For well over 100 years families have marvelled over the Bellarine Peninsula’s coastal charm as they journeyed on the grand steam trains that brought them to and from their escape to the seaside. Whether the outing was for a Sunday picnic or the yearly Christmas carnival, many fond memories were made on the Bellarine Railway.
Just ask your nana or pa and they will tell you about their childhood train trips to Queenscliff. Everyone dressed in their best suits and dresses, the smiling faces, the slow pace of the train, the clackety-click of the wheels, the wide-open windows and the waft of grey smoke trailing along the sides of the laughter-filled carriages. It is a memory they will never forget.
Over the years, the Bellarine Railway has gone through various changes before transforming into the iconic railway and popular tourist attraction we know and love today. The Railway stands as a testament to Victoria’s rich railway history.
The Queenscliff Station
The Queenscliff Railway Station, established on May 21, 1879, is a significant landmark in Victoria’s railway history. Its impressive infrastructure included a 400-foot platform, signal, loop sidings, and various other facilities.
The iconic timber station building, with its unique architectural elements and vintage appeal, was constructed in 1881.
The Early Years of the Queenscliff Railway Station
During its early years, Queenscliff Railway Station played a vital role in transporting building materials and coal for domestic and military use.
The region also served as a popular destination for day trippers with passengers swarming the station in droves until the end of World War One.
However, the rise of a local bus service led to a decline in passenger traffic, and the station’s daily year-round service was terminated in 1931. The station continued to handle goods until 1973.
Closure and Revival of the Queenscliff Railway Station
The Queenscliff Railway Station ceased operations on November 6, 1976, but was revived when the Bellarine Railway reopened the line in 1979.
It became the first tourist railway attraction run entirely by volunteers in Victoria.
Today, the Bellarine Railway offers heritage train trips, charter trains, and hosts various events, attracting visitors from all over the world.
The Drysdale Railway Station
The Drysdale Railway Station, also established on May 21, 1879, was a bustling rural station with extensive facilities. It featured a passenger platform, a station building serving as the Station Master’s residence, a loading platform, signals, a weighbridge, a stock race, a crane, a goods shed, a lamp room, a Post and Telegraph Office, and more.
Drysdale Station played a vital role in handling outbound goods like bricks, onions, potatoes, and chaff, while also receiving firewood, coal, beer barrels, and farming equipment. The station facilitated a thriving parcel trade, which declined after regular passenger service ceased.
Drysdale Railway Station a Favourite for Resort Tourists
In its early years, Drysdale Station flourished, as it attracted passengers travelling to the Clifton Springs Health Spa Resort. A horse cab service provided a convenient connection between the station and the resort.
However, there was a significant decline in rail passengers when a fire sadly destroyed the Clifton Springs Resort and Hotel in the 1920s.
A Fighting Farewell to the Drysdale Station
In 1943, proposals to demolish the Goods Shed and its platform were successfully delayed due to local protests. With the decline of passenger trains and wartime traffic, Drysdale Station gradually deteriorated from the 1950s onwards.
The position of Station Master was eventually reduced to Station Agent in 1953. Summer excursion trains continued to make stops at Drysdale until the station’s closure in 1976.
The Station Building, which had undergone several modifications, was purchased and relocated by a local buyer in 1972. It now stands as a private residence near the original site.
Suma Park a Small Station with a Rich History
Although not an original station, a platform existed nearby to serve the racecourse and thoroughbred properties like Suma Park. The unofficially named ‘Point Lonsdale Road’ platform was adopted in 1908 as a ‘block post’ to handle special trains during the U.S Navy Battlefleet’s visit.
Suma Park Station, including the former ‘Point Lonsdale Road’ loading platform, was a small station built by the Bellarine Railway in 1996. The historic Suma Park Homestead has a vibrant history, including housing Phar Lap, and is now used as a reception venue with accommodation cottages and a vineyard.
The station is now primarily used for events like The Blues Train and weddings.
The Tiniest Post Office in Victoria
Lakers Siding, formerly the Marshalltown Post Office, is a tiny building measuring just 6 feet, 6 inches (1.98m) square. It was established in November 1873 and served as the post office at the original Marshall Railway Station until its closure in 1953. The building was relocated to the front garden of the Postal Agents’ residence across the street and continued serving the community until June 1979.
After its closure, it was donated to the Bellarine Railway and initially used as a ticket office at Drysdale Station. In 1989, it was moved to Lakers Siding, where it underwent a renovation in 2007.
This tiny post office is believed to have been the smallest operating post office in Victoria.
Rebirth as the Bellarine Railway
In December 1976, the Geelong Steam Preservation Society established its headquarters at Queenscliff Railway Station.
Volunteers embarked on a mission to restore the line, leading to the re-gauging of the track to 3’6″ and the subsequent reopening of the Queenscliff-Lakers Siding section. The line between Queenscliff and Lakers Siding was re-opened on 19 May 1979, with the Lakers Siding-Drysdale section operating from May 1980.
The Bellarine Railway has since become a tourism hotspot for Queenscliff and the Bellarine Peninsula and has delighted visitors of all ages with its collection of heritage locomotives and classic steam engines.
From its early beginnings and transformation into a popular tourist destination, the Bellarine Railway has witnessed remarkable changes over the years. Its architectural charm, historical significance, and contribution to local transportation make it one of the must-see attractions in Victoria.
Ride on the Bellarine Railway today
Visitors to the region have plenty of options for enjoying the railway including:
- The Legendary Blues Train
- A fine dining experience aboard The Q-Train
- A scenic train journey on board the Swan Bay Express
- Family activities like the Day Out With Thomas experience
- Free rides over the last weekend in November during the Queenscliff Music Festival
- Enjoy the tastes and handmade crafts of the Queenscliffe Market held on the last Sunday of the month between September to May.