Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dunkeld Railway Station: A Brief History

Before embarking on my ambitious plan to transform Dunkeld's disused railway station into a vibrant contemporary art space, I wanted to find out as much as I could about the site's history.

Growing up in Dunkeld in the 1980's meant that my own memories of the building are fairly sketchy. After 1981 there were no more passenger services running from Dunkeld Station, so if you wanted to travel by public transport to Melbourne you had to catch the V-Line bus which would pause outside the station building. This was my only real connection with the building.

In an attempt to gather further information about the building I visited the Dunkeld Museum. Thanks to the enthusiasm of passionate historian, and local identity, Joy Clarke (as well as the recollections from numerous other locals) I was able to begin to appreciate just how important the station was to the town.

At one time the station employed nearly half a dozen people many of whom lived in the various railway buildings which used to dot the surrounding area. All manner of goods were transported on railway trucks, including livestock, sandstone, wool bales and in the early 1930s even swaggies.

Many Dunkeld residents recall catching the train or greeting people at the station. To many the Dunkeld station was their last glimpse of home before being whisked away to boarding school or the war.

In the early 1990s there were plans to turn the derelict building into a space for the local youth group. Most of the internal fittings, including various dividing walls, were removed and the wooden floor was replaced with concrete. A large section of wall was rendered in preparation for re-plastering.

Once the youth group (which I don't believe ever formally used the building) folded the old station was forgotten by many. I believe at one time there was a plan to turn the building into a restaurant- but again nothing eventuated.

In 1999, the Kennett Government undertook a plan to privatise the regional rail network. Pacific National was given a 45-year lease over the state's freight rail network. Unfortunately this meant there was little incentive to properly maintain either the track or the railway infrastructure.

I first contacted the Real Estate agent responsible for the building and surrounding lands in late 2005. I was subsequently contacted by the VicTrack property department who advised me that Pacific National was still negotiating the release of a number of sites back to VicTrack control. The disused Dunkeld Station being one of them.

In May, 2007, Victorian Public Transport Minister, Lynne Kosky, announced that as part of a $133.8 million buyback, about 350 Pacific National staff were transferred to V/Line and the regional rail network was back in public hands.

By late 2007, after months of lobbying, I was able to temporarly use the station building and surrounds for the purpose of a one off exhibition. Thanks to the assistance of V/Line's Community Relations Manager I was finally able to begin to transform the area into an exciting arts hub that I hoped would stir up some local interest.
The single rail line which still runs through Dunkeld, in an East/West direction, is still used by goods trains, though increasingly infrequently. With increasing petrol prices and the ever present need to transport large amounts of goods vast distances across the country it seems a shame that Victoria's regional rail network is not greater utilised.

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