Highlands History | April 17

In 1879 the Australian Kerosene Oil & Mineral Company (AKO) built a private narrow-gauge railway to link its Joadja works with Mittagong.

LOCO ON SHOW: One of the Joadja railway’s hard working small-tank locomotives, c1890.

LOCO ON SHOW: One of the Joadja railway’s hard working small-tank locomotives, c1890.

Scant evidence remains today of the Joadja-Mittagong railway, which closed in 1908.

TOWN DEPOT: The Joadja siding was half a mile south of Mittagong station, and used to transport shale, oil , coal...and people. Photos: BDH&FHS.

TOWN DEPOT: The Joadja siding was half a mile south of Mittagong station, and used to transport shale, oil , coal...and people. Photos: BDH&FHS.

An article by ‘Vulcan’ in the Goulburn Herald of June 3, 1882 described a journey he took on the line along with an account of the Joadja works, township and people.

From this first-hand description of the period, selected extracts follow here.

“On ordinary occasions the first train leaves Mittagong for Joadja at 6am, and makes four journeys each way during the day. I rose before 5 o'clock, and with two friends after over a mile walk, reached the depot a little before six, when we were informed the train would not leave before 9 o’clock, and would make but one journey during the day. This was on account of it being a holiday to the miners.”

“After nearly four hours' patient waiting in the cold wintry air, the engine with about a dozen empty trucks and one carriage full of passengers began to move towards the mines. The distance is sixteen miles and travelling time ranges from one and a half hours to two hours. The fare each way is half-a-crown, rather cheaper than what the main railway charges for the same distance. The passengers' accommodation cannot be considered at all comfortable. The carriages have no windows whatever; where they should be, open spaces are left. In wet weather the rain may enter.”

“With the exception of a few rather steep hills, the line is pretty level, and no very expensive bridges have had to be built. There is no remarkable scenery to be met with on the journey out, and the unchanging thick shrub and bush makes the ride a rather monotonous one.”

“The top of the mountain was reached about 11 o'clock, and there is to be seen the first of the company's large water tanks, the engine shed, coal depot, workmen's residences and the great mass of machinery used for hauling the trucks of shale, oil and coal up the mountain from the works by means of a wire rope about a quarter mile long. The incline is remarkably steep, having a gradient of about one in two feet, and from the top of it may be seen to great advantage the little village of Joadja, hemmed in on every side by a huge mountainous wall.”

“The bottom, which may properly be termed a valley, is very level. When the tram is working persons may ride down the incline in a truck; many are afraid to venture this, and consequently prefer to walk about a mile round before the bottom is reached; others of greater courage descend along the train track, but it is impossible for ladies to do this.”

“From the foot of the incline are branch lines to various manufacturing departments. There are now sixty four retorts in working order, each of which is capable of holding about two tons of shale. The shale remains in the retorts for a week; the weekly production of oil averages more than ten thousand gallons. When the shale is drawn from the retorts it somewhat resembles beeswax. It is removed in trucks to another department where it is bagged and prepared for a powerful press which extracts all the remaining liquid from it. This liquid is converted into lubricating oil, used for oiling trucks. What remains of the shale after leaving the press is called paraffin; this is converted into both soap and candles.”

END OF THE LINE: AKO trains terminated at the top depot above the Joadja Creek works.

END OF THE LINE: AKO trains terminated at the top depot above the Joadja Creek works.

“The population of Joadja is about four hundred and fifty, and about three-fourths of that number are Scotch, who appear to have a special aptitude for the work. Another shipload of miners is now on the road, bound from Scotland, for the mines.”

“One peculiar feature of the village is the non-existence of a public house. The day of our visit was a holiday to the miners, who had worked on the Queen’s Birthday so they might this day attend the annual picnic, to which everyone was invited. An enjoyable day was spent. In the evening a concert was held and the remainder of the night devoted to dancing, about sixty persons taking part.”

By 1886, four years after his visit, a public house had opened at Joadja. This was to encourage drinkers to avoid the valley’s home brews which, according to one visitor, could ‘blow your head off’.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 4 of a 4-part series.