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A Bridge Through Time

Bridge Construction Photo

Driving the bridge piles in 1900, viewed from the old road.
Mountain Ash, Blackwood and Hard and Soft Tree Ferns populate the slopes, as they do today. The piles were fitted with iron-tips and iron bands at the top so they didn't split and were lifted and fitted into the pile-driver by the forest bulldozer, the bullock team at left. The pile-driver ram would have been raised for each drop by ropes and wooden pulley blocks connected to two big horses.
The big logs are probably there to be split into beams or crossmembers. All of the timber, including sleepers was got locally, usually from the site itself. The piles here would be Messmate Stringybark.
One of the men pictured may be Joseph Saville of Fern Tree Gully, who built most of the bridges on the line. There are no less than four blokes standing directly under the bullock-suspended load. When men were men...
The entire line from Fern Tree Gully to Gembrook, including nine bridges, 5 stations, loops, sidings and yards and many stopping places, took 180 men a mere 14 months to complete using dynamite, bullock power, horse power, axes and big hammers and elbow grease for just about everything else. It was to cost 54,000 pounds for 18.5 miles. Many local men worked on the line.
There would have been a works loco waiting to cross the minute the track was laid on the bridge deck.
An A-class locomotive was delivered to FTG in April 1900 when 1.5 miles of track had been laid to Upwey


The Baron, a mountain ash or, as they were called then, a blackbutt, 220ft or 66 metres tall and 48'6" or 14.5 metres around usually measured about 8 feet off the ground so that didn't include the extensive buttressing that was a feature of these giants. This tree grew in the Sassafras Gully. This range was covered in mature mountain ash and this tree was in no way remarkable 40 years before this photograph was taken. Girths of up to 88 ft and 27ft diameters were recorded. Timber getters and fires had seen to most of the biggest already. The last big trees such as this one survived in steep damp refuges such as the Sassafras Gully


*Emerald bullocky Jim Legge's team parked on the Selby side of the creek (on Patrick Gannon's land) at the bottom of Stoney Road, then the only road, circa just pre-1910, judging by the regrowth at the bridge clearing and the two-pile piers on the bridge in the background.
Whether that's Jim in the foreground with hands on hips is not known for sure, but we think it's a fair assumption. The figure on the dray appears to be a woman.
The Legge brothers were 2nd generation teamsters and ran two 8 to 10-beast bullock teams, using one to snig logs to the bush mills, the other carting sawn timber to the trains.The brothers mainly worked their teams at Cockatoo, Gembrook and Beenak and although Jim later became a sawmiller himself, he still kept a team and as an older man, was carting timber out of the Beenak forest during the Second World War, doing his bit for the machinery and fuel shortages. There is a possibly apocryphal story told that Jim once remarked that if his wife had wanted him to choose between her and his beasts... he'd ask where she wanted her furniture and luggage delivered. Perhaps that's the missus on the cart.


*A log on the tramway en-route to Mahony's mill about 1910. D.W. McKenzie is in charge.
Tramways went upstream from the mill into the forest following the two creek branches to their sources and another from mill to train station yard. Logs were pulled up hills when necessary by steam winches but generally horses provided the motive power and things were usually organised so the mill lay downhill.
There is a bullock team facing up the hill in the background.
J.T. Mahony had mills firstly at the top of Sandells Road, then on Station St, then Cook's Corner at Kallista where he winched timber uphill and carted water for his Ruston-Proctor steam winch from Beagley's bridge and then consigned sawn timber down Jackson's Hill Road to the train at The Tanks/Landslide site before setting up upstream from the railway bridge.
He had a 3-foot gauge tramway from the mill passing under the bridge and up the Clematis Creek to Belgrave, curving in an arc to the old Belgrave narrow-gauge station, via the road bridge over the railway, the main street and then down to the railway yard. The mill was burnt out in large fires in 1914, rebuilt and the mill and tramway operated for 15 years until 1927. A very prominent citizen, J.T. went on to become mayor of Box Hill.
George Holden and others had sawlogged the upper Hardy's Gully and the Monbulk Creek headwaters from Kallista already. There had been sawmills in the Monbulk Forest since the 1880's and paling spitters since the 1860's. The remaining timber by this time was considered of very poor quality by earlier standards. The timber-getting was at it's height between 1910 and 1916 when most of the trees were harvested.


Whenever any uneven ground was encountered, the tramway builders just went over it and propped the tramway up on any old sticks that happened to be lying around, or so it would appear.
Note the man on the log and the fellow standing on the tramway. Men often rode these log loads downhill and braked them with heavily-smoking wooden brake blocks levered against the wheels (not always successfully, in which case one would endeavour to abandon ship as prudently and gracefully as was possible) It's little wonder the Aussies fielded such a fine team when called to arms.
This particular tramway was located at Beech Forest in the Otway Ranges and connected with another of VR's narrow-gauge lines. There appears to be no record of how long this elegant arrangement stood for, but they were only temporary structures anyway.

Click here for a ripping yarn about a tramway ride at Powelltown in 1927


This appears to be the earliest photograph of train-on-bridge that we have. It's pre-1910 as the bridge is still a two pile per pier construction with horizontal "whalers" bracing it. The bridge was rebuilt in 1910. The train appears to be a works train. It may have been taken soon after the line was opened.
This caption is still being researched so come back sometime soon.


