Back Water Towns and Some History

We are heading back home to Melbourne, stopping again in Albury tonight. Travelling short distances like this each day gives us plenty of time in which to potter along and explore some history.

After leaving Canberra, we detoured off the main highway to stop in Yass to see its historic railway station. Jill used to travel by train from Melbourne as a child to visit her extended family in Queanbeyan. She and her mother would catch the train to Yass and then be picked up by a family member and driven across to Queanbeyan. The town of Yass itself has busy Main Street with a rather decrepit pub, a good number ofd classic 19th Century buildings and a large superb court house and town hall.

The station at Yass is actually four kilometres out of town in the middle of a sheep paddock at Yass Junction. This location as due to the refusal of the Engineer-in-Chief of the New South Wales Railways to build the Main South line through the middle of Yass itself. After a visit in 1871, to investigate possible routes for the extension of the line from Goulburn, he remarked that “to bring the station to North Yass would increase the length of the line by about three quarters of a mile; the cost would be considerably more than he had recommended, and that from an engineering point of view any divergence to North Yass could not be entertained.

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That’s obviously a very people friendly approach! For years now, people in Yass have had to make their way quite a distance out of town to be able to catch a train. This is a classic case of a discovery that I made some years ago . The railways and airlines take an opposite approach to priiorities. Airlines will readily unload freight in order to maintain schedules that people expect them to follow. On the other hand, for railways, people are a nuisance – their main business is carrying freight.

So there in the middle of nowhere is a heritage listed station on the main North – South line in New South Wales. It is complete with three platforms, a signal box and quarters for railway workers (now disused)

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However, Yass itself does have a station of sorts. It is now a museum but it used to be the home of a light steam railway that once took people to the station at Yass Junction. The old railway station was built when a tramway was opened in 1892. It became a railway line in 1917 and closed in 1988. This station has the shortest platform of any railway in Australia.

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We stopped at a roadside stop for a coffee at a little town called Bookham. It had a very tidy rest area and clean toilets (probably because the maintenance crew were working there today). There is nothing much in the town any more other than a hall, a church, a few houses, a cafe and a junkyard. Before the highway bypassed this town, local folklore was that the Bookham police officer would hide behind a tree to catch speeding motorists so that he could ‘Book em’.

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We made it back to Gundagai for lunch and can heartily recommend ‘The Coffee Pedaler’ as a place to east. It is located in an old butchers shop at the bottom of the Main Street.

Trying to see some other places than those we visited at on our journey north to Canberra, we stopped at the tiny village of Woomargama for a few minutes. It seems that every town has some claim to fame and this one is no exception.

This town found itself in the sights of Royal watchers and the international press after the Prince and Princess of Wales used it as a base during their 1983 Australian tour. The owners of nearby Woomargama Station (Ranch) knew, the then, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, personally and their property was deemed suitable for them to stay because of its location. The Royals wanted somewhere that had access to Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra airports, and they knew the station was tucked away and enabled privacy. Baby Prince William stayed there for about three weeks with his nanny while Prince Charles and Princess Diana went back and forth on their Royal duties. It would have been almost impossible to have found somewhere more private and remote!

There is not much more in the town now other than a pub that is being renovated and an old service station that doubles as the post office.

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During the 1930s depression, an initiative of the Holbrook Shire Council saw the building of a ‘tourist road’ (Tunnel Road) from Woomargama to Dora Dora. It benefited from a large amount of Federal government labour and relief funding. The project required weekly rosters of up to 230 men and lasted two years, bringing grants as high as £73,000. Men deployed to the project had to bring their own cooking/eating utensils and provisions for 3 to 4 day work stints. Little other than picks and shovels were used, so as to prolong the job and to maximise the number who could be employed.

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Near Albury, we stopped at the Ettamogah Pub for a photograph of this famous building. It is a ‘fantasy pub’ that was born from the vivid imagination of Ken Maynard, a cartoonist for the now defunct Australasian Post. The cartoon featured a cast of outback ‘whackers’ – hillbilly Australian characters who represented the iconic Australian Larrikin. 

In the cartoons, the timber building featured sloping walls and a distinctive architectural style. There was an old Chevy ute parked on top. According to Ken Maynard’s Ettamogah cartoons, the 1927 Chevy truck washed up on top of the pub in the floods of 1949 and none of the regulars could be bothered to get it down. Ettamogah spelt backwards and said quickly actually sound like ‘’how you going, mate’’?

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The nearby Lake Hume, the largest dam on the Murray River, is as full as it has been in many years.

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Very close to Albury, we drove past the Kinross Woolshed Hotel at Thurgoona. The origins of this building date back to the 1890’s. It was originally located in Holbrook, just north of Albury. in its day the Woolshed was one of the busiest shearing sheds in Australia, with up to 43 stands in operation at one time. The building was relocated in 1988 and was reconstructed using original materials and retaining the authentic features. As it stands now, Kinross Woolshed Hotel (Pub) is one of the most popular dining and entertainment venues in the NSW / Victoria border region.

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Our day finished with a final touch of family history. Before heading to our hotel in Albury, we stopped off at the Wodinga Cemetery to see if we could find the graves of Jill’s paternal grandparents (You will remember from yesteday’s blog that we visited the graves of her maternal grandparents in the St Johns graveyard in Canberra). These grandparents, Arthur and Mabel Andersen, lived a humble life, mostly in Tawonga in NE Victoria. Jill could remember the graves being somewhere to the left, and inside the cemetery gate. It only took a few minutes for us to find them. They appeared to be in good shape and were next to the grave of an uncle of hers who was killed at a young age in an accident while working as a road worker.

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2 thoughts on “Back Water Towns and Some History

  1. Etamogah Pub, I did not know that. Is it still operating? I believed it had closed. You’ve certainly had an interesting week on the road. Safe home from Albury

  2. What an interesting trip you have enjoyed. History at every turn

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