|Historical notes: ||Gunnedah railway precinct is located on the Mungindi line, branching from the Great Northern Railway (Main North line) at the major rail centre of Werris Creek, and heading north to the remote town of Mungindi, on the Queensland border. Today the line is utilised for almost its entire length for grain transport, and for coal from the Preston and Gunnedah collieries (nswrail.net).
Gunnedah is located in the east of the region of the Darling Plains. John Oxley discovered the Darling Plains region in the 1820s with most of the country subdivided into large runs by the mid-19th century. The region was used predominantly by pastoralists for cattle and sheep grazing, although the 20th century saw sheep and wheat farming dominate the region. Apart from pastoralism, mining has been important for the growth and prosperity of Gunnedah. Coal was discovered on Black Jack Hill in 1877. By 1891, 6,000 tons of coal had been raised from shafts. The Gunnedah Colliery Company was registered in May 1899 (G. Eardley; 1977)
In April 1873 John Sutherland, the Minister for Public Works, set out a policy to complete the main trunk railways prior to the construction of any branch lines. By 1877 this policy was overthrown by pastoral interests when, in response to behind-the-scenes lobbying by Thomas G Dangar, the powerful MP for Gwyder, the NSW Parliament voted for a branch line to head off to Gunnedah before the Great Northern Line reached Tamworth. The move laid the foundations for the era of ‘railway mania’ between 1877 and 1887 when railway leagues were established in towns and villages across the inland to lobby for branch lines to serve their era. In the five years from December 1879, the NSW railway network increased 136 per cent, dubbing the period as the ‘Great Railway Years’ (Forsyth, 2009).
The single line from Breeza to Gunnedah opened on 11 September 1879, with the station opening for service on the same day. The construction contract for the Werris Creek to Gunnedah section was awarded to William Watkins on 25 September 1877 (Forsyth, 2009).
Tenders for the construction of the Gunnedah station buildings, platform, carriage docks, station master’s residence, goods warehouse and cattle yards was contracted to A H Scouller in 1878. A local builder, Joseph Conlon, later erected the engine shed in 1879 (Weir and Phillips, 2003).
The original passenger station building was a typical Whitton building, identical to the one built at Breeza (now demolished). The financial concerns experienced by John Whitton during this period are reflected in the size of the building, which at just 71 feet in length was considered extremely small, even for a regional station. Financial constraints were also evident in the lack of ornamentation around windows and doors, and the absence of finials (a common 19th century decorative feature). A further indicator that the first Gunnedah station building stood at the bottom of Whitton’s design hierarchy of passenger stations lies in the absence of rear access points, and the lack of heating provided in the open waiting room (Weir and Phillips, 2003).
In September 1915 the original station building was replaced with a much larger structure. At the same time, the platform was enlarged, as was the locomotive water supply capacity. The new station building featured an elaborate cantilevered awning, enlarged detached toilet facilities, a new ladies waiting room, general waiting room, booking and parcels offices, and a station master’s office at the western end of the building. Evidence suggests that Gunnedah’s continued economic and social growth in the 40 years since the stations opening necessitated the replacement of the original station building, with the town’s population and the exportation of wheat and coal rapidly expanding. By 1955 the station precinct included a wheat depot, with an additional depot constructed in 1966 to meet the demands of this fast growing local industry (Weir and Phillips, 2003).
In 1990 the restructure of passenger services in the North West saw to the implementation of CountryLink coach services to replace rail at Gunnedah and other locations, which remained in placed for over three years. In November 1993 passenger trains returned to Gunnedah in the form of a daily ‘Xplorer’ service to and from Sydney. Despite the demise of regular passenger services, railway transportation of coal and wheat still remain crucial industries upon which the Gunnedah economy is largely reliant on (Weir and Phillips, 2003).