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The Blackall Range is an attractive district in south-east Queensland, Australia, with rich soil and beautiful scenery. Most of the land has been taken up as farms, small acreage rural residential estates, villages and small towns. The state forests that clothe the northern ridges and their western slopes give it a delightful sylvan setting. Plants flourish in the fertile soil, and modern homes adorn the landscape, surrounded by beautiful gardens and trees.
Viewed from the Range, the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean is the backdrop to the green and fertile valleys stretching from the coastal seaside resorts west into the hinterland, the main city of which is Nambour with a population of 12 000. The land then rises up the escarpment of the Highworth Range to the Dulong plateau at an elevation of about 250 metres.
Looking eastwards from Mapleton on the Blackall Range, over Kureelpa in the middle distance to the Pacific Ocean. Nambour is in the valley in the far distance, out of sight.
West of Dulong, the land rises steeply again up the slopes of the Blackall Range to the summit at Mapleton, 400 metres above sea level. Mapleton is a small township of about 800 inhabitants, located on and around the crest of the eastern escarpment of the Range, 13 kilometres west of Nambour.
From the town, one can look out to a superb panorama of the whole Sunshine Coast from the Teewah Coloured Sands on the northern horizon, south through the beach resorts of Noosa, Coolum, Mudjimba, Maroochydore, Mooloolaba and Buderim to Caloundra. The sandhills of Moreton Island are visible far to the south-east.
North and west of the town lies the Mapleton State Forest, which is full of valuable timbers, tree ferns, piccabeen palms, staghorns, elkhorns, crow's nests, orchids, lawyer vines and many kinds of ferns. With an annual rainfall of 1.8 metres or seventy inches per year and a warm temperate climate, conditions are ideal for the growth of the many and varied types of indigenous flora, and the crops that have been planted by the new settlers. Native fauna also flourishes, and includes scrub wallabies, koalas, bandicoots, scrub turkeys, wonga pigeons, flock pigeons, cat birds, whip birds, koels, plovers, magpies, cockatoos and strikingly coloured parrots and lorikeets.
The first white settlers, Thomas and William Smith, arrived in Mapleton in 1889. They removed the vine scrub that covered the Range from their selections, and began to grow strawberries. A bush track was cleared between Mapleton and Nambour, and almost immediately more farmers moved to the area, cleared the land and began growing bananas as well.
Strawberry and banana growing did not last long though, due to the difficulties of getting the fruit to the Brisbane market before it spoiled, and by 1903 oranges had become the most important crop at Mapleton, with several large orchards being established. Sugar cane was grown in the nearby Dulong and Kureelpa districts, and on the Blackall Range slopes. Some was grown in Mapleton itself.
The Moreton Central Sugar Mill in Nambour had been constructed in 1896-97, and immediately started building narrow gauge tramways radiating from Nambour to bring the cane in from outlying farms. One line ran westwards, up the Highworth Range to Dulong and Kureelpa. Though Dulong had been considered a prime sugar growing area in the 1890s, this was soon proven a fallacy and the newly-established cane farms had switched to dairying by 1910.
The main bush track to Nambour descended the Blackall Range due east of Mapleton. It crossed the South Maroochy River (actually just a small creek at that point), and followed high ground along the routes of what are now DeVere Road, Thrushs Road and Dulong Road to the site of today's Dulong Lookout. An alternative route through Kureelpa crossed one creek and followed another, but that road was difficult at the best of times, and impassable during wet weather. Eventually DeVere Road was closed off and the Kureelpa route was developed into a proper road, but even during the 1930s it could still be hazardous for motor cars.
By 1911 the little village of Mapleton was thriving, and boasted a one-teacher state school, hotel, church, smithy, two stores and a public hall. The population of the area grew steadily, and soon a butcher shop, bakery and post office agency were established too.
Because the roads to Nambour were so poor, the people of Mapleton requested that the cane tramway between Nambour and Kureelpa be extended to their town. In 1915, the Dulong tramway was taken over by the Maroochy Shire Council and extended to Mapleton to run a transport service between that town and Nambour, as a general carrier of goods and people. It was a small railway built to the narrow gauge of two feet, and because the line was steep and sharply curved, two Shay locomotives were used to handle the service. The area became a popular tourist destination, with three guest houses in Mapleton itself and others further south along the Range. Day excursions to the district were popular, with trains from Brisbane connecting with the tram to give visitors a few hours visiting Mapleton before heading home.
The economic depression in the 1930s brought much of this to an end. One guest house burned down and the others closed. The orange orchards in the area were wiped out by the gall-wasp and the farmers turned to growing pineapples. Sugar cane growing diminished, as farmers in the Mapleton and Kureelpa areas turned to other crops or dairying.
As roads and motor vehicles improved, the Tramway gradually lost its patronage although petrol shortages during World War II enabled it to struggle on, though not making any profit. It was finally closed down at the end of 1944, when sugar growing in the area had finally ended.
When the road to Nambour was bitumenised in 1963, an adverse effect on Mapleton was the decline in custom experienced by its shops and businesses, as local people could easily drive to Nambour for their requirements. This led to a recession in the little town, and it remained a virtual backwater until the mid-1970s, when the tourism boom on the Sunshine Coast in general and the Blackall Range in particular began in earnest.
Since that time the area has flourished, with a large number of new residents moving to the district. Large, modern homes were built by the hundreds in new estates or on acreage allotments developed from old farms, and shops catering for both general needs and visiting tourists were established in large numbers. Guest houses and motels reappeared and potteries and craft shops sprouted like mushrooms. The local school was redeveloped, and today is a modern educational facility with over 240 students. It even boasts a domed astronomical observatory with a robotic telescope.
By 1995 the areas of Nambour and Mapleton had assumed the bustling atmosphere that exists today. Unfortunately, the new housing developments in those towns and at Kureelpa have destroyed some of the remains of the old tramline, which had been largely untouched until 1980. Even so, many parts of it are still easily visible today. Most of the people who have the tramline's roadbed running through their properties are very interested in its historical significance, and have preserved parts of the formation and other artefacts. The interested visitor can still observe cuttings, embankments, and other earthworks from public roads. For those willing to seek landholders' permission to enter their properties, the remains of bridges, box drains and culverts may be found, and numerous sleepers are still in situ, both wooden ones and steel spacers from portable track. Dog spikes, fishplate bolts and other rail fittings are quite common, and the occasional piece of actual rail (often rusted completely through the web) can be found. A metal detector will turn up quantities of such artefacts.
This website is intended to provide interested persons with a description of the Mapleton Tramway in its social, economic and historical contexts, and to offer assistance in finding what artefacts remain.
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