Published 11 May 1928
A Railway Bridge Incident.
Prior to the assembling of the imported parts of the superstructure of the railway bridge, a temporary wooden structure was built across the river, which was much higher then the bridge as it now stands. The erection of this bridge was the most costly and important section of the contract of Messrs. George Fishburn and Co., as there was much more in connection with the works to interest those who have a taste for mechanics, I was a frequent visitor to the scene of operations.
Crawling the Plank
On one of these occasions, when accompanied by Mr. Howey, I mounted t the highest portion of the temporary structure with my companion. After gazing at the work for a time we encountered Mr. J. B. Fitzgerald, an old and much esteemed townsman, who was employed by the contractors as foreman, and after chatting with him for a time, he said he was about to cross the bridge to the opposite side of the river, and asked us to accompany him. We agreed to do so. He then stepped out briskly along the platform of three 12 inch(300cm) planks, and we followed. After proceeding a short distance the width of the platform was reduced to two planks and some distance further along it was only one plank wide.
After cautiously proceeding along this narrow track about 20 or 30 feet (6 or 9 metres) my eyes rested on the flowing river, which appeared to be hundreds of feet beneath us. I was then seized with a dizziness, therefore I deemed it prudent to abandon the upright position and get astride the plank. Mr. Howey followed suit, and then he in forcible language, interlaced with expletives, proclaimed us a pair of idiots for attempting such a hazardous task. With eyes closed and my head in a whirl I clung with the tenacity of a limpet to the sustaining plank, and in the meantime prayed devoutly for deliverance from such a perilous position. I dare not attempt to turn and see how Mr. Howey was faring, but when he informed me that he had succeeded in facing the side of the river whence we came, I with much difficulty followed his example, the struggle causing me to be bathed in cold perspiration.
We reached the end of the single plank, still astride it, until meeting the two planks roadway, and then upon reaching the broader planking we were so dizzy that we were compelled to progress on all fours until we reached the three planks portion of the platform. Then we took to our heels and sped precipitately to terra firma, firmly resolved never again to enter upon such a foolhardy adventure. The ease with which Mr. Fitzgerald traversed the platform, caused us to emulate his dexterity. It never dawned on us that constant practice had inured him to any thought of danger. Even now, after the lapse of so many years, whenever I recall that terrible ordeal a cold shiver runs down my spine.
Another Railway Bridge incident.
As the completion of the structure approached my interest in the work proportionately increased, because the final lap meant the linking together of the railway systems of the West and South, and it also meant the uniting of the two final sections of the line. Although practically completed the formal taking over of the bridge by the Railway Commissioners had not eventuated, as before this could be done the stability of the work had to be subjected to some very severe tests.
Ballast for the Test
The passage of the first train across the bridge was therefore regarded by the contractors as an event of some importance, thus, Mr. Fishburn, being aware that I took a very keen interest in the progress of the construction of the now completed fine massive structure, sent word that he intended running his first train over the erection on a given date. Accordingly, at the appointed time, I was on the scene with Messrs. Rowey and R. Ford, Sen. We were only just in time as the locomotive had steam up and was just. about to start from the western side of the river, with quite a number of trucks heavily laden with steel rails for the railway station on this side of the stream.
On our arrival Mr. Fishburn said, “Just. in time. Jump up!” The three of us then seated ourselves in the truck nearest the engine, and naturally assumed that we would be followed by Mr. Fishburn and members of the construction staff.
At a given signal the train crossed the river at a snail’s pace, and was driven back again at a slightly faster rate. After crossing and return had taken place three or four times, the train proceeded with its load of rails to the site of the present station. Thus to Messrs. Ford, Rowey and Ryall belongs the distinction of being the only townsmen who crossed the railway bridge over the Lachlan in the first train that passed over it. I have a very distinct recollection of the obvious anxiety of Mr. Fi shburn, contractor, Mr. Maddock, bridge constructing engineer, Mr. Boenden, superintendent of Works, and Mr. McNicol, accountant as the train passed to and fro over the previously untested work.
That we incurred some risk in being on the train was evident from the tone of congratulations on our display of pluck and daring which were showered upon us by Mr. Fishburn and his staff on our return to the bridge. Until then I was wholly unconscious of having performed any extraordinary feat.A week or so later the bridge was further tested by Mr. F.A. Fr anklin , Consulting Engineer, in a somewhat similar manner to that already described by me, the only exception being that on the latter occasion four very heavy locomotives were employed instead of loaded trucks, and on that gentleman’s recommendation, the constructional authorities passed the work.
At that stage all that was needed to complete the second section of the Blayney-Murrumburrah railway (Young to Cowra ) was the erection of the station master’s residence, and for the delay in that matter I was somewhat responsible, in this wise: Feeling satisfied that the best interests of the business people would be served by having the station and appointments as near the town proper as possible, the nearest portion being at that time the store house near the Methodist Church, I made representations to that effect to Mr. C. Mann, the construction engineer, and he quite agreed with me that the station buildings should be on the block now known as the Brougham Street Park.
The Railway Station Site
Accordingly he made a recommendation to that effect to the Department and the matter was practically settled. a short time prior to this happening the Rev. J. Kimberley, Church of England incumbent, purchased for a mere song the allotment upon which the Railway Hotel now stands, and that gentleman, believing that his newly acquired property would suffer depreciation to value if the station buildings were erected in the vicinity of Vaux Street, upon becoming cognisant of the proposed change of station sites, lost no time in preparing a petition protesting against the change.
The document set forth that by the diversion of the traffic to and from the railway station to Vaux Street the interests of Kendall street property owners would be ruthlessly sacrificed. Being a man of energy and action he personally hawked the petition about the town and succeeded in inducing practically every resident in Kendall street to append his name to the petition. Finding that the great bulk of the townspeople were against the Vaux Street site for a station I allowed the matter to drop, but am still of the opinion that my proposal, if given effect to, would have been the best for the town.
Many years later, when Mr. Johnston, Railway Commissioner, was here, on the occasion of the opening of the Canowindra railway, I approached him re making the station at West Cowra, the railway station proper, to the extent of having passengers, mails and parcels conveyed and received there. He admitted that such a concession would be a convenience for town residents, but it would mean a loss to the Railway Department, in as much as no extra fare could be charged passengers from Sydney. Furthermore there would be a loss in wear and tear of rolling stock, which could not be recouped. He nevertheless conceded that later on it might be deemed advisable to entertain my proposal or bring the station to a more central position.
