Mittagong's railway yards handled increased volumes of local freight from the 1880s, due to an expansion of mining activities on the outskirts of the town.
As mentioned in the previous series on Mittagong Station's history, these activities included oil-shale mining at Joadja Creek.
A private, narrow-gauge railway was built in 1879 to link the Joadja works with Mittagong. Its story is now presented, along with an historical overview of the Joadja industry.
Shale mining commenced in the early 1870s at Joadja Creek, located some 16 miles west of Mittagong and north-west of Berrima. The creek cut its way through the valley to join the Wingecarribee River further west. The valley is several miles long, varies in width from half to one mile, and is almost entirely surrounded by precipitous cliffs.
Aboriginal people long knew the properties of the 'fire stone', which could be easily ignited. Seams lay exposed in cliff outcrops.
A company was formed at Joadja in 1878 to extract kerosene and other products from the shale. It was a major undertaking until mining ceased in 1911.
The long abandoned Joadja site has been revived and now welcomes visitors. Its complex existence and people have been researched and documented by historians, including local resident Leonie Knapman.
Edward Carter is generally credited with the discovery of the oil-shale. He arrived in Australia with his parents in 1833 from Nottinghamshire. His father worked as an overseer at Sutton Forest, took up land at Canyonleigh and became one of the district's largest landholders. In 1858, after the death of his parents, Edward took over the management of the family properties.
The Carters ran stock in the nearby Joadja valley and had noticed the shiny black mineral. Despite being difficult to access, it was realised that the seams were highly valuable. They proved to be the richest in the world and provided an alternative source of crude oil to oil-wells that operated in America and elsewhere.
In 1873 Carter registered a shale mining claim and commenced mining operations, but did not seek to control the whole area. Then commenced a rush to the Joadja Creek shale field, and land adjacent to Carter's 60-acre block was taken up by eager prospectors and mining syndicates.
Considerable wrangling ensued about the validity of Carter's original claim. Adjoining portions rich in shale were acquired in 1874 by John de Villiers Lamb and others, who also began mining.
Tunnels were driven into the sandstone cliffs, 500 feet above the valley floor, ventilated with air regulated by a large furnace. In order to convey the ore down from the mines, steeply inclined double-track tramways were built on wooden sleepers. One of the first was self-acting, using a double wire cable: as full skips descended, empty skips rose. Another incline was worked by two horses turning a whim on a circular platform.
Pit ponies pulled skips along a network of rails connecting the mines, the inclines and processing areas around the valley floor. About 10 miles of rails were laid, the creek being crossed by means of a low-level bridge.
Initially the combined output was about 200 tons of oil-shale per month, for processing in Sydney. Transport to the railway station at Mittagong was hazardous, owing to the almost insurmountable Joadja escarpment.
Carter opened a route northward along the crest of an outlying spur to connect with a rough track (later the Wombeyan Caves Road) to Mittagong. This way was blocked to him, however, when it became part of portions taken up by Messrs Brown and Lamb.
Carter then cleared a way up the southern escarpment with numerous bends and zig zags. It took the combined effort of fourteen bullocks to drag a wagon containing one ton of shale from the valley to a depot at the top; three teams were engaged on this work.
At the top, the shale was loaded into wagons of six tons capacity and conveyed by bullock or horse teams along a bush track to the locality of Mandemar. The route then proceeded to the Berrima Road, through the village of Fitzroy and to the Mittagong railway yards.
As output increased, it was decided to import steam locomotives to replace the bullocks and ponies at the works.
A railway to Mittagong was also needed.
Part 1 of a 4-part series. To be continued.
Berrima District Historical & Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton
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