SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future




The river as a highway: Rails to the river

 Goolwa - Port Elliot Railway

The Goolwa-Port Elliot railway was the first railway in South Australia, although it was horse-drawn not steam. It was only seven miles long. The railway was officially finished on 18 May 1854, and in 1864 was extended to Victor Harbor, after it was decided that the Port Elliot anchorage was dangerous. 

The railway was first proposed in 1849 - at that stage either a canal or railway was suggested to carry cargo from the River Murray to ships berthed at Port Elliot, thereby avoiding the treacherous waters at the mouth of the River. Governor Sir Henry Fox Young was a strong advocate of steam navigation on the Murray, and the canal or railway was the logical extension of this. Thomas Lipson, Harbour Master, praised the harbour at Port Elliot, preferring it to Victor Harbor. Businesses in Adelaide and Port Adelaide were strongly against this proposal, believing it would take trade away from them. However, finance was not available and the proposal was shelved for several years and then revived. The successful navigation of the river by William Randell and Francis Cadell in 1853 gave urgency to the project, and despite labour and materials shortages, the line went ahead and was finished in May 1854. Goods from properties along the river could now be off-loaded at Goolwa, transported by rail to Port Elliot, later to Victor Harbor, and shipped to the world.

The Adelaide-Morgan railway line was opened in 1878 but the effects were not immediately evident at the southern end of the river - 28,000 bales of wool were shipped from Goolwa that year. In all during 30 years of operation, the horse tramway carried over 600,000 passengers and some 250,000 tons of goods. It was converted to steam locomotion in 1885.

 Morgan railway

The first steam railway to reach the River Murray in South Australia was an extension of the Kapunda line. The line to Morgan, on the North West Bend was officially opened for traffic on 18 October 1878, having been completed five weeks previously. The wharf was also built at this time- 62 metres long and nine metres above the summer river level, and Morgan became a focal point for river traffic. Railways and the system of locks and weirs ultimately spelt doom for the paddle-steamer traffic.

 First bridge and rail traffic across the river

The first bridge across the Murray was built at Murray Bridge in 1879-this largely replaced a number of ferry and punt crossings further down river, although the Wellington punt still operates. This bridge was initially for road traffic and in 1886 was finally ready to carry the railway line. This extended to the South Australia/Victoria border. The bridge at Murray Bridge had a long genesis, having been proposed in 1864; the bridge spans were ordered from England, and received long before the final decision was made on where to place the bridge.  By the early years of the 20th century road traffic was being delayed for several hours when the bridge was closed to allow trains to cross. A second bridge to carry the railway was proposed, and this was finally opened in November 1925.

 Rails to the Riverland

Meanwhile Loxton began lobbying for a railway in 1910. The wheat harvest always coincided with low water on the river, and thousands of bags of wheat would be stacked up on the wharf awaiting transport to market. The government approved a spur line from Alawoona in 1912, at a cost of £75,000. The first passenger train left Loxton on 3 February 1914, and two days later the wheat harvest began to roll out of the station. Superphosphate was brought in on the return trip.

Other river towns also began to agitate for railway lines: the Paringa station was opened on 13 October 1913. The Waikerie line was completed in December 1914. These were spur lines north from Karoonda. World War I intervened and finally in September 1925 a bridge was approved to cross the river at Renmark. This would include road and rail, and a lifting span for paddle-steamers. The line to Renmark was further extended to Berri, Glossop and Barmera, where the first train arrived on 1 August 1928.

The railways through the Mallee to the river served the region well, but better roads and bigger road transport in turn superseded them.

 Further reading

Linn, Rob. A land abounding: a history of the Port Elliot & Goolwa Region, South Australia, Goolwa, S. Aust.: Alexandrina Council, 2001

Linn, Rob. The river flows: a history of Mannum on the River Murray, Blackwood, S. Aust : Historical Consultants for Mid Murray  Council, 1997

Across the mighty Murray: Murray Bridge, [Murray Bridge, S. Aust.]: Murray Bridge and District Historical Society, 1988

Donovan and Associates. Railway heritage of South Australia: a report commissioned by the National Trust of South Australia, [Adelaide]: Donovan and Associates, 1992

Strempel, AA. 'The first public railway in Australia', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, vol. 55, 1954

Piggott, AO. 'Some notes on the Goolwa to Port Elliot Tramway', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, vol. 47, 1945/46

Links

SteamRanger Enthusiast Website See: Lineside Guides - Goolwa-Victor

[Section of railway line]
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
First Railway Coach, Goolwa
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
First train, Renmark Railway
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Goolwa and Port Elliot horse tram
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Goolwa tramway
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Government stables, Goolwa
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Horse drawn rail-car
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Improvements at Port Elliot, the Goolwa and navigation
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Morgan train 1896
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Paringa Renmark Railway
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Plan of Murray Lands railways [map]
View item details
Add To My SA Memory
Port Elliot and Goolwa railway
View item details
Add To My SA Memory

Items 1 - 12 of 18

Next 6


Navigation

Home

About SA Memory

Explore SA Memory

SA Memory Themes

Search

My SA Memory

Learning

What's on

Contributors