Saturday, 19 April 2014

Railway Archaeology - The Buninyong Railway Line



The first train line from Melbourne to Ballarat came via Geelong, and opened in 1862. When it was first being planned, the people of Buninyong wanted the line to go via their town, however this was deemed too difficult due to the extreme gradients that would be required for Buninyong's hilly terrain. As a compromise, the station at Yendon was initially named "Buninyong" and roads were built for horse-drawn coaches to ferry people the 5 or so miles between the town and its ostensible station. Needless to say, this was not a compromise the people of Buninyong were particularly happy with.

via Google Maps

Buninyong was not truly reached by the railways until 1889, the same year the direct line between Ballarat and Melbourne (via Bacchus Marsh) was opened. Having left the current Ballarat station and passed Ballarat East, the Buninyong line curved off from the main line just before Stawell Street, ran next to Rodier Street for a while, then travelled broadly parallel to Geelong Road until around Gear Avenue in Mt Helen, at which point there were a few twists and turns for the descent into Buninyong.

via Buninyong & District Historical Society

There were reasonably substantial stations at Canadian, Mt Clear and Buninyong, and major sidings at Eureka, Levy (near Spencer Street), Reid (near Greenhill Road), and Mt Helen - as well as a few other minor ones. The line saw a lot of passengers in its early days - a substantial percentage of Ballarat's population would cram onto the train to travel to the Buninyong Gardens in the summer - but the big bucks were always in freight. Various factories and small quarries were the primary reasons most of these stations existed.

Passenger services were cut from the line in 1931 but freight services continued to most of the above stations until about 1947, when much of the track was ripped up, until only a short section between the main line and Eureka Street remained to service ceramic and iron works in the area.

via Buninyong & District Historical Society
The final stretches were torn up in the early 1980s, and most of it was replaced by a walking trail known as The Bunny Rail Trail, which stretches from roughly the point where it diverged from the main line, travels under Victoria Street, and continues on until it reaches the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE). There's still some evidence of the railway line along this section - one of the original culverts is still in place where the trail crosses Specimen Vale Creek, and the rails themselves are still embedded in the bitumen of Charlesworth Street.


After that, the trail becomes indistinct for a little while, as it has been built over by the caravan park, MADE, and the houses along Rodier Street. South of Wilson Street, however, there's a patch of open paddock - there are still the remains of a bridge over a small creek, and quite a clearly defined pathway between the bushes that shows where the line once ran. As far as I can tell, this is roughly where the Levy station was - and remember lots of these smaller stations would have been little more than dirt mounds, with passengers needing to flag down the train if they wanted to board.


The trail is very indistinct after this point. I recently discovered an old map of Ballarat from 1928 (here) that gives a very clear picture of where Canadian station was, but there is nothing left today to indicate what was once there.

Another large culvert still remains on the grounds of the FedUni Technology Park, in the stand of trees between Enterprise Grove and Wetlands Drive, where the line crossed the Canadian Creek.


Once you finally get into Buninyong itself, quite a bit still remains. The station platform is still standing, with the tennis club rooms now standing where the station building used to be, and there is a small monument and plaque commemorating the history of the line.


I've tried to keep this post as short as possible but there is just so much to tell - this was the first bit of railway archaeology I ever did, and while a lot of the suppositions I made were refined by things I eventually found in written histories, going out and doing the detective work for yourself is great fun and gives you much more intimate knowledge.

But much of the reason I've been so obsessive about this line in particular is not because of the past, it's because I have big plans for its future. Stay tuned.

I should add that all of my photos and first-hand info are from 2010, so some things may have changed. Also, while I do have more info and photos than I could fit into this post (which I can provide upon request) I always appreciate more, especially detailed maps - let me know in the comments if you have any leads.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting article (will add a link to the Buninyong website: www.buninyong.vic.au). Great research! What are your plans for the future of the line? Would be great to see it reopened as a walking/cycling trail but so much has been sold off and built over.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Liz!

      When I originally wrote this post I was hoping that we could one day have a tram/light rail line, that would travel along the streets in built-up areas but would travel along the old rail alignment where it hadn't been built over. But as you've said, so much of it has been built over that it's not really practical.

      Nowadays my thinking is, we should definitely bring back the trams to Ballarat in the future, and we should definitely have one going out to Buninyong, but it'd probably be better off on Main Rd/Geelong Rd.

      That said, I think there are long-term plans to fill a bit of a gap in the walking/cycling trail network between Olympic Avenue and Greenhill Rd, and that would go pretty close to the old Buninyong Line alignment - so that would be great to see.

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