North East Dundas Tramway, Tasmania

From Light Railways No.91 - January 1986

One of the prettiest trips on the West Coast is that from Zeehan to Williamsford, along the N.E. Dundas 2 ft gauge tramway or mountain railway. For the first five miles the line runs through button grass plains, flanked with picturesque, wooded hills, and then commences to ascend into the mountainous country, the broken character of which necessitates numerous and sharp curves down to 1-1/2 chains radius, on a grade of 1 in 27.5.

To negotiate such a track as this it will be readily understood that powerful engines are necessary, and it is a noteworthy fact that the heaviest 2ft gauge engine south of the Equator is here employed. This is known as Hagan's system patent coupled bogie locomotive, which has 12 wheels, 10 of which are coupled in two groups, and a pair of leading bogie wheels. Its weight, with water and fuel ready for the road, is nearly 41-1/2 tons, and its working steam pressure 180 lb to the square inch. It will haul 100 tons gross, exclusive of its own weight, up grades of 1 in 25, and curves of 99 ft radius.

From Zeehan to the summit Confidence Saddle (1,550 ft above sea-level) the line rises 1,015 ft. As it winds, ever ascending, along the sidelings of the steep hills to the heads of the deep gullies it has to circumvent, the traveller views some of the grandest forest scenery imaginable. So narrow and steep are the gullies that here and there one sees an apparently separate and parallel railway, not a stone's throw away, but scores of feet above or below his train, and can scarcely realise that it is a continuation of the same line, and that he will have to travel nearly a mile ere getting there. From near the Confidence Saddle an excellent view of the landscape to the west and south may be got, Mounts Heemskirk, Agnew, and Zeehan being conspicuous. Leaving Confidence Saddle the line descends rapidly to Montezuma, and thence has a moderate rising grade to its terminus at Williamsford. From just below the Saddle beautiful vistas of Mount Read and the Curtin-Davis Hill open out.

Several mountain streams are crossed, and lovely fern gullies, made more beautiful by numerous flowering shrubs, are seen almost directly below the train. The bridge across the head of the great northern gorge is 40 ft high, and crosses the river on a curve of two chains radius. Immediately below the bridge are the Rawlinson Falls, and as the train swings round the curve an excellent view of these is to be had. From here to Montezuma is but a short run, in which another bridge remarkable for being constructed on a curve of 99 ft radius is crossed.

Just before reaching Montezuma station a glimpse of the noted Montezuma Falls is obtained. These falls are 340 ft high, and form one of the most picturesque sights of Western Tasmania. The line passes quite close to their foot over a rocky gorge, through which the creek continues its way to the Ring River. The falls are never dry, and at times carry such a volume of water that the spray dashes right on to the passing train. A good view of them can be got from the railway carriages, but it is better to leave the train at Montezuma station, where there is invariably a short wait and walk the few yards to the Montezuma bridge, and thence view the falls to the best advantage. The obliging train officials will always stop and pick up such sightseers; in fact, they have been instructed by the Railway Department to grant every reasonable facility to enable tourists to obtain the best views of this wonderful bit of scenery.

Frequently passengers leave the train at Montezuma and walk the remaining three miles to Williamsford, the route following the beautiful valley of the Ring River. The cameraist, especially, will find it worth his while to do this, for exquisite bits of mountain, river, and gully scenery abound the entire distance.

An interesting feature of the landscape at Montezuma is the Curtin-Davis Hill or mountain. A few years ago practically the whole of this mountain was taken up for mining purposes, in consequence of discoveries there of rich fahl ore lodes. A good deal of work was done at the height of about 2,500 ft above sea-level, and ore won, but the ore shoots proved generally short and small, and at the present time very little mining is being carried on there. The mountain rises very precipitously, and to get from one part of the surface workings to another ladders had to be used. At that time it was densely timbered, but the axe and bush fires have almost completely denuded it, and now a thick crop of grass has sprung up, giving pasture to a flock of sheep, which an enterprising West Coaster has imported.

Williamsford having been reached either by train (10 a.m.) or on foot, the visitor will probably be glad of a refresher in the shape of a cup of tea or other liquid, and will find the hotel accommodation passing good. The little village of Williamsford, so named from a former manager of the Mt Read mine, Mr Luke Williams, is very picturesquely situated. The settlement was originally known as Deep Lead, and was the centre of active alluvial gold workings some years back. The gold, however, was limited in quantity, and as further prospecting revealed, the occurrence of huge lode formations on the top of Mount Read nearby, attention was directed thither, and the gold neglected, except by an occasional fossicker, although it is probable that at some future date further systematic attempts will be made to work the "deep lead".

Both the Mount Read and Hercules mines have been opened up to a considerable extent, particularly the latter, the workings of which are connected with the N.E. Dundas tramway by a self-acting haulage line. A trip up this haulage line, which can generally be obtained on application to the management, is a unique experience. As the truck ascends the view widens. The whole of the little township is seen nestling prettily in the valley, entirely surrounded by densely-timbered hills, away over the tops of which summits of distant mountains stand out on the horizon, and the glimmer of the waters of the Pacific Ocean can be distinctly seen. The conical form of Mount Bischoff can readily be distinguished, and on clear days the mine workings picked out. A good pack track also affords communication between Williamsford and the mines.

Another small township, designated Mt Read, exists on the top of the mount. The houses and huts are occupied by the officials and workmen of the mines. The ore mined at Mount Read is principally a low-grade zinc-lead sulphide, carrying a few oz of silver, a little gold, and some copper. In parts, as depth is attained, payable copper ore has been found. The zinc-lead sulphide is treated at the Zeehan smelters, and its carriage, and that of firewood, form the chief work of the N.E. Dundas tramway.

Lake Johnston, a pretty little sheet of water situated two or three hundred feet above Mt Read township, is well worth a visit by the tourist who has ascended so far. Other places of great interest from a scenic point of view can be reached from Mount Read. Principal among these is the Lake Dora district, some six or eight miles eastward. Quite a bevy of beautiful bodies of water occur amongst the mountains. They are variously known as Lakes Dora, Selina, Julia, Margaret, Mary, etc., etc.