Horse & dray at Mangana in
St Marys Railway Station
Loco at Mt Nicholas Coal Mine
Cullenswood Rail Station
the Fingal Line Railway opened in 1886 transport was a major problem to
our early settlers. Most produce and travellers were brought in, or taken
out, with coastal traders through the port of Falmouth. But this was a
tireless task, and at times in bad weather, quite dangerous.
After the St Marys Pass opened in 1846 Van Diemens Land’s famous coaching
pioneer, Samuel Page, provided a regular service from Falmouth to The
Corners (Conara). This added to the bullock teams that were being used
for heavy haulage throughout the area.
The service was later extended to Yarmouth (Scamander) following a route,
known as the “Horror Stretch”, which ran between Hendersons Lagoon and
the Steels Beach sand dunes. This was said to be a narrow dangerous track
and with recordings of frequent, heavy, easterly rains in those days many
a horse and carriage became bogged, leaving passengers stranded for days.
In 1865 the Scamander River was bridged for the first time and the coach
service was extended to Georges Bay (St Helens). This route pretty much
followed the current road, but again it was narrow, rough and susceptible
to flooding in many places. As well, the bridge over the Scamander River
was just wide enough for the coach and was made with pylons no bigger
than the average telegraph pole. You can only imagine how frightening
an experience crossing the river would have been as the horses and coach
clambered across. The fragility of the structure was realized soon after
construction when it collapsed under the weight of a mop of cattle.
From Georges Bay (St Helens) to The Corners (Conara) the Page coaches
would change horses six times, compared to to the Launceston/Hobart service
of the time which had eight changes. When you consider this, it is understandable
why the many accommodation and supply businesses throughout the Fingal
Valley and Midlands did very well in those days. Although it is said that
the Lade and Morris store at Falmouth collapsed in the 1860s due to the
coach operators not paying their bills for fodder used to feed their horses.
The route through the Valley doesn’t appear to have changed a great deal,
except it would seem the track from what is now Killymoon Bridge to St
Marys followed the southern side of the Break O’ Day River and crossed
at a ford closer to St Marys.
Again the biggest problems recorded through the Valley for the coach operators
was heavy rains. At Avoca, for example, only minor flooding would prevent
the coaches crossing the ford at the St Pauls River. In times of severe
floods coaches would meet on either side of the river. Mail and goods
could then be hauled across the river via a cable, or “flying fox”.
The coach era was a unique time in the history of our Valley and East
Coast. Come what may through all kinds of adversities the operators, along
with their drivers, made sure all the mail, goods and passengers eventually
reached their destinations. For the inns and changeover stations along
the way it was the highlight of their day when the team of fine horses
came galloping up to their premises. Locals would wait anxiously for a
letter from home, or the goods they had ordered. While the horses were
being changed acquaintances would be made with the passengers and the
inn keepers would serve them a cup of tea with a homemade scone.
In June 1886, however, a new horse made of iron and bellowing grey smoke
out of its nose came huffing and puffing its way through the valley, causing
the horses to rare and cry out in fright. One wonders, as they stood trembling
under the calming voices of their handlers, if they somehow knew this
noisy, whistling, steamy monster was the beginning of a new era, one that
had very little use for the humble animal that had faithfully served man