A project from the National Trust of WA
A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.
“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert”
Setting off on the 17 hour journey by train to Southern Cross in early 1895 (as far east as the line went at the time), prospector John Aspinall wrote in his diary
Great crowds of men go away every day in the trains enroute for Coolgardie, whilst in the returning trains are several who have just come down, as can be seen by the red dust on their boots and clothes.
He reached Northam in the evening and had an hour to get a feed of mighty tough chops, sausages and hash. He would not have changed carriages at this Gold Boom architectural gem – it is a 1901 replacement – that made a political statement: the train to the Eastern Goldfields leaves from Northam.
The people of York, from where the government built the main road to the goldfields, have never forgotten this slight. Why was Northam, rather than York, chosen as the point of departure for the Goldfields railway? Was it because the Member for York was the leader of the opposition in Parliament and Premier John Forrest may have seen little need to reward his electors? Or perhaps it was because Forrest was anxious to promote Fremantle as the colony’s major port? York was closer to Albany. If the line ran from York, goods and traffic might flow through Albany rather than Fremantle.
The government’s decision was to have far-reaching implications for the town.
In 1897 the Northam railway yards and workshops were reconstructed and expanded. Over 200 men were employed on the railways, adding £400 per week in wages to the town’s economy. By 1901 the number of railway workers had increased to 400. At its peak, the railways employed almost 1 200 people in the Northam district. The other big employer in Northam was the goldfields water supply.
Sadly, the York / Northam rivalry was matched by Northam’s own East / West rivalry and this magnificent building fell into disuse. When the new railway line to the Goldfields was extended from the Northam Station through the town and towards Grass Valley, a second station was established at East Northam. In 1996, with the standardisation of the trans-continental gauge, the new line no longer ran through the town. The old tracks were taken up, the Northam Railway Station closed and a new East Northam Station constructed.
The old Northam Railway Station now houses The Old Railway Station Museum.
Click on any map section or place below to discover The Golden Pipeline.