It took nearly a decade to recover from the Great Depression of the 1890s. Most miners and their families left Dulverton in search of work elsewhere. The state school closed, but locals paid Miss McKenna to open a private school (1898–1900). After that some 20 children were conveyed by horse and trap to Railton until a newly built school opened at Dulverton in 1914. Local farmers and sawmillers struggled to survive until tentative steps were taken to restart old industries and commence new ones.
Brickworks & Pottery
In 1897 John & Elizabeth McHugh (9 chn) moved to Dulverton to revive the brickworks and pottery works started by John’s father. When a bushfire threatened to destroy the Dulverton township, it was only saved by the heroic efforts of John McHugh & his employees. In Nov 1920, F H Haines moved their Devonport brickworks to a new 100-acre site near Dulverton, where one of the largest clay deposits in Tasmania existed. Its two huge brick kilns, with their massively tall chimneys, could make 10,000 bricks a day. These were loaded directly into railway trucks parked at Haines Siding. In 1954, Luck Bros bought Haines’ business, added another brick kiln, and opened a second clay pit across the railway line, now the location of Devonport’s Waste Management Authority.
The brickworks were sold again in 1969 to Frank Zolati. Born in Italy, Frank (14) arrived in Tasmania with his parents in Jan 1950. Frank’s father Peter had been here before as an Italian POW working in Spreyton’s apple orchards. Peter came to love the NW coast so much that some years after the War, he returned to Devonport with his family. Employing 15 people, Zolati’s brickworks turned out 70,000 bricks a week. After their son Adrian became a potter, in 1986 Frank & Pamela Zolati opened part of their works as an art pottery studio, where up to 12 potters displayed and sold their creations. Zolati’s finally closed in 1991, and now the awesome site is concealed behind pine plantation and firmly locked gates. Today the Dulverton Waste Management & Recycling Centre is accessed via Dawsons Siding Rd, where it produces compost and recycles a variety of things.
Shale Oil Industry
Besides coal, resinous oil shale was found to exist in the region north of the Great Bend, at China Flats and Native Plains. In early times, these two different minerals were referred to as black coal and yellow coal. Over time, resinous oil shale became called dysodile which could produce about 30 gallons of crude oil per ton. When refined, it could become petrol, kerosene, diesel, tractor oil, spray oils, or bitumen. Many attempts to commence a shale oil industry were made, the first in 1901 in the vicinity of the Great Bend of the Mersey River. After the Goliath Cement Works was established, they opened two mines – the Tasmanite & the Goliath, both on the eastern side of the Mersey River just north of the Big Bend and worked them until the mid-1930s.
Restarting Dulverton coal mines
In 1897, ambitious young Yorkshireman Joseph Featherstone Ockerby purchased the defunct Dulverton colliery left vacant by the sudden demise of Henry Law & Co six years earlier. Joseph had become a partner in the Launceston firm of Cocker & Ockerby ship-owners and import/export agents, who also dabbled in mining investments. It was a big year for Joseph Ockerby as he also married Mary Hinkel and became superintendent of Launceston’s Paterson St Methodist Sunday school, a position he held for 50 years. In 1898 Joseph formed Ockerby & Co, employing Denis Mahoney as his mine manager. When Denis opened a second tunnel, tragedy struck on Tues 5 May 1903. A large lump of coal weighing about ¾ of a ton fell on the head of young Edgar Shepheard (17), smashing his skull. He died within two hours, without speaking a word. Evidence given by workmates Nat Shepheard (25) and Henry Allford (25) resulted in a verdict of accidental death. By 1907 Ockerby wanted out and advertised the entire colliery for sale in September without success. In June 1909 he sold all the buildings & houses individually for removal. Joseph Ockerby became one of Tasmania’s most colourful civic and political leaders, serving 28 years on the Launceston Council, including two terms as Mayor and 18 years in State Parliament.
At the end of the century, another Yorkshire miner Thomas & Maria Teasdale (6 chn) came to Dulverton to reopen another Dulverton coal mine. However, in 1902 he and his grown boys found a more promising lode on Wm & Nora Hubbard’s farm. They formed a coal company and during 1905 shipped off 124 tons of coal. But shortly afterwards, their narrow vein of coal suddenly ended, being completely cut by a strata fault.
