Sunday 31 July 2016

Forgotten Rail Bridge

The impetus for this little adventure came from the many car trips that the members of our intrepid trio had made between Malanda and Millaa Millaa over the years.  A casual glance out across the green pastures while driving along many parts of this road brings into view the faint remnant of the old railway that once wound its way through the hills on its way out to Millaa Millaa.  This last section of the Johnston River Railway was built from Tarzali to Millaa Millaa just after the First World War and opened in 1921.  It served the people of the district for more than forty years until it was closed down and torn up in 1964.  Some fifty years after this line was shut, much of the once extensive network of railways of the region are now gone and has become just a fading memory of the local old-timers who themselves are beginning to fade away.  This lost rail network has always attracted our interest and some startling news about this line drew our attention back to it.  It appears an old wooden bridge still stands intact.

The old bridge
The information on the railway bridge came from the land owner who also had an interest in the local history of the area and he was willing to show us the site.  So on a Sunday afternoon, a half-dozen local history buffs gathered at his farm to explore the Mindun section of the old Millaa Millaa railway.  We began the day with Ray giving us a run down on his farming enterprise which has grown from the original family farm into one of the largest dairy operations on the Tablelands and he showed us some concrete foundations of a small dairy that he had recently found that predated even his family's generations long association with that property.  Then we drove across to the other side of the main highway and parked on what was once the site of the Minbun railway station.  At this site there once operated a small timber mill and on the hill overlooking the community was the site of a little school which could still be identified by the grove of old pine trees that had been planted behind the school buildings.  Nothing remains now of this little village but some fading cuttings in the earth.

Minbun Falls
We then followed the foundations of the railway a little way from the station site into a thick grove of thorny Coral trees and there before us, hidden by the trees, were the remains of an old wooden railway bridge.  To get a better view, we climbed down below the bridge and to our amazement we found most of the timbers still in place although some had rotted out and were beginning to fall.  This had been one of the longest bridges on the line and had somehow been forgotten over the years.  The Coral trees had grown up around and even through the timbers to hide the bridge from view, even from the traffic driving pass on the nearby main road.  We moved to the other end of the bridge and found some of the small copper protection plates were still attached to the ends of a few of the timbers.  And on top, many of the old timber transoms that once held the steel rails were still in place, although rot was slowly eating them away.

As a history enthusiast, I was delighted to find this artifact of our past age of railways still intact.  Although I am not sure how many more years it will remain before time brings it down.  To finish the day off, our party climbed down along the creek to just down-stream from the old bridge to view another forgotten landmark, the little water fall that was once known as Jackson's Falls, named after the Jackson family who had help pioneer this property.  This was once the swimming hole and picnic spot for the local residents of Mindun but it too has been long forgotten.  In a twist to this story, I found myself sitting opposite the elderly Mr George Jackson at a recent historical society dinner.  He knew about the bridge and had spent much time at the falls when a young lad and he was pleased to learn that the old Minbun railway bridge was still safe.  I wonder how many more artifacts of this railway was still out there to be found.
Old Minbun village site                                 The bridge in the old days