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ON February 4, 1913, more than 4000 residents of the Manning River flocked into Taree to witness the arrival of the first two trains, crammed packed with paying passengers, on the newly completed section of the northern line.
The anniversary will be celebrated officially this weekend (May 11 and 12), with a re-enactment of the first trains’ arrival.
For 33 years the Railway League had pressed the Government to bring the iron road to Taree, and, after many delays and bitter disappointments, the fruition of their efforts was at last to become a reality.
The first train arrived at 1.50pm with an estimated 1000 paying passengers, the second train, with almost as many paying passengers, was expected 20 minutes later, but was delayed for an hour, and following another long wait of two hours the official ministerial train eventually arrived.
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This historic opening of the railway was to alter forever the unreliable and risky option of transporting valuable produce to the city markets by sea, with the associated risk to farmer’s income, due to lengthy delays of bar bound ships marooned in the Manning River for weeks at a time, or worse, the loss of both the produce, crew and passengers’ lives on the Harrington bar or on the often treacherous sea voyage to the metropolis.
The arrival of the railway sounded the first death knell for sea transport and also the Harrington Southern Wall project.
The Manning River Times reported to an eager, expectant population the details of this historic event. Our archivists Rod and Wendy Gow have extracted the following paragraphs from the files:
Everything was ready on Monday evening, 3 February, for the official opening of the railway on Tuesday, 4 February, 1913. The train bringing the stationmaster, loco, officer and other employees arrived at Taree on Saturday afternoon, 1 February, and quite a number of people visited the station to see it. The train consisted of first and second-class and a suburban second-class corridor carriage, and eighteen trucks, carrying luggage and goods. This was the first definite intimation the town received that the opening of the railway - so often delayed - was at last to become an accomplished fact. The train stopped at the different stations, and the lamps, etc., were erected in quick time.
The train also had on board a number of officials, each of whom made a final inspection of the work under the department which he represented. They included Mr. Quinton (superintendent of the district), Inspectors Jamieson, Boyd and Hayes (traffic branch) Inspector Fry (permanent way), Mr. Johnson (interlocking branch), Inspector Genge (lighting inspector), and Inspector Arms (bridges). The permanent way was formally opened for traffic, and the officers appointed to the various stations, entered upon duty from last Saturday. On Sunday afternoon large numbers of people visited the railway station.
The first train to run on any portion of the new fourth section last week, ran over the extension to Brown’s Creek bridge.
Railway fares from Sydney to Taree were officially set at £1/4/3 first class, and second class at fifteen shillings and eight pence, and the regular advertised time table stated the departure from Sydney at 6:45 a.m., from at Newcastle at 10:25 a.m., and arrival at Taree 4:10 p.m., a trip of almost nine and a half hours, which clipped several hours off the time taken on a sea voyage.
The first passenger train, open to the public, to arrive at Taree, steamed into the station at 1:50 p.m. on Tuesday, bringing with it a crowd of human freight, that opened wide with surprise, the eyes of those who had gathered in large numbers, to witness its arrival.
Though the official train was not to arrive till over three hours later, there was great interest manifested in the coming of this first train, and it brought with it many who had friends on the Manning River. The train was drawn by a P class engine, No. 680, of the type used for drawing a mail train, and it had with it nine suburban, two composite, and one first-class carriage. Every carriage was well packed - which seems a mild phrase to use, but it will do. It carried about 1,000 passengers. It left Newcastle in the morning, and by the time it got to Dungog was so crowded, that it was impossible to pick up passengers at the by-platforms between Dungog and Taree. A number were left behind at Dungog. A few were picked up at Gloucester, and some were left behind, and when the train arrived at Taree, it was reported that a special train was following and picking up the remaining passengers, so that they would not be very much inconvenienced. As there were twelve carriages on the first train and each will seat between 50 and 60 persons - and in each compartment many were standing - our estimate of 1,000 would not be far out. Many former residents and natives of the district were on this and other trains, and found friends awaiting them, who exchanged hearty greetings. Mr. Sefton, the stationmaster, had everything in perfect order for the reception of the first passengers. In the morning Mr. Inspector Hayes, of Newcastle had come up on his railway motor, bringing tickets for the station and seeing to other business along the route. Mr. C. Quinton, Assistant District Superintendent, was in charge of the train, and everyone concerned reported a splendid trip.