The Third Section of the Loop Line
The construction of the third section of the railway, viz., Cowra to Blayney, was much delayed through the contractors, Messrs. Robertson Bros., meeting with obstacles in respect to the tunnel through Stoke Hill at Carcoar, and the very heavy rock cuttings between Carcoar and Blayney.
The Last Section
The contractors in arriving at their estimate regarding rock cutting were evidently very far out in their calculations, as the profit on their contract was infinitesimal. Indeed, at one stage it was feared they would be heavy losers, and the bare thought of such a possibility so preyed upon
the mind of one of the brothers as to effect his mental balance. To the credit of the firm, however, be it said, they fulfilled their contract faithfully and well, despite the unanticipated difficulties which faced them towards the end of their contract.
On the completion of the tunnel, the contractors determined to yield to the desires of the people of Carcoar and to commemorate the event by having a gala day at Carcoar. The organising and carrying out of the function was undertaken by the Carcoar section of the Railway League, and the Cowra section of that organisation did what was required of it in respect to securing support from this end.
Trucked to Carcoar
On the appointed date, the railway authorities seriously disappointed the Cowraites by failing to send here, as promised” railway carriages to convey Cowra patrons to Carcoar. At the last moment the difficulty in that respect was overcome through Messrs. Robertson Bros., fitting up a number of rough trucks with seats and calico shelters. Notwithstanding the discomfort arising from travelling per such a very uninviting means of transit every available seat on the train was occupied by townsfolk of both sexes, all of whom seemed. to keenly enjoy the novelty of the situation, judging by the good humour which prevailed throughout the journey.
When the train arrived at Carcoar, it was ascertained that sports on the recreation ground, followed by a concert at night, was the form of entertainment provided for the occasion.
On proceeding to the recreation ground we found the opening events, in connection with an athletic sports programme, had been entered upon. The patronage accorded the function was most gratifying. The concert was likewise largely attended and proved a fitting close to a most enjoyable day’s outing. The belated railway carriages, much to our surprise and gratification were at the railway station ready to convey the visitors homeward when we arrived there, after the concert, consequently the return journey was accomplished under much more agreeable conditions than the outward trip.
A couple of weeks later, when the line was formally taken over by the railway authorities and declared open to traffic, the public of Cowra testified their appreciation of the boon that had been conferred upon their town, by conducting a demonstration in keeping with the great event. For some time after the opening of the line Cowra was a very busy town, owing to the traffic attracted to it from Forbes, Parkes, Condobolin, Canowindra and intervening localities, but the greater part of this traffic vanished when the Borenore to Parkes and Forbes extension materialised. It was assumed that with the advent of the railway to Parkes and Forbes the local railway revenue would meet with a serious setback, but this was not verified by results, as the increased production of the district more than counterbalanced the decrease in receipts from down the river sources, and we are gratified to be able to say that our increasing population has continued to keep the revenue on the upgrade.
Published 18 May 1928
What the Railway has done for Cowra.
As a rural settlement Cowra can claim an antiquity which is not possessed by such towns as Young, Grenfell, Forbes and Parkes, whose origin is due to the enterprise and researches of the indefatigable gold miners. Cowra being within the same auriferous belt, would doubtless have shared in the golden glories of those old fields for the treasure hunters, were it not for the prejudice against mining entertained by many of the old residents.
This was due to the impression that where gold was found upon their properties the Crown had the right to step in and dispossess them of their holdings. A rich lead now exists in the very centre of our town and extends to the flat on the western side of the river. This is no figment of the imagination as proof of the existence can be readily adduced at brief notice, seeing that one of the men who made the discovery is still a resident of the town, and furthermore he is quite prepared to vouch for the accuracy of this statement. The discovery occurred in this way. The townsman referred to was engaged by fellow townsman to sink a well at the rear of his premises. While proceeding with his task he struck what appeared to him to be likely looking gravel wash, so the mining instinct prompted him to test a small portion of this deposit, and to his amazement the washing in a pan showed a residue of about three quarters dwt. of the precious metal.
He immediately produced his prospect to his employer, who, fearing a rush of miners, and the resultant loss of his property, promptly directed the well-sinker to immediately fill in the excavation and there the well-sinking episode ended. Having had many years experience in gold-mining we have no hesitation in stating that the prospect referred to showed the presence of wash which would yield about 10 ozs. of gold to the load: and with depth a very much richer yield would have resulted.
Another discovery showing the presence of gold in payable quantities was made in the vicinity of the Alford Subdivision, near the railway station, which is probably a continuation of the lead first mentioned. It may be a source of gratification to know that we are so indifferent to the value of mineral wealth that we can daily afford to trample on it.
After thus digressing I will again revert to Cowra’s old-time condition, that is to say prior to 1860, when it blossomed into a village through being on the direct route from the old gold fields of the West to the Lambing Flat rush. Just before that historic event, when the Press of Australia under attractive headlines made much capital out of the riots caused by European miners resenting the intrusion of hordes of Chinese on a gold-field which had been discovered by Europeans, hence belonged to them, Cowra was a very one-horse place.
On the Road to Goldfields
The traffic incidental to the constant passing to and fro of thousands of miners and their followers was instrumental in causing an increase here of business places, which included butchers, bakers, stores, hotels, and so on.
But its proportions continued to be very limited, so much so that the place was not considered worthy of a bridge over the Lachlan, hence the crossing of the stream then, when above summer level, was by means of a punt and boat operated by Mr. George Lockyer, who, while serving as a maritime purveyor acquired some experience in handling a boat. Some years later the rush to Wood’s Flat (close to where Woodstock now stands) gave the little centre another fillip through miners being attracted to the scene.
The First Cowra Traffic Bridge
In 1869 a paternal Government awoke to a sense of its obligation to the travelling public in respect to negotiating our river, when its turbulent waters rendered crossing by ordinary means impracticable, hence a contract was let for the construction of a wooden bridge.
This was almost completed in 1870 when an abnormal flood came down and swept away the western approach, and submerged the greater part of the little village. Beyond, however, the damage done to the bridge approach, nothing of a serious nature was done to house property. Regarding the so-called bridge, and we say this advisedly, it was a mere apology for a structure deserving of that name. Whoever was responsible for its design must have been an official who had no idea of proportion, and was also a neophyte in forming estimates of the reasonable growth of traffic.
