Waterways and Bullock Tracks

Transportation of supplies to the towns and stations of inland New South Wales prior to the construction of the Great Northern Railway in the mid 1800s was undertaken by steamship, barge and wagon. Goods were shipped to the port of Newcastle, then by steamer or barge up the Hunter river to Morpeth and from there, overland by dray or wagon, to Maitland town. Waiting carriers loaded up wagons there and led their teams of bullocks or horses on long journeys over rough tracks, mountain ranges and rivers, to outlying stations and settlements.

Having traversed the Liverpool Range and reached Tamworth, some set off towards Armidale, Glen Innes and Tenterfield or Bundarra and Inverell, via the Moonbi Range, a treacherous trip for both man and beast which would continue to test the resolve of carriers for the best part of the century to come. Others walked onwards to the northwest, via Manilla and Barraba, to stations further north along the way to Bingara, Bundarra and Tenterfield. These 3 bullock tracks were surveyed to assess the best terrain for building the Great Northern Railway.

The Great Northern Railway

In 1853 the Hunter River Railway Company was established by the Commissioners for Railways to make a start on the Newcastle-Maitland section of 'The Great Northern Railway', later renamed 'The Main Northern Line'. The Company imported both plant and workers from England for the first stage between Newcastle and Maitland. 

The company was dissolved in 1855, as was the Sydney Railway Company, responsible for the Parramatta line west, with all interests passing to the management of the Government Railway Committee. The line to Maitland was completed in March 1857, with the track extended to Victoria Street Maitland in 1858, in preparation for construction of the line westward. The northern railway line reached Singleton in 1863, Muswellbrook in 1869, Scone 1871, and Murrurundi in 1872, the distance to be travelled by local carriers progressively reduced at each stage.

The Main Northern Line to Tamworth

Any extension of the line north of Murrurundi would be faced with the barrier of the Liverpool Range. Two tunnel designs were proposed, one of standard gauge and the other narrow, resulting in two years of parliamentary debate, before agreement was reached for an unventilated tunnel of standard gauge, close to the surface.
Early plans were for the line to proceed via Armidale, however many disagreed with the Armidale route proposal and further surveys were ordered in the mid 1870s. January, 1874, Surveyor Stack was instructed to select a route for possible extension of the railway in the direction northwest of Tamworth through Manilla, Barraba, Inverell, and Tenterfield. In March, he proposed a route crossing the Namoi just below its junction with the Manilla river.  
The Line would be divided at Werris Creek - the proposed route north would continue on to Tamworth - construction on the branch line north to Gunnedah and Moree would be commenced in October 1877.

The railway reached Tamworth in 1878 and it became clear that political influence was being brought to bear on the final selection of the main route north. A public meeting was called at the Junction Hotel Manilla, (now The Post Office Hotel) in July 1877 to petition the Government to build the Main Northern Line to Queensland via Manilla and Inverell.
However, despite the appearance of a better route via Manilla and the steep rise over the dangerous Moonbi Range - or perhaps because of it - the Armidale route was approved in May 1878 and the decision finalised, for the railway to cross the Peel River, then to proceed by way of Armidale to Queensland.