Sunday, 14 September 2008

Heatherlie ghost town

The Mt Difficult Heatherlie “Grampians freestone” sandstone quarry, was established in the early 1860s. Grampians sandstone was noted for its excellent quality and durability. Although one of the strongest freestones in the world, the cost of quarrying and transportation also made it one of the most expensive.

Large quantities of stone were taken from the quarry between 1880 and 1930, demand dropped with the Depression of the 1890s and the quarry closed in 1892/93 after the Public Works contract expired. It was re-opened by a private firm at the turn of the century, and operated spasmodically between 1900 and 1938, and closed again in 1938 due to lack of orders. It finally ceased major operations in 1941 due to the Second World War and the high cost of quarrying. Now part of the Grampians National Park, it can only be used to supply freestone to repair buildings in which the same stone has already been used.

Some of the machinery needed to operate the site is still in place- the furnace and steam chamber, the winch and the four-cylinder steam compression engine.

In 1881/82 a contract was let for the building of a government-financed tramway from Heatherlie to Stawell branch railway (length to be built of 15 miles using 50 lb rails, Victoria Railways laid sidings at the quarry). Stone was moved in blocks weighing up to 11 tons, and carted by tramway to Stawell.

For many years after its construction tourists and day-trippers also used the line. The railway line was closed in 1949 and was dismantled in the following years.

There are a few remnants still visible - raised earth, some of the sleepers and a few rails still in place at the end of the line, plus the remains of a timber trestle bridge at Back Creek off Osleps Track.

Heatherlie stone was used for several local buildings in Stawell, including the Court House (completed in 1872), the Town Hall, the Anglican Church and St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. The stone was also used on the construction of significant public sites in Melbourne – Parliament House, the State Library & Melbourne Town Hall.

During the mid 1880s more than 140 men were employed at one of the quarries living mainly in tents. Many had their wives and children with them and, when the township of Heatherlie was surveyed and a school opened, a few workers built more permanent dwellings of stone offcuts or rough bark.
Only the managers and their families lived in the crude stone miners cottages that still stand close to the quarry.

Heatherlie was surveyed as a township in 1888, but really only existed on the survey map, as the town did not eventuate, some lots were sold but most workers preferred to travel from Stawell.

The only building actually erected was the school, an education department building was relocated from Darra, near Ballan, for the 33 children in the town, and opened on 14th November 1888, but it closed in October1889 due to no children attending. It never re-opened, and the building was removed in 1892.

A small pile of stone in the centre of the photo mark the site of the school

Slowly the township disappeared, now only the sigposts remain.

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