NSW's Main Northern Line progresses

Great occasion: West Tamworth’s first passenger train arrives in October 1878. It was one of several trains arriving to celebrate the official opening of the station.
Great occasion: West Tamworth’s first passenger train arrives in October 1878. It was one of several trains arriving to celebrate the official opening of the station.

The opening of the extension of the Main Northern Line to West Tamworth on Monday October 14, 1878 was attended by an estimated 6000 spectators.

On April 29, 1879, Alexander and Robert Amos were awarded a £610,000 contract to construct the 63½-mile portion from West Tamworth to Uralla - said at the time to be the largest contract of its type let in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald of July 17, 1880, said: “There appears to be little or no difficulty in a new workman providing the necessary place of shelter and supplies of food for himself and, if the need be, for his family. He can obtain a tent from the contractors, the cost being stopped out of his wages on payday and provisions can be had from private storekeepers along the line. There is no ground rent to pay and firewood is plentiful. All that he requires when he goes to work is a shovel; picks are supplied by the contractor.

“Accidents frequently occur, as might be expected, and sometimes they prove fatal. The contractors have fitted up a hospital and have a doctor and nurse at the main camp to treat injuries and illnesses.

Accidents frequently occur, as might be expected, and sometimes they prove fatal.

“The expense incurred by these necessary provisions is met by the men contributing a small sum per week out of their wages, after the manner of contributions paid for medical attendance by members of a lodge”.

A major camp was set up at Swamp Oak for the contractor’s engineering and clerical staff. It also had kilns that produced up to 50,000 bricks per day and was the place where hardwood sleepers were finished off before being put into service.

There was a second major camp at the Macdonald River, where Woolbrook now stands. The Maitland Mercury said: “The lovely banks of the river are the site of an almost perfect township that has a combined school and church, a police station, hospital, doctor’s residence, offices, stores, sawmill, brickyards, three hotels, butchers’ and bakers’ shops, a cordial factory, hairdressing saloon and a milliner’s shop together with well-built wooden cottages and canvas homes for the workmen.

“There are, all told, something like a thousand people congregated at this point where, but a few months ago, the only inhabitants were the family of Mr G.D. Smith and a shepherd of Mrs Scott, the owner of the local grazing run.”