Although expected to arrive about 20 minutes after the first train, the second, which was a special, did not arrive till well over an hour after the other. It had been intended, as empty carriages, to take the outgoing passengers at night after the opening, but, so many passengers had been left behind, that it had to be used as a pick-up train, and by the time Taree was reached, it too was crowded, as many as 21 persons being in a compartment, and the number on board again being estimated at very near to four figures. It had 10 carriages, and was drawn by two engines, a T class, No. 791, and a D class, No. 259. The second engine had to be put on at Dungog, on account of the load. One of these engines was to take up the regular running next day. Mr. Jamieson, acting Inspector, was in charge of this second train, and everything, again, had gone well.
Chatting with our representative about the traffic, one of the officials described it as exceptionally heavy. “We expected something of the kind.” he said, “We made provision accordingly, and although we only had two trains advertised to run, we had three in readiness and kept one up our sleeves. This, (referring to the second train) was the one up our sleeves. The Ministerial train, of course, she is well filled, they tell me. The passengers were chiefly from Newcastle, East and West Maitland, and Dungog.” The second train worked every platform between Dungog and Taree to pick up passengers. The drivers, firemen and guards on these two trains were - First Train, Driver Bruce and Fireman Norman. Second Train, first engine Driver E. Wills, and Fireman Close, second engine Driver Osmond and Fireman Green. The Guards were Messrs. T. Burgess (first train), Mayo and J. Wilson (second train). Driver Rinkin and Fireman Swan came up on the first train assisting, so as to learn the road. As soon as the first train arrived, one of the officials remarked to our representative, “That is record traffic to Taree, put that down.” Our representative did.
Such a crowd arriving by the trains took Taree absolutely by storm, and there was a regrettable lack of accommodation for the travellers, many of whom were desperately hungry. Nothing like an adequate effort seems to have been made to cope with the big crowd that might well have been expected, and as the actual muster exceeded the wildest estimates, this made it worse than ever. However, those that did in any measure prepare, did remarkably well. Moscatt and Holden, for instance, satisfied the wants of 60 customers in a considerably less number of minutes, and we don’t know how long afterwards they were all still going strong. Messrs. Cassimatty’s up-to-date establishment was also patronised by large numbers of visitors. With the crowd that had come in by train and a still larger crowd in town ready for the arrival of the official train, the town presented an aspect livelier than it has ever before presented, but it was orderly, and rowdyism was conspicuous by its absence.
Taree has never before known such a crowd, as assembled at the railway station between 1 and 5 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, to welcome the official opening train. Of course any estimate might be very wide of the mark, but there was a general consensus of opinion that the assemblage mustered well over 4,000 and was probably well on the way to 5,000. Before the train arrived, noticeable on the platform was the slight, but venerable figure of Mr. Charles Boyce, J.P. For 33 years Mr. Boyce has been in the forefront of the agitation for the railway, and he has made no secret of his delight that he has at last seen the consummation of the hopes of those who had worked for the railway. When, 4 years ago, Mr. Boyce was present at the turning of the sod by Mr. C. A. Lee, the then Minister for Public Works, he had the good fortune to secure possession of the flag that waved over the spot on that auspicious occasion. A little unpretentious pink muslin flag, not very shapely, nor very important looking, not too well bound, round a not too straight little stick - yet it had a value and interest that were great, because of its historic association, and it was pleasing to see Mr. Boyce wave it as the Ministerial train steamed into the platform, as he had, for 4 years, closely treasured it under lock and key in readiness for this occasion.
The Taree Civilian Brass Band was in attendance in its neat uniform, and under Bandmaster Baker, and played some lively selections.