It was so narrow that teams of horses or bullocks drawing drays or waggons coming from opposite sides, could not pass each other. Thus the first team coming from the town side held possession of the deck until it had got across, and in the meantime teams on the western side had to wait until the passage was clear. Viewing the erection from a distance, the piers resembled the legs of a huge spider with an immense body, which they experienced difficulty in supporting. The superstructure, being so strong, bulky and unwieldy, represented so much top hamper, which threatened with its own weight to over-strain its flimsy support. That the erection contrived to withstand the pressure of flood waters when it was approaching completion is a mystery. Had the flood however, been six feet higher its demolition was inevitable.
Little headway was made by the town until 1878 when the authorities recognised that it was worthy of a post and telegraph office, also that it should be the headquarters of a road superintendent. Then followed the appointment of an Anglican Church Incumbent, and the inauguration of the “Free Press.” The prospect of a railway in due time caused all the best of our Crown lands to be alienated. But it was not until the railway became an accomplished fact that the town assumed any importance. Shortly after making Cowra a field for journalistic enterprise I used the “Free Press” as a lever to advance the claims of the district to a railway.
A War of Wits.
It was an uphill and strenuous battle with powerful conflicting forces–opponents behind the throne, and who were ever ready to employ every stratagem and device to gain their own ends and to thwart any legitimate efforts. Eventually it became a war of wits. Our opponents resorted to hidden tactics. These means to gain an end had to be discovered and intuitively confuted. I dare not show my hand, because if I did a counter move was ready in a subtle way to bar my progress. Thus, I realized that to be successful I must fight the hidden forces with their own weapons. Thenceforward my movements were studiously concealed from the foe, therefore they were not blazoned forth by the Press. For me that was a period of strenuous and incessant toil.
Many a sleepless and anxious night has been my lot in that fierce and bitter struggle. I was compelled by a sense of duty to persevere unflinchingly to the end. I was not actuated by personal pecuniary gain, because the limited funds raised by the Railway League was soon absorbed in immediate expenses. There were no generous contributions by large landed proprietors who gained immensely through the enormously enhanced value of their properties. It was a fight to a finish without any pecuniary stake in the distance. Probably if there had been I would not have been so unsparing in my efforts.
With the advent of railway communication, Cowra blossomed into a town of much importance, and since then its progress has out-stripped the anticipations of the most sanguine, and as a sequence many of our residents have acquired much of this world’s wealth. They traded and prospered, but do they ever give a thought to the instrument who laboured so indefatigably to afford them the opportunity to gather wealth? My compensation is derived from a knowledge of having unswervingly followed the dictates of duty, and in achieving a great triumph, I have pursued a consistently pure and straight course.
The growth of our town, and the vastly increased prosperity of the district is my sole reward. This reminds me of the views expressed by the late Mr. B. J. Bennett, proprietor of the “Burrangong Argus” (now the Young “Daily Witness”). That gentleman, shortly after my arrival in Cowra, called on me, and sought to dissuade me from continuing journalism as a profession. He added, “My experience as a newspaper proprietor are that, if I had used my brains to the same extent, and infused the same amount of vigour and energy into any other walk in life I would now be a wealthy man.” The truth of a good friend’s advice has frequently recurred to me in later years, but “the die was cast” and I felt that I could not retrace my steps having adopted as my motto “Excelsior.”
Published 25 May 1928
The Cowra-Grenfell Railway.
Having formed the opinion that Cowra, owing to its practically central position on the loop 1ine, linking our Western and Southern railway systems, was destined to become a most important railway and commercial business centre, I determined that our Railway League should not be allowed to rest content with having gained one great victory, in having railway facilities brought to their very doors, hence I, in my official capacity as hon. secretary resolved to keep that useful body alive and prepared at brief notice to advocate railroad extensions radiating from Cowra. The Grenfell people, or at least a few of them, had been, in a very half-hearted fashion, advocating the necessity for connecting their town with the Blayney-Harden loop line.
Being quite satisfied from my intimate knowledge of the country surrounding Grenfell that that centre desired a railway, I had little difficulty in impressing upon my League the desirability of supporting Grenfell’s claim. Accordingly, matters were at once put in train for a war against those members of our Legislature who consistently opposed the building of railways on the ground of public policy, and against those who were actuated by selfish motives. At length we were afforded the gratitude of being informed that a trial survey of the proposed line had been directed. I at once interviewed the railway surveyors engaged on the work, with the object of having Cowra made the starting point, and at the same time endeavouring to lessen the distance between the two towns. To them I suggested taking the line along the valley to the left of Broula Hill. An aneroid survey, however, disclosed that such a route was impracticable in consequence of the steepness of the grades.
Eventually the conclusion was come to that the only practicable route was via Warrangong and Iandra, and the final adoption of that route has since been amply justified. As a preliminary the selection of a route was satisfactory, but much more had to be accomplished before the proposal could be accorded the approval of the Government of the day, then it had to be submitted to Parliament for consideration and sanction of this obtained. The Public Works Committee had to hear evidence and submit a report to Parliament.
If this was favourable, Parliamentary sanction had again to be obtained, but if adverse that was the end of the project. Further stages had to be negotiated after the proposal had obtained Parliamentary sanction, such as the permanent survey and staking of the line, and even then a proposal could be hung up owing to financial stress, or priority of claim on behalf of another proposal, and in this particular instance the Orange via Borenore and Molong to Parkes and Forbes line was considered to have much stronger claims than any other railway proposal, hence all other projects were cast aside until the fate of that particular proposal had been determined. We will deal with this matter under another heading later on.
All obstacles having been overcome, the line to Grenfell eventually materialised, and its construction has unquestionably contributed very materially to the productivity of the district, and the commercial status of the town. As to whether it has been a reproductive work or otherwise we are not in a position to argue. We are aware, nevertheless, that during the regime of Mr. Commissioner Johnson the daily passenger train service was reduced to three days a week. Against this reduced service the Grenfell people protested in vain. When opening of Cowra-Canowindra railway was being celebrated here, Mr. Johnson amongst other notabilities, was invited here.
The Johnson Interview
Knowing that the Grenfell people were very much disturbed over their very unsatisfactory train service, I apprised the Mayor of the town of Mr. Johnson’s projected visit, and, added that I thought it would be a favourable opportunity for a deputation to approach him regarding railway matters. The suggestion was acted upon. On the morning of the celebration the balcony of the Imperial Hotel was made to serve the purpose of a meeting and reception room. While Mr. Johnson was seated there conversing with those about him and evidently enjoying himself, I was notified that the Grenfell deputation had arrived, so I left the gathering and went to meet the delegates, which comprised the Mayor, Council Clerk, and an Alderman.
