M.I. Engine House
Maria Island Engine House
We left the Fossil Cliffs and made our way uphill.
We had company from a pair of Cape Barren geese. These big birds are the rarest geese in the world, can drink salt water, fly well but very rarely swim.
They were happy to graze with us. Their noses look like someone has been at them with yellow pay-doh.
Quite pretty markings.
Next up was a galah, very happy for me to get up close and personal.
This happy little bird can live in captivity to seventy or eighty years of age. In the wild, unlikely to reach twenty, bringing the average down to a modest forty. Once paired they form strong bonds to their other half. just like me.......Don’t make me bite you. I’m very taken with these chaps but Beez does worry about her teak.
Toward the trees a chap watched us for a while before hopping off.
From our vantage point we could see a building in the distance, perhaps the engine house. Somewhere in the trees on the left is the convict built reservoir.
We could see some bicycles coming down from the Bishop and Clerk, took a breather and spoke encouraging words to the straggler.
Adapted from “Maria Island Brickfields Precinct Conservation Plan 1992. The engine house sits at the heart of what was the major industrial area of Maria Island from the 1820’s to 1920. The valley surrounding the building contains remnants of brick making – including some of the oldest evidence of brick making in Australia – plus reservoirs, roads, clay pits, houses, railway lines, quarrying, drainage, mining, geological exploration, sawmilling and kilns, just to name some. It’s also thought that the convict burial ground is located nearby.
The engine house was built by Diego Bernacchi in the late 1880’s to house the machinery – most likely a steam engine – that would drive a number of industries on the island, including brick making, lime manufacturing, cement making and timber cutting. The vaulted ceilings and buttressed walls suggest that the building was designed to support heavy machinery, while the discarded grindstone now lying on the ground outside, shows evidence that it was a flour grinding stone converted to be part of a steam driven machine for grinding cement.
When it was first built, the engine house would have been in the middle of all the activity and excitement about Bernacchi’s early plans for the island. Across the valley there was the manager’s house and a worker’s cottage. Closer, on the flat around the engine house, there was a large weather board building [15 x 18 metres] to store lime and possibly cement. There was a water tower, plus a kiln – possibly for brick making, or for making small samples of cement – and on its southern side a stone crusher. On the hill behind the engine house, where the convicts also had kilns and quarries, there were new quarries, and kilns made of brick and stone and used in the manufacture of lime [a product made from limestone]. Beside the creek was a sawmill.
The most historically significant of Bernacchi’s industries during the 1880’s-1890’s was the production of portland cement [a stronger and more practical product than the previous type]. Successful cement making was extremely rare in the late 1880’s, but in this valley Thomas Adkins pioneered a process for making cement that used blue lias [a type of stone], and a few years earlier examples of Maria Island cement had been sent to the 1888 Melbourne exhibition and considered a triumph. In 1891 Bernacchi and Thomas Brewer patented yet another new method for producing portland cement. Although these early attempts at cement manufacturing on Maria Island were never commercially successful, Bernacchi and his associates can rightly claim to have been pioneers in the field.
During the twentieth century the cement making moved to a waterfront site and the majority of the quarrying on the island occurred at the Fossil Cliffs. After 1907 the large kilns were partly demolished and the engine house became known as ‘The Stables’, reflecting the quieter pace of life in the valley, and the continuing story of ‘reuse’ of buildings and materials on Maria Island.
Just as we had finished looking around the engine shed a little 4wd buggy pulled up. “If you walk the track to the reservoir double quick, you’ll see us open a Tassy devil trap, you can see what we get up to”. No sooner the word than we set off at a very fast trot but never breaking into a canter. Each corner in the track we hoped to see said buggy, but no. A mile later and just losing the will, there it was parked up...........
ALL IN ALL SOME BEAUTIFUL BRICKWORK
MUCH BIGGER THAN I EXPECTED