15th February 1886

[By our Special Reporter.]

Route of Overland Railway
See Map of development of Railways here

Many years ago, when the colony was young, an 'overlander' was a hero in the eyes of less adventurous colonists, who stayed at home and 'kept shop' in the small towns and villages upon the banks of the Torrens, which then comprised pretty well all South Australian civilization.

True it is that pioneers had pushed forth as far as Echunga, Mount Pleasant, and other places in the 'bush,' but the men who had travelled all the way over land, from Sydney, or mayhap from Melbourne, were entitled to ' put on airs,' and strutted along the scarcely formed streets, from pub. to pub., with an air which loudly proclaimed their consciousness that they were 'not as other men.' Their slouched cabbage-tree hats, leather belts, long stockwhips, and leather 'strapped' and 'seated' trousers, the black 'cutty' pipe, and above all their long hair and unkempt beards and bronzed faces, distinguished them most markedly from the smug, clean-shaved, white-neckclothed merchants, clerks, artisans, and others, who at that time followed the absurd fashions of the old country, which they had just left, even to the wearing of  'belltoppers,' neckcloths, and black coats.

What a change has come over us since then. The people then were used to the long teams of bullocks and the loud reports of the silken crackers at the ends of the drivers' whips, interspersed with strange oaths and ejaculations of 'Come here, Redman!' 'Gee, Bally!' accompanied with prods in the ribs with the butt end of the whip-handle or flicks from the silken end of the whip - the first drawing blood, because of the small sharpened nail, inserted to prevent wear and tear perhaps, and the other either taking off a piece of skin or else raising a long wail upon the bullock's ribs.

'After many years' - a baker's dozen perhaps - people became more adventurous, and finding that the blacks were harmless and ferocious animals non-existent they extended their journeys to far-distant parts ; and when ' the diggings' started on Bendigo in 1852 a great number of South Australians rushed off by the overland tracks. Some used horses, but the majority took bullocks and drays. To reach the 'El Dorado' more quickly a considerable number took the track through the Long Desert, or, as it was also then called, the Ninety-mile Desert, beginning about 10 miles eastward of Wellington, on the Murray, and ending a few miles to the eastward of Border Town.

Between the Murray and the real  'desert' there is an open space known as Cook's Plains, consisting of fairly good arable soil, and at the edge of the desert is the 'Twelve-mile,' where water and the first camp or halting place was generally made.

Beyond this at intervals were wells or swampy springs, which the bullock teams were compelled to 'make,' and beyond which it was not advisable to proceed if convenience to man and comfort for beast were to be considered. To travel from Adelaide to Wellington in four days was considered very good work, and from thence to Border Town a bullock-driver would think he had done well if he got through within another five, whilst a good many took from a fortnight to three weeks to travel between Adelaide and Border Town.

In those days, even if any one had predicted that it would be possible to travel from Adelaide to Border Town within thirteen hours he would have been regarded as a lunatic, and yet upon February 8, 1886, a party of three, of whom I was one, performed this wonderful feat without any particular difficulty, though we were the first three who ever did such a thing.

Why did I attempt to do such a thing, at such a time, and under such circumstances? Well, the matter was simple enough. My duty impelled the writing of a letter to Messrs. 0. & E. Millar, the contractors for the erection of the line of railway from the Murray Bridge to Border Town - a distance of 123 miles - on account of the South Australian Government, stating that the readers of the Register would be pleased to know something about the state and progress of the Overland Line to Melbourne.

The reply came quick as a flash - ' Shall be happy to give you all information required, and take you through from Nairne to Dimboola.'

Mr. C. G. Millar then arranged to meet me at Nairne on arrival of the first train from Adelaide upon the above date, and there he was, 'as large as life, and as jovial as a sandboy.' But there were other jolly railway contractors besides, and Mr. J. Robinson (of Robinson and Haig, the contractors of the Nairne to Murray Bridge line of railway) took us all down to his house, where a most welcome breakfast awaited us. His kindness did not stop short with the breakfast, for he had heard of the projected trip, and most thoughtfully put on a special 'contractors'' engine and truck to take us on to 'the bridge,' thus saving us a lot of time, and a long ride over what may be a rough, road in a wagonette that had been provided (or would have been) by the Messrs. Millar.

An incident at starting from Nairne is worth recording. A man with a big swag and a little dog had asked for and obtained leave to ride as far as we were going, but just as we were about to start the wretched little cur jumped off and the man jumped after it. The dog ran beneath the engine and out the other side of the line and could not be caught. Mr. Robinson said we could not wait for such a mongrel, and the man pulled his swag off the truck, preferring to walk nearly 26 miles to leaving the dog behind.

