Snippets of History: the Mordialloc Frankston Railway

Railway bridge over Mordialloc Creek from Point Nepean Road.

Members of the Chelsea Historical Society dressed in the spirit of 1882 cheer the arrival of the centenary train at Carrum Railway Station. 1982 Courtesy the Leader Collection, City of Kingston

The first survey of the railway between Mordialloc and Frankston was to be made through the property of Cr Hugh Brown, whose farm, ‘Pine Vale’ was in the vicinity of the present Mordialloc-Chelsea High school, and across the Carrum Swamp to what is now Seaford. Hugh Brown considered this would have caused depreciation to property and take people away from the beach, with the visitors having to climb a stiff incline to reach the beach.

The Railways Department then asked permission of local residents to take the railway through the centre of the three chain wide Long Beach Road and promised to supply the metal for the inland road (Station Street), when it is made. Local residents agreed to the change in plan and the survey went ahead. When the inland road was made, many years later the Railways Department was reminded of the offer by Cr N A McLeod of the Dandenong Shire Council who represented the South Riding, from around 1910. So the metal was supplied and carted free of charge by the railways.

The survey for Contact No 1377, shows several strange markers, such as ‘Big Gum’, ‘Broken Hedge’, ‘Peppermint’, and ‘Honeysuckle’, but the strangest survey marker of all was ‘the Door Sill’ of Bloxsidge’s Hotel. The only stopping place between Mordialloc and Frankston is clearly shown on the survey plan and marked ‘Station Ground’, it was named Carrum. At that time, the whole area between the Mordialloc Creek and the present Eel Race Road was known as Carrum, or Carrum Swamp.

Bridge Hotel Mordialloc. Courtesy: Mordialloc and District Historical Society

The ‘Patterson Cut’, later to be known as the Patterson River was built in 1879 to help drain the swamp. As late as November 1881, suggestions were put to Parliament that the canal should be filled in and the water diverted back to the Kananook creek. One correspondent in the ‘Dandenong Advertiser’ was of the opinion that … ‘no bridge would ever stand across it as the piles will never touch clay’. He suggested that the main reason for the Patterson River was ‘ … the creation of another Mordialloc.’

Steam train crossing on the Patterson River bridge with road bridge to right.
Courtesy: Chelsea and District Historical Society

Carrum station, originally a flag station, was built between the Patterson River and the ‘Half Way House’ – a small inn on the site of the present Riviera Hotel. The pre-emptive rights were held by James McMahon, who had the squatting rights for the ‘Nine Mile Beach Run’ from 1846 to 1853. His squatting station stretched between the Mordialloc and Kananook creeks, McMahon also owned land at Frankston, from where McMahon’s Road got its name.

The bridge over the Patterson Cut, on the Point Nepean Road was erected in 1879, with Mrs Lyster from the Bridge Hotel driving the first pile. Mrs Lyster names it ‘The Powis Sandy Bridge’, the bridge having been built by Henry Powis of Dandenong, who had also cut the canal through to the sea. Severe storm damage in October the same year required the bridge to be extended 40 feet, (approx. 13 metres) each side. The devastating floods of September 1880 completely washed the whole bridge away. It was replaced by three pontoons until the new road bridge was built along with the railway bridge in 1882.

The Carrum stopping place was a flag station for some years, the Post Office was situated on the station from 1886, the first store in the area not being built until 1900. Miss Thorley Grace Dean, was the station mistress from 1895 until she married a Wells Road farmer, Mr George Guinn in 1897. The wage paid to Miss Dean for her station duties was 2/6d (25c) per day, made up of 1/6d (15c) from the railways and 1/- from the PMG.

The first edition of the Moorabbin News on 7 April 1900 made the following references regarding the Carrum station, ‘The Railway station, instead of being a place where there was no traffic, with a lady in charge, has now a fully fledged stationmaster and porter and is the centre of activity, and a few stations along the line do more business’.

