The third and final installment of the Aussie Adventure made in October 2019 by five of our active Rail/Steam Volunteers with financial assistance from the MOTAT Society and MOTAT.
DAY SIX The day started out a long, three hour drive from Geelong to Bendigo, with a stop off in Malden to visit the Victorian Goldfields railway. There we met Mick and his team, working in their modest depot, stripping a timber bodied carriage for repainting, and performing maintenance on their J class oil fired VR engine. Currently their only operating steam locomotive, it is used for their running days. Its tall stature makes it an imposing engine and the smoke deflectors give it a European character, however the cab is fairly tight for space by comparison to similar NZR locomotives. It is apparently well suited to hauling their 3-4 car trains up and down their 17km line of mixed 1:70 and 1:40 grades. The carriages are also quite interesting and clearly have American and European inspirations to their design. They are very long, with a Pullman car that is a shade under 80' long and the rest around 71'. Upon our arrival in Bendigo we boarded the first tram available, a popular option based on how full this one was. We travelled the length of the line from the Joss House to the Deborah Mine with a brief stop along the way at the tramway workshops and museum. The workshops are due to be significantly upgraded and expanded to both store the old Melbourne fleet and make it a better tourist attraction.
At the Deborah mine we booked in a mine tour and explored the site, looking through the winding house, boiler house, mine buildings, stamper battery and displays. This site has been impressively well preserved and feels very authentic. They also allow you to climb the poppet head for great views over the city. The mines have 15 or so levels, though only the top ten are kept dry for tours. Our tour was in one of their shallowest levels at only 65m below ground, with the next at 80m and the deepest, Level Nine, at 228m below ground. We had a great guide who was able to explain the mine and its history in a funny and engaging way. As it was a proper mine we were required to wear hard hats, battery belts and mine lamps. Drilling, explosives and loading techniques were demonstrated to give us an idea of the work involved. Both Marty and Alex were drawn into the demonstrations which was a bit of fun.
The highlight of the tour was the demonstration of the mucker mine tub loading machine, which runs on compressed air and efficiently scoops the rubble from tunneling into the wagons. We watched with interest and pondered how we could get MOTAT's example operating to demonstrate it to the public in the same way. This tour was definitely superior to the Sovereign Hill tour as it was a far more authentic mine experience. After the tour ended we spoke at length with our guide about the mucker and how it was able to operate safely in front of the public every day. Our last stop was the Daylesford Spa Country Railway. Whilst it was pretty closed up when we visited we were able to appreciate the look and feel of a classic country station, complete with goods shed and full yard. The collection of wagons on display was very interesting to compare with NZ examples and whilst much larger in general than NZ examples, the size of their bodies and loads were comparable with the later NZR wagons.
DAY SEVEN First stop ARHS Newport Railway Museum, a static museum established in the 1960s to preserve the quickly disappearing steam locomotives of Victorian Railways. Setting up on a temporary site behind the workshop foundry the collection grew and grew over the years, while also deteriorating out in the open. Fast forward to today and the museum is finally turning things around. A fresh group of volunteers have given some items away and begun constructing shelters on the site to make the best of the present situation, as for the foreseeable future they are unlikely to move. We saw a range of VR steam locomotives from the 1880s tank engines through to the end of steam. This included the only absolutely massive H class 4-8-4 heavy goods engine, A2 Passenger engines, N, K, D2, 3 & 4 branch engines and a range of early period diesel locomotives. Also present was the earliest suburban motor carriage, a sleeping car, 1930s dining car, vice regal car and a model railway. All in all we got a good tour of a cross section of Victorian Railways history, with a very knowledgeable guide to take us around. Next we chanced a visit to Steam Rail Victoria, housed in the former VR workshops at Newport. Due to an arson attack a few years ago some of their electric units and carriages were destroyed and the building heavily damaged. They have an impressive fleet of running carriages, EMUs and steam locomotives with a range of overhauls and restorations underway including some 'red rattler' stock to replace those lost in the attack. The other half of the workshops contains the remains of the old Melbourne tram fleet. These are due to be cleared out in favour of a market or some form of property development. After dinner we decided to visit the Geelong Vintage Machinery Club and its range of exhibits including a dredge triple expansion steam engine, tractors, wool scouring machines and numerous stationary steam and oil engines. Outside is the remains of a double dumping press used to compress wool bales for shipping. This is planned to be set up beside the pump used to power it. A range of other vintage agricultural machinery is also on hand for demonstrations at their scheduled A&P shows. DAY EIGHT Our final day saw our group quite fatigued and we kept our activity plan to a minimum, stopping off in the Melbourne CBD on our way to the airport. After parking up in the closed Queen Victoria Markets we headed towards a shopping mall containing the old shot tower. An impressive building, it comprises a large glass cone enclosing the 50m high brick tower. Similar to the much less impressive one in Auckland it was used to manufacture lead shot ammunition by dropping molten lead from a great height into a pool of water.
We took a short walk to the State Library, a remarkable building from the turn of the last century featuring an impressively proportioned glass domed reading hall. This library also contains exhibitions on the State's history, including the famous Kelly Gang and the story of their rise and eventual demise. Part of this story was an exhibition containing Ned Kelly's armour as well as the remains of a short silent film describing his capture. Afterwards we went off in search of a Melbourne tram to catch to Flinders Street Station and ended up on an old SW tram, packed with tourists like ourselves, and were glad to get off at Federation Square. We then took our last tram ride back to the car to start our long journey home. SUMMARY All in all I think we learned a lot from this trip and have all probably taken away something different from our experiences. The vintage city at Lake Goldsmith provided inspiration for how we could set up a demonstration steam workshop and more information on how we can maintain, operate and restore MOTAT's road & stationary steam collection. Sovereign Hill showed us how immersive and authentic a historic village can be, while its demonstrations of craftsmanship were also fascinating and highly educational. Puffing Billy Railway and museum demonstrated what can be achieved when you have a vision and a well organised team. The railway has 100 staff (some part time) and 600-700 active volunteers. In comparison Auckland has about one third of the population of Melbourne and MOTAT Rail has 2 staff and 15-25 active volunteers. Based on this example, with the support of MOTAT staff, we think the MOTAT Rail collection has an opportunity to build a much larger, well organised volunteer team that we could call on for expanded operations, maintenance and restoration work. - by Alex Smith and Martyn Radford
Part One of our three part MOTAT Volunteers’ Aussie Adventure was published in our March issue of Squeaky Wheel Issue #36 and Part Two in the August Issue #37.