Werribee Railway Station
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When the Geelong and Melbourne railway reached Werribee in 1857, Australia had its first country railway. With the completion of the line to Melbourne, Werribee had a growth spurt – in 1854 there were ten or twelve houses; by 1861, after the railway came, there were 26 houses. It was easier and quicker for passengers to get to Melbourne, and for farmers to get their produce to market.
Thomas Chirnside could see the potential, and, when he heard of the plans, offered land for the railway free of charge if a station were put in at Werribee. It gave him cheaper transport for his wool (loading it from the jetty at Point Cook was discontinued soon after the railway came), and enabled him to bring visitors to hunts, coursing meetings, picnics and other grand events at Werribee Park.
The first private company to propose the line failed early. The second, the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company was formed in 1853; it needed Government support to build the railway, and having seven members of the Legislative Council on its executive committee seemed a good move. There were huge costs: construction work included a jetty at Geelong and bridges over the Little River and Werribee River. It was hard to get labour, because of the gold rushes, so the Government hired 100 prisoners to the Company at five shillings each daily. A penal hulk was taken from Williamstown and moored in Corio Bay to accommodate them.
In 1853 the Governor went by coastal steamer to Geelong to cut the first turf and lay the foundation stone of the Geelong station. By 8 October 1856 the railway had reached Duck Ponds (Lara). In June 1857 the Ballarat Star announced triumphantly that the last rail had been put in place on the line between Geelong and Williamstown, just on the Melbourne side of the Werribee River. Several officials had a turn at hammering in the last spike, showing ‘by their perseverance and good humored exertion that they were determined to hit the right nail on the head at last.’ ‘The train then proceeded to Williamstown, and the " Sirocco" having intimated its presence to the astonished citizens by a peculiarly harmonious whistle, suggesting the great probability of a daily repetition of the visit, and its unmitigated contempt for drays, gigs, and other vehicular abominations, snorted homewards at the rate of twenty miles an hour, and having deposited its passengers at the station at half-past eight o'clock, retired to the bosom of its family with other locomotives of a domestic turn of mind, and no doubt spent a social night of it.’
At first, with the line going as far as Greenwich (Newport), passengers got off the train and walked down the pier to board a steamer to Melbourne. Then the terminus advanced to Williamstown. In 1859, with the completion of a river bridge, the Government-built line took Geelong and Werribee passengers on to Melbourne. In 1860 the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company was in financial difficulties and was bought out by the Government. From then on, passengers travelled right through from Werribee to Batman’s Hill Station (Southern Cross) and beyond on a Government-owned railway line.
Trains ran only in the daytime because there was no fencing along the line and there was the danger that cattle could easily wander onto the track. It was a single line, with loops where trains could pass each other.
There were sometimes surprises for passengers. A crowd waiting on the Werribee platform in 1882 was amazed to see a train arriving at speed from Geelong with an engine and a truck on fire, and no carriages. The crew had discovered that the open truck-load of chaff had caught fire, but had no way of putting the fire out and did not want the fire to spread to the passenger carriages, so had disconnected them and left them behind while it raced ahead to Werribee. The truck was shunted to a siding and the flames put out, and the engine went back to get the passenger carriages.
In 1884 there was a fatal collision between Werribee and Little River, when a passenger train crashed head-on into a goods train. Both drivers died, as well as two passengers, and twenty were injured. The stationmaster, who had left his daughter in charge while he went to choir practice, was charged with manslaughter, but acquitted. But he was sacked ‘for absenting himself without leave, and leaving his station in charge of an incompetent person’.
In 1927, after the station was closed for the night, a fire broke out and quickly spread through the building. Passers-by broke in a door to see if anyone was inside, and rang the fire bell, but the fire had taken serious hold. The fire brigade arrived, but could do very little, because the water pressure was so low. Shopkeepers in Station Street looked on anxiously, and Comben’s Grocery removed all their books and records to safety. Within a few days an emergency ticket office was set up in a goods shed and service went on.
When the damage was assessed, it was found that only the walls, platform and cellar remained, but these are enough for the station to be registered by the Heritage Council of Victoria, one of Victoria’s oldest railway buildings, and the only remaining station built by the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company.
Many local people still remember the accident in October 1979, when a wheat train derailed and ploughed into the station building, partly demolishing it and causing $2 million worth of damage. Wheat grew between and around the tracks for a long time afterwards!
The remaining fabric of the railway building (walls, platform and cellar) has been registered by the Heritage Council of Victoria, and bears a plaque commemorating 150 years of the line reaching Werribee. With the electrifying of the line, and the increased cost of petrol encouraging motorists to travel by train, the station is still an important part of the City of Werribee.
Wool Past the Winning Post, Heather B. Ronald, p.45
‘The Coming of the Railway’, in Werribee History Kit, B. Hickman, 1992.
The Star, Ballarat, 11 June 1857, p.3
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 6 April 1882, p.7
Evening News (Sydney), 3 April 1884, p.3
‘The Coming of the Railway’, Werribee History Kit, B. Hickman
Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 1884, p.12
Werribee Shire Banner, Thursday 19 May 1927, p.3
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