I started this collection after a casual interest in what is called the O'Keefe Rail Trail that runs c lose to where I live. I had walked the O'Keefe Rail Trail from near home to Bendigo in late 2012. In 2013 I built a recumbent tadpole trike for the purpose of recreation and combining this with the prospect of operating mobile amateur radio on the Trail. The Trail started to play an increasing role in my daily life, and I became more and more interested in the history of what was once my local Axedale Railway Station. I had driven within a few metres of the station site for around fifteen years, without knowing it was there. This soon became more than just a general curiosity as others became interested in various pieces of information that I discovered. I had to find out more about what led to the line's early demise. Some long-held misconceptions were also becoming identified.
Very soon after I started with what was becoming a rapidly and ever-expanding collection, I was faced with the question of what was relevant, and how far should I go. A history, from what might be termed a railway enthusiast's point of view, may not be all that interesting to others. I decided that I needed to approach it from what I call the personality of the line, and of those who had dealings with it while it existed.
I eventually realised that the history of a railway line starts at the contemplative stage, and ends when the line is removed - or does it? Whatever had an impact on the line, or that which the line itself had an impact upon, is also part of the line's history to a greater or lesser degree. Many people, now long gone, put their blood, sweat, tears, and in quite a few cases, even their lives, into this line. Even so, boundaries need to be applied. In any case, seemingly irrelevant information may provide just interesting or incidental reading for some, but for others, it may provide key information relative to their own research on this, or any other subject. The reader has the choice of how much is actually read.
I never started with the thought of writing a book, in fact, I specifically avoided it, although it was always a possibility. I had amassed a sizeable collection of information that I kept in a structured website-like format and it was only for my own interest. However, much interest was being shown in its contents. Inevitably, I became associated with the Friends Of The Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail (FBKRT), followed by Axedale - Our Town, Our Future. The information was, of course, relevant to both organisations.
I was approached by Norah Rigby in July 2014, to write a number of articles for the monthly Axedale Antics newsletter and, after completing the ninth article, I started thinking about compiling a more formal collection and making it available in some form or other, and that is what you will see here.
The significant source for much of the information contained herein, or leads thereto, 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. In other places, just plain logical deduction has been used. The process of cross-referencing every item is far more than I would begin to think about. If I was to stick to such an ideal, this Collection would never be finished. General sources are quoted and I welcome any feedback on this point.
In some instances, there is uncertainty as to the appropriate railway station a particular item might apply or, the accuracy of the item itself is questionable. An error might be obvious, but in many cases it is not. What locality name does one give to the McIvor Road [now Highway] crossing near the Baptist Church at Junortoun? Junortoun did not exist in those early days. The locality of Homebush [probably most correct], Grassy Flat, Axe Creek or, near the Strathfieldsaye Railway Station, might be equally appropriate. Quite a few places underwent name changes during the life of the railway. The City of Sandhurst is a good example, as its name was changed to Bendigo in 1891.
There are some items that mention Axe Creek, when the correct location is Axedale and vice versa. Also, Axedale could refer to Ingham, a siding on the East side of the Campaspe River, if you lived in Heathcote. In another collection on which I am working, Axedale also applies to Axe Creek. It can depend on where the person who wrote the article was located at the time of writing. In the 1840s, the Axedale Squatters Run covered an area approximately 11.2km on the Eastern and Western sides and 24km on the Northern and Southern sides - all the way from Sandhurst (Bendigo) to about 4.8km on the Heathcote side of the Campaspe River. Also, the Axedale district was under at least two administrative councils in those early days. West of the Campaspe River was Shire of Strathfieldsaye, while Shire of McIvor looked after the East side. Each could just as easily refer to their side of the river as Axedale. To add to the confusion, the Parish of Axedale West went almost as far west as the Axe Creek and one incarnation of the Axedale Hotel existed on property adjoining the creek. Referring to the whole of the area enclosed by the Axedale Run as Axedale, was a hard-to-break habit for decades.
Part of the reason for conducting the research was to gain an appreciation of why the Wandong, Heathcote and Sandhurst line had such a short life. Of course it wasn't the only line to have a short life and others, like the Lancefield-Kilmore line, had an even shorter one.
One thing that needs to be born in mind is that the rail reserve that you visit or ride on today is the result of at least 60 and 70 years of the non-application of one aspect of Railway management - burning off. When the line was constructed, all the reserve between the boundary fences would have been cleared. It was normal practice to keep it that way with a yearly burn off. This kept vegetation and natural bush tree growth to a minimum. The grasses readily grew back but the reserve was kept clear of the forest regrowth that is seen in so many places today. They now provide some welcome shade but really obstruct the view of the line's path across the countryside.
Here is my summary view:
Victoria became a state in its own right in 1851. Prior to that, it was part of the colony of New South Wales and a long way, in distance and time, from Sydney. In 1873, when a wooden tramway from Sandhurst to Axedale was suggested, the road between the two places was considered 'frightful.' Country roads were nothing but tracks, sculpted by bullock teams, horse riders, gigs, drays and walking people. The tracks would either have been impassable in winter or gradually got wider to skirt around developing muddy bog holes. It was a slow and time-consuming undertaking to travel anywhere there was no rail or coach service. This, of course, was most of Victoria. The fuel of the day was timber and there was a voracious appetite for it to feed warming fires, the mines, building and bridge work. Another commodity was stone - and Axedale was viewed as having the best bluestone in the state. Timber and stone in the district were plentiful, but transporting it to where it was required, was a problem.
