This history collection is the result of something that came from a casual interest. I had been following an interest in the O'Keefe Rail Trail that runs close to home and generally follows the bed of the no-longer-existing Wandong, Heathcote and Sandhurst rail line for the majority of its route from Bendigo to Heathcote. That collection rapidly expanded beyond a casual interest and clearly, it deserved far greater attention. Along the way, I found quite a bit of information that wasn't necessarily or wholly relevant to the rail line as such, but of great relevance to my local township of Axedale.
I was approached by Norah Rigby, Editor of the Axedale Antics newsletter in July 2014, to write a number of railway historical articles for her and, after completing the ninth one, I succumbed to the idea of compiling this separate history collection, a significant portion of which would have been completed by the time I had finished the articles - or so I thought at that stage.
If one could return to the early 1800s or even gaze upon photographs of the day if such could be located, one would find a vastly different countryside to that which exists in 2016 as I write this. It would be a sparsely populated, mainly timbered, unfenced countryside, predominently squatters' runs, threaded by many tracks that were being used by itinerents travelling from one village to the next. Victoria, which did not exist as a separate state until 1851, was known as the Port Phillip District and Government administration was applied from New South Wales. The land area that set the scene for this Axedale history compilation was a small 67,000 acre pastoral holding in the central Western Port District. It was named Axedale and adjoined the East border of the Municipality of Sandhurst, later renamed Bendigo, to 3 miles on the Heathcote side of the Campaspe River.
The current localities or villages of Knowsley, Axedale, Longlea, and Junortoun did not exist as such.
The very early owners or more correctly, lessees, of the Axedale Run have been covered in a number of publications, to a greater or lesser degree, and such accounts are not all the same. I may include some definitive details at a later date if I can identify them correctly. In the meantime, the McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser published a very small article in 1909 stating that the Axedale Station was "also a portion of Mr. Hutton's country, and was purchased from Mr. Hutton in about 1839 by Messrs. Caldwell and Ross. It was afterwards owned by Mr. John Harney and then by Mr. W. Heffernan." Those details are an over simplification that will become clearer as this collection unfolds.
The roads through this country in those early days were nothing but the tracks most travelled, sculpted by bullock teams, horse riders, gigs, drays and even walking people. Being unmade, they would either have been impassable in winter or gradually made wider to skirt around developing muddy bog holes. As time progressed and population and traffic increased, the tracks began to receive maintenance, and they were straightened, high spots were cut down and low spots filled. It is much easier to erect a straight roadside fence then a serpentine one, and a similar comment can be made with regard to surveying and plan drawing. The fuel of the day was timber and there was a voracious appetite for it to feed warming fires, steam engines for trains, mines, farming and industry, building and bridge work. Another commodity was the stone used in paving, buildings and bridges, and Axedale was viewed as having the best bluestone in the state. Timber and stone in this district were plentiful, but transport was the problem.
Like others, I am sure, I ran into a significant problem. There was much difficulty in identifying exactly where some events actually occurred. The locality name of Axedale seemed to have been used with gay abandon for any place East of the Eastern boundary of what was then, Sandhurst. For instance, despite it's name, the Axedale Hotel was never in Axedale, although this might depend on the point of view of a writer, or when it was written. In those early days, the Eastern boundary of Sandhurst existed close to the town itself and it was generally at Back Creek. Once you cleared that boundary, heading East on the road to McIvor (Heathcote), you were commonly viewed as being in Axedale. For certain, once you cleared the Axe Creek, also without a bridge in those early days, you were in the Parish of Axedale West. This legitimately names that area as Axedale although you are still a few kilometres out of Axedale town which, in those times, didn't exist. An area of land was gazetted for the township in January, 1861.
What caused the problem and why?
That which was given the general locality name of Axedale, had a number of incarnations. In 1848, the Axedale Run, Estate, or Station, was basically of rectangular shape with the North and South boundaries approximately 24km long while the the East and West boundaries were approximately 11.2km long. The Eastern boundary was approximately 4.8km on the Eastern, or Heathcote side of the Campaspe River. The Western boundary was at a place some 24km West of the Eastern Boundary. That puts it very close to the Eastern boundary of Sandhurst. So, once you crossed the Eastern boundary of Sandhurst, you would be in Axedale, or at least, on the Axedale Run. Another factor that distorts the view a little is the fact that the Axedale district was under at least two administrative councils in those early days. West of the Campaspe River was basically what became the Shire of Strathfieldsaye, while the Shire of McIvor looked after the East side. Each could just as easily refer to their side of the Campaspe River as Axedale. It was necessary at times to try and connect more than one item in order to comfortably determine actual location.
The Axedale Hotel was, in its first form, at the intersection of the Axe Creek and McIvor Road, but Acott's Hotel, closer to Axedale but still not in the town, had its name changed to Axedale Hotel some years after the first Axedale Hotel had passed into history. This sort of confusion can be found in a number of history books and, no doubt, the same comment will be made about this collection as my comments differ from some of those, I believe more correctly but, once again, the reader can decide and I would be only too happy to look at proof.
What is relevant and what is not? This is not a history of the Axedale township. It is much larger than that. In essence, anything that occurred in the whole of the district once known as Axedale, even though it may have changed over time, is relevant. Many things were viewed as important enough to make the newspapers. However, it is not possible to include everything, nor is everything that one might like to include, accessible. Only the individual reader can determine whether an item is really relevant or not. It can be a very individual perception. A particular item might be of use to only one or two readers. However, it may also contain one snippet of valuable information to complete the picture for someone else. I can't determine that, only the reader can.
Historical research can be a satisfying pursuit but it can also be very time consuming and frustrating. I found that it is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. A single piece might provide a clue to the large picture. However, that picture can change a number of times as more pieces are gathered. Stop the research short, and you may not realise it, and you may end up with the wrong picture.
A major source of much of the information contained herein, is the on-line Trove Digitised Newspapers as maintained by the National Library of Australia and I acknowledge their valuable resource. The information is backed up by a number of other documents where available and thought necessary. It is not written as a factual reference, rather as an unfolding story, basically as reported. The reader must be aware of the potential inaccuracies of newspaper articles and they should not be taken as entirely factual. I have tried to correct obvious errors where I have found them.
What to do with the information? Putting it all in a book creates two related problems. One, it can't be readily edited once published, and two, it is out of date as soon as any fresh piece of information is discovered. Allowing for both those problems would mean that it is never printed. What good is that? Making it available on the Internet means that it can be updated at any time and always remain current. Just be aware that it can change at any time.
There is another benefit from making it available on the Internet. It provides the standard word search capability within a page if you are looking for something in particular.
I sincerely hope that you derive as much enjoyment in reading this collection as I had in researching it and putting it together.