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The Melbourne Bushies

- Fifty years along the track (1940-90)

Chapter 9 - Using Railways for Walking

Spencer George collection

Our usual meeting place is under the clocks, Flinders Street, or near the Man in Grey, No. 1 Platform, Spencer Street, in plenty of time to catch the train. Leader or deputy will be there hail, rain or shine. For van transport, meet in Batman Avenue, near tram terminus.

These words preface the Melbourne Bushwalkers autumn 1965 programme.

My first walk with the Melbourne Bushwalkers was on Saturday 26 June 1965. The leader, Barry Short, was waiting under the clocks at Flinders Street Station to catch an electric train to Belgrave for a lyrebird walk in Sherbrooke Forest. We spent the day wandering the forest tracks and saw a number of lyrebirds

The next Friday night, Darrell Sullivan was waiting outside Wights Travel Agency in Flinders Street to guide us onto the McKenzie's bus that deposited us at Fernshaw. On Saturday, Darrell led us up the old Black Spur Road to Mt Monda. Fern gullies and tall forest regenerating from the 1939 fires are my memories of the trip. On Sunday we climbed Mt St Leonard from where we saw the tall buildings of Melbourne, then walked to Healesville Station to catch a diesel-hauled train back to Melbourne. This trip was Art Terry's first walk with the Club.

The following Sunday the leader, John Richards, was waiting for us near the Man in Grey at Spencer Street Station. We caught the train to Macedon. From here we walked through the Black Forest to Woodend Station. At lunchtime it snowed. The day was so cold that we walked quickly, and we were at Woodend by 3.00 p.m., but the train did not leave until about 8.00 p.m. So we walked alongside the railway line back to the unattended station at Macedon where we collected wood and in the waiting room lit a fire that warmed us while we waited for the train home. This walk was Tim Dent's first trip with the Club.

Trains were used for a Sunday walk two weeks later, led by Robin Petersen. We caught the 9:05 a.m. train from Flinders Street, meeting under the clocks. The fare was 18s 6d ($1.85). We left the train at Yarragon, climbed into the Strzelecki Range, pushed our way through metre-high bracken and then descended to Trafalgar to catch a train home.

My next Sunday train trip with the Club was on 15 August 1965 when we walked across the paddocks between Tynong and Gembrook. My transport costs from Melbourne totalled 21s 3d ($2.12). It was raining at lunchtime and a kind farmer allowed us to shelter in his hayshed. After lunch he showed us his museum. While walking through the paddocks we saw a group of about a hundred kangaroos. Darrell Sullivan led this walk.

The spring programme for 1965 contained nine train trips, seven van trips, two McKenzie's bus trips and only one private (car) transport trip. The most expensive was £5 15s ($11.50) for a June long weekend train trip to Hattah Lakes and the cheapest was 6s (60c) for a Sunday walk by train to Yarra Glen.

On 24 October 1965 Maitland Vertigan led a walk titled 'Old Strzelecki Railway'. This line from Koo-Wee-Rup, built to serve farmers living in the recently drained Koo-Wee-Rup swamps and the Strzelecki Range, opened on 29 June 1922 and the mountainous Triholm to Strzelecki section was closed on 22 November 1930. The rest of the line was closed by 4 February 1959. The line was constructed through paddocks and when closed quickly reverted to paddocks. I can remember long, wet grass and frequent fences. In 1991 there is not even a shop in Strzelecki.

Other MBW walks during 1965 that used rail were Robin Petersen's on 28 November 1965 from Pinchgut Hill to Anglesea River to Wensleydale Station and on to Layard (the line to Wensleydale opened on 17 March 1890 and closed on 20 October 1948) and Tyrone Thomas's walk on Cup Day from Diggers Rest Station to the Organ Pipes, which are hexagonal basalt formations alongside a creek. We followed the creek downstream, catching the train at Sydenham.