Before allowing them to appear on the balcony I deemed it prudent to advise Mr. Johnson of their arrival. When I did this, Mr. Johnson said: “What do they want?” I responded: “Something about railway matters.” He retorted: “Tell them I won’t see them. If they have anything to bring under my notice, tell them to put it in writing and it will receive due consideration. I have come here for a holiday and I will not be bothered with business matters.” I remarked: “These gentlemen have driven to Cowra, a distance of 35 miles, at much personal inconvenience, specially to see you, therefore I cannot convey such a message to them. I will bring them in and you can tell them what you have told me.” He then said: “Bring them here.”
I then brought them up, and, after stating the object of their mission, I introduced them. To my amazement Mr. Johnson received them most courteously, and, after hearing what they had to say, he promised to make inquiries regarding the revenue derived from the line, and if favourable, their request would be granted. During the same afternoon the guests were driven out to the Experimental Farm, with the exception of Mr. Johnson, who could not be found. As I was returning from the Experimental Farm I saw Mr. Johnson walking along Kendall street from the direction of the railway station. I informed him of what had been done and expressed regret that he had not been one of the party. He said in reply: “I went to the station to ascertain how the Grenfell line stood as a revenue producer.” I asked him if the returns were satisfactory. He replied: “Far from it. It is not paying and they cannot get a better ser- vice.” I remarked that the difficulty could be overcome by adding a carriage for passengers to some of the many goods trains. He replied:”Oh, that cannot be done.” I asked, “Why?’ ‘The reply was: “Because those trains are not scheduled.” He then asked me: “Why are you so much interested in Grenfell ‘s service?” I replied “Because I have a number of relations there.” He retorted: “If I had relatives in a place and could go to see them three days a week I would be well satisfied.”
Published 8 June 1928
A little later Grenfell got a resumption of its daily service, which has since continued. The revenue derived from the Grenfell line on the occasion cited, being given as a reason for reducing the number of passenger trains per week one-half raises the question as to how the Railway Department fixes the earnings of any particular line. Most people would naturally conclude that the cash receipts of a line, inwards and outwards, for passengers and goods, is credited for that line, but this is not so. It is only the mileage earnings which are credited.
Calculating the Returns
In order to illustrate this we will say the distance from Cowra to Sydney is 150 miles, while that from here to Blayney is 50 miles, one-third of the distance. Now, under the system in operation the loop line is only credited with one-third of the revenue received. Thus 6/8 in the £ goes to Cowra’s credit while 13/4 goes to the credit. of the main line. All branch lines are classed as feeders to main lines, hence they should be accorded at least a fair percentage of their contributions to the earnings of the main lines. If the branch lines had never existed the main lines would not have been in a position to include the branch 1ine’s contributions in their earnings. In the Railway Commissioner’s annual report the Blayney-Harden line is religiously stigmatised as a non-paying line, in fact it is classed as a line which is worked at a very heavy loss.
This is most unfair to the line in question, because it owes its being to the fact that it would be a convenience to the Depart.ment. Because in the event of either of the main lines having its traffic congested relief could be obtained by transferring a given amount of the traffic from one main line to the other. When the building of the line was first proposed by Mr Whittington, Engineer-in-Chief, the traffic over the Blue Mountains was very congested, and it was mainly to obviate a continuance of such a very unsatisfactory state of affairs that caused Mr Whittongton to formulate his proposal.
According to the Commissioners’ report, the line is absolutely bankrupt in respect to interest on cost of construction. and this being so, let me ask who is responsible for a large percentage of the very heavy cost? I aver without hesitation, that the Railway Commissioners of the day and the constructing authority are the culprits. If due inquiry had been made regarding the best and most economical route fully 50 per cent of the cost would have been saved. The very expensive tunnel at Carcoar, and the equally expensive rock cutting between Carcoar and Blayney would have been avoided, and a line with much easier grades adopted. Another feature in connection with the line which is studiously ignored by the Commissioners is the savings affected in mileage and consequent wear and tear in the transfer of “empties” and other rolling stock from one main line to another.
When I, many years ago, pointed this out to the railway authorities, I was met with the retort: “We have no means for estimating the savings. Besides, savings are not earnings.” This is a very off-hand way of disposing of a problem, which should be capable of solution, and in the meantime, our line has to rest under the reproach of being unprofitable, hence, a charge upon the State’s coffers.
The Cowra-Canowindra to Forbes Railway Proposal.
When the proposal to construct a line of railway from Cowra to Canowindra and thence via Eugowra to Forbes and Parkes was first mooted, it was not viewed with much favor by some of our prominent businessmen, who maintained that once such a line was in existence the trade which then came to the town from the direction of Canowindra would be directed to Sydney. The Cowra Railway League, notwithstanding such a pessimistic and narrow-minded expression of opinion, resolved to support the proposal, it being very properly held that good must eventually accrue from the construction of extensions to our railway, seeing that every branch line must open up fresh fields for exploiting in respect to trade, and additional outlets for our products.
The truth of this contention has since been amply demonstrated. By persistently assailing those in power our League’s efforts at length began to be recognised, and later the building of the proposed line, having met with Parliamentary approval, was passed on to the Works Committee for inquiry. In the meantime several alternative schemes were propounded, some of which emanated from Canowindra, and this led to the trial survey of four or five routes, all of which were away from Cowra, one being from near Lyndhurst.
This division of opinion to a very great extent interfered with the preparation of evidence for the Works Committee. The Railway Department was very firm in maintaining that Cowra should be the starting point and this decision was finalised when Mr. Fehon, one of the Railway Commissioners, came to Cowra and was driven from here to Canowindra over the proposed route. I was with the members of the Railway League who accompanied Mr. Fehon on the occasion, and heard that official express unbounded pleasure at seeing such a splendid country. To me he said: “This country is well worthy of a railway, and if the present proposal does not meet with approval, such a splendid tract of country must ere long have a railway.”
