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18: Railway Centenary Monument

The monument was erected in 1988 (Australian Bi-Centenial year) by the Learmonth & District Historical Society to mark 100 years of the Racecourse to The Springs (Waubra) railway.

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The following article on the history of the railway was researched and written by Mrs. Claudette Crick.

The Racecourse to The Springs (later Waubra) Line began as a spur line off the Ballarat – Maryborough line to service the Dowling Forest Racecourse. Opened on 14th April 1881, the special train from Melbourne arrived just prior to the first race. The official party attended a luncheon provided by the stewards of the club. It is interesting to note how a railway line could be built to cater for about 6 trips a year for about 10,000 fares over the year.

The farmers of the rich agricultural district NW of Ballarat had long agitated for a railway to deliver their goods to Ballarat, and many hours of meetings were spent at district gatherings planning their preferred routes.
The Springs Railway had been mentioned in the Railway Annual Report of 1883, where it was reported that a trial survey of a line between the Ballarat Racecourse and The Springs had been completed. It wasn't until the famous Octopus Act of 1884 that construction for such lines was authorised.

Tenders for the branch line to The Springs were called in 1887. The name was changed to Waubra with the advent of the railway, as there was another settlement of that name in Victoria. The contractors for the line were Welch and Yeoman, the contract amount being £27,750 ($55,500.00) for the 13 miles and 60 chain of railway.

The contract stipulated that the works should be completed by March 5th 1888, however the official opening was not held until much later. 125 men were employed to build the line, 100 of whom were engaged in the earthworks with 38 horses, 32 drays and 2 ploughs. Construction was over fairly flat country, which provided few problems.

Other contracts let during the construction period and the first two years of operation included a signal box at the Ballarat Racecourse Junction and a turntable at Waubra, where a windmill and water supply works were also erected. Six gatekeepers cottages were built at a total cost of £1142 ($2284). A goods shed and a hay platform indicating a chaff mill, was the first of five such mills built to use the railway facilities.

The official opening of the line took place on October Ist, 1888. A large number of guests including the Commissioner for Railways, Commissioner for Customs and Parliamentary representatives were conveyed to The Springs by a special train which left Ballarat at 11.45 am and returned at 5.00 pm. Guest, entertained at the terminus by Prout's Brass Band, were welcomed by the Presidents of Ballarat and Lexton Shires and entertained to a banquet in a marque erected near the station.

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The original station names along the line were – Midas, Miners Rest, Learmonth, Addington and The Springs when two mixed trains a day each way were provided. The station names were soon changed to Waubra Junction, Pisgah, Midas, Blowhard, Learmonth, Learmonth North and Waubra. The Learmonth North station was later used for goods traffic consigned to R Crossthwaite at the Post Office Store. Cobb & Co advertised that from October Ist 1888 - a coach would run from the Stag Hotel to the Railway Station to meet each train, Fares 6 pence each way. This price was quickly reduced.

The line was never very financial; expenses being greater than anticipated, by 1896 eight gatehouses had been abolished. In 1897 the train originated from Waubra where it remained overnight. Residences were provided for an engine driver, fireman and travelling stationmaster.

By 1931 passenger services were discontinued, and by 1940 partly due to coal shortages and wartime restrictions the goods service only ran one day per week.

The Waubra Line was a favourite of the railway employees. Once they had left Waubra Junction they had no gate houses or signals to look out for and a game of cards whilst eating their lunch sitting on the Waubra platform was a leisurely affair. There was more than one occasion that the Staff was left on the platform, not noticed until they reached the Learmonth station on the return journey.

While not a financial proposition for the railways, the carriage of a large amount of stock and agricultural goods from the surrounding areas was very beneficial for the district.

The 1st Octoctober 1988 was a very cold and windy day, but this didn't dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance. Former railway employees and their families were amongst those who came to witness the unveiling of the commemorative monument by the Shire President Cr. Reg Kinnersly and to listen to a very interesting talk on the history of the line from Adrian Ponton, a member of the Australian Railway Historical Society.

Special guests were Mr Murray and Mrs Stevens whose father was Station Master of the Waubra Junction Station during the early 1900s.

A Centenary lunch was held at the Mechanics Institute followed by an excellent display of railway memorabilia, which included many photos of the stations, given to the society by the Australian Railway Historical Society.

For more details on the Racecourse to The Springs Railway purchase a copy of the society's "Waubra - A history of a Branch Line"

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