When Barb Ross showed me the Holbrook Submarine Museum I thought my day out was complete, but there was more to come: I might have found the submarine – indeed, I could hardly have missed it if I’d been driving the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne – but I’d never have stumbled on the places Barb showed me.
There’s no substitute for exploring a district with someone who’s spent decades of their lives there.
Barb pointed me towards a couple of tall grain silos, which mark the vestigial remains of Holbrook’s railway station, which opened in 1902 and closed in 1975: http://www.nswrail.net/lines/show.php?name=NSW:holbrook. When Barb and her husband Malcolm first farmed here their grain was dispatched by rail; now it goes by road.
We followed the valley westwards, repeatedly crossing the old railway line, on which the track remains intact. It seems that in Australia abandoned railways are literally abandoned; in Britain the track and infrastructure were most often ripped up for scrap.
We couldn’t find the little wooden church which had been repainted specially for Barb’s friend’s daughter’s wedding. It seems someone has removed it.
The Round Hill Hotel [http://www.roundhillhotel.com.au/default.aspx] was closed: from the 1860s there was a Cobb & Co staging post – the Australian equivalent of Wells Fargo – but the origin of the pub is lost in mists of early New South Wales history.
This was the site of the first of a series of murders by the bushranger Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan (1830-1865): the memorial to his victim, John McLean (d 1864), is beside the road some distance from the Round Hill homestead.
We followed the branch railway all the way to the junction, Culcairn, which proved to be a historical gem. I’d travelled along the North East railway line twice and so passed through Culcairn, which was once a significant stopping-place. It was the junction for Holbrook and for Corowa (opened 1892), another derelict but intact line which also closed in 1975: http://www.nswrail.net/lines/show.php?name=NSW:corowa.
Culcairn railway station (1880) retains a single platform and its wooden buildings, including the stationmaster’s house (c1883) which is restored as a museum: http://culcairn.nsw.au/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=6DkAYiUTKBQ%3d&tabid=516. Across the road is the former branch of the London Bank of Australia. Later in my tour I met a lady who was the daughter of the branch manager and grew up in Culcairn: she recalled being kept awake at night by the noise of shunting trains, and travelling by rail to boarding school in Sydney.
The Germanic origins of the local community are apparent on Railway Parade in the substantial brick terrace of shops, Scholz’s Buildings (1908), and the Culcairn Hotel (1891, extended 1910): http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/albury-area/culcairn/attractions/culcairn-hotel. We looked inside the hotel, and I marvelled at the elegant leaded-light windows which looked something between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
None of this I would ever have found but for the privilege of being hosted by somebody who knew the place like the back of her hand.