The same night when a banquet was given in his honour at Canowindra, Mr. Fehon repeated his favourable opinion of the country which the proposed line would serve. The report of Mr. Fehon to his colleagues led to a confirmation of the decision that Cowra should be the starting point. While the trial surveys were being made from various points I made it my business to keep in touch with the officials who were engaged on the work, and to endeavour to gain as much information as possible from them concerning the work they were engaged on, consequently I was well posted concerning the merits and demerits of all the rival routes. At length all being ready for the Works Committee, I, as hon. secretary to the Railway League, was officially notified that a section of the Works Committee would visit Cowra on a given date, and called on me to be prepared with evidence favourable to the proposal.
New Bridge Proposal
I was also asked to be prepared to submit evidence regarding a new bridge over the Lachlan River at Cowra. Regarding the last matter, which was not a proposal from the Railway League, but simply one for which I alone was responsible, I have already referred to the miserable and wholly unsuitable structure which had been made to do duty as a bridge since 1870. In the course of conversation with Mr. J. V. Bartlett, Road Superintendent, I remarked it was time we had a new and better structure, and added that the recognised life of any wooden structure was twenty years, I then asked if he had ever tested the condition of the supporting piers below the earth’s surface. He replied that he had not, but he would do so next day. I told him that I, as hon. secretary to the Progress Association, intended to apply to the Government for a new and more up-to-date bridge, whereupon he said he would afford all the assistance in his power to attain such desideratum.
He undertook, as a preliminary, to ascertain the condition of the supporting piers, and also to direct Jonathan Avis, a man in the employ of the Roads Department (whose principal duty was to attend to the bridge) to keep a record for a month of the amount of traffic to and fro of every kind crossing the bridge. At the end of a month Mr. Bartlett reported that the piers of the bridge were in a much more advanced state of decay than he anticipated, as in addition to the decay in the ground, dry-rot had eaten away the heart of the supports and left them mere shells. Armed with such incontrovertible facts I lost no time in getting our Parliamentary representatives to take action and after the usual procedure, the matter of erecting a new traffic bridge at Cowra was referred to the Works Committee for inquiry and report.
Works Committee Inquiry
Thus on the visit of the Works Committee previously mentioned, that body was called upon to report on the proposed new bridge in addition to the Cowra-Canowindra railway. On the date appointed for inquiry I had quite a number of residents of the town and district in attendance, whose testimony, in addition to the very favourable report of the Railway Commissioners, should have been ample to satisfy any impartial body of adjudicators that the Cowra via Cowra to Forbes line would be the best in the interests of public policy.
Only a section (three) of the committee came to Cowra, viz., Messrs. J.E. Tonkin (Chairman) and J.S. Dowell, M.L.A., and Geo. H. Cox, M.L.C. During the inquiry I ascertained for the first time that the railway proposed by the Cowra Railway League was classed as an alternative to the Orange via Borenore to Parkes and Forbes route, consequently the only evidence tendered at Cowra in opposition to the latter was embodied in the report of the Railway Commissioners. At the close of the inquiry in connection with the railway, evidence was taken respecting the new bridge, and in this matter the practical testimony of Mr. J. V. Bartlett, Government Roads Officer was most conclusive.
In order, however, to make assurance doubly sure the members of the sectional committee, before closing the inquiry, adjourned to the site of the old bridge, or rather the structure then in existence, and with tomahawks and augers attacked the supporting piers, and satisfied themselves regarding the correctness of Mr. Bartlett’s evidence. They then made a critical survey of the superstructure, and here the experiences of Mr. Dowell, who had been a bridge-builder, was of much value. This concluded the inquiry of the Works Committee.
A Palpable Flouting of Equity
The same night, while strolling about the town with Mr. Tonkin, in the course of conversation, he congratulated me very warmly on the very creditable manner in which the cause for both railway and bridge had been placed before the committee. I then queried: “Don’t you consider we have made out a good case for the railway proposal?” He replied: “You have most certainly, but you cannot get it.” I said: “Why” He responded: “Because the old man” (meaning Sir Henry Parkes)” has definitely promised his name town (Parkes) that it must get the railway. I may however tell you that one of my colleagues (Mr. Cox) is in favour of the route you advocate. I am pleased though to be able to inform you that you will get a new bridge.”
Thus it may be said that the traffic bridge which now runs from the end of Kendall street was given to us as compensation for the loss of the Cowra via Canowindra and Eugowra to Forbes railway. Regarding that bridge I may say that it is what is termed technically a “composite” structure, viz., built of wood, iron and concrete. It is the first of its kind that was built in N.S.W., and it is certainly a structure which reflects infinite credit on the official who designed it and the construction contractors (Messrs. Wishart and Sons). The remains of the narrow old bridge which ran from the end of Bridge street, or at least the sound portion thereof was sold to saw.millers down the river.
When the.members of the sectional committee submitted a report to their colleagues, Messrs. Tonkin and Dowell favoured the Orange-Borenore route, but Mr. Cox was firm in his advocacy of the Cowra-Canowindra proposal. Eventually the first-named route, through party strength and the influence of Sir Henry Parkes gained the day.
A Palpable Flouting of Equity
Thus, through political influence, a railway line, a portion of which runs along the backbone of a ridge with steep grades, and of pronounced sterility, has been thrust upon the country, while a shorter and much better route, from an engineering and economical aspect, was available. It was a palpable flouting of equity and common sense, which reflects much discredit upon the part of Sir Henry Parkes.
Published 22 June 1928
The West Lachlan Route.
Many years later, when it was proposed to extend the line from Canowindra to Forbes or Parkes, Messrs. C. Grieve and D’Arcy, in conjunction with the Cowra Railway League, advocated the construction of a line from either Billimari or the Western approach to the Cowra Railway bridge down the western bank of the Lachlan river, to connect with the Stockinbingal line at a point about eight miles from Forbes. It was held that this route traversed country which could be made very productive if it was provided with the means for reaching markets per railway. It was also held that it would be a preferable route to that from Canowindra via Eugowra to Forbes, and it was further maintained that it would link up with the transcontinental line and obviate the necessity for transversing a line with such steep grades as were to be met with on the line between Molong and Parkes.
Besides it would be a more direct route to Sydney. The Railway Commissioners, after causing an official investigation of the route to be made, reported favourably. An effort to obtain Parliamentary approval, however, failed because, it was held, that as the extension from Canowindra to Euqowra had been already sanctioned, and, as such would serve a large area of the country than would be served by the alteration proposed, the adoption of the latter route would be inadvisable. The extension from Canowindra to Eugowra was subsequently carried out I and this eventuated in dissipating all hope of the West Lachlan scheme being seriously entertained at all events for the time being.
