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Friends Of The Trestle Bridge

Forest & Creek Rehabilitation

There are high resolution photographs in this site

On the Monbulk Creek Bridge* at Selby, heading north across the creek with the Sherbrooke Forest ahead.
Soft and Rough tree-ferns are plentiful in this gully as are many other ground and epiphitic fern species.
Blackwoods and a single white Mountain Grey Gum stand out before the Mountain Ash that populate the southern slopes.
The area in the foreground from the creek bank and up the steep viewing area slope is the result of recent re-vegetation work.
A big old Pinus radiata dominates the upper left, one of the many such remnants of the old Yanakie garden between bridge and station.
To prevent the bridge igniting during a bushfire there is always a close-mown strip beneath timber bridges.
A sharp eye can see a large freshly fallen limb from the big Grey Gum beside the track at the up end of the bridge

The Group

The Friends of the Trestle Bridge is a volunteer non-profit group committed to caring for the Monbulk Creek and lower Clematis Creek Valley environment and habitat and the area surrounding and associated with the historic 1900 vintage Puffing Billy Railway Trestle Bridge

This location was recently incorporated into the Sherbrooke Forest Unit of the Dandenong Ranges National Park

The bridge, situated at Selby in The Dandenong Ranges, some 26.5 miles by rail east Of Melbourne, carries the Puffing Billy Heritage Narrow-Gauge (2'6") Railway over the Monbulk Creek and is part of a working railway that now carries considerably more traffic than in it's prime working era of the first 30 years of the 20th century

The Watercourse

The Monbulk Creek rises in the Eastern Sherbrooke Forest and after joining with, firstly Hardy's creek, then the Clematis Creek, which drains the Western Sherbrooke Forest, at a confluence about 100 metres downstream of the bridge

It then passes through the old Dandenong Reservior (which clarifies the water) 1km away below Belgrave, then through the extensive Bird's Land retarding basins, 3kms (as the crow flies) from the bridge and continues west through the Lysterfield Valley to Stud Road
Bird's Land is named for the long-time family farm that became the Monbulk Creek Retarding Basin

Despite it's origin in the depths of the forest, by the time the creek flows under the bridge it is not pristine, due to the private property and roads drainage sharing the catchment upstream from the bridge
The 3 main tributaries, rising just below Grantulla Road, are surrounded by private land, some of it agricultural

This creek system is reputed to have the largest population density of the reclusive Platypus in the Melbourne watershed, although they have only been counted in waters well below the bridge, much less clean and vegetated and running through established medium density housing, mostly with private garden frontages all the way to Bird's Land
It may be reasonable to assume that there are even more upstream in the forest past the bridge
It's also a home for native fishes, yabbies, including big red freshwater crays and other invertibrates

The Friends are aware of a report of a six-pound brown trout caught in a Bird's Land basin lake and these lakes also were stocked with exotic roach, redfin and support native short-finned eels and river blackfish as does the rest of the creek upstream

The History

The name is a version of the aboriginal term for this western reach of the Great Divide, Monbolloc meaning, literally, a hiding place in the hills, a sanctuary, as it was the place for the different tribal groups from Gippsland, Marysville and bayside coastal areas to meet, travelling to and from under a sacred peace
The Nathania Springs location above Monbulk was an aboriginal convalescent resort for the ill and injured

The present town of Monbulk is on the site of the meeting place but actually is over the ridge in the Yarra Valley watershed. The name applied to the whole forest

The creek's name changes to the Corhanwarrabul Creek after it combines with the Ferny Creek near Rowville
The name changes at Rowville because at Lysterfield, the creek once used to disappear into an extensive, impenetrable ti-tree wetland (long since drained, some of the channel by local aboriginal labour in the 1870's and only recently built upon) that extended to Stud Road. The Lysterfield valley floor is rich volcanic peaty silt and has seen much market garden activity and even a turf farm. The watercourse draining this wetland was given a different name

It then joins the Dandenong Creek 200m north of Wellington Road, flows through the Tirhatuan Wetlands, then becomes a concrete drain through Dandenong. This creek was once sustenance for the vast Carrum Carrum wetlands but now most of it flows into the man-made Patterson River drainage system before eventually discharging into Port Philip Bay at Carrum. The Mordialloc Creek was once the northern outlet for the Carrum swamp and is now fed by a diversion from the Dandenong Creek. The small southern remnant of this great swamp, the Seaford-Edithvale Wetlands, is protected under the international RAMSAR Convention

