The following article is re produced with the kind permission of the author RRod Milne and the Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc . The article first appeared in the publication, Light Railways June 2014.
A rare photograph of a loaded wood train posed at Kurramia. Motive power is almost certainly ex WAGR G 127 (James Martin 115 of 1895), with its distinctive extended smokebox. Photo: Rod Milne collection
The one time gold boom town of Bulong, located due east of Kalgoorlie, boasted two railways, though they were not operational concurrently. The 2ft gauge mining line that ran into the cliffs above Lake Yindarlgooda barely turned a wheel at the turn of the last century, though the second railway, a 3ft 6in gauge woodline, fared much better. Remarkable as this is to say now, many of the original surveys for the Trans-Australia Railway (TAR) brought the line through Bulong before a decision for a more direct alignment via Parkeston was made. Bulong in its heyday was quite a town. Surveyed in 1894, it was proposed to augment the IOU gold mine which had been opened the year before. Purportedly, it was planned to call this new town IOU though Surveyor Hamilton who laid out the streets of the town found the alternative aboriginal name Boolong relating to a spring. The shortened version of this (Bulong) became the townsites name in 1895 when it was formally gazetted. In the coming months, the Queen Margaret emerged as the towns main underground gold mine.
The townsite as laid out was a big one, and it is claimed in the heyday there were over 600 people resident there. There was a local authority (Bulong Roads Board) with monthly meetings, a hospital, school and police station, and at least three hotels being clustered with stores around the main town centre. Provision was made for a Racecourse Reserve north east of the town near where the original mine tramway ran, with Reid Street being the main north-south thoroughfare. Cable, Lardner and Jones operated the main town store and the main hotels in the towns heyday were the Court, Bulong, Federal and Globe. Bulong was never to rival Kanowna to the north where an extensive woodline system was established by the Westralia Firewood Company by the late 1890s.
At one point, this system extended 30 miles north to Gindalbie and west towards Broad Arrow with an interconnecting line to the Broad Arrow firewood tramway. Establishing the new woodline in April 1907, preparations were made to shift the firewood collection operation down the Kanowna line as wood reserves further north were cut out. Surveyors acting on behalf of the Westralia Timber and Firewood Company were dispatched and in 1907 were undertaking survey work south of Bulong. The authorised line of survey for the new line lay seven miles south of Bulong but in April 1907, the local community, recognising that the town of Bulong was beginning to struggle economically, lobbied for the route of the new private railway to come through the town itself. A deputation met the Minister for Mines in that month and was clearly successful. This amendment was duly endorsed by government, with the route now surveyed to pass through the Bulong townsite. However, a change to the survey in the town of Bulong occurred in November 1907 when there was a dispute with lease holders Lee and MacNamara who sought a payment of 150 to run the track through their site.
The Westralia company baulked, and so an alternative line was located north of the hospital grounds in Bulong and past the state school, the new alignment being fortuitous indeed due to what became the regular conveyance of injured workers from the end of the line to the hospital for treatment (in 1911-1912 for instance, it was claimed the majority of patients treated at Bulong Hospital were woodcutters from the end of the line). In September 1907, the shift to Kurramia was made, and a new depot was established with the necessary facilities for a woodline, including staff cottages and a general store. However, operations did remain at Kanowna for a little while longer, the last activity at this point occurring in February 1908. The shift itself must have been a herculean task, doubtless involving considerable use of the WAGR railway line between Kanowna and Kurramia. Track, sleepers, trucks, locos and equipment were all shifted down, though it is noted that the conditions of the time were still economically favorable, for dog spikes up on the old wood main line near Gindalbie were not reused and left to rust in the sun. Obviously the rails were brought down and there were also tiny 20lb rails from the Lancefield tramway, presumably used on the spur lines off the main line. In time those incredibly light rails got to be known as snap and rattle because of their propensity to easily break and derail trains. One of the first VIPs to travel on the new woodline was the Minister for Mines, who undertook a trip on the track to Bulong on Friday 15 June 1909.
