AN event of momentous importance in the history of the Wingecarribee district was the construction of the railway line through it.
World-wide, rail was still in its infancy when a line was commenced out of Sydney in 1850. That it reached Picton in 1863 and opened to Mittagong in January 1867 and to Goulburn in May 1869 was an incredible achievement.
This was initially undertaken by two private companies - one building to Picton and the other from there to Goulburn. Financial problems arose and the NSW Government took over - much public controversy and political manoeuvring resulted. Yet from the start the railway had public support and eventually it became part of everyone's life.
The coming of the railway transformed the economic and social life of the local district.
THE first public meeting to consider a railway to Goulburn was held in Sydney in January 1846. As the railway would open up the Goulburn Plains to wheat growing, it was expected to earn a return on the large investment required. At the time the colony was importing its grain.
A more immediate benefit for citizens was the expected greater convenience and speed of travel, considering that in 1840 a coach travelled the 140 miles from Goulburn to Sydney in 29 hours. This improved in the 1850s when Cobb & Co coaches were introduced that covered up to 40 miles a day, ran both day and night and in all weathers, but passengers still had to climb out and walk up hills.
For those who could not afford to travel by Cobb & Co, and for the carriage of goods, bullock teams averaged 16 miles a day.
The Great Southern Road was regularly criticised in the press: "It was common to see the whole way dotted with vehicles of every description, from the gig and spring cart to the bullock dray, all stuck fast, or rather half buried in sloughs, for 'road' would not be the appropriate name for them, that, filled with mud, looked most treacherously level, and deceived even the wary."
Rather than follow the line of the Southern Road, the railway would take a different route. Thomas Woore, who undertook surveys, proposed that between Picton and Mittagong it should deviate to the west and, from Mittagong to Marulan, deviate to the east.
Woore was an ex-Royal Navy man who had settled at Goulburn. He commenced his two-year volunteer survey in 1846, and it was accepted by the provisional Railway Board in January 1848.
Not everyone agreed and his route caused controversy, but it became the line and, except for the hilly stretch looping around Bargo, is still in use.
One of the stations he proposed was at Chalker's Flat (now Mittagong) located just north of a tunnel to take the line under The Gib and from there on to Bong Bong and beyond.
Thus the railway would forge a new line of communication through the district. The implications would have quickly dawned on local businessmen and landowners who got wind of it.
AT the time, Charles Throsby was Warden of the Berrima District Council and his Bong Bong landholdings were fortuitously well positioned to gain from the railway.
Similarly, the Oxley family's Wingecarribee Flats landholding occupied the area (now Bowral) through which the rail would traverse south of The Gib.
Henry M Oxley had become a councillor in 1847 and, as mentioned in a previous article, his controversial petition of 1850 for a road linking Nattai and Bong Bong did not eventuate. However the railway would come that way.
In 1854 Throsby died and Oxley, who became Warden in his place, concentrated effort on building local public support for the railway.
But the Great Southern Road through Berrima was still the major transport route in the 1850s. As Warden, Oxley had to cope with a serious road issue.
In August 1857 the upper part of Berrima's Lennox-designed sandstone bridge, built to carry the road over the Wingecarribee in 1836, was washed away by flood with the remaining section dangerous to cross.
A wooden structure of planks and beams was soon erected to span the gap so traffic could pass, but yet another flood in 1860 swept that away and further broke up the stone work.
As the bridge was beyond repair, the Government hastily dispatched the Royal Engineers under Captain Martindale who replaced it some 145 feet downstream with a sturdy wooden truss structure on two piers.
Thus southern road traffic was kept moving while the rail line gradually approached the district.
To be continued
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone: 4872 2169.