Since the 1870s Gunnedah station has played a key role in the development of the agricultural and mineral business of central North NSW, as the surrounding region has provided fertile ground for both industries to develop.
Located at the 475.800 km marker from Sydney, stands a heritage brick railway station surrounded by working yards, tall silos and many other rural business buildings. The station’s history stretches back over 130years and it still remains as an active railway station in 2012. Gunnedah railway precinct is located on the Mungindi branch line, which is found branching off from the Great Northern Railway (Main North line) at the major rail centre of Werris Creek and then heads north to the remote town of Mungindi, on the Queensland border.
DEVELOPMENT OF STATION
Located in the eastern region of the Darling Plains, amidst a fertile area for farming in mid North NSW, Gunnedah has since its founding in the 1820s has developed into a predominantly pastoralist business town. By the 1860/70s the area was expanding and Gunnedah was becoming a growing regional town and this paralleled the development of the railway system across NSW. As the new railway system because popular, the locals requested a railway station to allow them to travel to Sydney and beyond.
During the early 1870s, the railway building policy in use at the time saw main lines take precedent over any new country branch lines in being constructed and put into service. By 1877 this policy has been stopped and replaced with a more common sense policy to also build branch lines at the same time.
In 1877 a MP for Gwyder region, Thomas Dangar managed to convince the NSW Government to have a branch line to be built heading towards Gunnedah, which was to come off the Great Northern Line just before it reached Tamworth. This branch line was the beginning of the era which saw many towns across NSW get their connection to the new railway system. Local politicians wanted to be seen to be doing good by their local constituents. So began in earnest the building of the branch line towards Gunnedah and the fertile plains.
ORIGINAL STATION 1878
During 1877 the NSW Government approved a contract to start building of the new railway station building and associated goods shed at Gunnedah. At this stage the line from Werris Creek north was a single line due to the level of use and has remained so in 2012. Contractors built the station buildings, platform, carriage docks, station masters residence, goods shed and stock races in 1878. A steam locomotive shed was built in 1879.
The original railway station building was a common John Whitton building design for the era. The size of the building was considerably small at just 21.6m long due to budget restrictions at the time in force and some locals thought this size was not adequate for their town. Other budget savings saw the omissions of ornamentation around windows / doors, the absence of finials, absence of rear access points and the lack of heating provided in the open waiting room with no open fireplaces built. So Gunnedah’s railway history started off with a basic building and the locals demanding a better station for the future… Meanwhile the branch line section from heading north from Werris Creek via Breeza to Gunnedah had been built by the navies and contractors and was opened on 11 September 1879. This construction paralled the station, which was completed and officially opening for service also on 11 September 1879.
1915 – AN IMPROVED STATION FOR A GROWING TOWN
Gunnedah’s growth from 1870 to 1910 helped to confirm in the minds of the locals that there was a need for the upgrading of the original station building to better cater for more use. As the frequency on the branch line expanded and passengers use increased which came via the town’s population expanding and the exportation of products and resources, the station at Gunnedah was under pressure to handle the increased rail traffic.
During the early 1900s on the basis of these reasons, a new station with a more appropriate design for the town was approved to replace the original timber building. By 1915 a new brick building was constructed and was immediately seen as a massive improvement. New infrastructure improvements included the main platform extended to handle longer carriages and associated goods wagons, an upgrade of the water supply with a water column erected which was fed by the water tank located nearby and a duplex pump with a boiler. A loading bank used to exist at the station but has since been demolished.
Besides making the new station more useable and warmer in winter, the brick lined building incorporated new features such as an elaborate cantilevered awning, enlarged detached toilet facilities, a new ladies waiting room, a larger general waiting room combined with the booking and parcel offices. The station master’s office was also upgraded.
The 1915 era station building incorporates aesthetic features due to the large use of Edwardian style features on the brick building. The station was constructed of brick in a Flemish bond. The overall station site plan is linear with the main public enterance through the centre gable facing the car park/street and is accessed via a ramp.
The building layout has the station master’s office/booking office, meal room, communications room, luggage office, waiting room, store room and toilets.
A long timber awning which is broad, spans the entire platform/building facing the rail line. This awning is longer than most others seen at regional similar sized railway stations in NSW and thus provides extensive protection from rain and sunshine.
The main building section consists of a gabled building built parallel to the platform with 3 sections evenly spaced which project from the main section with a central pavilion formerly the booking hall/waiting room, and two flanking pavilions at each end. Each section also has lockable doors for access.
The original roof was clad in fibre cement slates of a diamond pattern but was replaced with corrugated, galvanised iron which is more suitable for the modern era.