All these mines were accessed from Youngman Rd, named after James & Theresa Youngman (3 chn), who settled near Dulverton in 1903. Well up Youngman’s Rd, Dally Rd branched off and led to Brown Mountain (now Bonney’s Tier). Here John Dally owned several blocks where he built the largest limekiln in the state. James Blenkhorn also owned a farm here where he built one of his first sawmills, but in 1905 both house and sawmill were gutted by fire.
After 1923, when the Cement Works first commenced regular employment, some Dulverton residents took up the offer and moved their houses into Railton. On15 Mar 1926 Dulverton State School was totally destroyed by fire. The teacher Miss Hansen declared that when she left on Friday afternoon everything was all right. As the fire started about 8pm Saturday night in its front porch, police concluded it was deliberately lit.
The founder of the Railton lime-works Amos Langmaid’s story has already been told. His enthusiastic successors, James Blenkhorn’s family, ran it from 1885 till 1996, making it the longest continually operating lime-works in Australia. James Blenkhorn arrived in Railton only days after the completed Launceston-Devonport railway line opened on 30 May 1885. This was the decisive factor in his purchase of the lime-works, for James immediately began to market his limestone by rail all over Tasmania, advertising it as ‘the new manure for farmers.’ Those who tried it gained great results.
Like Langmaid, Blenkhorn had learnt lime-burning in his youth and knew how beneficial it was for farming. Born in Westmoreland, England in 1857, James Blenkhorn (24) arrived in Tasmania in 1881. An ambitious young man, he went into business in Launceston as a sales-agent and began investing in local gold mines. On 10 Oct 1882 he married Kathryn (Kate) Kidd, assistant musician & violinist at Chalmers Church, Launceston. James became a prominent member of the YMCA, Temperance movement, and the British & Foreign Bible Soc. At the Railton lime-works, they built their home Kalcaria where they raised the following 5 sons & 1 daughter: 1884 James Samuel, 1886 Wm Russell, 1888 Ales Robert, 1890 Mary Agnes, 1892 John Gowith & 1897 Victor Allen who died aged 9. The Blenkhorn family immediately linked up with recently opened Wesleyan church at Redwater Creek, where James became a church warden and Kate the church organist for 50 years and SS teacher for half that time. Two years after their arrival, Blenkhorn diversified into sawmilling and experimented with brickmaking. In 1889 James & Kate made the first of three visits back to the UK. James purchased Langmaid’s farm which they called Blenkhorns’ Run in 1893, now part of the Cement Works, and became secretary of the local branch of the Board of Agriculture. As a gesture of goodwill, on 27 June 1902 James planted several English trees: two each at the Anglican Church, Wesleyan Church, and local State School.
James Blenkhorn had an interest in the fossils he found in his lime kilns. In March 1908, 15ft below the surface, they found a complete set of animal teeth. After examining them, the curator of the Launceston Museum concluded they were the teeth of a wombat probably over 4,000 years old. In 1910 the Blenkhorns returned to England trying to float a cement company at Railton but were unsuccessful. In 1915 the lime-works was taken over by son Alex Blenkhorn, and the sawmills by sons Wm & Gowith. Over the next 125 years, Blenkhorn descendants had 10 different sawmills in places including Dulverton, Railton, Merseylea, Kimberley, Beulah & Wilmot. In 1926 the family moved into town, where James built a new house for his wife. He also built a 3-storey English manor as a tourist attraction. Called the Prince’s Café, it had a ball room, big waterwheel in Redwater Creek, plus a bridge and lighthouse. It was used for social events, including wedding receptions. Kate (87) d. Oct 1940, James (88) d. Jan 1946. In his will, James left £1000 towards building the ‘Bible House’ in Brisbane St, Launceston. The café was gutted by fire on 5 Nov 2003.