When the new woodline was brought into use in 1908, it diverged from the governments Kanowna line at a new location called Kurramia. The actual junction was meagre, comprising a simple turnout to the woodline branch, but there were two sheds provided adjacent to these staff locked points. One was an out of shed (for storing consignment items unloaded from trains) and the other a staff cabin, it being necessary to use the electric staff for the Kalgoorlie-Kanowna section to unlock the points and work the siding. A porter was employed at the junction when the line was in use. The woodline then proceeded around a long curve to cross Kanowna Road on the level and enter the companys brand new depot shifted from Kanowna. A number of sidings were provided, three of them through tracks. A dead end was located on the southern side, and on the northern side were two dead ends for the loco workshops/shed, company store shed and water supply. The latter came from the brand new Goldfields Water Supply (GWS) pipe (which then served both Kanowna and Bulong). Further beyond, on the eastern approach, was a triangle. Kurramia essentially comprised the woodline depot, company houses and store, and not much else, and even though the woodline ran though Bulong, it was generally referred to as the Kurramia woodline in dispatches.
A small hotel functioned on the southern side of the Kurramia level crossing for a while, it being proposed in 1907 when the Licensing Court held sessions in Kalgoorlie. In October 1910, the publican Mr W J Finn was declared bankrupt, so it may have had a very short existence. When it was later sold, the Kurramia hotel was described as having 13 rooms and is understood that it was named the Junction Hotel. Kurramia also boasted a state school till March 1913 when it was sold for removal, the school being sited on the opposite side of Kanowna Road to the woodline depot. Beyond the triangle at Kurramia, the woodline headed off in a series of long straights, the first running to the vicinity of the Perkolilli pastoral station. A curve to the right then took the rails down another long straight to a point north of the old mining town of Balagundi where a ridge line was negotiated by a remarkably deep cutting. Beyond this point, another length of straight track took the railway to the edge of Bulong townsite where it entered from the west-north-west. The survey providing for the line to run through
Bulong was an interesting one, for it crossed tangentially many of the formal allotments of the townsite. By then, Bulong was clearly on the wane as a township due to declining gold output, so many of the lots were perhaps now vacant. It then passed north of the Bulong hospital and began to curve past a reserve for a public institute and the state school, in the process crossing the main street, Reid Street, on the level. Most of the route then lay south around the edge of the hill to a long loop siding which served as a crossing point as well as no doubt dealing with any of Bulongs goods needs. This was located in the vicinity of Furness and Seymour Streets, in the far south east of the town area. A short goods siding also existed near the hospital on the western side of Bulong, so there were some facilities at the town. Also provided at Bulong was an elevated water tank for the engines, the supply for this coming all the way from Mundaring via the GWS pipeline to Bulong.
Last but not least, there is ground evidence in the form of a formation indicating that a spur siding ran north to the main mine, the Queen Margaret. When the woodline was built, Bulong was still very much a town of walkers, horse riders and cyclists; indeed in September 1913, the towns sole car driven by a Mr Jay collided with a bicycle in Colin Street with no injury to either party, being humorously described in the press. Beyond this point, the woodline then headed out in the bush lands beyond, running to the east of the public road (now known as Bulong-Curtin Road) and to the south of the large salt lake Yindarlgooda. Most of the alignment was gently undulating or flat, with the formation raised slightly above the surrounding terrain. Small cuttings were required but were roughly finished off, the material from the cut being merely piled up on the cutting sides rather than finished off and spread evenly. Spurs were laid off this main line to the south and to the north, though most did not operate concurrently, the company practice being to merely shift the whole spur a little further on once the wood in that area was depleted. Essentially they were temporary branches, not unlike the portable lines used in the cane districts of Queensland and NSW to provide access into the farmers fields. Thus, a glance at a map of the system east of Bulong is somewhat misleading because only one or two of the branches were functioning at any one time. South of the woodline in this country was a small gold mining locality called Randells, which once boasted a hotel magnificently called the Flagship Hotel. The wood trains worked at various times close to that point as well as to the TAR under construction (so close to the latterday Curtin that woodline train crews could see the smoke of engines working construction trains on the new transcontinental line to the south).
Beyond Bulong, there were not a lot of curves as the track proceeded south east, east then north-west in a long hook feature which avoided Lakes Yindarlgooda and Yallurnie to the north. There were less than a dozen curves in over 30 miles as the main line of the woodline ran over a series of long straights, through some flat country and also some undulating lands. The survey team did its work well, for the railway managed to avoid the higher ground most of the way, though ironically, this alignment managed to optimise the adverse impacts of overland flooding. There was an important siding at the 30 Mile, which often featured in reports associated with the woodline, this being north west of the latter-day Curtin on the TAR. In addition to firewood, this siding also dealt with water and ore traffic road hauled to and from Mount Monger to the south. Approached by another long straight on a south west north east bearing, the terminus of the main line was generally called the 45 Mile, or 45 Mile Camp. In 1910, when elections were held in the district, it was noted that a general store existed at the 45 Mile Siding on the woodline, supplying woodcutters and gold prospectors alike. The company inserted a triangle to turn the wood train engine here (to this day, the formation of same is still discernable on Google Earth at -30.864273,122.164880), and the actual wood cutters camp and store were just beyond this on the northern side of the line.
This lovely evocative flat was a long way from public roads, the 45 Mile Camp also boasting a small forge for repairs to the G class locomotives. In addition to the normal remains of rail activity including ash, dog spikes and bolts, the forge site still boasts fire bars used in locomotive fire boxes. At its furthest extent, a few miles beyond the 45 Mile Camp, the woodline reached to north of Karonie, destined to be a station on the new TAR (in 1918, the WAGR noted that the woodline main line extended for over 70 miles to the furthest extent, well beyond the 45 Mile Camp). It is remarkable country out that way, comprising salt pans, and wooded areas and open flats, the little wood trains clattering through this empty countryside ferrying wood for the mines of Kalgoorlie. Flooding was clearly problematic, the area being susceptible to large overland sheet flows of water which would have caused disruption to the permanent way of the woodline.
The wood train from Kurramia and Bulong went out every morning six days a week to the end of the track, returning in the afternoon or evening. The latter train was traditionally referred to in dispatches and the newspaper as the afternoon train, not uncommonly used to convey injured timber cutters to the Bulong hospital. The normal load included 20 trucks of wood and also vans, and the crew comprised three men (driver, fireman and guard). The first few years seemed to have been busy and productive, the new woodline contributing greatly to the businesses of Bulong which then included several hotels as well as stores. Supplies for the town from Kalgoorlie and Perth came up on the woodline trains, the WAGR allowing its trucks to traverse the woodline. Thus, the new line effectively became a private branch with through traffic from the WAGR. Bulongs supplies could now be railed in WAGR trucks and put off in the siding at the town by Furness Street. The wood train also catered for passenger needs, being the easiest and most effective way to get to Kalgoorlie and beyond by the simple means of a connection to the Kanowna train at Kurramia. Although it was a private line, the Kurramia woodline served a significant public need in delivering supplies and passengers to the town of Bulong. Accommodation was provided for passengers at the rear of the train and trucks loaded with supplies came up on the train, which made a connection of sorts with the WAGR train at Kanowna. Whether or not the service was publicly advertised is not known, though newspaper reports of the time often referred to the afternoon train. Although Bulong was on the wane when the woodline opened, there were at least three hotels and other businesses in the town which would have drawn their needs by rail to the short goods siding near the hospital. So traffic was not just wood; supplies and passengers went by train and water was also hauled, the big elevated tank at Bulong connected with the GWS supply being a boon to those residing out in the bush.
In late October 1909, heavy rains damaged the brand new woodline where it passed through Bulong, it being reported that most of the hotels in town suffered damage due to water entering their cellars. The track was washed away in several places and otherwise damaged but a gang was put to work immediately, with repairs being made to enable a rake of 32 loaded trucks to be hauled out by the evening of Thursday 21 October 1909. The abundance of wood cutters employed at the end of the railway contributed also to the social life of Bulong. Union membership grew dramatically and there were of course social events such as dances in the Miners Institute and even a bush racecourse. Even the hospital did well, for there were many injuries to men at the outlying camps treated there, the wood train being able to convey them into Bulong and literally drop them off at the hospital doors. For instance on 14 October 1913, the afternoon train conveyed an injured woodcutter to the Bulong hospital. He survived, though some did not, and one particularly sad event saw the delivery of a badly injured man to the hospital only for the man to succumb at the hospital entrance as he was unloaded from the wood train. It was a hard life in Bulong but in a way, the woodline brought an aura of wobbly civilisation to the place. In August 1913, another man succumbed at the head of the woodline when he was crushed between buffers during a shunt. He was not the guard and was evidently a good soul helping the crew with the task. On Friday 31 January 1913, a large funeral for the late Mr Olle was held in Bulong, and the Westralia Firewood Company thoughtfully provided a rail service to Bulong for people attending the event. The person concerned was a checker for the firewood cutters working the line, and so an engine and coach were run by the company to take the mans friends and relatives across from Kalgoorlie and Kurramia to Bulong.
On Saturday 5 September 1914, a derailment occurred on the woodline at Bulong. The engine was pushing several loaded trucks along a spur siding to make up the full train when four trucks, an empty van and the engine came off the tracks. Three passengers on the train escaped injuries but were no doubt seriously delayed as a gang was employed all of Sunday to lay a rough deviation around the damaged track. Two more incidents reported included a collision in March 1913 with cows on the line near the 12 mile, on the western side of Bulong, and a wood train derailment near Bulong in early 1915. In the case of the latter, a short train comprising engine, five trucks and guards van was heading towards the end of the line on Monday 4 January 1915 when the axle under one of the trucks broke and the train derailed. Two trucks were smashed up in the derailment which seems to have occurred just beyond Bulong on the approach to the cutting beyond the cemetery.
The Westralia Timber and Firewood Company maintained a roster of 2-6-0 locomotives identical with the governments G class. The star performers were built by Beyer Peacock, and delivered as number 3 (5181 of 1908) in March 1909 and number 4 (5625 of 1912) in December 1912. There were two older locos too, including the antiquated A class 2-6-0 called DAY DAWN which came to the company in January 1903 from the Public Works Department (it had a prior career in the construction of the Leonora line). Also on the company roster was ex-WAGR 2-6-0 G 127 (James Martin 115 of 1895) which debuted with the company in April 1905. It is presumed the two new G class locomotives 3 and 4 performed the main body of the work, with G 127 having a support role, along with the hired 4-6-0 G 123 (Dbs 3507 of 1897). It seems that at Kurramia, the little A class barely turned a wheel. While most of the attention to the fleet occurred at Kurramia depot, the 45 Mile Camp boasted a forge for minor repairs including firebar replacement. The company used its own limited rolling stock plus trucks of the WAGR which were allowed to be hauled along the private line to and from Kurramia. Obviously this made haulage of firewood direct to the gold mines of the Golden Mile much easier, the loaded wood trucks being attached to the WAGR Kanowna trains at Kurramia and then hauled on to Kalgoorlie, before being taken further down the Boulder line direct to the gold mines. The traffic was so brisk in the earlier years that a survey was undertaken for a complex triangular junction east of Kalgoorlie station to enable the wood trains to run from the Kanowna and Menzies lines direct to Golden Gate and the Boulder line. For many years, a separate goods train terminated at Kurramia specifically to serve the needs of the woodline depot.
In 1913, the woodline at Bulong suffered its first body blow, when work commenced on the TAR. Considerable uncertainty settled on the woodlines operations, due to the initial proposal to run the Trans direct from Jurmania Rock through Bulong to a transshipment yard at Kurramia, thereby rendering the woodline redundant. Once the more direct alignment to Parkeston and Kalgoorlie was settled on, the firewood line was still in trouble for the new survey in fact severed access to many of the good areas of woodland served by the woodline. From 1913 onwards, the woodline spurs were forced in a more northerly direction where timber supplies were not so good, close to the big salt pan of Lake Yindarlgooda and Karonie. The last few years of the Kurramia woodline were ones of complete uncertainty which had a devastating impact on the companys operations and viability. Not long after the TAR construction commenced, the gold mining industry and its dependent firewood industry were also clobbered with the outbreak of the First World War in Europe in 1914. Not only were prices reduced, but the country suffered a huge drain in manpower to the war. Whole districts lost their youthful males and the impact on the area was disastrous. Mine output declined and there was a consequent reduction in demand for firewood. By March 1916, it was reported the woodline was being used also to convey water for gold prospectors due to the extremely dry conditions that prevailed that year (presumably for the fledgling mining industry at Mount Monger via the 30 Mile Siding). Also, in January 1914, a consignment of pipes for the Mines Water Supply Department was delivered by road from the 45 Mile Siding to Randalls for a proposed upgrade of water supply there. Despite those interesting diversions from normal firewood traffic, it was the beginning of the end for Bulongs last remaining railway line. In the final period of operation, the odd excursion train ran to Bulong. On Easter Monday in 1917, a special train was put on for the St Georges Presbyterian Sunday School to depart Boulder at 9.15am, thence running via Golden Gate and Kallaroo to Kalgoorlie, where it was to reverse and run to Kurramia and then Bulong. The newspaper report associated with the event said the Westralia Firewood Company had given special approval for the train to run on the private railway east of Kurramia. Bulong residents were arranging to provide hot water for the groups of picnickers expected to ride the train out. On Monday 23 April 1917, the little railway through Bulong was involved in a happy human interest story, when the crew working the pay train to the 45 Mile Camp, due to depart Kurramia at 10.15am, found a lost lad along the track well beyond Bulong, at the 26 Miles. The pay train was described as comprising an engine and a covered van used for distributing the pays to the men along the track, the company in its heyday employing 150 men. Also at the same time, in April 1917, it was reported that ore was being hauled in wagons by road to the 30 Mile Siding on the Kurramia woodline, for onwards transit by rail to the batteries in Kalgoorlie. The ore originated at Mount Monger, a mining camp south of the siding. Needless to say those miners were naturally aggrieved when rumors circulated that the woodline was about to be pulled up. The ore and water traffic for Mount Monger was obviously not enough to keep the trains going on the 3ft 6in gauge woodline. The assets of the Kurramia woodline were being removed and sold in June 1918, following a merger agreement with the Lakeside woodline. Three engines from Kurramia were to be transferred to Lakeside, with most of the staff as well, it being proposed initially to retain the Kurramia-Bulong section of the railway intact briefly to ascertain whether other use could be found for this track. For the ore loaders at 30 Mile Siding, the sudden loss of rail access by the woodline was seriously problematic and they petitioned for a siding to be put in on the brand new TAR in October 1918.
Westralia Timber and Firewood Companys locomotive number 4, seen here posing for its builders photo in traditional works grey, was a Beyer Peacock 2-6-0 (5625 of 1912). According to the Beyer Peacock records, it was ordered from the makers by WJ Adams, agent for Harris Scarfe & Company, Australia the latter being a long-established firm of retailers, that at one stage also acted as machinery merchants. The racks on its tender clearly indicate that it was destined to burn wood. Photo: Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester Not for
Bulongs brief dalliance with rail access to the rest of WA was severed forever after only ten short years. However, it is noted that the life of the woodline at Kanowna was also a short one, some ten years, suggesting that woodlines by their nature quickly deplete the resources they were constructed to exploit. Although the lifting of the woodline east of Bulong was well in hand in 1918, some of the railway lingered, with the very last track at Kurramia being recovered in 1920. 1917 proved to be a bad year for one of the remaining hotels in Bulong (the Court Hotel) when it burnt down and was not rebuilt, the town already having lost its local government with the last meeting of the Bulong Roads Board in 1911. By the 1920s, Bulong was in a bad state indeed, with the post office being reduced to a receival office only in 1923 (it was reported that a small gold nugget was once found at the foot of the steps after a heavy downpour). In 1928 with the water tank adjacent to it collapsing, the little used public hall (the Miners Institute) was sold for removal, though no arrangements were made for the disposal of the piano that had accompanied many a dance in the boom years when the mines and woodline were going. In 1938, the towns last hotel (the Bulong Hotel) was delicensed and dismantled. Bulong today is a quiet and peaceful place, a few bits of tin designating sites of the last miners shacks. However, the woodline route is still obvious in many areas, hooking through town past the site of the hospital and heading on to the back of beyond. The formation is made of a darker red material and stands up in many places above the surrounding flat land before being lost in washaway country about 2 km south. However, the route is discernible in many places where the woodlines once ran, and where the TAR intersects those firewood spurs used many years ago. Given the fact that the Bulong woodline was used for a very short time almost a century ago, the existence of the right of way to these modern times is surely remarkable.
Acknowledgements and bibliography I would like to thank my good friend Bernie Morris for his generous assistance with this article, and also Jeff Austin, the esteemed co-author of the book on the subject of woodlines for his considerable aid. My visit with Bernie to the remote and inaccessible 45 Mile Camp site very much encouraged this article. The following are noted as key sources of information for the article. Western Argus Gunzburg, A, Austin, J. Rails through the bush: timber and firewood tramways and railway contractors of Western . . Australia. Light Railway Research Society of Australia, Melbourne,1997. Trove newspaper search facility (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper) WAGR progress yard plan for Kurramia WAGR Weekly Notices (1908-1921) WAGR Working Timetable (1917) Those seeking to learn of Bulongs other railway, the short isolated narrow gauge line that linked mines north of the town with the battery plant above Lake Yindarlgooda (the quaintly named Bulong Mine and Ore Reduction Company Tramway), should read David Whitefords fine article on the subject in Light Railways 212.