Cowra to Canowindra Railway.
The rejection of the original proposal to connect with Forbes from Cowra did not deter the railway leagues of Cowra and Canowindra from making renewed efforts to secure for Canowindra all the benefits which accrue from railway facilities. The country around Canowindra is admittedly equal to the very best in the State I consequently all that was needed to develop its productivity was a cheap and ready means to ensure .the marketing of its products; some of the Canowindra folk jumped to the conclusion that the Cowra Railway League was not genuinely favorable to Canowindra’s claims, and therefore, was either secretly antagonistic or utterly indifferent.
But, having been hon. secretary to the Cowra League, I was in a position to state that such a conclusion is contrary to fact. Mr. Waddell will, I am sure, vouch for the truth of the statement, even when some Canowindra folk were endeavouring to belittle the claims of their town to railway I urged him to continue to fight on. And, that when I conceived him to be losing heart and flag in his efforts, I alone encouraged him to persevere. Canowindra at that time was very restricted owing to the land being in the hands of a few holders. Therefore the place had only a small thin voice and few outside champions. I claim to have been a persistent and consistent champion of Canowindra’s rights from the very inception of the railway movement until a glorious victory was achieved. That the town and district has since prospered amply compensates one for the part I have taken in a righteous cause.
The Cowra to Crookwell Railway Scheme.
It having been observed that a large tract of good country, laying between Cowra and Galong, on the main Southern railway, he, Messrs. Prosser brothers and other residents in the vicinity of Frogmore, evolved a scheme, which it was conceived, was impracticable. The idea was to construct a railway from some point on the Harden-Blayney line, near Cowra, via Frogmore and Reid’s Flat, to Crookwell, a distance of from 90 to 100 miles(145 to 160km. The good offices of the Cowra Railway League having been enlisted, I, as hon. secretary, was called upon to prepare the customary petition, also to attend to voluminous correspondence of a departmental nature. Following the holding of sundry meetings and conferences, the proposal assumed a concrete form, and eventually it was resolved to hasten matters on by sending a deputation to Sydney to interview the Minister for Works, and impress on that functionary the special claims of the country concerned to a railway.
In addition to residents of Frogmore and neighbouring localities, some members of the Cowra Railway League were amongst the delegates. I was strongly importuned to accompany the deputation and offers were even made to pay the whole of my expenses, but pressure of business compelled me to decline. Before the delegates went on their mission I equipped them with all the requisite information re the proposed railway, and instructed them in respect to procedure. The interview with the Minister was most successful, and in due time a trial survey of the route was directed. owing to meeting with some engineering difficulties several surveys, including one from Koorawatha, were made before a practical route, was found.
The choice then fell on the one which started from a point on the Blayney-Harden line on the Cowra side of Noonbinna. The proposed line was submitted later to the Public Works Committee, and that body, after hearing evidence, reported in favour of the adoption of the proposal.
At that time Burrowa was without a “line” but when the line from Galong to that town was built, the authorities must have concluded that the Cowra-Crookwell extension was unnecessary. At all events, no further effort has been made to cause the Govern- ment to take further action. The Cowra Railway League is now non est, and its existence and activities have been for many years relegated to oblivion. It should, nevertheless, be accorded a prominent position in the annals of our town.
Published 29 June 1928
Our Venerable Progress Association.
Close on fifty years ago, when the town was wholly destitute of local government or similar institution armed with authority to take action as was deemed expedient to secure the redressing of Government requirements of the place under the notice of the various Government Departments, I convened a public meeting with the object of forming a Progress Association. The response was not as satisfactory as the importance of the occasion demanded, still it was sufficiently representative to enable the gathering to inaugurate an institution which was destined to advance the interests of a town, which was designated a village, and so far as proportions and population were concerned its official designation was absolutely correct.
However, my main objective in inaugurating this new institution was to endeavour to prove that the place had emerged from its “Sleepy Hollow” status, and that a live band of citizens existed, which was prepared to insist on attention being accorded to its claims. As the proprietor and editor of the only local paper, I was fully privileged to use the magical word WE, and to maintain that I voiced the sentiments of the community, but I was also conscious that in official circles, should the “rag” be read by any of those assailed the attack would be treated contemptuously, and simply regarded as the emanation of a poor “penny-a-liner.” Thus, while quite prepared to undertake full responsibility for anything I might pen, I felt that any course I might adopt in the interests of the community would have more force and be more effective if backed by a public body.
In dealing with the various public departments I could claim to have gained considerable experience as hon. secretary to a similar institution in Grenfell, thus, I was no novice at secretarial duties.
The First Meeting
When the Progress Association was declared duly formed it decided to appoint only a secretary and treasurer. I was chosen for the first mentioned office and Mr. J. Muir for that of keeper of the money bags. That the treasurer was not overburdened with cash may be gleaned from the fact that enrolment did not exceed 20, and that the membership fee was limited to 1/- per annum. Amongst the matters taken in hand at the first meeting was the apportioning of a block of land in the centre of the surveyed township, which on the official map was designated “Market Reserve.” This was at the corner of Kendall and Brisbane streets. The Association asked the Lands Department to dedicate a portion of the area as a site for a School of Arts and another portion as a Church of England site.
In making an application for the latter, I was instructed to point out that the block originally’ set apart for a site was wholly unsuitable, being in a swampy situation off the river end of Vaux street. Mr. Challacombe, who was at the meeting, said that if the application for a portion of the market reserve on behalf of the Church of England were granted he was prepared to give £100 for the original site. I made a very strong appeal to the Minister regarding this matter and also enlisted the good offices of our member, Mr. Andrew Lynch, in support of the application.
In reply I was informed that an area at the corner of Kendall and Brisbane streets had been set apart for public buildings (that is where the Court House now stands) and that the adjoining block would be granted as a site for a Church and Rectory to the Anglican denomination. I was also informed that a site at the rear of the public buildings site had been set apart for a School of Arts. Thus the greater part of the Market Reserve was absorbed. The remaining portion was subsequently used by the Railway Department as a site for a tank, and when it was no longer required for that purpose the Rev. D.A. Gilsenan became the purchaser, and erected buildings on it. It will be thus seen that I was directly responsible for securing the sites for the purposes indicated.