My twenty-third walk with the Club was led by John Richards along the Powelltown Bush line and High Lead. The walk was through tall timber, thick fern and clear creeks with some remaining bridges, sleepers, dog spikes and steel rails. This was my introduction to the fascinating series of timber tramways that during the thirties and forties provided rail links between Yarra Junction, Powelltown, Ada Valley, Big Pats Creek and Warburton. The last broad-gauge (5 foot 3 inches) passenger train to Warburton was in 1965, just weeks before I joined the Club.

The last 3-foot gauge train from Yarra Junction to Powelltown was on 31 July 1944. The timber tramways died in the 1939 bushfires or during World War II. Currently Conservation and Lands maintain a series of walking tracks known as "Walk into History" along the old timber tramways from Powelltown to the Bump Tunnel, High Lead, Ada Valley, Starlings Gap, Big Pats Creek and Warburton. There is now a cycling and walking track between Yarra Junction and Warburton along the old broad-gauge right-of-way.

Art Terry was leader of a weekend train trip from Tallarook via Mt Marianne to Yea on 10-11 September 1966. With some changes (particularly in pace) this became Art's famous Broadford - Yea marathon. The walk features magnificent views from the ridges, but it takes effort climbing the spurs. There are also a lot of fences!

Roy Beames's moonlight walk from Red Hill South to Shoreham and along Western Port beaches on 25-26 February 1967 started with picking ripe blackberries at the terminus of the old Red Hill Railway, which closed in 1953. We then descended across grassy paddocks and fences to the seashore, which we followed for the rest of the walk.

I led my first walk for the Club on Sunday 9 April 1968. At the start of the walk we passed the site of Wright Station on the closed Gembrook line, then followed quiet, soft bush roads until we climbed grassy hills near Pakenham.

Barry Short led a track-clearing weekend on 22-24 October 1968. We started clearing part of the timber tramway from New Federal Mill to Starlings Gap. During the process we found many sleepers, some dog spikes and some wooden rail. However, the track was heavily overgrown and at the end of two days of hard work we had cleared only metres, not kilometres. We were back on the job in October 1969. Art Terry was the leader this time, as he was in 1970 also. About this time the Forestry Commission did a good job of clearing the walking track with a bulldozer, but most of the railway relics were also cleared. Also, 'officials' decided the remaining bridges were 'unsafe'. The bridges were demolished.

Walkers leaving a chartered train for a Federation Moomba Day Walk in the Macedon area,
Walkers leaving a chartered train for a Federation Moomba Day Walk in the Macedon area,
Bob Steel collection

Clarkefield - Deep Creek - Kilmore East was the weekend walk led by Tyrone Thomas on 27-28 June 1970. Appropriately we travelled by train to Clarkefield then for some time followed the old permanent way from Clarkefield to Lancefield. This section was opened in 1881 and closed in 1956. From 1892 to 1904 there was also a railway from Lancefield to Kilmore. Kilmore was on the line from Bendigo to Heathcote Junction. The section from Kilmore to Heathcote Junction opened in 1888 and closed in 1968. So during this walk we passed parts of three previous railway lines and travelled on two current lines.

I have described some of my early trips with the Club during the late sixties. You will notice that we frequently travelled by train, and we also found that some abandoned railways made good walking areas.

John Siseman led a weekend walk (6-8 November 1987) that started at Collins Siding, the stopping place before Erica on the Moe to Walhalla narrow-gauge (2 feet 6 inches) line. We followed the recently cleared permanent way down to Tyers Junction where there used to be a locomotive shed that housed the 1694 Climax. After rusting in the forest for years, the wood-burning Climax is the latest addition to the Puffing Billy fleet and proudly hauls 'The Commissioner's Special' across the Monbulk Creek trestle bridge at a maximum speed of 5 miles per hour. From the scout camp at Tyers Junction we tried to follow a couple of timber tramlines to a camping area on the Alpine Walking Trail below Mt Erica. Then we walked along the Alpine Track, which follows the firewood tramlines along the Thomson River. During the gold-mining era, all trees near Walhalla were burnt in the fireboxes of mine boilers or in the wood stoves of miners' kitchens. The steel bridge across the Thomson River at Poverty Point carried the firewood trains across the river. After a diversion to Mormon Town this walk finished in Walhalla. The narrow-gauge line to Walhalla opened on 3 May 1910, with the section to Walhalla closing on 1 April 1944, and the section from Erica to Moe closing on 25 June 1954. The Garratt engine G42 that used to run on this line is now being restored at Belgrave by the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.