The paper also reported: ‘The nucleus of a township is already in existence, a General Store in full swing under the proprietorship of Mr H Rigby, where everyones’ wants are supplied and in a few days’ time a Butcher shop will open for business and other shops are to be erected at once’. Sometime during the late 1870s Mr J R Crooke of Bacchus Marsh, bought land on the Carrum Swamp for use as a training track and named it ‘Aspendale Park’, after the mare ‘Aspen’, who had won two Newmarket Handicaps.

Top jockeys helped Mr Crooke lay out the track for racing, they were Mick O’Brien and Bob Ramage, both jockeys were associated with the champion racehorse Carbine. O’Brien rode Carbine into second place in the Melbourne Cup of 1890, while Ramage who replaced O’Brien, who was ill during 1890, rode the champion to victory in the Melbourne Cup of that year.

The Aspendale Park racecourse was allotted twelve meetings during 1891 and the station was opened in time for the meeting on 23 June 1891. The platform was a light wooden structure and the horses had to be unloaded at Mordialloc until a more substantial platform was build in April 1893. The station became a flag station during 1894 and a normal stopping place during the financial year ending 30 June 1897. It was named Aspendale on 1 August 1905. During Christmas 1921, there was a staff of twenty six employed at the station including a stationmaster and an assistant station master. Mr Crooke who owned the racecourse became a pioneer motoring enthusiast and the first ‘Automobile Club of Victoria’, (later the RACV) rally, was held at the course. Although the Aspendale racecourse was closed for horse racing from 1931, it remained a motor car and motor bike racing track until World War 2.

Aspendale Racecourse and the RACV Club Car Rally 1904. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

Under the terms of the contract, the line from Mordialloc to Frankston was to be completed by 31 January 1882, however, the Railways Department withdrew the plans of bridges over the Mordialloc creek, Carrum Outlet and Kananook Creek and alternate plans were not supplied until December 1881. The height of the three bridges was increased from 80 feet to 735 feet. All three were reduced in length in later years when it was found the extra flood opening were unnecessary. This work, together with the late supply of rails by the Railways department and the rejection of ballast for the track, were the principal reasons for the delay in completing the line to Frankston.

A dispute arose over the quality of the ballast supplied on the Caulfield-Mordialloc section and the contractors were not paid for the material supplied, they stopped work during March 1882 until the matter was resolved.

Railway Bridge crossing Mordialloc Creek 1934. Courtesy: Mordialloc and District Historical Society

A Parliamentary select Committee inquiry set up to probe the ballast question, found that Thomas Bent’s wife owned a paddock in East Brighton that was used for supplying railway ballast of a different quality to that stipulated in the contract and objected to by William Elsdon, , Engineer-in-Chief for railway construction. During the laying of rails near Mordialloc Creek Bridge on 9 March 1882, a wagon used by the contractors was derailed after hitting a stack of sleepers. A labourer, Thomas Homes, was seriously injured and was taken on the ballast engine to South Brighton (Moorabbin) and transferred to the Alfred Hospital where he was dead on arrival.

There was natural elation at Frankston, when, at last the date of the opening of the railway was fixed at 1 August 1882, but disappointment for some people who had worked hard in the past, for the formation of the railway to Frankston. They were not, according to the South Bourke and Mornington Journal, as being, ‘rather sat on and left out in the cold’, their places being taken by ‘more recent arrivals to the district’. As one reported wrote: ‘I suppose they will have to pay up their guinea and pocket their feelings’.

At last the big day arrived on 31 July 1882, when members of the Ministry and a number of visitors left Princes Bridge station at 11.40 am. To travel on a special train to Frankston with the official opening of the regular service being scheduled for the next day, Tuesday 1 August 1882. The pleasant 90 minutes trip down gave the visitors a new view of the Long beach before turning more inland towards Frankston. One reporter was adamant that the Carrum Carrum station, as it was called in some official documents, had not been built in time for the opening – the platform was there but had no buildings erected.

The Frankston station building had been constructed by Mr D Spence, the contract being let on 24 February 1882. Like several of the stations along the line, Frankston was decorated with bunting. At Mordialloc, the local school children lined the station and sang the National Anthem, the official party, headed by the Minister for Railways, Mr Bent, remained there for some time before the train once again headed for its Frankston destination.

