Friday, September 23, 2011

The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 3 - the Dorrigo-Guyra line

This post continues the story of the Dorrigo-Glenreagh railway from The sad story of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh Railway 2 - building the line.

In 1927, the first Nationalist-Country Party ministry came into power. The new Country Party ministers came to office with seven years' accumulated dreams and hopes to fulfil, and with an electorate that expected them to do just that. Neither they nor the electorate were to know that Depression would shortly bring a sudden and bitter end to their hopes. The result was a brief Indian Summer of intense activity, some of the most productive months the Country Party has ever know.[1] Buttenshaw immediately accelerated public works expenditure: his Department provided country towns with water supply and sewerage schemes, while a number of new railway lines were commenced. To the North, the most important of these was the long-dreamed of Guyra-Dorrigo railway.

The ideal of an east-west New England railway line had a very long history. Now, for the first time, it could become a reality.

On 20 October 1928, before a crowd of between 3000 to 4000 people,CP Leader Buttenshaw turned the first sod of the new line at Guyra.[2] After praising the new state and Country Party workers who had campaigned for the line - Bruxner, Drummond, Thompson, Colonel H.F. White and others - Buttenshaw declared: 'The Government had decided that no work would be authorized, no sod turned, until they were absolutely safe in saying the work would be finished.'[3] Despite the freezing weather, it was a day of hope and speeches. To Drummond, the railway was a sign that 'the people of the North were combined, each party realising that if it could not get what it particularly wanted, it must help other parts in their efforts.'[4] For Victor Thompson, the day was a step towards something bigger:

The job, however, was not finished, and they could not sit down but must go on with the great Northern works. Most of them would live to see the turning of the first sod of something much bigger than was now being celebrated. - the first sod of the new Northern state, which once established would have a powerful influence on not only the North, but on New South Wales, and on Australia. (Applause).[5]

Two days later a similar ceremony was carried out at Dorrigo. The Armidale Express remarked happily that the new line marked 'a new era for rural New South Wales and the north, in particular.'[6]

As the Great Depression engulfed NSW, work was stopped. Faced with great financial stringency, the Nationalist-Country Party coalition returning to power after the defeat of the Lang Labor administration did not resume construction despite the dominance of the Northern leadership in the new United Country Movement (the new name for the Country Party). To many, this was a betrayal. It also left the Dorrigo-Glenreagh line truncated from its broader hinterland, dependent on Dorrigo Plateau traffic for its survival. 

[1]Unless otherwise cited, material in the next paragraphs is drawn from Ellis, The New South Wales Country Party, pp.106-114.

[2]Reports in the Armidale Express, 23 October 1928, and Armidale Chronicle, 24 October 1928. Cited in: G.S. Harman, 'Politics at the Electoral Level - A Study in Armidale and New England, 1899-1929', MA thesis, University of New England, 1964, pp.164-166. The opening is also reported in detail in the Northern Daily Leader, 22 October 1928.

[3]Armidale Chronicle, 24 October 1928.

[4]Northern Daily Leader, 22 October 1928.


[6]19 October 1928.

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