3 fireplaces are found within the station and the correspondin
g chimneys rise from the roofline with terra cotta pots outlets on top. Other noticeable design features include 2 verandas at the front of the station building, which are in company with very large multi paned windows which are of a curved design – again not common in NSW railway stations in the country. These features are also supported with decorated timber support posts which hold the roof up in the front veranda / waiting area..
The amenities section at the station is separated at the southern end of the building by a flat roofed corrugated galvanised iron sheeting. This area originally was a small yard. Inside the amenities are still found well constructed facilities which retain the early 1900s era high ceilings. Such features enable much more natural light into these rooms than closed in modern designs and helps to cut down on excessive power usage.
An interesting point worth mentioning is that the modern day railway station has wording attached to the front of the building, showing “1879” which can confuse and people into thinking the brick building dates from 1879.
SOCIAL ASPECTS OF THE STATION
The railway station contribution to the town’s economy and community’s sense of place is shown by the station being used on a daily basis by its residents and visitors.. It has helped over many years in supporting the town, in assisting to become a regional centre for agricultural commerce and thereby being a site of significant activity and employment.
The station has also seen some not so fortunate times, with fires and vandals taking its toll with either damage or impacts on safety. During the 1950s a fire damaged the station extensively with significant damage to the roof, the parcels office and parcels which were stored. Another threat comes from rail corridor intruders and one such event was seen in early 2003 when kids tried to derail trains passing through the town by placing objects on the railway tracks. Police stopped the kids just in time from causing a extremely serious accident.
UP / DOWN TRAFFIC MOVEMENTS
The main use of the Gunnedah railway station has been for the movement of passengers from Gunnedah to surrounding regional towns or to Sydney. Pastoralism and mining industries has for over 130years being the core employment in the town and surrounding regions and the railways has and still is a key component of these industries. Many people live in the town and travel by the railway connection provided at the railway station by the Countrylink Explorer.
Gunnedah’s railway yard has an unusual operating procedure where the branch line as it comes through the station yard has a deviated section that diverts the main branch line onto the passenger platform siding and then after passing the station, it reverts back to the main branch line. This rather unusual method forces the movement of all long freight trains to slow down considerably as they pass the station if they are not stopping.
One of the earliest goods to be exported from the town, was coal which started in June 1899, when a private railway line 5.7km long was connected to the railway branch line near the station to assist in moving the coal around NSW. In 1957 the NSWGR took over the working of the private line. The other major commodity since the late 1800s which saw Gunnedah a focus of was the large movements of wheat and until recent times, cattle and sheep grazing were seen going by rail. Nowadays all animal stock movement are just a distant memories having ceased in the 1980s. By 1955 the station precinct included a wheat depot, with an additional depot constructed in 1966 to meet the demands of this fast growing local industry. The surrounding yards hold in good growing seasons significant wheat traffic and see frequent diesel locomotives shunting long rakes of hoppers of wheat lined up, for their eventual transport to the coastal regions for domestic processing or export.
In 1990 the restructure of CountryLink passenger services in the North West of NSW saw the removal of all train servicing passenger needs and the implementation of coach services to replace rail traffic at Gunnedah and other rural locations. This very unpopular Liberal government policy remained in placed for the next three years and was not appreciated by many people in rural NSW, as they didn’t wish to drive the long distances to Sydney and other places across NSW. After 3yrs in November 1993, Countrylink passenger trains was reinstated and passenger trains returned to the branch line stopping at Gunnedah, in the form of a daily Explorer service which gave the town a much needed again connection to and from Sydney. Currently in 2012, the daily Countrylink service visits the station as part of its trip which sees the train operating from Sydney to Moree and then returns. The 2 car Explorer has more than enough room at the station considering the long platform space available.
Despite the demise of the once large and very regular passenger services with limited daily services, it is now the transportation of coal and wheat by rail which provides the bulk of the industries upon the Gunnedah economy has become reliant on for the last few years. Every train used for wheat, coal and general freight movement from the region, basically removes a fair number of trucks from the road system and this then has a side benefit as it decreases the likelihood of further road crashes which happen a lot in rural NSW.
PRESERVATION – 2012
The 1915 built Gunnedah Railway Station, remains in 2012 standing intact and in use and reminds people that it is a significance early 20th Century station building, which was constructed as a unique and somewhat elaborate building during a period of railway building standardisation along with restrained design features.
Having replaced the earlier 1870s era building, the existing building reflects its heritage aspects as it approaches its 100thanniversary in the next few years.
In 2012 the Werris Creek to Murrundi branch line is operational and largely intact except for a small section and the branch line is used for frequent freight, passenger traffic thus keeping the branch line open for the foreseeable future.