Bobawaba and the Queensland Coast Rail -

A 1897 map of Queensland rail lines would have shown lines from Cairns to Mareeba, Townsville to beyond Hughenden and from Rockhampton to Longreach, but nothing from Gladstone to Cairns. The first section of rail to be built along this coast started at Bowen and headed north.

Surveys were ordered in 1883 for Bowen to Ayr. When the survey started, it was decided to work both ways. The Burdekin River was considered the only engineering difficulty. This survey had run 26 miles from Ayr towards Bowen when instructions were received to survey the Bowen to Haughton Gap Line. Bowen had a better port than Townsville and wanted a line to Haughton Gap, so that it could compete for western trade. The survey was completed and Parliament passed £150,000 for the line to go from Bowen, via Clare, through the Haughton Gap to the 37 mile peg (59km) on the Great Northern Railway west from Townsville.

This line, with a branch from Clare to Ayr, was intended to give the West the shortest direct access to the harbour of Port Denison. It would enable Charters Towers to get fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy produce from the Burdekin Delta lands; allow Burdekin sugar to go to Bowen, and supply Poole Island Freezing Works with sheep from the West.

Townsville and Ayr interests wanted a coastal line direct to Townsville. This would be part of the coastal route and serve the Lower Burdekin sugar plantations. Bowen did get a railway, but because of the dispute, it stopped at the point where the decision had to made about the direction it was to go. If Bowen had received the western trade, Bowen may have grown as big or bigger than Townsville. A lot was at stake.

Construction of the rail from Bowen stopped at Bobawaba (then called Wangaratta), about 25km south of Home Hill and waited over a decade for a decision whether to build the rail to Charters Towers or Townsville.

During these years of indecision, Ayr successfully agitated for a railway to the North.  In Townsville, at a meeting in 1899, the Townsville Municipal Council, the Thuringowa Divisional Board and the Ayr Divisional Board resolved to form a joint board under the Local Authorities Act to be called the Ayr Tramway Board. This board successfully constructed almost 44 miles (69km) of line for an amount of about £77,000 ($154,000), believed to be, for the distance, a record low cost for Queensland. The line was completed ahead of schedule and opened in 1901. It was controlled by the Board until the end of 1910.

The construction of the Ayr Tramline effectively settled the issue in favour of the coastal route but the deadlock was not resolved until the North Coast Railway Act of 1910 authorised the coastal route. The Ayr Tramway section of rail was taken over by the Government. It had been run most successfully and after the Government had paid for it, and the Board was dissolved, there remained a sum of money in the vicinity of £30,000 ($60,000), which was divided between the participating Local Authorities. A number of local authorities constructed railways in Queensland termed tramways because they were built under the Tramways Act. The Tramways were purchased by Queensland Rail after passing of the North Coast Railway Act of 1910.

At Bobawaba -

A triangular section of rail track was contructed for the trains to turn around for the trip back to Bowen. After the link to Ayr (and Townsville) was built, the turn-around remained. Until the new Burdekin Bridge was built, trains could be delayed by water covering the old rail bridge when the Burdekin River was in flood, so the turn-around remained until after the high level Burdekin Bridge was opened. It was finally removed about the 1960’s. One leg of the turn-around crossed the Bruce Highway. The foundations of the rail can be seen in this photo extending into the salt flats.

click for Satellite View without red overlay

Brief notes about the progress of construction of the rail along the Queensland coast.

Rail construction didn't start at Brisbane and progress up the coast as you may have thought likely. Instead, sections of rail were built as the need for rail transport grew. Some decades passed before all the sections were linked together to make the continuous link from Brisbane to Cairns.

With Queenland's vast distances and sometimes long "wet" seasons, it was realized that faster and more reliable transport provided by the railway was needed to replace or supplement the old bullock drawn or horse-drawn wagons.

Dates when sections were built west of Townsville -
Townsville to Charters Towers in 1882, Hughenden in 1887 and Winton in 1899.
Hughenden and Richmond in 1904, extended to Cloncurry in 1908, to Mount Isa in 1929.

Dates when coastal sections were built in our region -

Bowen to Bobawaba, 1891
Stuart (Townsville) to Ayr, opened 2 April 1901
Koumala north to Farleigh via Mackay, 20 July 1915
Proserpine to Junction near Don (Bowen), 11 July 1910
Ayr to Home Hill, Inkerman Bridge, 1 Sept 1913
Bobawaba to Home Hill, 3 July 1915
Townsville to Ingham, 1 December 1919
Farleigh (Mackay) to Proserpine

This is part of the Home Hill Chamber of Commerce History Website.


Contributions to our history pages welcome (text, copies, photos). See Contacts page.

Information for this page from local knowledge, Qld Rail, and Google Maps.