Railton Cement Works
A hundred years ago, a successful cement works needed lots of limestone, good quality clay, and coal to fire-power production. Railton had all three. The Tasmanian Cement Co was formed in 1923, and three years later was working at maximum capacity, producing 25,000 tons a year, supplying not only Tasmania, but most mainland states. In 1929 it became the Goliath Portland Cement Co, increasing its annual output through the 1930s & 1940s to 100,000 tons a year. Among the men who helped pioneer this bold venture were industrialists Sir John Ramsay, Lawrence Ennis, and Stanley Purves.
Following WW2 and the construction of our Hydro dams, Goliath was again forced to greatly expand its capacity, as well as commence manufacturing a variety of new building products. Between 1947–1951, Goliath undertook an ambitious housing project: building scores of new houses for its rapidly-expanding workforce. Between Railton and the Cement Works, a new subdivision was created comprising Ennis Ave, Ramsay St & Giblin St surrounding a central recreational area known as Goliath Park.
In 1966 a long-term contract with Australia’s largest ready-mix contractor Ready Mix Concrete led to an $8m expansion involving huge new kilns, lifting production to 500,000 tons a year. The following year, the first cement silo was constructed on the Devonport wharf, holding 3000 tonnes with the first bulk shipment departing on 7 Jul 1867. The company’s second purpose-built 15,000 tonne vessel Goliath commenced in 1978 with more silos added at the wharf. In 1972 they acquired Besser Tasmania and entered the concrete brick market. In 1989 Goliath Portland became Australian Cement Holdings and in 2003 Cement Australia, one of the largest cement works in the nation. Today it produces 1,000,000 tonnes of cement a year. Like a human heart, it not only keeps Railton alive but throbs life-blood into our entire State. As far as big corporate investors in Railton’s future, after the two dismal failures of ‘The Mersey-Deloraine Railway Co’ in 1872 and ‘Henry Law & Co‘ in 1891, the commencement of The Tasmanian Cement Co in 1923 was not only a case of third time lucky, but its impact over almost a century has been so astronomical that it is impossible to adequately state in this brief review.
With the establishment of the Cement Works, the demand for coal so increased that many small mines across the Dulverton-Newbed coal field were kept busy for decades. Around 1930, 25 small mines were operating in the surrounding area, employing about 100 men. The three small mines near Dawsons Siding were the Star (1931-32); McCreghan and Sons (1937-38); and Sheehans (1938). Near Dulverton there were Mahoneys, Hanson & Sampson, Shepperd, and O’Neil Snr. At Newbed they included: Dulverton (1931-1939); Lucky Hit (1931-1938); Hard-to-Get (1931-1937); Esk Bank (1931-1938); Black Beauty (1933-1944); Last Chance (1931-1933); Star (1934-1937); Dulverton Tribute (1933-1934); Bricklayers (1935-1936); and Shepheard and Party (1938). By 1935 there were still 50 coal miners employed, with the last mine to close being The Black Beauty in 1944.
Newbed District consists of about four-square miles (over 1000 hectares) of raised plateau country on top of a short sharp hill that rises behind Railton and extends back towards the Badgers. Newbed Road itself acts as the boundary around this gigantic square, starting at Goliath Park and ending back down the hill at the Railton School. Most of the old Newbed mines were located off the north-west corner of Newbed Rd, now behind locked gates. Some original farm selections were on inferior ground, and, today, covered by pine plantations. Two properties down off the plateau that changed hands in the early 1900s, where Winter’s original sawmill stood, were bought by Richard & Mary Bannon (3 chn) and Wm & Emily Lockett (12 chn). In 1905 Newbed formed their own cricket club, but, the following year, secretary Henry Castles announced their club would unite with the Railton Club.
When the Railton School was built in 1885, it was designed to serve the two communities of Newbed and Sunnyside. Both districts were located on the tops of very steep hills. At the time, parents voiced their fears that their children would be so fatigued walking miles up steep hills to their homes that they would become unfit for their studies. The reply scotched that idea by stating: The walk uphill to their homes will not hurt these children. It will only expand their chests, strengthen the muscular power of the heart, and give them the vigour and suppleness that is the heritage of mountaineers. Now that Railton’s new centre of Wild Mersey Mountain Bike Trails operates across Newbed’s undulating forestry plantations with so many potential dangers, I suppose the same argument of developing ‘super-fitness’ applies to all our present-day bike-riding enthusiasts.