There is a good deal of 'down grade' from Nairne to the Bridge - the ruling gradient being 1 in 45 - and there are several objects of interest on the wayside, in addition to some very pretty views, and at least one romantic glen.

Scott's Creek Bridge (made by the 'Patent Shaft and Axletree Company') is a rather extensive work, of four spans of 80 feet each, mounted upon iron tubular columns of immense strength.

There is a history attached to the girders of this bridge, which were shipped in a vessel called the Bengollyun. She was 186 days out, and no one knew what had become of her. Had she been one day longer she would have been 'posted' at Lloyd's, but she turned up just when the contractors had given up all hopes of their girders.

The buttresses are made of concrete, formed of the debris from the ore-washings at the neighbouring mines. Some people objected strongly against this material, but it is so hard and solid that, even though the objectors' heads were made of iron, the buttresses would easily withstand any amount of butting on their part.

There are a good many mines in this part of the country, which has a strong metalliferous appearance about it, and there can be no doubt that there are many deposits of minerals of great value yet to be discovered.

The once famous Paringa Copper Mine, with its smelting works, is here, the Aclare Mine, also the Bremer Mine (copper), and several others. It is stated that a rich silver lode has been found by a farmer upon his land near Callington, and there are other lodes and mines in places near by.

There are a few farms eastward of the bridge, and some of the farmers appear to be breeding turkeys upon a rather large scale, but the country has a dry look about it.

Crossing the Bremer Range the line passes through a remarkably pretty 'rocky gorge,' with micaceous schist and some granite.

At the 'bridge' there is a pretty view up and down the river, and at a house of Mr. Reed, the Government Engineer, there is a garden showing a good deal of luxuriance, owing to the expenditure of a sufficient amount of manual labour and the application of water, which is raised from the Murray into an elevated tank by means of a 'Halladay' wind-engine.

After a short stay at Mr. John Reed's hospitable residence we walked over the Murray Bridge, where Borne ballasting has been thrown in around the piers to prevent the scour washing out holes in their vicinity, and at the other end were met by a four-horsed wagonette and another trap, which conveyed us to Tailem Bend - a distance of 14 miles, and the only part of the line between Adelaide and Wolseley which cannot be traversed by the railway loco- motive.

Of this small portion there are already 4 miles laid and railed, and the rest is being completed at the rate of 2 miles per week, so that by the end of March next the railway will be complete for traffic right up to the 'disputed boundary,' Messrs. Millar Brothers having undertaken the completion on behalf of the South Australian Government of the 3 miles between Wolseley and 'Service Town,' or better, known as the 'Dispute.'

There is no necessity to describe the Murray Bridge, because it bas already been written about and illustrated by photographs, and otherwise, but it may be mentioned that the extra heavy sleepers are now being laid throughout its half-mile of length, and these are bolted to the bed of the roadway. This work would have been finished long ago but for delay in arrival of the timber.

The country from the bridge to the Bend is of a most uninviting character. The only relieving feature is the abun- dance of the South Australian 'Native Pine' (Callitris robusta), and some fine specimens in flower of a kind of Melaleuca (possibly M. parvifolia). Mallee scrub, sand, and limestone are very abundant, the limestone being the principal constituent in many parts.

Grass there is none, but rabbits galore, and it is said the rabbits can hear the grass growing beneath the soil, and sit down upon the spot in order to nip it off directly it appears above the surface. In order to kill off all the rabbits at one blow, and to avoid any future reference to them, I may state now that wherever upon the line from the bridge to Dimboola there has been or is any likelihood of feed existing for them there are the rabbits congregated in multitudes - there is no term that will express their number, but 'hordes' will give a faint idea.

Tailem Bend is also a dry-looking place - all limestone and sand - but the former Engineer (Mr. Griffiths) at this place, who, I understand, has been retrenched, and went off to employment in Tasmania, established a beautiful garden, with flowers innumerable, besides vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, Cape gooseberries, &c , in abundance. He (or rather, his 'better half,' for the garden was her particular care) had the advantage of plenty of manure from the neighbouring stables, as well as of sufficient water, and his successor is keeping it well in order.

At Tailem Bend the cliffs rise to a height of perhaps 60 feet above the water, but a tramway has been constructed from bottom to top on a fairly easy grade, laid down by the contractors (Messrs. C. and E. Millar). Sleepers, rails, &c, for about 30 miles of the line eastward were landed here, being brought round by way of Kingston and the Murray Mouth in the steamer Active and the schooner Little Stranger, belonging to the firm.

