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.
Tamworth to Manilla 1897
In June 1881, a deputation from Manilla met the Minister for Public Works during his visit to Tamworth and handed him a proposal for the government to build a tramway to Manilla. With no result forthcoming, a public meeting was held at the Caledonian hotel Tamworth in 1889, at which a Tamworth to Manilla Railway League was formed. In November 1890 the under-secretary for public works informed Mr. Dowell MP, that two officers had visited Manilla and Barraba district and inspected the country to ascertain the amount of settlement a railway line would create.
In February 1892, Mr Dowell MP moved in the legislative assembly that the proposal to construct a railway from Tamworth to Barraba via Manilla be submitted to the Parliamentary standing committee, but on the question being put it was rejected. Not to be discouraged, Mr Dowell had a meeting with the Minister for Public Works, WJ Lyne, who sited a lack of money, even for works authorised, but agreeing to have a survey made of the proposed line, without promising to build it. In 1893, the railway surveyor staff left Sydney for Manilla to commence surveys for a railway from Tamworth to Manilla and Surveyor Stack's chosen route of the late 1870s would inevitably mark the path of the Tamworth-Manilla line. In 1896 a bill to build the railway from Tamworth to Manilla was passed in Parliament and tenders were called for the supply of 73,000 ironbark sleepers for the job.
Manilla Railway Buildings 1899
The Manilla-Barraba Line 1906
Still to come...