A century ago, nation-builders planned a transcontinental rail system to facilitate the country’s development, part of which was the proposal known as the Great Western Railway, a system of five new lines in western Queensland.
According to Wikipedia, construction started in 1911 on sections of four of the lines, and three were opened in part before the project was abandoned in 1920.
Nowadays, the communities of Quilpie and Yaraka are western Queensland’s reminders of a project designed to “bring all country suitable for sheep grazing within economic distance”.
Quilpie’s big centenary bash is planned to take place this weekend, but Yaraka held its own modest celebration on the weekend, inviting Queensland Rail’s chief financial officer, Jim Benstead to open a railway museum in the old station building.
The Yaraka branch line has been out of service since 2005, having been taken up and replaced with a $50m Road to Rail funding package, but the foundations that ‘train night’ gave to the community were remembered fondly on Saturday.
After a tagalong tour earlier in the day that visited the sites of proposed towns further west, that never came into being, Mr Benstead said it was sad that towns were no longer built on rail economies.
“But it’s wonderful that people are collecting the history of this period,” he said.
The trove of memorabilia, organised by Susan Glasson, was also complimented by Longreach Regional Council mayor Ed Warren, who said it was important to preserve memories of the way things were.
James Greer donated packsaddles, in memory of his father, who would start out from his property at Jundah, picking up cattle along the way until he had a maximum train load.
He’d then act as the train drover for the load on its journey to the meatworks at Cannon Hill.
Susan acknowledged the many people who’d been part of Yaraka’s century in existence.
“A hundred years ago, people were standing right here, with the future before them,” she said.
She made mention of Yaraka’s last rail employee, Bob Long, still living in the town, and the six generations of the Ross family for whom Yaraka has been home.
There were plenty of stories regaled, including one of “Bo Peep” who brought stock in from Budgerygar but got into a big party that night and missed the train.
Les and Margaret Penfold were back from Dubbo for the occasion and remembered loading their car on the train to get home when the road was flooded.
It was all part of a day of exploring the past, west to Powell’s Creek, where the survey pegs of a century before are still standing, for the proposed town built around a railway siding to be called Welford.
Such was the enthusiasm last century that the property owners at Jedburgh built their shearing shed nearby, 24km from the homestead in anticipation of the railhead arriving.
The history-seeking group also went to the site of Welford Lagoon, established in 1883 with a telegraph station and Magee’s shanty pub, and were treated to the sight of the ghost town’s street layout coming up on satellite navigation in their cars.
“Today has been a special day,” state MP Lachlan Millar said. “We’re lucky we get to live in Australia’s last frontier.”
Great Western Railway Line – the details
- Was to be from Tobermory to Camooweal, following an alignment proposed in the 1880s for a railway from Sydney to Darwin via Bourke
- Four connecting lines proposed – from Westgate, 21km south of Charleville, to Eromanga; from Blackall to Windorah; from Winton west to Springvale; and from Malbon on the Selwyn line to Duchess.
- 2063km of new line authorised, 505km built, 468km opened
- Quilpie became the terminus of the first line, while Yaraka took on the same role for the second line when construction further west was abandoned in 1920
- In the north, 37km was laid towards Elderslie for the third line but government decided to concentrate on another line, to provide copper ore for the World War I effort
- Dajarra became the terminus of the fourth line.
- No construction work was undertaken for the GWR line itself