Discovery of gold, copper, and other minerals in the remote Ravensthorpe Range at the end of the 19th century caused a rush of passengers and freight by sea to Mary Ann Haven (as Hopetoun was then known), the nearest point of access. Fifty kilometres from Hopetoun to the Range along rough tracks with horses, mules and camels were no match for the amount of freight to be delivered to the newly named Phillips River Goldfield.
Approaches to the new State of Western Australia government for a railway to service the goldfield, prompted visits to Bremer Bay and Starvation Bay to investigate the availability for a port, but Hopetoun, although not a sheltered harbour, was ultimately chosen because it was the closest to the Goldfield. In 1906 the Government was persuaded to go ahead with a railway linking the port, mines and smelting works.
A lightering jetty at Hopetoun had been established in 1901 and extended, in 1907, to deeper water to facilitate the unloading of railway materials, locomotives and other rolling stock at low tide. Small steamers could dock alongside in favourable conditions. The cost of providing an all-weather deepwater port would have been out of all proportion to the traffic potential.
Survey of the railway from Hopetoun to Ravensthorpe was completed and in April 1907 the first mile from the jetty, including the station yard, was constructed by day labour. Tenders for the remainder of the narrow-gauge line were accepted by Baxter and Wood in August. Jarah sleepers were loaded from Bunbury and rails from Albany. Due to rough weather one barge was tossed around in the harbour for two months before unloading was possible.
The first locomotive reached Kundip to be greeted with great pomp and ceremony by the locals in June 1908. It finally reached Ravensthorpe by January the following year and was officially opened in June 1909. To complete the railway which passed uphill, through rugged terrain with embankments, cuttings, bridges, and was built by manual power in less than two years, was a marvellous feat.
Stations, goods sheds, 45-ft turntables, sidings, spurs, tradesmen’s barracks, coal stages with adjacent ashpits and water tanks, sheep and cattle races were built for the project. Water was drawn from a shallow 3,000-gallon/day well at Hopetoun station with engines also drawing water from Jerdacuttup Spring, Kuliba, Kundip and Ravensthorpe.
As well as stations at Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe, there were sidings on the 34-mile line at Three Mile, Seven Mile, Kuliba, Kundip, Desmond, Cordingup, Smelters Junction and Cattlin Mine.
The first locomotive to arrive at Hopetoun for construction work was a Beyer, Peacock 2-6-0 in 1908 belonging to the contractor Baxter who had purchased it at Kirup in 1902. At times there were five locomotives in use on the line. One of these was Koombana Queen and another G233, later named Lady Leschenaultia, which is still in use on narrow gauge lines for tourism.
The two passenger carriages used on the line are still in the district with one incorporated into a house in Hopetoun and the other at the Ravensthorpe Museum. The ZA brakevan is also at the Ravensthorpe Museum.
During the busy years passenger services ran daily. Special excursion trains ran day trips to the beach. A former resident remembers the train driver stopping the train for passengers to pick wildflowers and for those with a shot gun to pop off something for the pot.
As mining declined, by 1918, the train continued to run for agricultural production and to meet steam ships at Hopetoun for passengers, mail and supplies. Harvests were good and an engine at either end of the freight wagons pulled half the wagons up to Desmond, returned for the other half and then had an easier run down to Hopetoun.
As road transport became available the railway was phased out in 1935 and for two years farmers physically lumped their bags of grain on to the ships at Hopetoun. Railway lines were taken for a railway in the north of the State and sleepers sold off to local farmers. Buildings were also sold locally. The port eventually closed in 1937. Most of the railway track is now developed into very enjoyable heritage walk and mountain bike trail.
A more complete history of this fascinating railway can be purchased from RHS.
(Compiled 2015 by A. Williams, archivist, copyright RHS. More details are available from the Ravensthorpe Historical Society archives and The Australian Railway Historical Society bulletin).Back to History