Puffing Billy image

The Bridge

Trestle bridges are technically beam bridges supported by piers. This bridge, known as Bridge Five as it's the fifth bridge from the Fern Tree Gully terminus, is constructed around a 3-chain** 10 mile-an-hour curve, the tightest curve radius on the original Gembrook railway***

It's a good 300 ft long and consists of 14 timber piers between north/south situated abutments, and forms part of the centre leg of the s-curve formation that the east-west railway must adopt to cross an east-west creek and carries trains around 50 feet above the picturesque, treefern-lined Monbulk Creek.

It also serves to carry the little train 17 feet above the main Belgrave-Gembrook Road
The original main road/rail crossing was a level-crossing at the south (down) end of the trestle bridge

The bridge was constructed in 1899, but like granddad's axe which has had 12 new handles and 2 new heads, there may not be many original members on the bridge. The poles and cross-members of the trestles are replaced as needed, poles often lasting 40 years and more. It was originally constructed from timber close to the site as was the practice
Newer poles are tallow wood (Eucalyptus microcorys from Qld.), used for its high eucalyptus and citronella oil content, resisting rot and insects, giving it longevity when buried in waterlogged ground

It's an indication of the economic reasons for building narrow-gauge rail, with it's short-wheelbase derived ablity to negotiate tight curves to follow contours around gullies in hill country, that there are only three more trestle bridges (all recently re-constructed and one of the same radius curve and slightly higher than the Selby bridge) between this bridge and the re-opened terminus at Gembrook.

The original plan was to one day upgrade to broad (5'3") gauge all the way to Emerald, and the Permanent Way land incorporates some of the Muddy Creek gully below the old Tanks/Landslide site, a gully that the little trains can skirt around, and was reserved for a future broad gauge bridge crossing to avoid the horseshoe bend

Also known as the Selby Trestle Bridge and in early days as the Monbulk Horseshoe Bridge, it sees train traffic 364 days (and many nights) of the year and is an iconic and much photographed feature of Victoria's second most popular tourist attraction after the little penguins

Puffing Billy is the second most popular steam heritage railway in the world
The bridge carries up to six trains a day in each direction carrying 250,000 passengers from all over the world every year

The Task

Three quarters of the gully to the West of the bridge and up the Clematis Creek valley back to the Puffing Billy station is National Park, Railway Right-Of-Way or reserve

This whole area suffers heavy infestation with a broad range of extremely invasive garden-escapee environmental weed species including Sycamore Maple, Holly, Pittosporum, Tree Tobacco, Portugal Laurel, Cherry Laurel, Lilly-Pilly ssp., Buddlea, Bamboo, Cestrum, Privet, English Ash, Desert Ash, Hypericum, Plectranthus, Ranunculus, Dombeya, Blackberry, Japanese Honeysuckle, Himalayan Honetsuckle, Banana Passionfruit, Indian Strawberry, Arum Lily, Tradescantia and English Ivy, all at all stages of development through to mature trees

It's a good place to observe the worst of what these particularly tenacious weeds can do to a native forest as well as what has already been achieved by the volunteer's efforts
With patient regular attention, many little and some larger victories have and are being won and the general rule is, if you get rid of the weeds, the bush comes back

Regarding asterisks*

* N.B. Photographs taken from the bridge that feature in this site were taken by a Puffing Billy volunteer and Friends member from the little rail trolley NK3
It is illegal and indeed dangerous to walk over the bridge
The deck consists only of loose bluestone ballast and often-slippery sleepers and it's a long way down
Maintenance workers must not work on the bridge deck without a temporary safety fence or must be be tethered to the rail by a safety harness

** All measurement is in imperial format on the Heritage Railway and we use the same system when referencing rail property and structures e.g. the railway Right-Of-Way reserve, known as the Permanent Way is 2 chains (44 yards) wide
Not only that but the Up end is towards Melbourne and the Down end towards Gembrook and the Down side of the track is the side on one's left when looking Down from Melbourne, which is the opposite to the actual lay-of-the-land of most of the PerWay
The railway uses their Signals & Telegraph pole numbers to accurately locate points on the track
All emergency services have these number locations marked on their maps
The Victrorian Railways used track mileage measured from Melbourne to pinpoint track locations

