IT was called the Main Line, for more than a century, and now, it’s hard to imagine what Bendigo would be like without its railway line.
You can now trace the history of the railway line between Melbourne and Bendigo in a new exhibition at the Post Office Gallery at the Visitor Information Centre.
Curator Clare Needham has coupled the show, celebrating 150 years since the plans for the line were first made, with another milestone – the 150th birthday of the Bendigo Brass Band.
With photographs and artefacts, we trace the early history, when “extravagant expenditure” ensured the line between Melbourne and Bendigo – the longest double-track stretch in Victoria – would also be a work of art.
“It lays claim to several of the key engineering feats of 19th-century Victoria, including significant viaducts at Jackson’s Creek, Taradale, and Malmsbury and the Elphinstone and Big Hill Tunnels; construction still admired today for their durability and aesthetic qualities,” Ms Needham writes in the booklet accompanying the exhibition.
She outlines the way the route was planned, the many disruptions through strikes and workers’ disputes, and finally, the growing excitement as the line approached the township of Bendigo.
The first train to reach Bendigo carried with it not only the new station master, but also a temporary platform, which was to be used for the opening celebrations.
Visitors arriving for the official opening on October 20, 1862, were handed a leaflet extolling the virtues of the goldfields town.
Unfortunately, authorities had only thought as far as getting the visitors here. When people went back to the station for the return journey, they discovered there were no facilities for turning the locomotives around, so visitors were stranded, and accommodation was scarce so many had to sleep in the train.
Then, the paper arch put up for the opening festivities caught fire and the return was further delayed.
The exhibition includes fabulous photographs that will delight trainspotters, like an extraordinary early 20th-century image of a steam engine undergoing maintenance at the North Bendigo Workshops.
Collectors have lent artefacts, such as lamps, stationmaster’s hats and a contraption for regulating the trains coming and going, which looks so simple you wonder how it managed.
At the end of her essay, Ms Needham notes how the road-era ended the romance of rail. Privatisation, she says, put a big dent in the commitment many had felt for the railway line that brought so much life to Bendigo.
Celebrating 150 Years: rail in Bendigo and the Bendigo Brass Band, at the Post Office Gallery until October 28.