mr. John Thomas Payne, without the permission of the owner. After some small trouble, a rental of 12.6d per week was agreed on, these payments continuing for about twelve months; the Board later purchasing the block. Mr PAyne’s son, Fred, told us that he thought the purchase amount paid was £150. On this block were erected the tramway office, blacksmith shops and stables.
Unrest And Dissension Resolutions
The 1908 Board is listed as being Donald Miller (President), J. E. Kelly, W. H. Darwen, Dr. Gillies, and F. Hooper for the Town Council; and P. Neilson, J. Compton and A. J. Hall Scott for the Wangaratta Shire. This is a discrepancy with the original constituting of the Board, which called for six members: two from the Town and four for the Shire, with the loan distribution to be in the same proportion.
In February 1909, with the resignation of Cr. Archer, we see signs of the unrest and dissension that was to dog the Board for most of its existence. There were telegrams from both Councils asking who should appoint a replacement, from the Under Home Secretary advising that the Governor in Council must make the appointment, from the Member for the District and from the Mayor asking that the appointment be delayed until after a public meeting.
This meeting took place on 17th February, 1909, and it might be noted that it was only four months after the granting of the loan and the initial advance payment. This fact, I think, speaks for itself and bears out reports – later – that all the fuss and bother was the result of petty jealousies and personality clashes that existed even before the 1908 Board was formed.
The resolutions passed by the public meeting were:
That this meeting of ratepayers of Bowen Town Council and Wangaratta Shire Council is of the opinion that owing to mis-management resulting in unnecessary expenditure of ratepayers’ money, Government should immediately take over construction;
Failing compliance with above, Governor in Council be asked to call on present Chairman (Mr. D Miller) to resign seat on Board, and send up Government representative to watch interests of ratepayers;
Meeting recommends name of William Sherwood Palmer to fill vacancy by resignation of Mr. Archer;
The meeting emphatically protests aginst system of ‘one man many well-paid billets’ as in the case of Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Turner;
That Mr. F. Kenna, M.L.A, be asked to send foregoing by wire to Governor in Council.
A week after this meeting there is a telegram from the Chairman of the Board to the Home Secretary asking if Mr. Waite (the Shire’s selection) had been gazetted to fill the vacancy, advising that a Board meeting was scheduled for 9th March, and adding the pithy remark that ‘public meeting interfering a perfect fiasco’.
A penciled note on these documents suggests ‘I think Lloyd Hassall might be requested to report on these matters …’ Mr. Hassall was the Railway Department District Engineer, who had been appointed previously to make periodic inspections of the work.
Mr. Hassall’s report does rather bear out the ‘perfect fiasco’ of the public meeting.
Memo from L. Hassall, District Engineer to Chief Engineer, Brisbane, 15th March 1909.
As instructed, I visited Bowen on 12th and 13th March. I interviewed Mr. Kenna, M.L.A.; Mr. Hooper, President of Joint Board; Mr. D. Miller, late President; Mr. H. Fraser, Engineer; Mr. Stevenson, Accountant, and Mr. W. S. Palmer who is referred to in third resolution of the meeting. Also various gentlemen who signed the petition asking for the meeting. I am of opinion that whilst there has been some mismanagement in certain details there is absolutely nothing to justify Government taking construction out of Board’s hands, even had they the power to do so (which it appears they do not).
That is the official memo, but Mr. Hassall added a confidential memo to his Chief, which clearly indicates the impression he gained. It is too long to quote in full, but here are a few extracts:
Jealousy and Suspicion
‘It appears that people of Bowen long before constitution of Board were disunited and had not confidence in some of the leading men, and these local jealousies and suspicions have been continued when criticising the Board.’
‘There seems to be two main complaints: first that Mr. Miller abused his position to further his interest – he is probably the largest storekeeper in Bowen and it is stated he has supplied Board with stores. Mr. Miller does not deny this, but the total amount is about £160. In this connection offers were called locally and the lowest prices accepted.’
‘Second complaint refers to Mackenzie holding dual position of Clerk and Overseer of Wangaratta Shire Council, and Manager of the Tramway under the Engineer. It appears that the Wangaratta Shire consented on ground that owing to his knowledge of railway work he would be a useful man on Tramway and at the same time watch interests of Council. Matter discussed by the Board and apparently no objection. Mr. Fraser appointed him Manager. he is still drawing full salary as Clerk, but has made provision for office to be looked after at his own expense. There has been no provision to appoint a Road Overseer, but as one Councillor said to me: ‘No need, as little funds available for roadwork and practically no work being done’.