The Improvement of Kendall Street
The improvement of Kendall street was another matter which engaged the attention of the Association at an early stage of its career. This was a most difficult problem to settle satisfactorily owing to the houses on the northern side having been erected on a much higher level than those on the southern side. The portion of street from Martin’s tailoring establishment to Moore’s butchery available for traffic did not exceed 20 ft. in width. Moore’s old butchery was perched on top of a gravel pinnacle, and at the corner of Kendall and Macquarie streets the residence of Mr. John Muir occupied even a higher elevation on a gravel spur which projected into, what should have been, the centre of the street.
It will be realised from this that the portion of our main thoroughfare referred to was both unsightly and inconvenient for traffic. In an early issue of the “Free Press” I referred to the deplorable condition of the street and added, that measures should be taken to make it, at least, trafficable. As soon as Mr. R. Stevenson read the paragraph he called on me in a tearing rage and said I had been guilty of a flagrant offence in attempting to interfere with vested rights, and wound up a bitter tirade by saying “I am the trustee and custodian of the Presbyterian Church property in this town, and anyone who attempts to injure that property, as you have done, will have me to reckon with.” Then, without giving me time to reply, he turned on his heel and made a bee line for his home. The threat of a man with such warped ideas did not deter me from taking further action, hence the movement made by the Progress Association.
Deputy Commissioner for Roads
In response to the action taken Colonel Wells, the Commander of the First Australian Military Contingent despatched from our shores to wage war with a foreign foe (the Sudanese) and who was also Deputy Commissioner for Roads, came to Cowra to report on the matter. That official, after hearing the views of the townsfolk interested, which included Mr. Stevenson, said: “Gentlemen, I have heard your views and I believe I can submit to you a scheme which will meet with your approval.” Mr Stevenson asked for information concerning the scheme and Colonel Wells replied that he would know all about it in due time. Mr. Stevenson then entered a voluble protest against any interference with the existing state of the thoroughfare.
Col. Wells then retorted, “Mr. Stevenson, you will have to bow to the will of the majority, and must accept what is fair and reasonable.” About a week later a sketch showing the nature of the scheme evolved by Col. Wells was posted to me, and, so that the matter might be finalised, I immediately convened a public meeting, which was well attended. Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly having been voted to the chair, explained the nature of the scheme as portrayed in the sketch, which showed a thoroughfare with two levels, one being much higher than the other. There was a retaining wall alongside the higher level, and this was surmounted by a neat fence. Mr. Stevenson vehemently denounced the scheme, but the majority of the gathering favoured it. Upon a vote being taken, Mr. Stevenson was the only dissentient.When the result of the voting was announced, Mr. Stevenson, shaking his fist at me, said: “This is your doing, I will make you rue it,” and he rushed from the meeting.
The scheme materialised, and for a time it gave general satisfaction. Visitors to the town in many instances ridiculed the idea of having a terraced roadway with a dividing fence down the centre. Some trouble having been experienced regarding the flow of water on the lower side of the street, Mr. Percy Scarr, Colonel Wells’ successor as Deputy Commissioner of Roads, came here to adjust matters. Mr. Stevenson mentioned that each side of the street should be made to carry its own water. Mr. Scarr, turning to Mr. Stevenson said: “The natural flow of the drainage on the street is through your property, hence you will have to put up with it.” Mr. Stevenson collapsed.
The terraced street continued until the incorporation of the town, and then Bonny’s levels having been adopted, the terraced roadway and the dividing fence disappeared and Kendall Street was brought to its present state.
Published 06 July 1928
The Camping Reserve
Another matter which came to be regarded as vested simply through undisputed usage. We refer to the camping reserve on the opposite side of the river to the town. This area included the present showground and racecourse and extended to the farms of Enright and McElligott, southerly, and to the Waratah and Scalded Plain westerly. For many years it had been customary for the owner of Jerula holding to continuously depasture sheep on this fine block of river without paying a penny rent for it. The townsfolk felt that the land in question should be used by them as a common for town stock and for the teams of carriers and travelling stock. There were many murmurs of discontent at what was conceived to be a deprival of legitimate rights, but no one felt disposed to come out in the open and “bell the cat.”
When the matter was brought under the notice of the Progress Association, it was decided, after some discussion, to ask the Minister for Lands to reduce the area of the reserve to much narrower limits, and to make the cut off portion available for small suburban areas. When the application was made the Minister regarded it favourably and called for a report from his subordinates. The first official sent here was from the District Surveyor’s Office, Orange. He called to see me in my official capacity to ascertain what my Association required, and, when I informed him as briefly as possible, he attempted to belittle the object of the Association, and then interposed quite a number of objections to the aims of the Association.
Whatever the reports of the official may have been I know not, but as some time elapsed without any further action I, with a certain tenacity of purpose, wrote to the Minister and asked him to furnish me with a copy of the official report. In reply I was informed that the subject matter was still in the hands of the District Surveyor, from whom a report had been demanded. A few days later Mr. District Surveyor Crouch called on me and enquired why I was so impatient, as the effect of my last letter to the Minister had been most annoying to him, seeing that the Minister had given him a sharp rebuke for not submitting a report earlier.
Mr. Crouch, then sought to dissuade me from proceeding further in the matter, and advanced some reasons in favour of allowing Mr. Campbell to continue to depasture his sheep on the reserve. I told him most emphatically that the people of the town were bent upon having their proposal carried into effect, and that I intended straining every nerve in my efforts to have their wishes respected.
Lord of the Manor,
Later Mr. Crouch reported in favour of the proposal of the Association, and a little later still, the survey of suburban blocks on the reserve was directed. While this project was under way Mr. G. Campbell, Lord of the manor, on the occasion of one of his customary visits, asked me what caused me to pursue such an antagonistic course towards him. I asked him to explain what he meant.
He then said that I must have been aware that he had for several years grazed his sheep on the reserve on the opposite side of the river, and that I was the first to endeavour to prevent a continuance of the practice. I replied that I never regarded him as one who had exclusive claim to the reserve, hence no attempt had been made by me to interfere with his legitimate personal interests. I added that the course of action pursued by me was due to a desire to protect the interests of the community as a whole, and to ensure the growth and progress of our town.