After arriving at Frankston the visitors were escorted by Cr Lancashire, President of the Mornington Shire Council, to the Pier Hotel, where 200 people enjoyed the banquet laid out in the marquee erected at the rear of the hotel. Mark Young, who had moved from Carrum to the hotel in 1875 was a committee member of the Mornington railway League, formed in 1877 to work for the railway from Melbourne. The original route being sought, through Prahran, Brighton and Mordialloc.

Mark Young’s Pier Hotel Frankston c1888. Courtesy Kingston Collection, City of Kingston

Mark Young was given the honour of receiving the first goods freight sent down to Frankston by train. Like several other business men in the town, Mark could see how the rail could benefit the town and added 9 rooms to make a total of 22 rooms at the hotel. In the march of progress, an ancient gum in the garden of the hotel was felled; the old tree had been the scene of many Aboriginal corroborees and was known in the district the ‘Korroboree Tree’. The banquet was a great success with host Young being highly praised. Several toasts were proposed and they included, ‘the Ministry and Mr Bent’.

Mr Bent, in reply told of his 30 years association with the district, the improvements expected to take place because of the new line and predicted that the ‘Iron Horse’ would go further. He told that two trains would be leaving Frankston for Melbourne from Monday to Friday at 7.17am and 3.55 pm and from Melbourne at 9.07 am and 5,27 pm, there would also be trains on Saturdays but not on Sundays. Frankston would have to wait another six years before the first Sunday train on 3 March 1888.

It was announced at the banquet that the next station to open on the line would be Kananook, - it opened 93 years later. A very popular toast was proposed by Dr John Madden, to ‘Frankston Rail’. Dr Madden was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1893, later he became the acting Governor of Victoria and took a great interest in Frankston where he owned ‘Yamala’, a property still standing over Oliver’s Hill. To complete the celebrations, a well-attended ball was held at the Mechanics’ Institute with the proceeds going towards the Institute itself.

The agricultural farming business of Birchnell Bros was established in Melbourne during 1888, with John Porter joining the firm in 1890. They bought and sub-divided blocks of land in the Carrum district and controlled most of the land in the swamp land and beach area. Before the Chelsea railway station was opened in 1907, local farmers and other land owners received letters from Birchnell Bros & Porter telling of the need for a station between Aspendale and Carrum, which the Railways department was willing to build if residents contributed towards the costs.

Chelsea Railway Station c1910. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society

A letter at the Chelsea Historical Society museum addressed to Mr William Black, told that his contribution was to be ten pounds, ($20.00). The letter was dated 11 June 1906 and the station was opened on 4 February 1907. Lawrence Birchnell was paid the honour of naming Chelsea railway station in recognition of the real estate firm he represented and its enterprise in developing the area. However, Mrs Bertha Armstrong (nee Black), a pioneer in the district, was of the opinion that the station was named after her mother’s birth place, Chelsea, England.

Chelsea’s first porter was a young Jack McCarthy, who was in charge of the station in the summer of 1908. Before his death in 1980 at the age of 90, he well remembered Birchnell Bros & Porter and their marquee opposite the station near The Strand, where, in addition to land sale transactions, parties and entertainments around the piano, were regular occurrences during the summer holiday period.

The next station to be opened between Mordialloc and Frankston was Seaford on 1 December 1913 followed by Edithvale on 20 September 1919 and Bonbeach on 15 February 1926. Edith Vale was the name of a farmer’s wife living on Edithvale Road, while Bonbeach was situated near the Bondi Road Estate. Local residents wanted the name of Bondi, but the Railways Department settled on Bonbeach because of Bondi, NSW.

Further north, the McKinnon station had been opened way back in 1884 at first, with the name of McKinnon Road, whilst Parkdale, named after Mordialloc district pioneer landowner, J S Parker, was built in 1919. In later years, two stations have been added, Patterson on 28 May 1961 and Kananook on 8 September 1975.

Hundreds of tons of sand was removed from sand pits between Chelsea and Frankston in an industry with a total lifetime of over sixty years.

25 August 2017
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