There is a large camp or township at the Bend, comprising the Government Offices and the contractors', the workshops, tents, huts, stables, and other temporary buildings necessary upon so large a work as the present.

Top of Second Column

The contractors have put up a very neat four-roomed weatherboard house, where we stopped to 'partake' of a dinner served up in a style that was truly astonishing when the nature of the country is considered.

At 2.30 p.m., according to the railway guard's method of computing time, accompanied by Mr. Baxter, one of Messrs. Millar's managers, who has been in the employ of the firm for over twenty years, we got away to the train, where we found an engine, a truck covered in with a tarpaulin, with another for a carpet, and a table, easy chairs, and everything to make a person feel that life is worth living after all.

Behind this was a short line of trucks, and a few labourers and others some already in employment, and others with their swags going on to the various camps looking for a job.

As said before, all the line is available for the use of the locomotive engine; but there are two or more short pieces - about 8 miles altogether - that require to be ballasted, and nearly every train that goes through takes some ballast down from the pits.

The ballast is of limestone throughout the line, which is practically the best that can be used, as it binds down firmly. The sleepers are all of redgum, obtained mostly from the Struan Estate (late J. Robertson's), near Narracoorte.

The rails are steel, 61 lb. to the yard, and considering the splendid materials, and the well-known character of the contractors for square dealing and thorough good work, I do not think there is the slightest possibility of the South Australian portion of the Overland Railway proving defective in any part....

...Looking out through a crevice in the canvas on the south side, and through the fully opened vista on the north side of this impromptu State carriage, they would have seen, as I did, a long stretch of 29 miles of iron fencing posts and wires and 'stretchers.'

At the Border Town end there are only 8 miles of fencing of the same character. At the 'bridge' end the settlers are desirous of having the whole line fenced in, and resorted to the usual deputation. They represented, amongst other things, that the breaking up of the soil along the desert track would encourage the growth of grasses, &c, which would lead their live stock to frequent the line, and probably to travel along it, so that their cows, horses, and sheep would get in the way of the trains, and be killed, besides perhaps causing accidents to the trains and passengers.

The proverbial 'foot,' however, was 'put down,' and if any accidents should occur - why, the settlers cannot be blamed for not calling attention to the danger.

After getting away from the Bend we came upon some nice little farms upon Cook's Plains, where the soil is of an improved character. Then, the sheep and other leasehold runs of the desert commence, and we find that the whole - or nearly - of this apparently miserable and inhospitable country has been ' taken up' for sheep and cattle runs.

The first to be noted is Westbrook, owned by Cornelius and Williams, about 3 miles north of Tailem Bend. From the roadside, the run has a very dry appearance, and it looks as though the fence had been erected for the humane purpose of keeping any unfortunate animal from straying upon the land and losing its life from starvation.

Then comes Mr. McFarlane's, the whole of which is enclosed with wire netting to keep the rabbits out. Those who first used wire netting found out that the rabbits would climb up the net, and drop down on the coveted side, whilst others would burrow under and find access that way. To circumvent the rodents it has been found necessary to bend the net outwards at the top and bottom so that the climbers cannot surmount the projecting ledge, and thus fall back on the wrong side, whilst the others cannot burrow through the buried net, and have not yet learnt to begin their hole a little farther off.

The next station is called Braeside, and belongs to Harrold Brothers. Here is the Cook's Plain Siding where future farmers - if ever there are any, will bring in their wheat, wool, and dairy produce. Following the list of sheepruns and cattle stations we come to Whyte & Counaell's 'Kurmunduk' Run; Lindsay Brothers' 'Ki-ki;' next is Henry Scott's 'Cold and Wet,' where a Government reservoir has been excavated at a distance of about 5 miles off the line, where the water will have to be pumped up into an elevated tank and conveyed thence to the siding upon the railway line by means of piping, but which the late rains did not fill up.

After, this the country becomes a little better, and Harding & Bonn's Tintinarra Run is met with. This is between 45 and 55 miles out from the Border, and here is the' 51-mile Camp.' Next comes the 'Sugarloaf' (Timba's), and then, the 'Monster,' owned by Makin & McBain. Another station is named 'Mount Monster,' occupied by David Simpson and next is 'Brumbagh,' belonging to Mrs. Martin. ' Wirrega'; is not a long distance from Border Town, owns Goalen and Matheson as occupiers, and has a very large Government reservoir upon it, which was filled to overflowing when the heavy rains fell in January last.

At intervals through the desert there are small ranges, or rather ridges, of sand running about north- west and south-east. Some of these have names, and others are as yet unknown to fame. A passage through one of these, about 37 miles from the Bend, is called 'Rover's Gap,' and about 9 miles further east is a place named 'Bullocky's Well.' Good water is found in both places.

