13- 14 Nov 2010
- John and Margaret Jackaroo
- Les and Ros Patrol
- Barry and Lynda Prado
- Mark Pathfinder
- Philip and Brenda Jackaroo
On Saturday 13 November dawn broke with heavy rain. As trip leaders, we were aiming to get to KooWeeRup before the rest of the group but the continuing rain required caution and we found two vehicles already there by 8.50 am.
The trip briefing was conducted in the bus shelter at the KooWeeRup bus interchange. We planned to follow the route of the abandoned KooWeeRup – Strzelecki Railway line so some history on the railway was in order to set the scene. Local farmers in the district had campaigned for many years for a railway to access the area around McDonalds track south of Warragul to enable farmers to receive stores and send produce to market. However over the years from the late 1870s the succession of petitions and plans were all somewhat different and it was not until 1914 that the KooWeeRup to McDonalds Track Railway Bill was passed by the state government. This was hardly a propitious time to commence construction (due to the commencement of WW1) and it was not until 1919 that work actually commenced. Light construction techniques were used with horse drawn buckets and bullock drays. The line was placed on the ground without much ballast. The line was finally opened at Strzelecki on 29 June 1922. Before leaving the KooWeeRup car park we noted the area where the engine shed and turntable were located at the end of the car park.
We travelled to Bayles where the only remaining evidence of the station was the weighbridge (right). Bayles was named after the first member of the construction team to have been killed at Gallipoli. The KooWeeRup district was famous for its potatoes, and the notice board adjacent to the weighbridge tells the story.
It was then onto the next station on the route – Catani, which was named after Carlo Catani, the engineer responsible for the major drainage works that made the hitherto swamps in the KooWeeRup district into productive fields for dairy and crops. There was little to identify the next station at Herne Hill on the Western Port Rd just west of the Lang Lang River.
The Railway continued up the river valley to Athlone station which was the site of a saw mill for the local Blackwood timber. We travelled along Clifton Road that for a km or so actually followed the railway bed through a cutting.
With light rain falling our convoy turned south and then east on Lang Lang Park Rd to the Main South Rd where we continued south with the railway route a km or so to the west. The roadbed was clearly visible at the site of Triholm station that is now marked with a farmer’s shed on the raised embankment with a simulated Victorian Railways sign on its side. (Triholm was a Danish settlement with roads named after local Danish families). The railway formation crossed our road route heading east a couple of km further on. We headed east along Waterfall Gully Rd while the railway made two crossings of the road.
The railway was out of sight from the road for this last section of about 5 km as it followed the contour of the adjacent steep hills. Through the rain showers we could barely see much of the lush green paddocks filled with contented cows.
We travelled north on the Warragul Korumburra Rd and turned east into Wild Dog Valley Rd. The farm shed and buildings now mark the site of the old Strzelecki Station. A 100 m or so further east, the pit of the turntable was discernible in the scrub. We had now completed travelling the 48 km route and were about 200 m elevation above KooWeeRup. In viewing the site today we can wonder at the wisdom in placing a station and sidings in such a location on a steep side slope on a hill that apparently required extensive earth works to construct. The farmers would have had to cart all their produce uphill to Strzelecki station but in compensation it was all downhill getting their stores back home!
Due to declining rail traffic, increasing road traffic and dubious accounting practices in recording revenue attributed to this branch, the railway was closed in stages. Strzelecki – Triholm closed in 1931 a mere 9 years after opening. Athlone to Triholm closed 10 years later in 1941. The last remaining section to Bayles station closed in 1959. We are left with the thought that perhaps if the railway was constructed 20 years earlier when the residents demanded it, then maybe it might have had a more profitable existence and illustrious history.
From the Strzelecki station site we travelled north and east in mist to Moonlight Picnic Ground in Mt Worth State Park for lunch. Lunch was taken under the picnic shelter with the heavy mist (drizzle) falling around us. A lone member of our group, having finished his lunch, decided to stride off on a walking track to see the giant trees saying that this wouldn’t take long. He took a map of walking tracks in the park area but found that he was going in the wrong direction and returned a few minutes later taking another path while the rest of us finished our luncheon. The rest of us then took the loop track to see the giant trees, ferns and the remains of the many timber mills with their rusting boilers that filled the valleys here.
