Opening of the Border Railway – ‘The Adelaide Register’ Monday May 3rd 1886

The Register

Adelaide: Monday, May 3, 1886.


The ceremony of opening for traffic the railway between Adelaide and the Victorian Border was successfully accomplished on Saturday. The Chief Secretary, in the absence through illness of the Commissioner of Public Works, superintended the inaugural formalities, which were witnessed by a large assemblage of local residents and a strong contingent of Members of Parliament and representative Adelaide citizens.  From beginning to end the demonstration was a very satisfactory one. The trial trip along the line proved conclusively that the work of construction had been faithfully as well as expeditiously performed.  But for the unavoidable delay occasioned by the overheating of the bearings of a wheel of the water tank accompanying the engine, the journey of nearly 400 miles would have been completed well within the prescribed time, and even as it was the speed, exclusive of stoppages, was something like 35 miles an hour.  Nor was this the rate achieved only by the special train, for which it may be assumed that exceptional provision was made.  The ordinary train run by the Department with the businesslike intention of enabling as many citizens as liked to pay for the privilege and opportunity of inspecting the latest addition to the South Australia railways made almost as good time without any overstraining of the engine.  The luncheon held at Border Town in celebration of the opening was as successful as the rest of the proceedings of the day.  The speaking, as a rule, was not of a higher order of oratorical merit, but it was eminently practical and to the point.  The time at the disposal of visitors was too limited to allow of elaborate speechmaking, but the prevalent feeling was that the right thing had been done in making the railway, not only because in doing so South Australia had frankly and unreservedly held out to Victoria the right hand of fellowship, but also because the line would prove itself of immense local benefit in closely connecting with the metropolis one of the most distant of South Australia’s districts, and in promoting the profitable occupation of the country through which the iron road runs.

Certain it is that the railway robs the overland trip to Melbourne of nearly all its terrors.  Journeying in comfortable, if not luxurious, carriages over a splendidly constructed permanent way at the rate of some 40 miles an hour, the traveller can regard even the Ninety mile Desert with complacency.  Even if that part of the route were as dismal and as depressing as it could be represented as being by the most hyperchondriacal person who has walked or ridden or driven through it, there is some compensation to be found in the delightful journey through the ranges extending from Adelaide almost to the Murray Bridge.  Of course the contrast between traversing the desert at the pace of seven or 8 miles an hour and dashing through it from end to end in a couple of hours is very striking.  Except under the most unfavourable circumstances, there is something exhilarating in railway travelling at high speed, whatever the external surroundings may be.  And talking of contrasts, who that is familiar with the old process of travelling to Border Town, including the tedious passage along the Coorong, the more dreary drive between the Coorong and Kingston, and the hardships of that terrible ride across the limestone ridges lying between Kingston and Narracoorte, will not feel a strange sense of difference, a gratified conviction of the conveniences and luxuries which advancing civilisation brings with it, when he finds himself after some six or seven hours of comfortable travelling delivered at a destination which in the olden times we could not reach much under three days!  He may, if you please, compose himself to sleep as he leaves the Adelaide Station yard shortly after nightfall and wake early in the morning to find himself at Border Town.  Should the journey be undertaken in the daytime, he will see along the greater part of it variety enough of scenery to interest him.  His eye will not be attracted, as in the North, by mile after mile of wheat fields occupying  alike level plain, undulating slopes, and fruitful hillsides, but he will witness grass covered plains extending to the sea, and well timbered hills and fruitful valleys yielding their store of luscious fruits and succulent vegetables.  Beyond the Murray, it is true, we will have 100 miles of sterile flats and monotonous scrub to traverse; but even this so-called Desert is not altogether so black as it has been painted.  Here and there the plain is broken by stretches of rising ground, and the stunted scrub gives place to trees of a larger growth.  Even these, as a rule, are stunted; but they indicate the presence of a better soil, which in process of time will be turned to account.  The most hopeless feature of all is the absence of water.  The rainfall is very limited, surface water there is none and if there are supplies of fresh water under the surface those who have dug for them have, except in a few favoured localities, found them not.  It is this fatal dryness which is the most serious impediment to settlement, it is the chief drawback that the railway has to put up with.  As a set off against the disadvantage the country is admirably adapted to railway construction.  There are no extensive earthworks, no costly bridges, no engineering difficulties of any kind.  The line follows a direct course for scores of miles, so that rapid travelling can be indulged in without inconvenience and absolutely without risk.  Beyond the Desert there is good country studded with trees, of no great size it is true, but still large enough to be an ornament to the landscape and to bear practical testimony to the productiveness of the soil.  Some of this is under cultivation, and there is good reason for believing, if only a reasonable tariff of rates is adopted, that the railway will bring thousands of acres more under the dominion of the plough.

In referring in Saturday’s issue to the mission of the railway we pointed out the good purpose it would serve in binding the South Eastern district to Adelaide.  It would be difficult to overrate its importance in this respect.  All the railways running out into the country should serve the beneficient purpose of extending settlement and of discouraging undue centralisation.  While they afford facilities for reaching the metropolis, and give increased value to the produce of the soil, they should have the further effect of modifying the predominating influence of the capital.  This influence has been and is being too much felt at the present time.  It is a gratifying and significant fact that in rural districts no such gloomy and hopeless feeling regarding the position of prospects of the colony prevails as is so conspicuous in the metropolis.  This is especially true of the Southeast.  Recent visitors to that part of the country testify that the people are in the best of spirits and have little sympathy with the despondency so rife in Adelaide.  One of the most bitter complaints of local residents is that they cannot get men willing to work at a reasonable rate of wages.  The fact of the city having been brought into easy communication with a district so prosperous, so hopeful, containing so many resources awaiting proper development, cannot but react beneficially upon the city itself.  There are many reasons, irrespective altogether of the intercolonial considerations which give an Australian importance to the line, why the construction of this Border Railway is to be regarded as one of the wisest as well as one of the most courageous acts of the Parliament of South Australia.

Opening of the Border Railway – ‘The Adelaide Register’ Monday May 3rd 1886

Bordertown Railway Yard, 1909. Tatiara, The First 140 Years 1845 - 1985.

                        Bordertown Railway Yard, 1909.                             Tatiara, The First 140 Years 1845 – 1985.


The opening was in fact rather a farce, the only Cabinet Minister in the party, the Chief Secretary Mr J C Bray, formally declared the line open in a brief speech through the open window of the carriage when the train arrived at 1.45pm , “Gentlemen, having safely arrived, it is now my pleasing duty in the absence of the Commissioner of Public Works, which I am sure you will all regret, to declare this line open for traffic.”

The party then walked to the Institute where a luncheon was served, with a few appropriate speeches and toasts. They then walked back to the railway station and left at 3.30pm to return to Adelaide. The return journey was held up at Cooke’s Plains when the axle boxes of the water tank were found to be red hot, which had to be shunted off the train. The party finally reached Murray Bridge for their evening meal at 8.00 pm, resuming their places on the train half an hour later, they arrived in Adelaide at 11.00 pm.



Tatiara, The First 140 Years 1845 – 1985.

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