C. 1920's Note the neglected and thus flammable gully floor beneath the bridge and the calibre of the S&T pole that anchors (rather unsuccessfully, it appears) a 250ft cable run. This particular railway never, ever made money and went through periods of sad neglect by the Commissioners, not always incidental.
There are tourist excursion carriages on this train with a respectable load of patrons, so it's a Sunday or holiday (it was a six day working week back then) The railway became a favourite with day-trippers from the first Sunday train in 1911 and very popular during the First War and through the 20's but was always a working general freight railway until it's closure, due to a landslide, in 1953.
The photographer is standing on the bank or fence above the main road and there were only cattle grids at road crossings as the rest of the PerWay was fenced. This bridge with a level-crossing at one end was the only one on the line furnished with an anti-livestock device.
After a half-mile downhill run the loco is beginning the long 45-minute climb to it's highest point at Emerald, starting with the 1-in-30 grade of the Selby bank and has a firebox full of coal for the task ahead.


Looking towards Selby and Black Hill, named for its earlier regional landmark covering of burnt trees, which can be seen in the distance. The angle of the dangle suggests the photo was taken from the Yanakie house. Presumably a weekday mid-morning "mixed consist" train. There are no excursion cars in the set. Tarpaulins cover freight on two NQR's up front. This was what most trains looked like, with more or less passenger carriages attached. The third rail is the check rail, a safety device once used on all corners but removed in the thirties from all but bridge curves. The Signals & Telegraph cabling takes a right-angled turn at this pole and the next is 250ft away across the gully. Note that the Permanent Way land each side of the track was cleared (when the railway was well-maintained
The source for this photograph says 1906 and as the bridge has two-pile piers this would appear to be so.


This is the late 1940's or early 50's, The main road to Emerald has been deviated and routed under the bridge by this stage and the old level crossing was only in use for high or wide loads (the Mt Lyell carriages, now used as dining cars, came this way on their journey to the Menzies Creek Museum) and for stock movements. The roadway clearance height was later increased to 4.3 metres (17 feet) by lowering the road and installing new piers. The old level crossing by-pass formation is now gated and unused. The S&T blokes have turned up in the meantime and fixed up the telegraph wires with some proper poles and the Trespassers Prosecuted sign has been given a new white post. This train has two tourist excursion cars in amongst the set but no dangling legs.

The Belgrave curve pre-Puffing Billy

The embankment over the Clematis Creek that became the site of the new Puffing Billy station, completed in 1962. The present loco workshops would occupy the centre of the picture. Belgrave House lies on the hillside in the background and the old Monbulk road level-crossing, complete with cattle grids, can be seen below the house. In the far background is the fire devastated Coles Ridge. There were serious wild fires in 1898 when much of the forest and the town was burnt and many guest houses like this one perished.
The level of regrowth suggests that this photograph was taken in the earliest years of the 20th century.
Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) dominate the creek flats.


Bridge 8 lies in the Wright Forest between Lakeside (Emerald East) and Cockatoo Creek. It is of very similar dimensions to the Monbulk Creek Bridge, but a tad higher. For many years after the railway closure it stood in a ricketty and dangerous condition from fire damage and old age and used only by the bravest of hikers before finally cashing in it's chips in the catastrophic Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.
It was rebuilt by PBR volunteers, re-opening the line to Gembrook, helped by a Victorian Railways bridgesmith and the first NA crossed the new bridge in 1996. Two other bridges were built in the Wright Forest including bridge 9 over the Cockatoo Creek. Remains of the original timber piles and their intact iron tips were found while excavating for the new permanent concrete pier footings for this bridge.
The bridge deck camber required for the 3 chain curve is visible from this angle.
Horizontal whaler braces are fitted low down the centre piers of this 2-pile pier bridge.
Note the young oft-burnt re-growth and the total lack of trees on the railway reserve curving to the right in the distance towards Emerald and the wider clearing at the bridge site.


From near the end of the present Upwey station looking downhill (towards the up end) to Fern Tree Gully.

This bridge was replaced when the Belgrave line was converted to broad-gauge and electrified in 1962 as were all the railway bridges


A somewhat larger specimen of the Victorian Railways timber trestle bridge species.
This one is part of the Warragul to Noojee line in Gippsland.


Most of the giant trees of Gippsland were ringbarked and the land was burnt, several times to deal with regrowth, to clear the land for farming, one of the Strezlecki "Big Scrub" fires raining ashes on New Zealand. The timber was never used as it was too far from any markets and the enormous grey skeletons were a feature of the landscape well into the 20th century. This particular tree, after being ringbarked by a man with an axe and it and it's forest companions burnt by a man with a match, is long dead by the time these fellows posed with the carcase


Tarra Bulga Valley, Strezlecki Range, South Gippsland 1900. Tree stumps were used as schools and churches while a tree in front of a Warragul hotel was sawn at ground level and was employed as a dance floor
The cuts in the tree are where the tree-fellers chipped in to place the boards that they then stood on to swing the axe or cross-cut saw

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