So with 8 members back at the vehicles at the appointed departure time we were still missing our lone walker who was well past his announced return time. Fearing the worst, the 8 members decided to mount 2 search parties of 2 males each with a CB radio. The ladies remained at the vehicles keeping radio contact with each search party. Unfortunately due to the mountainous terrain radio communication dropped off after about 500 m. It was sobering to note that shouting and the vehicle horns were lost in the bush after about 400 m. The classic Coo-Eees were equally smothered by the wet trees and ferns. The group had asked a few other people in the area whether they had sighted our lone walker but no more information was available. We had set a time of 3 pm before we would start to call for outside assistance. Fortunately, while the two search parties were still out, our lone walker finally returned to the vehicles and admitted to losing his way after searching for his misplaced camera. With the return of the search parties it was time to check for leeches. This required a strip down search to get those little suckers out from remote personal areas!
Now running a couple of hours later than scheduled, we headed off in the mist to Mirboo North from where we then took the Grand Ridge Rd east. The first 15 km was on smooth bitumen along the aptly named route. The views either side of the road would have been magnificent if the weather was more favourable as we had noted on the pre-trip. So here is a view of the Alpacas in the sunshine a week before.
The Mountain Ash Springboard tree was found on the north side of the road. Its height of 163 ft was climbed by J.Pattinson in 1927 using 54 springboards. The remains of the holes for the springboards can still be seen.
Reaching Balook and the Tarra Valley Bulga National Park we took the narrow winding C484 south to the Fernholme Tarra Valley Tourist Park. With the forecast poor weather in the days leading up to the trip, the group had wisely chosen to take the option of sharing a couple of cabins. We gathered in one cabin for drinks and nibbles while we solved the world’s problems. These cabins proved to be snug and comfy particularly during the heavy rain overnight. Thank goodness we hadn’t decided to brave it in tents!!
Note the origin of these two parks. In 1903 the Alberton Shire Council asked State Government to reserve an area of forest with fern gullies near Balook as a public park. Twenty hectares were reserved in 1904 and given the Aboriginal name Bulga, meaning “mountain”. Five years later, 303 hectares of forest within the Tarra Valley were temporarily reserved. This park was named after Charlie Tarra, Count Strzelecki’s Aboriginal guide. In 1986 the two area were joined and enlarged through a land exchange with private industry.
The Sunday morning dawned reasonably fine and we travelled back up the winding road pausing at the Tarra Falls which were more a slide than falls and were somewhat disappointing when seen from the viewing area. Up in the Bulga Park Information Centre we saw examples of the local flora (ferns) and fauna. Also displayed were period photographs of the sawmilling in the area. A 10 minute slideshow showcased some interesting local scenes through various weathers. Then it was on to cross the famed Corrigan suspension bridge across the valley of giant ferns. We then walked down through the valley marvelling at the tree ferns reaching up to the sky while at our feet on the damp valley floor there were many types of fungi. In leaving the Tarra – Bulga National Parks we reflected on the foresight of the local residents and shire councillors who petitioned the government in the early 1900s to retain this natural area as a park for all people to enjoy.
Then we travelled north to Mount Tassie. At 750 m this is the highest point in the Strzelecki ranges and commands a splendid view of the Latrobe valley. Unfortunately the bushfires in the surrounding area, and the subsequent clearing up of the fallen trees, had reduced the magnificent green forest area in some directions to bulldozed rows of downed fire blackened trees. Nevertheless the sky was blue with little wind while we had lunch here beneath the radio towers (with no flies around). After lunch we descended the mountain and drove east through the marked area of giant trees and old sawmill site and then through Calignee – the site of recent horrific bush fires. It was then agreed that rather than visit some other historic sites we would make our way directly back to Melbourne in the fine weather and so we wound up our convoy and entered the Princes Hwy to make our way home.