Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Ex-CDA comments, suggestions, criticisms

Early Days : What Might Have Been

The first moves for a railway through Darebin to Whittlesea appears to have come in April, 1866 when a Mr Watkins gave notice in the Legislative Assembly of a motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into and report on advantages that would be conferred on Whittlesea and the northern areas of Melbourne by the re-opening of the Yan Yean tram road.

The tram road was built in the early 1850s for horse-drawn vehicles carting supplies for construction of the Yan Yean Reservoir.  

Base on wooden sleepers, it ran from the Carlton Gardens north along Nicholson Street to St. George's Road South - once a popular short cut between St. George's Road proper and Nicholson, but now blocked off to all but local traffic - along St. George's Road, North Fitzroy from the intersection of Brunswick Street, across a rudimentary wooden bridge over Merri Creek, and then along today's St. George's Road (although the road per se did not open to regular traffic until the 1880s).

The link from there to Plenty Road has never been clearly identified, but the most, perhaps only, possibility is that the tram line branched to the north-east around Hutton Street across the vacant land bought in the around 1905 by Thomas Bent for a State-controlled brickworks and worker's housing.  

Again, the link from Plenty Road to the reservoir itself is uncertain, but possibly Bridge Inn Road. The hotel existed as early as 1842, one of the first to be built outside the inner Melbourne area) and Yan Yean Road.

Speaking in support of his motion the following week, Watkins said there was very considerable wealth in the Whittlesea district and the supply of timber was "almost inexhaustible" with a great quantity brought to Melbourne for export. He also expressed some dismay that the tramway had been allowed to fall into disuse, and that, according to a qualified gentleman to whom he had spoken, the tramway if restored to working order would return on the outlay around fifty per cent.

The six-man panel included Watkins and the member for East Bourke, David Balfour.

The motion was ultimately agreed to, but perhaps the warning signs were there when a couple of those in favour of the committee mentioning any potential re-opening "at a small expense".

(The original tram track was constructed of wooden sleepers, but with no supporting ballast, and there are suggestions that it was so precarious that the full journey from near the Carlton Gardens to Yan Yean could take up to three days.  By the time the committee sat, the track was flanked by 24-inch water pipes on each side for most of the 23-mile journey).

The report outlining the advantages to the northern districts of retaining the tram road was subsequently presented to the House, but nothing was adopted because the session of Parliament came to an end before it could be considered.

A deputation from Morang and Yan Yean accompanied by Watkins and Balfour met with Mr. McCulloch, the Chief Secretary in February, 1867.

Watkins told the Secretary that that the deputation had been disappointed in the response from a public meeting at Morang.

He revealed that the cost of restoring the tramway for horses would be around £1,100 per mile or a total of £25,000 and the expense of steam locomotion £2,550 per mile or £50,000 and that he believed the project would return the Government £20,000 per annum as well as being of great advantage to Whittlesea and the surrounding districts.

McCulloch however suggested that the project should be undertaken as a private venture and that if the potential returns were as Watkins stated, there would be no problem raising the capital for the project.

Watkins claimed the district would guarantee to meet the interest bill if the Government agreed to provide funding, but McCulloch remained adamant that the Government should remain out of business transactions.  He did, however suggest the Government would assist the project as it had already done with other tramways by granting one-third of the land required free of charge.

In October of the same year, a meeting of the Heidelberg Roads Board agreed to form a provisional railway committee to collect and lay down to a public meeting the facts relevant to the extension of the proposed Melbourne to Gipps Land line "from East Collingwood through Northcote to Heidelberg and then by way of Templestowe or Eltham into Gipps Land"

The initial suggestion was that a single line would be sufficient for some years and the cost "would be not more than £80,000, in turn opening up a valuable timber trade and enhancing the value of adjacent Government land.

In December, 1868, the Epping Road Board which included Preston and Northcote agreed to set aside £25 to defray any necessary expenses incurred by delegates appointed to press the claims of districts adjacent to the tram road "this payment to be contingent upon other public bodies interested voting a like sum".

(The same meeting opted to issue tenders for bridges at Oakover-road and at Westgarthtown, but it is not exactly clear what it was that the bridges were supposed to span).

The move to provide a united front appears to have been successful with a deputation comprising two members from each of Fitzroy, Northcote, Preston, Epping and Whittlesea being introduced by Watkins and four other M.L.A's to the Minister of Railways and the newly-appointed Minister of Public Works.

A lengthy document was presented to the Ministers by John Blackie, the Clerk of the Epping Road Board outlining the case for carrying a proposed Upper Murray line (planned through Essendon, Wallan and Kilmore) along the Yan Yean tramway.

Blackie referred in particular to a shortage of building materials in Melbourne, noting 150 men in the Plenty Ranges were constantly employed in collecting timber to the value of £15,000, that one "paddock" in Preston had 100 acres of prime quarrying land and that he believed the £20,000 per annum return already proposed could be trebled within a few years given the impetus of a railway.

He also suggested much of the purchased land north of the Yan Yean would be handed over without charge while others would be content with their original cost plus ten percent.

Although the Minister for Railways, Mr Jones agreed that a railway could be laid along the tramway at considerable less cost than any other part of the colony, the dampener came when he revealed that he had official advice that the original tramway was thoroughly rotten and useless and that could not be used even for a new tramway. He also raised concerns that the proximity of the Yan Yean mains from beginning to end of the proposed line constituted a threat of burst water pipes through the vibration of heavy railway traffic.

Jones presented a number of other arguments against the proposal including a claim that freight returns from timber and stone were the lowest in the colony, but did reveal that the tramway had previously been leased to a Mr Handasyde, but due to the very slow rate of speed allowed, Handasyde had abandoned the tramway and forfeited his deposit.

Some deeper digging reveals that Handasyde had leased the tramway in 1859 for 16 years at a rent of £250 for the first year, £350 the second, £500 the third, £650 fourth, £800 for the fifth and thereafter £1,000. He appears to have abandoned the tramway in April, 1861, after which a railways engineer suggested it would cost £10,000 to repair the line by laying down new wooden sleepers and something like £70,000 to convert it to a steam railway.  It was also suggested at the time that the Government had no intention of repairing the tramway.

ADDED : February, 2019



 Darebin’s Transport : Tall Tales and True