Fresh water is a very valuable - and scarce commodity - in the Ninety-mile Desert, and it is important to travellers not only to know the names of the wells, springs, and swamps, but also to be made cognizant of the exact localities where they are to be found. If it were in my power I would have a strong triangle, painted red, placed near by every such supply on the desert tracks. I remember waiting for two hours to be favoured with about a wineglass of water at a desert well whilst a man was sitting at the bottom and catching it drop by drop and about twenty teams were standing around for their turn.

Let me return to my sheep though, by-the-way I saw very few in the midst of the desert, but a good many on the last third part of it. On the Tintinarra Run, 51 miles from Border Town, there is a considerable camp of navvies and others employed upon the construction, with galvanized-iron stores, lodging-houses, tents, humpies, and all sorts of temporary erections. All the water used at this camp is brought down by train.

At every sixth mile through out the whole 123 miles between the bridge to Border Town - as there is on every railway line - is a permanent camp of line-repairers, consisting of four men and a ganger. These men are technically called 'fettlers' - a corruption probably of  'fitters,' because it is their duty to keep the line in repair.

Few men I should imagine would hanker after such a life as these men must lead in the eternal scrub, with very little to vary the monotony of sand, limestone, and mallee. Still, it is better than being in a lighthouse, and there will surely be two trains per day passing along the line.

Getting near to the Border, within 22 miles of the town, there is a cutting from which 40,000 cubic yards had to be excavated, and a little nearer still is another from which 28,000 yards were taken out. These are practically by far the heaviest works upon the line.

The country gone through is surprisingly level, taken as a whole, and, remembering the character of the old track to the diggings, from 20 to 30 miles to the south in some parts, I was astonished to find the gradients so very easy. The ruling gradient - that is, the heaviest pull uphill - on the whole line from the Murray Bridge to the Border is 1 foot in 80. This is very favourable when compared with that adopted by Victoria on the overland line, which is 1 in 50.

Our engineers have also wisely adopted a much heavier ballasting - fully one-third thicker than that on the Victorian line. Our line will therefore require much less expenditure of power in working (and be less expensive) and will be nearly doubly as safe (in respect to ballast) for the express trains that will carry passengers.

There is not much tall scrub, but a deal of low bush and short mallee. Here and there is a belt of native pine, and occasional patches of white gum, which are often found near swampy places in these sandy deserts.

Speaking from a wheatgrower's, point of view, I should think there was not a square mile of country on the whole desert line that would be worth anything; but judging from what I have read and seen and learnt from, people who are practically acquainted with viticulture (and especially from Mr. Thomas Hardy), I am convinced that there are hundreds of square miles that are exactly suitable for the production of wine and currants and raisins. The great difficulty would be in first establishing the vines, but when they have once got hold of the soil they would flourish, even as the mallee, Hakeas, Banksias, Acacias, pinea, and other trees and shrubs do.

Australia is the acclimatising home of the vine, the fig and the olive; but hitherto we have been trying to select only the richest alluvial soils for these valuable plants. Perhaps we have been right in respect to the two last, but the fact that vines are thriving in the sand-drives at Glanville House, near the sea beach at the Semaphore, also in the sandy calcareous rubble of Mr. Wurm's orchard and vine yard at Port Stansbury, and again upon sandy and stony soils at Tintara, Maclaren Vale, proves that as regards the vine it is not so particular as to the character of the soil; indeed, that upon soils containing a lot of lime we may expect to get a very superior article, whether it be wine or currants or raisins.

Should this theory of mine be correct - and I am vain enough to think it is - what an immense opening is there for our future generation. Vine growing is the most profitable and the most certain industry that can be engaged in by any rural populations provided always that the soil is suitable. To simply grow grapes and cure for raisins and currants, or to sell the ripe fruit to practical winemakers, involves no risk and very little labour. The happy possessor of a few acres of vineyard has only to prune once a year, to harrow or scarify it once or twice, and then to gather his harvest. Such a lazy life! and such profits!! and so much certainty about it!!!

Of course the phylloxera may come in time, and by carelessness of neighbours oidium may attack the vines; but the last is easily cured, and the former must be prevented. It would certainly be very well worth while for the Government to thoroughly try the experiment of employing a practical and honest man - of establishing a few vines in the lime stone soils of this desert. If he were successful I should like to be the Treasurer when the fact was made known. No need then for ' putting the foot down' and saying 'No' to every petty application for the expenditure of money upon public works. He would be inundated with applications for viticultural blocks, and some greedy fellows will want large areas.

Fence Posts

Fencing Knots