For Metric conversion, click gently on these spectacles
Go to Metric Conversion site
*** The landslide deviation, just past the old Tanks site on the Muddy Creek gully that was constructed in 1962 by the CMF & PBPS to by-pass the buried track and re-open the line, was laid inside the original curve alignment on the old stopping-place loading stage and yard formation (and the old bullock access track to Monbulk that went via School Road, Jackson's Hill and down the precipitous "Aunt Sally" into The Patch)
The re-alignment reduced parts of the curve to a 2-chain radius and until recently was a 5 mile-per-hour corner
The curve has lately been eased and now carries a 10 mph speed limit
Both the Moe to Walhalla and Colac to Crowes lines had 2-chain curves, about the limit of the 8-foot wheelbase of the locos


A big Old Man Mountain Grey Gum reposing in the afternoon sun
(Eucalyptus cypellacarpa)

Sherbrooke Forest

Go to Parks Victoria's Dandenongs Page


A Unique Location

The importance of this area of the Monbulk Creek Valley lies in it's botanical features and historical associations

The area downstream, west of the bridge contains a Wet Forest plant community* along the creek and slope
The area immediately upstream is significant as the creek flows through a creek flat populated by a locally rare pure stand of the lovely tall white Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis) changing abruptly into an almost pure stand of Messmate Stringybark (Eucalyptus obliqua) on the steep north slope as one proceeds east up Nation Road

The bridge crosses a shallow creek gully downstream from an extensive creek flat. Just downstream from the bridge is the meeting of the Clematis and Monbulk Creeks, between them, draining the entire Sherbrooke Forest.

It straddles the transition zone between the sheltered Wet forest (Eucalyptus regnans dominant) at the Belgrave (up) end and the Mountain Grey Gum (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa)/Messmate "Damp Forest" plant association that begins on the drier opposing slope at the Gembrook (down) end
This is the predominant plant community along most of the rest of the Belgrave-Emerald Ridge

The original settlement of this area still lives on in the form of overgrown original house gardens in the forest
They have contributed to the weed problems and also provided many large mature, non-invasive exotic trees, including dozens of conifers of many types, scattered throughout the ferns, blackwoods and mountain ash forest giants and is a special part of the character of the gully (see Yanakie link top of page)


View from the bridge,* looking west down the Monbulk Creek towards the confluence with the Clematis Creek
Dicksonia antarctica or Soft Tree Ferns line the creek banks, as they do all the way up the Clematis Creek to the Belgrave Puffing Billy station. Rough Tree Ferns or Cyathea australis, are the thinner, taller ferns in the picture and grow further from the banks. These ferns have only grown since the bridge was built and the regular clearing regime eased. An orange lichen that grows on the lee sides of the bridge timbers can be seen on the refuge
The dead-and-yet-to-lie-down trees are Acer pseudoplatanus or Sycamore Maple and are stark evidence of the Friends' good work. They once had formed a canopy over the ferns and creek. The trees were drilled and filled, which involves administering glyphosate herbicide via freshly-drilled holes in the tree trunk in autumn


A mixed goods and passenger train bound for Gembrook, from a pre-1920's postcard.
A man is standing on the refuge platform near the centre of the bridge. Beyond, the Emerald road can be seen with a post and rail fence along the property above it. A strip below the bridge is kept bare to prevent it from igniting during a bushfire or from train sparks or ash.
The Grey Gums and Messmate Stringybarks in the background were possibly damaged during the extensive conflagration in 1896 that laid waste the forest and destroyed many Selby houses. Both these tree species are more tolerant to large fires and develop new epicormal growth from under the bark to recover.
The Mountain Ash on the wetter slope we're standing on rely on seedlings to regenerate.
This, for the tree, had proved a fine strategy prior to the human disruption to one's normal Large Wildfire Cycle, normally measured in hundreds of years. Big fires can kill the biggest and oldest of these Eucalyptus regnans. Another fire within a few years kills the young regrowth and the species will not regenerate.
This happened to large tracts of the Sherbrooke Forest after 2 wildfires in the mid 20's. These bare areas were planted with Pinus radiata until the 80's, since reseeded with Mountain ash, though all the forest species now grow there. A species with a 400 year lifespan is only a toddler at 30 years and a teenager at 100