Some years later Mr. Campbell, who was a just, honourable, and fair minded man, candidly admitted that I was perfectly justified in acting as I had done with respect to the reserve. In due time portion of the reserve not included in the reduced reserve was cut into suburban blocks ranging in area from two to ten or more acres. And an announcement regarding the sale by auction, upset price, terms, etc., was published in the “Government Gazette.” Regarding the upset price for the lots, the consensus of public opinion was that the value set on the land by Mr. Crouch, District Surveyor was absurdly high, hence, that there was some ulterior motive underlying such a course of procedure. This opinion was strengthened on the day of the sale, when Mr. Crouch seated himself at the Court-room table and took an active part in the
When a bid was made for a lot he advanced the price, and continued running up the figure until he concluded the buyer had reached his limit, and then ceased to bid further. he was careful not to make a first bid, consequently not a single lot was knocked down to him. Such a course is most unusual with land officials, and in this particular instance was most reprehensible. Indeed I feel sure that if such behaviour had been reported to the Minister a good deal of unpleasantness would have arisen.
The Association’s attention was directed to a blacksmith named Pryor having erected a smithy close to the western approach to the traffic bridge, and nearby a home for his family. This man’s speciality vas shoeing working bullocks, and he was certainly an expert at the business, but his callers were not sufficiently numerous to make the business remunerative, hence he adopted a cut rate policy as a general blacksmith, and this raised the ire of the town tradesmen. On unoccupied Crown lands within a proclaimed goldfield area it was the privilege of any man holding an Unexpired miner’s right to peg out a site for a business, also a residence, wherever he felt disposed, therefore Pryor assumed that he was well within his legitimate rights in acting as he had done.
Under instructions from my Association I brought the matter under Sergeant McCartie’ s notice, and that officer, satisfied Pryor that the land he occupied was not within a goldfields area, hence he was in unlawful occupation, which was an offence to which a penalty was attached. The Serqeant , however, gave the man ample time to depart for more congenial scenes. A good deal of the time of the Association was taken up with attending to road matters, and in connection therewith the principal trouble arose from an inclination to adopt a cheeseparing policy in respect to the disbursement of road votes. Road officials seemed to be impressed with the notion that it was their duty to make their returned unexpended balance as large as possible.
The Bellevue Hill Cutting
While Messrs. A.J. Single and J.W. Bartlett were road superintendents here I was kept well informed regarding surpluses, and therefore was in a position to direct attention to certain bad spots for which no money had been made available, and these places were invariably immediately placed in a trafficable condition. This reminds me of an amusing incident with which I was associated concerning unexpended balances. I was standing in front of the post office conversing with Mr. J. V. Bartlett, when the subject of unexpended balances cropped up. I remarked to Mr. Bartlett that if he had any money to spare it would be a good thing to cut a road through Bellevue Hill at the rear of the Hospital, as it would materially shorten the road to Binni Creek.
To my astonishment Mr. Bartlett at once agreed that it was a splendid proposal, and added that he had a surplus of £300, which he would spend on the work, as he saw no reason why the whole of the vote should not be expended in the district to which it had been allotted. Mr. Bartlett went on with the work, and when he found there was not enough to complete the work he succeeded in getting a further sum. Mr. Howey when he saw the completed work said it reminded him of the famous Khyber Pass in India.That is how the cutting through the hill came to be made.
The opening of roads of access to various properties was another matter in which the Progress Association took an active part. I remember well having to deal with an application of that character on behalf of Mr. P.J. Begley and other residents in the vicinity of Walli. The road in question was from the Binni Creek road through “The Islands” estate towards Walli.
“The Islands” Road Dispute
Shortly after action had been taken the owner of “The Islands” property came and said, “I wish Ryall, you would not go any further in connection with the road through ‘The Islands’. It will depreciate the value of my property considerably.”
I replied, “I am simply acting for the Progress Association.” He said, “I know, but you can fix matters up. Do this for me and if a hundred pounds or so are of any use to you it will be yours.” I responded, “A hundred pounds would be very useful to me, most certainly, but it will never be accepted at the sacrifice of honour and principle. You can rest assured that I will now be unsparing in my efforts to get the road for the people.”
I eventually succeeded in having the road opened, hence I thus lost £100 or more. On another occasion Mr. Daniel Reilly and other residents of Glen Logan came to me and stated that a surveyed road from Glen Logan to the river had been enclosed in a North Logan paddock, therefore they were denied access to the river with their stock. Believing the complaint of the people to be reasonable I took immediate action, and this resulted in the owner of the property being called upon to open and fence off the road. Later I was informed by the complaining Glen Logan residents that the owner of the property with the enclosed road had promised to make a large tank for them if they did not insist on the opening of the road. Because, if the road were fenced the property would be divided and could not be worked to advantage.
After the lapse of some months these people came to me again and stated that the promised tank had not materialised, and that the road was still enclosed, and therefore they wished me to reopen the matter. I declined most emphatically to take any further action, and added that as they had failed to seize their opportunity they could only blame themselves for the position they were in. Regarding the opening of other enclosed roads, in several instances action taken by me was thwarted by someone who had the ear and friendship of those in authority.
A Conflict of Interest
Having a Parliamentary representative who is a local property owner, and therefore has a stake in the district, and who is thoroughly conversant with the requirements of the electorate is most certainly an advantage. But when one has occasion to bring a matter under the notice of a Departmental head which affects the landed or proprietary interests in the district of that member, it is only human that he should endeavour to stay one’s hand, no matter good one’s case might be. That at all events has been my experience. This mainly refers to the closing of roads of access, the deviating and diverting of roads, and to the resumption of land for new roads.
The Progress Association in the early days of free selection, which in this district may be said to date from the time the railway movement; became a live and important factor with the “powers that be”, did much to assist men on the land to secure their rights. It has always been a potential instrument in moulding and developing the destinies of the town and district. While in active operation it has been instrumental in correcting many abuses and securing the expenditure of many thousands of pounds here, and this at the cost of barely sufficient to defray postages.
It has now been defunct for several years, but it has been replaced by an institution which rejoices in the high sounding designation of Chamber of Commerce, which we earnestly hope may be blessed with a lengthy, prosperous, and exceedingly useful career. It was at one time assumed that it came entirely within the province of our Municipal Council to watch over and attend to local affairs, but experience has taught us that body can find little time to devote to any project outside what closely pertains to works associated with the Municipality. Our civic Fathers are evidently oblivious to the fact that as representatives of a populous and important Municipality, they should be in a position to voice the opinion of the ratepayers on all matters.
The Mayor, as chief citizen, should take the lead in all public functions, Municipal or otherwise, and he should insist on the preservation of his rights in that respect.
……..to Part TEN