Next time you’re near Tamworth, NSW, be sure to visit historic Werris Creek. Steeped in railway history, Werris Creek is also celebrated as our first railway town and is home to the unique Australian Railway Monument: a moving landscaped architectural memorial to those who died in the the service of Australia’s railways.
According to Wikipedia, European settlers arrived in this part of the Liverpool Plains area in the 1830s and Weia Weia Creek Station was established by the Reverend Francis Vidal around 1841. By the 1870s there were 20 pastoral families occupying the valley and on the eastern side of the present townsite was Summer Hill station, belonging to John Single, after who the main street is now named.
Geographically, Werris Creek is overlooked by the 380-metre tall Mount Terrible; known to locals as Terrible Billy. For the record books, on 18 July 1965 Werris Creek was blanketed by three inches of snow for the first – and only – time in recorded history.
History on Track
Werris Creek is 411 km north west from Sydney by rail. The town exists because of an 1877 act of Parliament to build a branch line from the then Great Northern Railway, west, to Gunnadah and beyond.
January 1st 1878 saw the opening of the Werris Creek post office and between 1878 and 1880 the first railway station opened, although it was relocated to its current position within a year or two. The existing railway station is the third largest in NSW and opened in 1885. Now heritage listed, it was designed by a remarkable but largely forgotten champion of our early railway system: John Whitton.
Whitton, a Yorkshireman, is considered the Father of NSW Railways and served as its engineer-in-charge between 1856 and 1899. Responsible for the construction of nearly 3500 km of new lines in NSW and Victoria, he was also the man behind the famous Zig-Zag railway in the Blue Mountains near Lithgow.
An interesting design feature of Werris Creek station – which is still in use – is its triangular shape. The platforms are built inside the ‘V’ shape formed by the separation of the two lines, making transfer between trains a matter of strolling across the platform.
In it’s heyday Werris Creek station was a hive of activity. Trains rumbled through at all hours and the Railway Refreshment Room provided meals and accommodation to hungry and tired travellers around the clock. These days a solitary CountryLink Xplorer train arrives and is divided at 3:34 every afternoon, with one part heading west to Moree and the other north to Armidale. Every morning at 11:29 the two halves rejoin and travel back to Sydney.
The township of Werris Creek, which is primarily a long strip on the eastern side of the railway line, sprung up because of all the railway activity. Even today the town is home to a major locomotive service centre and those thin steel tracks are the spine that binds the local community together.
Although Werris Creek is still a working station it also houses the Rail Journeys Museum, which apparently is highly regarded and opens between 10 am and 4 pm daily. Unfortunately, I passed through too early and couldn’t linger, so don’t make the same mistake!
Beautifully designed in the classic Victorian style, the station – with its magnificent brickwork, ornate columns and wide, shady platforms – is a reminder of an age when style and substance were a matter of course for all our public buildings. As mentioned earlier, Werris Creek is the third largest railway station in NSW and a source of great pride for all locals.
The Australian Railway Monument, adjacent to the northern end of the station, is far from the dreary, monolithic edifice its name suggests.
Opened in 2005 as a tribute to the more than 2000 rail workers who have died in the ‘line’ of service since trains first began operating in Australia, it’s a multi-million dollar project that incorporates much poignant symbolism.
Built amphitheater-style, the central area is criss-crossed with paths representing the three railway lines branching out from Werris Creek : Northern, Southern and Western. Each disappears into a ‘cutting’, on which, in year order, are listed the names and occupations of those remembered.
Towering 3.5-metre abstract sculptures of railway workers on-the-job stand silently by; watching over visitors and guarding the memories of the fallen.
Quietly moving yet far from sombre of morose, the Australian Railway Monument is respectful and involving, inviting exploration and invoking introspection as you ponder the efforts and sacrifices made to build and maintain our national railway system.
Werris Creek township is fairly unremarkable, although the railway theme is nicely carried over into things like street signs. There is no caravan park, nor any close by, but Camps Australia Wide lists the Laura Byrne Park rest area at Currabubula, about 14 km north of town on the Werris Creek Rd from Tamworth. From memory, Currabubula is quite a pretty little village and well worth a stopover in its own right. To find out more about the Liverpool Plains region visit http://www.visitquirindi.com.au, or www.visitnsw.com for information on any part of New South Wales.
Find Werris Creek Here on Google Maps!
For the full article, with photos, download Issue 14 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking on the link below.