2010, 155 p plus 59 pages fascinating notes!
I have some news for you next time you’re sitting on the Eastern Freeway with a long ribbon of red brake lights ahead of you. Or perhaps if you’re stopping and starting, stopping and starting behind one of those grey and orange Smart Buses travelling -why! from Altona to Mordialloc- shucks, the journey only takes four hours. And here’s the news- Melbourne almost had the makings of an inner circle railway that would delivered efficient east-west rail travel – and we ditched it!
I like trains, actually. I live close to a station and on quiet nights if the wind is blowing the right direction, you can even hear the beep of the train doors closing and the station announcements. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the inner-city backyards as you speed over Collingwood and Richmond on the limited express between Jolimont and Clifton Hill. They’ve changed over the decades: the outside dunnies have all disappeared and backyard living-room extensions leave just a small courtyard with enough room for an outdoor dining table and that’s it.
Stopping All Stations is a history of Melbourne’s trains, written by a suburban train driver. He starts with the early private railways of the 1850s, bubbling along with the riches of gold-rush Melbourne. There’s a string of acronyms here: The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway (MHBR) , our first, that ran to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) which had been so inconveniently distant from the settlement on the Yarra; the Melbourne, Mt Alexander and Murray River Railway Company (MMA&MRR) that never really got off the ground; the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company (G&MR) that only lasted four years before being taken over; the Melbourne and Suburban Railway (M&SR) that operated between Flinders St and Cremorne. After myriad re-combinations of their acronyms, they, along with later railways to St Kilda and Brighton, and Essendon had all been swallowed up by the Victorian Railways by the early 1880s..
The book is subtitled (rather clumsily) “Melbourne’s unfinished transport work/opportunities lost” and this was the most fascinating part for me- the little railways and circuits that emerged and then disappeared. There was the Outer Circle Railway that in 1892 ran between Fairfield Park and Oakleigh (map here) and an Inner Circle that existed between 1901-1942, on paper at least, that connected Rushall, North Fitzroy, North Carlton and Royal Park.
You can just detect the remnants of these lines at Fairfield, near the paper mills; and along the bike track in North Fitzroy.
Closer to home, there’s the Mont Park rail spur that connected to Macleod station, battling manfully up the hill to what is now a new housing estate. Lost opportunities indeed- LaTrobe University, which opened within a year or two of the Mont Park spur closing, would have provided the patronage that the small line lacked. Our three 1960s universities- Melbourne, Monash and La Trobe, have all been poorly served by train services, and I note that there are plans for a Melbourne University station under yet another grand transport scheme that will probably never see the light of day.
One of the real joys of this book are the little hand-drawn maps that show these now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t lines. There’s a terrific graphic of the boa-constrictor nature of Victoria Railways as it swallowed up smaller private lines, and the text is sprinkled with the author’s own paintings of trains, signals and stations. The book is a real labour of love, and Melburnians- even those not enamoured of trains per se- can find plenty to regret when considering the public transport that could have been.
I bet you thought that I couldn’t find a connection between Judge Willis and Melbourne’s train system which, after all, was not even thought of until some ten years after he left. But in the spirit of Six Degrees of Separation between Judge Willis and the Railways, the house that Willis leased while in Melbourne (which, incidentally was next door to my childhood home- hence my initial interest in him)was owned by Malcolm Macleod. Macleod provided land to the railways on condition that the station was named after him- hence Macleod station.
Read because: I wanted to learn more about the Mont Park spur line. And because I really do like trains.