Wee Georgie Wood
We pulled off the main road as the words ‘Steam Railway’ came into view. I hoped little Wee Georgie Wood was fired up and I could get Bear aboard, sadly, he was in his shed but we still had a good look around. These hills are made of silver. Mount Farrell was originally prospected in 1894 by Thomas Farrell, the son of an Irish hotelier. In 1897, while forging a pack track through the area, Edward George Innes and his party discovered galena, the most important ore in silver mining. Soon after the Mount Farrell Mine was established, followed by many other mines, creating the town of Tullah.
Early communication into Mount Farrell Mining Field was via the Innes Track. By 1902 a horse drawn tram was established and ran from Boco Siding from the north but by 1909 steam locomotion had replaced the horses and a new and closer Farrell Siding was established downstream on the northern banks of the Pieman River. From 1909 to 1964 a succession of small two-foot gauge locomotives plied the line from Farrell Siding to Tullah township providing all the necessities of life. Included in those locomotives was the famed Wee Georgie Wood, a steam locomotive which still operates today.
Hydro-electric developments resulted in the Murchison Highway being constructed, with the last mine closing down in the early 1970’s. The Hydro Electric Commission had built a new town to house their large workforce for the net twenty years. The two towns survive from both eras and are united as one town to this day.
Tullah today enjoys an ideal lifestyle with mild summers averaging in the mid twenties and cool wet winters with an average rainfall of 2400 mm – ideal for the adventurous outdoors person wishing to fish the lakes or walk the many tracks to witness the spectacular lake and mountain views in the area.
Circa 1899, a prospector walking over the Innes Track from Mount Farrell to Rosebery and today still used as part of the Overland Track.
Surrounding us are the majestic mountains rich in mining history. The south horizon is dominated by Mount Murchison, which at a height of 1275 metres is the largest mountain at the northern end of the West Coast Range. Mount Murchison [seen on the skyline behind the War Memorial], was first sighted in 1828 by explorer Henry Hellyer, and later named by Charles Gould who had been given the task by the eminent statesman and geologist Sir Roderick Murchison to explore of the west of Tasmania for mineral wealth.
To the east, obscures by trees from our vantage point, is Mount Farrell, a long craggy mountain raising at its summit to 712 metres. It was also sighted by Henry Hellyer in 1828, but not named until 1894 when geologist Alexander Montgomery named the mountain in honour of the prospector Thomas Farrell.
To the west is Mount Sale, a smooth topped mountain at a height of 521 metres. Mount Sale was named after William Robur Sale, who was in charge of constructing the northern section of the West Coast Railway link to the Pieman River Crossing. The railway workmen bestowed the honour on Mr. Sale, who later became mine manager at the Mount Farrell Mine and lived in the town for many years.
The first mining boom in the region was in 1871 at Mount Bischoff near Waratah. This was followed by a rush at Mount Heemskirk, south of Corinna and another at Zeehan, which in the 1890’s became the third largest town in Tasmania. Many other rushes followed: some became successful mines, a few such as those at Queenstown and Rosebery were still in operation a century later. Today new mineral discoveries continue to be made, most of the mines and towns have disappeared back into the forest.
After the Innes Brothers discovered galena and began mining, the major impediment for the success of the early mine was the distance from the only access to the outside world, the Emu Bay Railway. The Emu Bay Railway was only eight miles away, but the cost of freight was exorbitant at two pounds and five shillings a ton. Pack horses, laden with hessian bags of heavy concentrate were not only expensive – they were slow. In the wet climate, tracks quickly became seas of mud. In 1902 Dunkerly Bros. from Zeehan were contracted to build a horse-drawn wooden tramway. Freight dropped to five shillings a ton. This was a temporary fix however, for the nine working mines in the area were together producing much more than what could be packed out to the siding at Boco.
In 1909 the North Mt Farrell Mining Co. the largest and most successful of the mines, built a six-mile-two-foot gauge iron railway to run a steam locomotive and rolling stock. The first locomotive was a small Krauss, at that time a type widely used on the West Coast. This was followed by another second hand locomotive acquired from the Magnet mine near Waratah.
In 1924 the town took delivery of a new, purpose built locomotive, the ‘Wee Georgie Wood’. For the locals this train was never an ‘it’, but was always referred to ‘he’. For forty years ‘he’ made an estimated 20,000 return trips travelling some 240,000 miles. ‘His’ outward freight was an average six tons of concentrate. ‘His’ inward freight was anything and everything.
At the end of 1964 Wee Georgie Wood was retired when the mill closed and ore transported by road to Rosebery. In 1977 the Wee Georgie Wood Steam Railway was formed, the locomotive was restored and in 1987 began providing short trips for visitors.
When the new locomotive arrived all the way from the manufacturers in Leeds, Tullah residents were bemused to see on each side of the midget locomotive a brass plate inscribed ‘Wee Georgie Wood’. Wee Georgie was in fact a British actor and comedian who appeared in films, plays and music hall revues, seen above with Laurel and Hardy. Wood when fully grown was only four foot nine inches, started music hall career at the age of five. He continued performing for over fifty years and was considered to have been one of the most successful pantomime stars of his era.
Tullah’s one link with the outside world. With only one way in and one way out for residents, visitors and any company or government officials, a bush telegraph warning system evolved. When approaching Tullah side of the Pieman River bridge, a single short whistle meant ‘coming in, everything normal’. If a questioning wail was added to this, locals knew that there was a stranger on board, ‘business unknown’. Two urgent blasts repeated halfway up the hill into the town was advance warning for the school teacher or the mine manager as the signal translated ‘Inspectors on board, duck for cover’. Finally, three urgent whistles in quick succession, repeated halfway up the hill, meant ‘Police on board’......Needless to say there was very little petty crime ever detected........
Wee Mary joined the line in 1928. In 1946 both locomotives were due for overhaul and a single composite locomotive was built from parts of the two. This retained the name Wee Georgie Wood. No 2 Passenger Car was built in about 1920 by the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company using early 1900’s bogies from ore cars and used on the Mt Lyell two-foot gauge system until about 1965. This car is on loan from the collections of the West Coast Heritage Centre Zeehan.
The little station, Wee Georgie’s flyer and bits and bobs.
Bimbling about the site, Bear found a ‘trigger finger’ point. The water tower. A once carefully owned chap.
Wee Georgie Wood in his hutch.
ALL IN ALL SHAME WE DIDN’T GET A RIDE
QUITE A FIND IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE