Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore rail trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

Category Archives: History

History Revealed on Rail Trail

A glimpse back into how railway transport helped develop communities and businesses, aided rural farmers plus gold exploration, can now be seen via new interpretive signs along the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Working closely with the City of Greater Bendigo, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group have sought to bring elements of history back for the benefits of the rail trail users.

As a result of much research, the outcome has seen 11 interpretive information signs being placed at specific locations along the O’Keefe trail. Such reveals the current trail’s connection to the past, for the Heathcote to Bendigo (Sandhurst) section of the former ‘Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst Railway’. The history highlighted covers the period from 1887, for the railway’s construction, to more recent times of rail trail development. Trail users can imagine going back in history, living in a different period, without even leaving the trail!

Greg and Glenda Ralton, Brett Martini, and Paul Ferguson at the signage launch. Photo: Andrew Perryman

At the official launch of the new information signs, the City of Greater Bendigo council’s City Engineering Manager Brett Martini said “The O’Keefe Rail Trail is a wonderful asset for the Greater Bendigo that provides unique opportunities for residents and visitors to walk and cycle the total 49kms between Bendigo and Heathcote.”

Trail Ride and Heritage Train

While dressed for a cool Victorian winter’s day, clear blue skies saw members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail (FBKRT) heading out to ride the Castlemaine to Maldon Trail. This 18km trail was opened in 2017, and shares the railway easement with the historic goldfields branch line still used by the Victorian Goldfields Railway (VGR).

The ride arrives at Muckleford Station, as did a VGR train. Photo: Paul Ferguson

While there is an annual event ‘Race The Train’ held, such was not the plan by FBKRT members enjoying the natural environment and observed historic timber railway bridges while riding at a slower pace. After arriving at the Muckleford station, the trail’s mid-point, the group were delighted to observe a family of Spotted Pardalotes near the station seemingly not concerned by a passing tourist steam train.

VGR train to depart Muckleford station for Castlemaine. Photo: Christine Scott

The planned destination of the historic Maldon was reached by the ride group for a well-earned coffee, with lunch had at the historic Kangaroo Hotel while observing the vistas of Victoria’s first notable town. It was then a short ride to the Maldon station to load the bikes onto the VGR steam loco hauled train, for the return trip to Castlemaine. It was agreed the trail was achievable for most riders on MTB or similar gravel bikes, the day really enjoyed and definitely a ride to be repeated.

U3A Connects with Rail Trail

The O’Keefe Rail Trail attracts all age groups, so it is no surprise that the U3A Bendigo Bushwalking group utilise this popular trail for planned walks. For the unaware, the acronym U3A stands for the University for the Third Age, and it is all about shared learning in mature years.

On 13 December, 15 members of the group gathered at the Axedale Park, although stormy weather was threatening their planned walk on the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Not to be deterred, the members set off to enjoy the natural environment that the trail provides. It wasn’t long before the umbrellas were out, as the walkers neared the former Axedale railway station area on the trail.

Bendigo U3A Walking Group. O'Keefe Rail Trail Axedale. 15 Dec 2018

Bendigo U3A Walking Group. O’Keefe Rail Trail, Axedale. 15 Dec 2018. Photo: Joy Clusker

Here an inspection of the historic railway wagon recalled some past memories, such as standing on similar station platforms waiting for a steam train or observing shunting of such wagons.

U3A member Graeme Balaam inspects the railway wagon. 15 Dec 2018

U3A member Graeme Balaam inspects the railway wagon. 15 Dec 2018. Photo Joy Clusker

With thunder and lightning occurring in the distance, this prompted an unplanned turnaround back to Axedale. Nearing the Park, and having walked for about one hour, it was most likely the thought of a coffee at the Axedale Tavern that quickened the return walking pace!

Even though it had rained, all the members enjoyed the scenery and how well the trail was maintained. The group also came across a couple of cyclists while on the trail, who cheerfully shared the path with the walkers. More information about the U3A Bendigo Inc can be found on their web page.

History Photos Sought

Seeking links to history is what a current community assisted project for the O’Keefe Rail Trail is needing. An interpretive information sign project, funded by the City of Greater Bendigo council and assisted by the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail, is currently being developed. This project will see a number of information signs placed along the rail trail in the very near future, displaying old photos, information and facts for trail users.

The theme of the project is the former railway, showing how this influenced both community and business/farm development, employment, and how such may have impacted upon the environment.

Derrinal Railway Station (including Post Office). Approx date 1900

Derrinal Railway Station (including Post Office). Approx date: 1900

This project needs your help, and is seeking any historic photos relating to this former ‘Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst Railway’ (the Heathcote-Bendigo section 1888-1958), local communities and business life, as well as information connecting individuals and events to this former railway. So check out that old shoe box of grandma’s photos or Uncle’s old photo album, just one photo could tell a real story to many! Copies of photos (or information) can be emailed to bendigokilmorerailtrail@gmail.com or sent to Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail at PO Box 578 Bendigo, Vic, 3552.

New attraction for the O’Keefe Rail Trail

The former Wallan to Bendigo railway had trains carrying passengers and goods for most of the 70 years for the Bendigo – Heathcote section, between 1888 and 1958. The O’Keefe Rail Trail has been located on sections of this former railway reserve since 1992.

An initiative of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail community group was to create another link between the rail trail and that former railway, with an historic static display of a 20th century railway wagon. The location for this display was to be the former Axedale Railway Station site, where a replica platform had recently been constructed by the group. Not only is this an historic link with a past means of transport, it is also expected to be an educational opportunity for school children and younger adults.

This project has just recently taken another step forward from the planning stage, with the delivery of a former Victorian Railways ‘GY’ 4-wheel wagon. Also as an added historic link to the Bendigo area, this particular wagon was one of a number manufactured at the VR North Bendigo Railway Workshops between 1955 and 1957.

A 'GY' Railway Wagon returns to Axedale. Photo: G.Long

A ‘GY’ Railway Wagon returns to Axedale. Photo: G.Long

The transportation of the wagon to Axedale was made possible by a community grant provided by the Fosterville Gold Mine and Kirkland Lake Gold. This grant has been very much appreciated by the group, as was the assistance provided by local transport company A2B Move It. The project’s next stage will see the refurbishment of the wagon for public display.

Rail Trail Strikes Gold

A community grant will help to have an historic railway wagon return to Axedale, where steam loco hauled goods trains were once loaded and unloaded as an important means of transport. Fosterville Gold Mine and Kirkland Lake Gold 2018 Community Grant program has awarded the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail a $2000 grant, which will help the project relocating an original Victorian Railways ‘GY’ 4-wheel wagon to Axedale.

Fosterville Gold Mine Trudi Jackson presents grant to Friends members Rob Nelson and Mal Ward.

Fosterville Gold Mine Trudi Jackson presents grant to Friends members Rob Nelson and Mal Ward.

This historic static display area is the location of the original Axedale Railway Station, an additional point of interest for O’Keefe Rail Trail users…and perhaps the cause of a ‘selfie’ or two to be taken! The Friends community group plan to refurbish the wagon for public display, and as an educational location for school students. Kirkland Lake Gold is thanked for supporting this community initiative, another instance of business companies assisting the O’Keefe Rail Trail’s development.

 

Railway Gates Return to Heathcote

It’s not that long ago when motorists often faced wooden railway gates at road crossings within Melbourne’s metro train network, closed by VR staff to prevent motor vehicles proceeding when trains were scheduled.

Yet who would have guessed that most early regional Victorian Railway (VR) lines also had such gates at many relatively low traffic rural road crossings in the late 19th century. This was so for the original Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst line, built 1888-1890. At that time, each gate installation had a permanent Gate Keeper plus a railway house as well. One such Gate Keeper’s house still remains in Heathcote. Most rural railway gates were removed during the early part of the 20th century.

Seeking to reinstate elements of former railway historical infrastructure, on the now O’Keefe Rail Trail, Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members were keen to obtain a set of original railway gates. After a long search, an old set of stored gates in a poor state were finally located in Melbourne, and then subsequently approved for allocation to the group by PTV. With a City of Greater Bendigo Community Grant awarded, and assistance from Semi Trailer Sales Pty Ltd, Friends member Ken Hanson set about leading a project to rebuild these gates in Bendigo.

Refurbished railway gates arrive in Heathcote. Photo: Ken Hanson

Refurbished railway gates arrive in Heathcote. Photo: Ken Hanson

With additional assistance from Powercor, Council, Lions Club of Heathcote, and painter John Mead, the 6-metre-long gates were installed with their final coat of paint being applied at Heathcote. This siting was close to an original gates location at Herriot St, near the former Heathcote Railway Station.

Railway gates provide access to Heathcote Lions Club's Rail Trail Shelter. Photo: Garry Long

Railway gates provide access to Heathcote Lions Club’s Rail Trail Shelter. Photo: Garry Long

The gates now provide a ‘safe’ pathway for trail users into the Lions Club’s rail trail shelter area, a great place to meet people, and enjoy what the O’Keefe Rail Trail now has to offer.

Axedale’s Historical Trail

Looking for something to do after arriving in Axedale, perhaps before heading to the Axedale Tavern or Store for lunch, or a coffee n cake, or some refreshment before heading back on the O’Keefe Rail Trail? The Axedale Historical Trail is there to inform, to enable you to immerse yourself back in another time, to help understand what people may have done in Axedale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Axedale Historical Trail

To help with your exploring this local trail, there is also a smart device Axedale Historical Trail app that can be downloaded. This app can send you back into a different period of time, with slower transport, ladies in flowing dresses, yet often challenging times for many. So enjoy the experience………….while your family and friends go back in history!

One Lost ‘Concrete Solder’ returns!

The O’Keefe Rail Trail’s ‘75 mile’ concrete post that was stolen from the trail has been found! As one of the replica railway marker post installed beside the trail on the former railway alignment, this one was found to be missing. Media coverage of this unfortunate situation assisted to help recover one of Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail member Ken Hanson’s ‘concrete soldiers’.

A local district resident Annette Stone found the post at Lake Eppalock, and her brother Ken Stone realised what it was after reading an article in The McIvor Times. With assistance from the Heathcote police, the post was returned to the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail. Ken Hanson then repaired the damaged post and a working bee returned the post to the original location beside the rail trail, to be enjoyed by an increasing number of trail users.

One of the stories heard at the time was that Ken must have put a special chemical additive into the concrete when initially pouring them, which could make the posts ‘too hot to handle’ if stolen!!

 

O'Keefe Rail Trail mile post is recovered. The McIvor Times 1 June 2016 edition

O’Keefe Rail Trail mile post is recovered. The McIvor Times 1 June 2016 edition

Knowsley is on the map

The sleepy hamlet of Knowsley has been highlighted yet again by the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Back in April-May 2015, the last sections to be constructed for the trail’s extension would see Knowsley as the focal point, the final link in the continuous trail between Bendigo and Heathcote.

In April 2016, two new milestones have again focused on Knowsley. The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group have been adding a number of facilities and features along the O’Keefe Rail Trail, some linking the trail to its former railway heritage. Two such features have been the replica railway marker posts, often known as ‘mile posts’, and replica railway station name boards. The marker posts originally indicated the railway distance in miles from Melbourne, and the name boards stated the name of a particular railway station.

Wednesday 13 April 2016 saw Knowsley receive the last of the Friends’ manufactured concrete marker posts, number ‘83’, placed on the O’Keefe Rail Trail. These concrete posts have been ‘planted’ at every mile distance, or as near as possible to the original, between Heathcote and North Bendigo.

Knowsley is highlighted on the O'Keefe Rail Trail. 13 Apr 2016. Photo: Garry Long

Knowsley is highlighted on the O’Keefe Rail Trail. 13 April 2016. Photo: Stan Pieper

 

Also the eighth and last station name board to be placed along the trail between Bendigo and Heathcote, ‘Knowsley’, was installed to highlight the once fully functional railway station. While unable to place the name board directly on the former platform site, the sign is located right on the railway line alignment where a railway ‘cattle grid’ was once located.

With those having an interest in railway history being attracted to rail trails, or for other trail users learning about the former transport links, these historical connections with the past are bound to create additional interest for what is becoming a popular walking and cycling tourist attraction.