How long did it take to travel from Heathcote to Sandhurst? There is an early newspaper article that covers a trip with a man, severely wounded when he was blasting a tree stump, being conveyed in an American spring cart. The doctor, when considering the most appropriate place to perform an amputation, decides that it would be best to do it at Sandhurst Hospital. He says the trip should be completed within seven or eight hours. Having finally commenced at 6pm, it is reported to have taken until 7am the next morning - a total of thirteen hours, no doubt helped by the necessity of stopping at Wild Duck, Knowsley, and Axedale hotels for some fortitude, as well as being affected by the rain and road condition. The unfortunate man's leg is amputated but he dies the following day.
The arrival of a railway would have been seen as both a novelty, and a far more convenient way of getting around - provided one wanted to travel where the line went at the time. Over the years, road development and maintenance gradually improved, and private vehicles became more appropriate. This increasing freedom slowly diminished the need for people to use the railway. Once all the timber has been cut and carted away, all you have left is a railway through a cleared countryside. The main freight that initially formed the justification for the line's existence, is soon gone and the line's viability slowly, but surely, diminishes.
The Railways Department, through necessity, was forced, during two depressions, to become more economical, both in the construction of new railways and the running of existing lines. This is no more apparent than in the 1939-1945 war years where necessary harsh economic measures had to be implemented due to fuel, machinery and manpower shortages. Non-essential passenger trips were banned. This increased mounting dissatisfaction and patronage dropped even further.
The popularity of the private motor vehicle, in conjunction with better roads, provided the opportunity and the means for people to travel to places other than where the railways ran. The need for the small branch lines that may have existed in 1888, slowly disappeared as they became very uneconomical to run, and many were dismantled.
I have seen it written in many places that the creation of Eppalock Reservoir caused the closure of the Bendigo-Heathcote section of the railway line. I don't subscribe to that theory as the flooding only hastened the closure. The line, similar to the way in which it opened, was closed in two stages. However, before that happened, Strathfieldsaye had closed by 1893, Longlea was reduced to No-one-in Charge in 1925, closed to passengers in 1952, Knowsley was reduced to Caretaker in 1927, Axedale was reduced to Caretaker in 1931 and then No-one-in Charge in 1942, following the removal of the passenger rail motor, Ingham was largely dismantled in 1940, and Derrinal was reduced to No-one-in-Charge in 1942. The Sandhurst-Heathcote section officially closed in 1958. The rail motor, or passenger service, had been removed in December 1941, some twenty years before the flooding, and the same month that non-essential passenger trips were banned. The service was returned to the Heathcote-Wandong section the following year. Purely business decisions finally brought about the winding down and eventual closure of the line, assisted on the Bendigo end by the raising of the water level in Eppalock Reservoir, which put part of the rail bed where it crossed the Mt. Ida Creek near Derrinal, under water. If the line had been a paying one, the railway would have been diverted around it, or even the long-fought-for connection through Heathcote to Seymour or Broadford might have been provided. Sadly, it wasn't, and the line is now gone and has been for a long time. Evidence of its once flourishing existence is fast disappearing.
None of the cross country railway lines, suggestions for which were motivated by attempts at decentralisation, survive. Connecting branch lines together, while appearing to be a good idea at the time, would have provided opportunities for patrons to only choose a different way to the same destination, and there is no real increase in patronage at all. In some areas there would have been a decrease as passengers cease to be carried via one line, only to be carried by another.
Things could still turn full circle. A small few lines that were closed, have been re-opened. Does this indicate that the need is returning? What will happen to rural residents when continually increasing petrol prices, or the availability of petrol itself, forces them to limit their private vehicle use? Will they, like many others in the past, move into the cities and towns that have surviving railway lines? What about those that can't re-locate for whatever reason? Someone still has to stay on the land to produce the food for those who live in the towns and cities.
Railway lines do not appear to be closing nowadays. Those that remain are being upgraded and should remain for a long time. However, like in the past, they still all head for the city - even more so as the interconnecting lines have been dismantled and replaced with a network of buses. Some of those dismantled lines might yet be missed. Who knows, we might see 'agitations and deputations for railway lines' return.
Curiously, as this is being written, the local newspapers contain articles covering a rail connection from Geelong and, wait for it, a suburban rail system for Bendigo, a re-birth of a proposal that existed shortly after the 1864 opening of the line to Echuca. The new proposal only goes as far as providing new stations every two kilometres within the City of Bendigo on the existing lines. Unfortunately, the line out my way, Axedale, no longer exists. We had one once, someone tore it up and someone else turned it into a Rail Trail.
Finally, I must include a quote that I recall from a number of Victorian Railways Weekly Notices during my period of employment with them. I have since heard that it is attributed to Napoleon: "What is history, but lies agreed upon?" Many history books contain items where the accuracy may be seriously questioned and I have come across many of them. No doubt there will be those who question what is contained here. I welcome those queries as they are part of the process of recording history or correcting the record. If you come across any, don't keep them to yourself. Please let me know so that they can be corrected.
I sincerely hope that you derive as much enjoyment from reading about the unfolding development and subsequent events that occurred with this railway line, that functioned for the eighty years from 1888 to 1968, as I had in discovering it.