Firewood Tramways of the Walhalla Mines 1865 - 1915

by Terry & Brenda Jenkins,

T & B. J. Publications, Yarra Junction 1998 ISBN 0959394818

272 pp. Hard Back. A5 format, 96 photos and maps. Printed by Australian Print Group, Maryborough, Victoria.

Subtitled "A research paper on the history of the firewood tramways of the Walhalla Mines", this handy little book is the result of the authors' 25 years' research into, and travels to, Walhalla. Back in 1972, LRRSA member Terry and wife, Brenda, visited Walhalla for the first time, searching for remains of the VR narrow-gauge railway to the former gold mining town. Like many who have made the pilgrimage to Walhalla, they were captivated by the rugged beauty of the valley of Stringer's Creek with its many hidden mining remains.

Over the ensuing years Brenda and Terry visited the valley hundreds of times, learning its history, talking to the few who had firsthand knowledge of the place in its heyday, researching the Walhalla Chronicle, collecting photos and maps, and most importantly, transplanting what they learned into field work. Almost one hundred kilometres of tramway formation were found, walked and explored, adding immeasurably to our knowledge of the history of the town. To say the tramways were walked is actually a bit of an understatement. Maybe it should be stumbled and crawled, being scratched, bruised and bloodied, bitten by leeches, climbing, mountain-goat fashion up almost sheer, lungbusting, gutwrenching, hillsides to finally arrive on a tramway ledge in a lather of perspiration. The things people do for enjoyment!

Without the firewood tramways, the mines' boilers would have gone cold, pumping plants ceased, the mines filling with water (the Long Tunnel mine was over a kilometre deep by 1915) and the crushing plants fallen silent.

Firewood was the lifeblood of the town and the obtaining of it was a major industry in itself.

Tramways were the only practical way of transporting firewood and were constructed from the earliest days of organised company mining, gradually extending their wooden and iron-railed tentacles around the hillsides until the farthest reached over nine kilometres from the town. When the timber, or the hillside, ran out, an incline would be inserted and the tramway continued at another level. Another feature, often used for the final delivery into the mines' woodyard, from the hillside above, was the wood shoot.

This book does not pretend to be a history of the firewood tramways,. rather, the authors have interspersed their field work with relevant extracts from the Chronicle, to give us an interesting introduction to a most fascinating subject. The way is now open for future researchers to combine this information with a detailed examination of the mining companies' records. Additionally, the authors have used enlargements of many Walhalla photos to pinpoint and identify the various tramways, inclines and wood shoots that appear thereon, giving meaning to the often vague streaks and barely discernable formations on early photographs.

For ease of reference, the authors have numbered every tramway, and introduce each "walk" with a map that highlights the particular line and its relationship to surrounding lines. Complex tramway "junctions" (Aurum Gully, Cricket Ground hill) are further explained with a detailed diagram, although this reviewer would have liked to have seen a larger scale map of the township area and environs. Hopefully this will appear in volume two. Several appendices explore related subjects, Poverty Point bridge, rail profiles as found in the bush, the use of Hoffman inverted "V"shaped rail at Walhalla, the Bagnall locos 1729 and 1801, camping hints and tips, etc.

Whilst the social fabric of the town is not one of the themes of this "research paper", I could not help but note the widespread use of Italian firewood cutters but only at the south end of town. The northern end of the valley was cut mainly by AngloCeltic types. The complex nature of mining towns means we will probably never see a definitive book on the history of Walhalla, however the book under review is a most useful addition to the growing lexicon of published material about Walhalla. Do not be deterred by a couple of typos I'm sure sharper proof-reading of the next edition will rectify that. I'm particularly looking forward to the authors' next volume, the mining tramways of Walhalla. Warning. if you are more than an armchair traveller, you may need two copies, one for the bookshelf and one for the backpack! Recommended.

Phil Rickard, Light Railways No.145, February 1999.