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The coming of the Queensland Railways

Though the first railway in Queensland dates from as early as 1865, the routes that were subsequently built were all independent of each other. The lines struck west from the towns of Ipswich (1865), Rockhampton (1867), Townsville (1880), Maryborough (1881), Bundaberg (1881), Mackay (1885), Cooktown (1885), Cairns (1887) and Bowen (1890). Each of these towns was the eastern terminus of its own railway system, yet there were no linking connections between the systems.

A railway line from the Maryborough system had been extended south to Gympie as a matter of priority, reaching that town in 1881. The Government then decided that a rail link from Brisbane to the goldfields and therefore Maryborough was equally important, so in 1886 tenders were called to begin laying the track north from Brisbane. The point where the northern line started was half-way between Brisbane Central and Sandgate, at a station named 'Toombul'. A junction was constructed there, and named 'North Coast Junction', and then 'Northgate.'

The rails initially pushed north rapidly, reaching Caboolture on 11th June 1888. Survey of the route between Caboolture and Gympie was slower, however, taking six years. This was mainly because so many new lines were being planned in Queensland that surveying resources were thinly spread. Sections of track were opened as they were completed, and the rails reached Mellum Creek on 1st February 1890, and Yandina on 1st January 1891. In rapid succession, railway stations (little more than a short length of low platform with a rudimentary shelter) were established at Mooloolah, Eudlo, and Palmtree.

With a new railway station being proposed for Cobb's Camp in 1889, the Queensland Railways felt that a better, non-commercial name was needed for the station and the surrounding district. The name chosen was Woombye, from the Kabi name 'Wambai', meaning the Black Myrtle tree, a native plant that grows in profusion in the district. The official use of this name for the area dates from that year.

Click here for a map, dated 1889, that shows the route of the North Coast Line from Mooloolah to Yandina. The line had been surveyed and was under construction at that time, but had only been completed as far north as newly-named Woombye. The settlements on either side were still known as Palmtree and Petrie's Creek at that stage. Moving your mouse pointer across the lower right-hand corner of the map will activate a control button which will enable you to enlarge the image for closer examination. 

Soon after, the people at Petrie's Creek also needed a better name for their little village of six houses, a hotel and a new station. Mr Samwell's cattle-run homestead of Nambour was located on uplands just two miles to the west, so the local people agreed on that name. They preferred Mr Samwell's anglicised version over the aboriginal 'Namba', so 'Nambour' it officially became on 1st January 1891, and maps were altered accordingly. At the same time, the settlement of Mellum Creek was renamed 'Landsborough' after the explorer William Landsborough who was then living in retirement at a property in Caloundra, given to him by the government in recognition of his services to the State. Not to be outdone, the station at Palmtree had its name changed to 'Palmwoods'.

Construction of the railway continued to push north from Yandina, while the Maryborough line pushed south from Gympie. The rails were linked up at Cooroy in July 1891, making it possible to travel from Brisbane to Bundaberg completely by train. The railway brought progress, and the tiny settlements began to develop. By 1892 Nambour's population had grown to forty people, and two years later it had reached 150. The decision in 1894 to establish the Moreton Central Sugar Mill in Nambour encouraged more tradesmen, labourers, farmers and other settlers to bring their families to the area. By 1898 Nambour's growth was out-stripping that of Woombye, so the Police Station, Courthouse and the stables were moved from Woombye to Nambour. By the turn of the twentieth century Nambour had 350 residents, and by 1910 the population had reached 1000.

In 1890 there were eleven totally separate State Government Railways in Queensland. Any movement of passengers or goods between each system needed to be by road or ship. Amazingly, the State Government still did not recognise that a North Coast Railway linking all the coastal towns and their railway systems from Brisbane to Cairns was vital. They could not see that the continual transhipment of goods and produce from road to rail to sea and back to rail and road again created problems and expense for a lot of people.

The Government did not have a change of heart until commonsense finally prevailed in 1910, when the North Coast Railway Act and the Great Western Railway Act were passed in a single day, authorising the construction of an extra 1735 miles (2794 kilometres) of railway line. This was the greatest length of railway ever approved by the Queensland Parliament in a single day - or even in a single year. But construction was slow due to a number of factors, not the least being the onset of the Great War, and the North Coast Railway from Brisbane to Cairns, the 'Sunshine Route', was not completed until 1924.

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