On 19 March 1988 Athol Schafer led a Historical Ramble along the Ross Town Railway built in 1883-84. No revenue train ever ran on this line, which was constructed from Oakleigh to Elsternwick. The walkers on this trip also did not reach Elsternwick as we were interrupted by afternoon tea at the leader's home.

Jean Giese and I led a Wednesday walk near Warburton on 12 December 1990. After visiting La La Falls the party descended to the Yarra River and followed Big Pats Creek tramway along the river into Warburton and then on the broad-gauge track to Millgrove.

On 17 April 1991 Jean Giese led a walk from Dowey Spur Road down High Lead to Powelltown Bush, then along the bush line to Nayook West and The Bump Tunnel, finishing in Powelltown near the sawmill and outdoor forest railway museum.

In the good old days, before the 1939 bushfires and the building of the Upper Yarra Dam, a popular long walk was the Upper Yarra Track. Walkers caught a steam-train to Warburton, then walked along the road beside the Yarra River to McVeigh's Hotel at Reefton. After stopping here for refreshments they started on the walking track that followed the Yarra River to Yarra Falls, then climbed onto the Baw Baws at Mt Whitelaw, crossed the Baw Baw Plateau to Mt Erica then descended to the Thomson River and Walhalla where they caught a steam-train home. Part of this walk is now under the Upper Yarra Dam and some of it is in proclaimed catchment area, but a new Upper Yarra Walking Track has been marked and described by Conservation and Lands. The Alpine Walking Track is used between Walhalla and Mt Whitelaw and the new 'track' goes from Mt Whitelaw to Warburton. Jean Giese led the first MBW party on this track on Cup Day Weekend, 31 October - 5 November 1991. The first section descending from the Baw Baws to the Upper Thomson River is pleasant walking, even though we lost the poorly marked track when we crossed a creek during a heavy snow-storm. Then for three days we skirted the Upper Yarra Catchment Area on hard gravelly tracks, so we were delighted when we reached The Ada Tree and set up camp in the site of New Federal Mill. The walk through the myrtle beech forest to The Ada Tree is magnificent. From New Federal Mill to Warburton we were on timber tramlines, delightful soft walking through tall forests and fern gullies. (I quickly pass over the leeches, rain and bridges that no longer exist.) The area is a series of tramtracks and mill sites. If you know where to look, at the Federal Mill site there are the rusted galvanised-iron remains of a three-seater dunny, and the remains of the three trees that held the large water tank 40 metres above the ground. Five hundred metres down the permanent way is the make-up bridge where logs were laid horizontally across each other until the wooden rails could be laid at the same height as on the two banks. Two kilometres further on the steel line from the New Ada Mill crossed at right angles on its way across the long trestle bridge over the Ada River; it then descended via High Lead to Powelltown Bush from where steam locomotives hauled the timber to the sawmill in Powelltown. After crossing four side creeks where only a few pieces of timber remain of the trestle bridges, the delightful picnic area of Starlings Gap is reached. From here a tractor running on steel rails lowered the trees to Big Pats Creek and then to Warburton. We followed the timber tramlines, finishing alongside the Yarra River at the Warburton caravan park.

I have described some of my memories of walking using trains during the past 27 years, 1965-92. Will there be any country trains in Victoria in another 27 years' time?