For the opening ceremony, the signal platform had been set apart, and near this a space was kept cleared by the police and railway officials. Mr. Sefton and Snr.-Sgt. Sheridan, assisted by the other railway officials and police, found very little difficulty in keeping the crowd in bounds - and it was really a remarkably quiet and good-natured crowd. The police presence, besides Snr.-Sgt. Sheridan, were Constables Kent, Small (Nabiac), Rose and Bates. Long before the train was due, the Mayor L. O. Martin and the Mayoress, accompanied by Mrs. Gormley, arrived in Doctor Gormley’s car. Mr. S. Whitbread, Secretary of the Celebrations Committee, was also on the scene with the ribbon ready to stretch across the track for the Mayoress to sever to admit the incoming train. A few minutes before the scheduled time the whistle of the official train was heard, and there was an air of eager expectation all round. The Mayor on the platform and Mr. S. Whitbread on the line held the ribbon, and as the train slowly steamed into the station the Mayoress, with the aid of a pair of golden scissors, presented to her by the Committee, gracefully removed the last frail barrier to the train’s approach to Taree. A hearty round of cheering followed. The Mayor then proceeded to the Ministerial carriage to welcome the party. The Hon. Arthur Griffith, Minister for Public Works, was accompanied by Mrs. Griffith, and also of the party were, Hon. Doctor Doyle, M.L.C., Hon. F. H. Bryant, M.L.C., Messrs. J. Estell, M.L.A. for Waratah, J. Mcfarlane, M.L.A. for the Clarence, R. A. Price, M.L.A. for Forster, H. D. Morton, M.L.A. for Hastings and Macleay, G. H. Briner M.L.A for Raleigh, Mr. P. H. Morton and Mr. Fox, District Superintendent, the latter having come up on the official train. Mr. R. A. Price introduced the Parliamentary party to the Mayor, who welcomed them and escorted them to the switch platform, from which position the speeches were made. Besides the official party and mayor and mayoress, we also noticed amongst those on the platform Ald. W. Basham (Deputy Mayor), and Mrs. Basham, Ald. and Mrs. J. H. Stewart, Ald. and Mrs. W. Wrigley, Ald. and Mrs. S. T. Lean, Mrs. J. W. Gormley, Mr. C. Boyce, Ald. P. J. Hogan, Cr. D. Cowan (President of the Shire Council), Mr. R. Davidson, Ald. J. Skinner (Mayor of Wingham), Mr. A. J. Whitford, and others. Near at hand were Crs. A. Perrett, J. Abbott, J. W. McPherson and H. Gollan, Mr. Fox (District Superintendent), Mr. Johnson (Interlocking Department), Mr. W. R. Beaver Jnr. (Engineer in charge of Construction of 3rd. section), and other railway officials. As Mr. Griffith mounted the platform, the Band struck up “See the Conquering Hero Come”. The Mayor introduced Mr. Griffith, who had a fine reception. The Hon. Arthur Griffith said it was a very great pleasure to him to assist them in the opening function of the line, which was going to create those facilities for this district which ought to be provided for every district in Australia which was capable of production. They realised that one of the first functions of any Government was to provide for the producing people upon the land of the country, means for the distribution of their produce. ... He thanked them for the hearty reception given him. He had opened the line in several places on many occasions that day, and now it was wide open, because it was open forever. They intended, when money became available, to open it further and further, till they got to Brisbane. ... Concluding, the Minister declared the railway open to the public, “now, henceforth and forever”.
Ringing cheers followed, led by Mr. Price, the Band played “God Save the King”, and there were more cheers for the Minister and the railway. ... The opening ceremony over, the Ministerial and Parliamentary party accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress, Mrs. Gormley and Ald. and Mrs. Basham, left by motor car for the hotel.
The scene at the station in the evening will not be forgotten for many years to come by those who watched the departure of the trains, with their carriages packed with a seething mass of humanity. The platform was crowded, and as each train was shunted into the station, there was one wild rush for seats.
One suburban carriage of one train was found to be locked at both ends, and so great was the crush, that the people on the platform had all they could do to prevent themselves from being pushed on top the railway line on the other side. Those behind became so impatient, that they decided upon a quieter means of entry, and lost no time in getting through the windows, until there were feet flying in all directions.
Four trains were sent away laden with passengers, starting at 6 p.m., at intervals of 15 minutes.
On Tuesday afternoon, a horse attached to Mr. H. R. Gardem’s buggy, becoming frightened at a whistle from an engine close by, reared up, with the result that the pole was broken. In anticipation of the arrival in one of the trains of his brother-in-law and a number of visitors, Mr. Gardem had just entered the gate and stopping halfway to the station, on account of the congestion of the traffic, sent his boy on to the station to secure his passengers, whilst he remained in the buggy and held the reins with his left hand. When the accident occurred, Mr. Gardem jumped out, and with his broken arm remained holding the horses heads until he was relieved by a bystander. The pole was patched up, and the buggy brought into town.
At the official opening ceremony, the Mayoress was wearing a handsome black lace dress over cream satin, with black hat, lined with pale green and trimmed with white Lancer plumes. The dress was made by Mrs. A. Clinch, of Taree.
During the month of March, 1913, there were 3,276 passengers from Taree railway station, and the revenue therefrom was £1,998. The total coaching stock was £2,168. The total goods revenue was £324/7/7, and livestock £17/11/10. The onward goods tonnage was 1,157 from Taree, but this included over 1,000 tons of stuff from the Government line siding to the shipping depot at Devil’s Elbow. The inward tonnage was 267 tons and the revenue therefrom £52. The total number of stock outward was 11 horses, 35 cattle, 24 calves, 5 sheep, and 422 pigs. The inward livestock traffic comprised 26 horses, and 160 cattle. Barracks are now in course of erection to accommodate the engine drivers, firemen, and guards not stationed at Taree.