‘Re Mr. Turner as Secretary, I do not see why he should not carry out duties of Town Clerk and Secretary of the Board even though Tramway Office three miles out of town …’
‘Many of the charges brought before me are too petty to discuss…’
He goes on to give some details of these, also some opinions as to the popularity or otherwise of the various Board members, comments about charges of plant being erected in the wrong places and sundry such matters, most of which he dismissed as either petty or grossly over-empathised.
At the Board meeting in March, after the public meeting, but before Mr. Hassall’s visit, Mr. Hooper took over as President, with Mr. Miller as Vice-President. The first Presidential Report was presented to this meeting. In this, the President reported that the length of the line from Don Junction was to be 38 miles 27 chains. Resumption notices were being served but some land owners who had promised their land free showed an inclination to break their promises. Fair progress was being made, enumerating buildings that had been erected, clearing and formation that had been done, material that had been purchased and contracts that had been let. Employer’s liability insurance had been effected with South British Insurance Company. Board had communicated with Treasurer and interested parties re carriage on sugar, and alterations suggested in harbour dues and wharf-age on same. The Railway Department had granted special rates for carriage of material over the Bowen railway (that would be from Bowen Station to the junction at the Two Mile), it was expected that work would be in full swing as soon as the rails arrived, and it was anticipated that the line would be completed within a year.
The rails etc. ordered by indent the previous year did not reach Bowen until September 1909. They arrived ex the ships Rippingham Grange, Banffshire, Perthshire, Carpentaria and Waipara.
Kelsey Creek Line ?
In the same month, September, twenty-three resident ratepayers in Kelsey Creek and neighbourhood petitioned for an extension of the line of about 8 miles to connect Kelsey Creek with Proserpine, suggesting that permission be granted for any surplus to be used for this project. However, the Treasury Department ruled that any surplus must be handed back to them.
New Shire Problem
The establishment of Proserpine as a separate Shire in 1910 again threw a spanner in the workings of the Board. Some Wangaratta Shire representatives had to resign, now being in the Proserpine Shire; substitute members were elected. Telegrams streamed forth again, this time from the Proserpine Chamber of Commerce, wanting the March Board meeting postponed to enable them to elect representatives (their inaugural Council meeting could not be held until 23rd March). Because Bowen Council had a dead-locked meeting over the appointment of Mayor (their Board member) whose term of office had expired, they could not elect a new member to the Board. Governor In Council ruled that due to the formation of Proserpine Shire, Board now to consist of two members from each of the three Councils. This threw Wangaratta into a spin, because they had four members, and they wanted to know which ones should be retired and fresh appointments made. Government said ‘Decide for yourselves’.
However, it all got straitened out and at the April Board meeting (1910) Mr. J. Compton and Mr. R. Blair were appointed to represent Proserpine. The site of the Proserpine terminus was relocated in accordance with the wishes of Proserpine (this was shy they had been so agitated about not having representatives at the March meeting), and by June 1910 the Treasury had approved the re-location of the line and granted a further loan to cover additional cost. After all this seeming return to plain sailing, Proserpine Council dismissed Mr. Blair from his position as Tramway Board representative, but were told by the Under Secretary that they didn’t have the power to do so; they replied that it didn’t matter now anyway as Mr. Blair had resigned. At some point between then and the winding up of the Board’s affairs someone must have had to eat humble pie, for it was Mr. Blair, as President of the Board, who presented the tenth and final annual report. It was also due to much fuss caused by the Proserpine Shire Council that within the next couple of months Alex Mackenzie resigned, evidently very fed up with the constant bickering, but was persuaded to reconsider, and was reinstated because at a meeting of the Proserpine Shire Council, Cr. Blair had explained that Mr. Fraser had stated ‘that he was helpless without MacKenzie’.
On 2nd July, 1910, the Tramway was officially opened by the Governor, Sir William MacGregor, and operations commenced on the 18th – three trains a week being run. The Railway Department conducted traffic at a cost of 2/6d per train mile. Fares and freight were according to the Railway Department’s schedule, was carried at a special rate and mails under contract at £200 per annum. Surveying and securing of titles to resumptions took a long time, the last of 29 titles not being received until September 1916. After that, negotiations were able to proceed, and the Tramway was sold to the Government as from 30th June, 1917, for £105,701/8/3, leaving a balance of £3,468/18/3 due to the Treasury, the writing off of which the Treasure favourable recommended to Cabinet. At this point, the Bowen-Proserpine Tramway Joint Board was dissolved and the Tramway became part of the North Coast Railway.