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History of Queensland Government Railways in the Mackay District

A Brief History

With the opening up of development in the Mackay District to the sugar Industry, there was an impetus for a railway to be established to open up more cane growing areas in the District.

The first plantation railway in the district was opened in 1881 on John Spiller's Pioneer Estate.  Soon it was evident that the creation of the plantation tramways reduced the cost of carting sugar cane to the mills therefore making longer hauls of cane practical.

It was realised that the opening of a public railway could release the small yeoman farmers from bondage to the nearest Mill owner by providing competition for cane.

Hume Black proposed a loop line Railway for the District. He proposed the line  run to Eton from Mackay via Homebush across to the hollows (present Mirani) and towards Mt. Dalrymple returning via the North Side plantations to Mackay.

Railway meetings became popular. A meeting held at Eton in July 1881 chaired by Arthur Kemmis proposed a line running behind the town joining the main Nebo Road at McLennan's corner (present day City Gates), west through Walkerston and Pleystowe to Newbury and then turning south to service Eton via Oakenden and Homebush. Hum Black wrote to Macrossan the Minister for Works on 6 September 1881 asking for a survey of the proposed railway line requested by those present at the meeting in Eton. He was promised action when surveyors became available.

The Survey was completed and plans of the line were presented to the Queensland Parliament and approval was given .

Permanent survey of the railway was completed in May 1883 although resumptions of land took another year due to earlier inaccuracies in earlier surveys.

Tenders were called for the erection of a 22 1/2 mile line from Mackay to Eton via Newbury with a 7 1/2 mile branch to Hamilton (Mirani), a total of exactly 30 miles. The tender was given to George Bashford and sons. 

Work began on 14 November 1883 and the first sod was officially turned on 20 December 1883.  Bashford had difficulties making progress . The start of 1884 saw a period of wet weather and the flood of 31 January 1884. He was granted a four month extension to finish the railway by 17 July 1885. At the height of the track building about 250 men were employed. Ballast for the railway was extracted from a quarry at Green Knoll.

No heavy earthworks or large bridges were required the largest bridge being of seven 14 feet spans between the wharf and the station at Mackay.

The railway required about 60,000 wooden sleepers and Bashford had considerable trouble obtaining supplies. In February 1885  The Acting Commissioner for the Railways and Chief Engineer for the area set about looking for suitable sites for the location of the Mackay Railway Station. The selected the Immigration Depot that was built in 1882. Although facing the wrong way it was turned on an angle to face the line  with a 140 foot long platform and a roof erected over the tracks to serve as a carriage shed.  When the Mackay shunting yard was completed , it was said to have so many points and crossings that more shunting could be done in 20 minutes than at most places in 2 hours.  

The Mackay Railway was not completed and opened until 10 August 1885, when it was opened quietly with no ceremony, in contrast to the first sod celebrations.

The opening timetable provided a daily train to both branches, each day except Sunday:

Eton Departs 7 a.m.

Newbury Junction 7.27 - 7.30

Hamilton 8.00 - 8.30

Newbury Junction  8.58 - 9.00

Walkerston 9.26

Mackay Arrive 10.00am


Mackay Departs 3.00pm

Walkerston 3.36pm

Newbury Junction 5.13-5.15pm

Hamilton 4.30-4.45pm

Eton Arrive 5.42pm.

Eton residents were not happy with the early start as it left them no time to milk the cows when they left and they had to get breakfast at Newbury Junction while the train travelled to Hamilton.

Hamilton was renamed Mirani by November 1885 probably to avoid confusion with the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton.

From 4 January 1886 the train schedule was altered to run direct to Eton and then overnight to Mirani except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when Mirani got the direct service.

The Eton line was extended to the township of Eton from Draper's siding and was opened on 22 March 1886.

The first two years of the railway resulted in little transport of cane and sugar of which the Government had hoped would sustain the railway. With the advent of the Central mills of Racecourse and North Eton in 1888, this saw the use of the railway improve.

Sugar farming further extended westwards into the Pioneer Valley in the 1880's and 1890's and farmers were keen for the railway to be extended from Mirani westwards. after further lobbying 18,000 pounds was approved for the construction of a high level bridged crossing the Pioneer River at Mirani and a further half mile of line to Mirani West.  On 8 September 1897 a public holiday was declared in Mackay  and 800 people travelled to Mirani for the opening.

Further representations from Sugar farmers saw the Pioneer Shire Council guaranteeing to build a line from the terminus at Mirani West to McGregor Creek.  Another extension to Cattle Creek was opened for traffic on 7 July 1902.  The terminus was named Pinnacle.  The farmers continued to move westwards opening up land and soon the local farmes were wanting the line extended again.

The new extension to Finch Hatton was opened on 21 September 1904.  The success of the railway led to the development and opening of the Cattle Creek Sugar Mill in 1906.

The Mcgregor Creek line as well was extended to Kungurri and opened on 25 November 1911.

The line from Finch hatton was extended to Eungella Range and opened on 31 July 1911.  Eungella Range was renamed Netherdale in 1913.

The impetus for a direct connection for the Railway line to run direct from Brisbane to Cairns gained prominence after the extension of the line from Brisbane to Rockhampton in 1903.  The rail line south extended from Racecourse south to the terminus of the Homebush tramline at Baker's Creek, a distance of four miles.

The rail line was extended to Sarina and was finally opened on 1 July 1913.

Work to extend the Railway over the Pioneer River to the Northern districts commenced after the rail bridge was completed in 1915.  Work commence over the next few years but ceased in 1920 before resuming in 1922.  Crews were extending the line from Proserpine as well.  From 6 July 1923 although the line was not officially open trains  began running twice weekly to Hampden. The northern line through to Townsville was finally connected on 1 December 1923. The days of travelling to other Queensland Cities by ocean steamer came to an end.

With the closure of the Cattle Creek Mill in 1990 saw the demise of the line from Marian to Netherdale.  Mackay Sugar purchased the line from Queensland Rail and most of the line was ripped up although small sections were used for the Company's 2 foot guage line.



Kerr, John. (1980).  Pioneer Pageant. Mackay, QLD: Pioneer Shire Council.



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