Click on the Guard's van to see more old photographs


A Luncheon Train behind the powerful 1926 Beyer Garratt-type double-articulated locomotive, a beast at 70 tons and 27,500 pounds of tractive effort and much more powerful than two Baldwin Prairie Tank NA "Puffing Billy" locomotives hitched together, about to steam up the 1-in-30 grade Selby Bank that begins at the centre of the bridge
This locomotive and it's now scrapped sole sister G41 ran on the Walhalla and Otways lines but not this track. G42 pulled the final train up from Erica on the Walhalla line in 1954 then went to Colac in 1955 and served until that line's closure in 1962, the last of the 4 narrow guage lines
The front set of engines and wheels carries the water tank, the rear set the coal tender and the boiler straddles and connects the two engine sets at pivot points front and rear



The above view features Cestrum, Sycamore Maple, Holly and English Ivy, the Gang Of Four, and their low-life accomplice Tradescantia, our main foes... and we face battalions of the blighters. The only native foliage in the photograph is the fern frondage


The Monbulk Creek, close to it's meeting with the Clematis Creek, after weed removal by the Friends.
The leaning Dicksonia antartica plays host to some kangaroo fern near the top and the two tiny filmy ferns that cover the tree-fern's trunk. This is prime habitat for platypus and fishes and more

Monbulk Creek Bambusa.jpg

Rehabilitation results, 20m from the Gembrook Road culvert. The left bank of the creek is a bamboo thicket, while the right side has been restored by the simple expedient of removing the weed species.
There is a pile of cestrum and assorted other beasties in the background. There is an emergent sycamore maple and some cestrum up closer while the black sticks are sycamore.
Virtually everything else is natural regrowth. If we had more hands we could do a lot more of this kind of thing.

Volunteer Dave's devotion

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About This Site

This site has aspirations to be a useful hub for quality forest-rehab/enviro-weed information and Friends groups, in this region at least. We'd like to provide a site that resides on your toolbar or the favourites list as a bit of a central duck-plucking area where you can easily find all the environmental and Friendly information you need from one site's link collection. Information that we've had to find in order to become a more effective organisation
Any websmith wishing to exchange links is welcome to contact us. Please feel free to send us links you reckon we lack

Please come back often to sample our amazing ever-expanding Links page for all these delights and much more, including funding sources for groups and a whole page of great links for the steam-rail fraternity plus links for bridge fanciers and please tell your associates about our site (see below)

A minute of your time please...

If you've found this site to be interesting (well, you have got this far) or useful for it's links, even if you don't feel moved to clap or throw money, anybody, even a pacifist, can quite comfortably enlist in a just war (on environmental weeds) by taking one minute of one's time to simply send this link to others of your web acquaintance, particularly any institutional or like-minded acquaintances that may just see fit to carry our link on a website

An important aspect of the work is in raising community awareness of both the problems of inappropriate garden plants and the existence of front-line Friends groups like ours, sworn to engage the menace with lethal force until victory over the invaders is won

You'd be doing these particular Friends a Rather Large Favour by helping us promote our site, really you would, because if every visitor sent 2 or more recommendations, sooner or later, quite organically, everybody in the world would have our link... It's like rabbits, mate

Search engines can also find us more easily if we're linked to heaps of computers

We've made this process dead easy for you by providing our uber-convenient one-click Check-Out-This-Great-Site-Mate e-mail envelope icon down below that has our intrepid URL already sitting in it, strapped in and ready to rocket into infinite cyberspace, where if we're lucky, no URL has gone before, and with you in control of it's destiny

One of the more useful peculiarities of the space-time continuum that no matter what e-mailing adventures you and your crew may experience following cyber-launch, you will eventually find yourself back at this exact space usually with less than a minute of earth time elapsed
And you'll find that you won't have aged at all in this particular reality, a fact which will no doubt be very re-assuring to many

In an uncertain world, we offer this to you as a rare dead-set, gold-plated certainty
Equally certainly, on top of all that, you'll have helped a certain mob of volunteer Forest Friends to propagate freely in the fertile soil of the web and for that we most certainly do thank you

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