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Munro's Tramway

A timber haulage system.

Location

A light railway from the Munro's sawmills to take timber up to the Queensland Rail line at Hampton.

It ran from the Bunkers Hill Mill near the present Somerset Region boundary, via the Palmtree Mill to the Queensland Rail station at Hampton.

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In the final decades of the nineteenth century there were dozens of small sawmills scattered throughout the district and literally thousands of super feet of timber were cut. Pay roll records for one mill alone show wage payments to approximately forty men, indicating that a huge workforce and many families depended on the timber industry. Locating, logging and milling the timber was labour intensive -getting it to market by bullock team was time-consuming and costly.

In 1886 a government-funded rail service from Toowoomba to Crow's Nest began, largely, it has been suggested, as a result of the self-interest of EW Pechey, local State member for the electorate of Aubigny and owner of several local sawmills. EW Pechey's main sawmilling rivals were Archibald and Duncan Munro, whose mills were mostly down in the Ravensbourne, Palm Tree, Perseverance area.

Without any State assistance, they built their own railway system. At first, in 1896, it was a simple affair, carriages were hauled by horses or bullock teams along timber rails running along road easements to a mill at Palm Tree. It was so successful, however, that the brothers quickly expanded it to come up the range to meet the main railway at Hampton.

All construction work was done by pick and shovel and the timber rails were soon replaced with second-hand steel tracks. The lines were up and running well in advance of any government permission to construct such a line (which, despite considerable local opposition, came in 1904). By 1903 a government engineer had reported that the lines were in good working order-bridges, with handrails on each side, and three large culverts.

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The Shay loco - photo by Greg Shum

The rails were 2 feet 6 inches apart and at their steepest had a gradient of 1 in 9: The engineer was 'of the opinion there should be no difficulty in working a locomotive on this line'. With this report in hand, Duncan Munro hotfooted it off the USA to purchase a suitable engine. He chose a Shay locomotive, which eventually arrived at Palm Tree in several pieces in packing cases. Assembly was left to Ernie Shum, a blacksmith, and Olaf Olsen - its years of service speak volumes for their skill and care.

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Sawmill

It was quite an enterprise, and the then Governor of the State, Lord Lamington, was on hand at its commissioning ceremony. The first driver was a Mr Shanks, but many others were involved in its operation throughout the years. The Munro brothers must have been pleased with their investment, since a second engine, from the same source, arrived in 1908.

There is no record of how much this railway system cost, nor of how much timber it transported, but in thirty or more years it obviously made a considerable contribution to the local economy. As the line ran through the various farms there were gates to be opened and shut, and part of the bargain with farmers who provided right of passage was that their produce was carried to Hampton free of charge-meaning that there were sometimes quite large consignments of potatoes and the like.

On one occasion the train was used to bring up the severely injured William Strohfeld on his way to Toowoomba Hospital (where he regrettably failed to recover). There were accidents, fortunately none fatal, and lots of stories of boys behaving dangerously; derailments were not unknown and many gates were demolished as the train failed to stop in time for them to be opened properly. In the beginning passengers made the trip sitting on the billets on top of the water tank, until a 'passenger car' was provided.

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One of the many bridges

According to long term Hampton resident, Margaret Lloyd, it was extremely convenient for the householders down in the valley, who could give a grocery list to the driver to hand over to Chapman's store (the train pulled in right at the Store's Hampton loading ramp) and later take back with him the box of weekly necessaries.

All-in-all this little experiment in rail transport made a great contribution to the local community, right up to 1936 when it was finally closed down. Not only had it provided transport, but was the 'nucleus of a community'. The Duncan Brothers enterprise at Palm Tree at one time included some 20 worker's houses, a store, butcher shop and school (at which the teacher arrived by gangers trolley and which doubled as a community hall for dances and meetings). The community was reportedly very proud of its rugby team.

For material in this essay I am heavily indebted to RK Morgan's very detailed account in Munro's Hampton Tramway (Light Railways No 61, July 1978), published by the Light Railway Research Society of Australia and to Mrs Margaret Lloyd for her personal memory of the tramway.

Sue Pechey 

Munro Tramway Historical Group Inc

See Historical Group website

For further information:

Munro's Hampton Tramway by RK Morgan

Light Railways Number 61 July 1978 available from Light Railways Research Society of Australia

A DVD showing modern remains of the tramway by Greg Shum -available at the Visitor Information Centre, Hampton (1800 009 006).

Shay locomotives

You can walk along part of the old right of way at the western end of Palmtree Road. The occasional dog spike and sleeper are still visible. This is Bird Trails site E6.

The eastern terminus of the tramway is beside the Esk-Hampton Road near the Ravensbourne Nature Refuge (Bird Trails site E4). There are no relics visible here.

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