24 April, 2011

Onward and upwards

For some time I have intended to head to parts of the Barwon as yet unknown to me. Being school holidays and the weather reasonably fine, we decided to round up the kids and head upstream. Our first stop was morning tea at Winchelsea. We sat in the park overlooking the river, sipped our coffee and nibbled on biscuits and slices. The weather was cool but fine, well suited to snapping a few pictures.
Barwon River at Winchelsea
This wasn't my first visit to "Winch" and I'd taken quite a number of photos on my previous visit, so after a short walk along this part of the river towards the rail bridge, we decided to leave further investigation of both the town and this section of the river and head off. We dragged the kids off the play equipment, packed up the cups and headed for the car.Our next stop was the little township of Birregurra which has the good fortune to nestle on the banks of the Barwon. We parked near the nondescript bridge over the river and had a look around. We found ourselves in a wide, grassy area where the kids took the opportunity to have a run and in the distance we glimpsed what looked to be the sculpted lines of a golf course. Further investigation proved us correct, although, as with Winchelsea, further exploration of the township of Birregurra and its surrounds will have to wait.
The river itself was actually quite difficult to approach at this point as it is thickly lined on both banks with silver poplars. As is the case with these trees, they had no doubt been introduced at some point and then, as poplars are want to do, they'd taken hold, throwing up countless saplings along the banks, taking full advantage of a ready source of water. In the process, they had created a sizable thicket which made photography difficult and access all but impossible in most places.
Barwon River at Birregurra
Despite this, we did find a little track which allowed us to reach the water's edge where it appeared that a local angler had dropped in a line. Of the owner of the line, we saw no trace. Whilst the others crunched their way through the substantial drifts of leaves under the poplars, I made my way up to the bridge and attempted to snap a few photos looking both up and down river.I have to say however, that there wasn't much to see. Firstly, the bridge is located near a bend which precludes any significant view upriver, secondly it should also be said at this point that the Barwon as it flows through Birregurra is barely recognisable as the same sizable stream which flows through Geelong with enough depth and breadth for rowing, water-skiing, kayaking and a variety of other activities. I guess the weirs and the breakwaters either side of Geelong are doing their job. Here, the river is more like a small creek and were it not for the stranglehold of the poplars, it would probably be possible to jump from one bank to the other with a short run up. Certainly it would not be navigable by kayak - or other any other type of vessel for that matter.
And so we continued on our pilgrimage. From Birregurra we headed over the bridge and turned off on to the Forrest-Birregurra Road. Clearly were were approaching our objective. The only other town we passed along the way was the pertinently named Barwon Downs which is set in the rolling grasslands found at the foot of the Otways. As we travelled, we noticed that the mild season had allowed for a significant amount of back burning, resulting in regular plumes of smoke rising into the air from neighbouring farms.
Restored rail bridge on the "Birregurra-Forrest Tiger Rail
Trail" crossing the Barwon River
Although we couldn't always see it, we were in fact paralleling the course of the river and at one point, just outside Barwon Downs, we came upon another small, nondescript bridge crossing the river. At this point, whilst the riverbed was reasonably wide, it was choked with what was possibly Water Ribbon or Cumbungi and there was barely a trickle of water to be seen.More interestingly, the modern road bridge was flanked by what we discovered was a disused rail bridge. This quaint little red bridge, now restored, forms part of a much grander plan. As is almost de rigueur for disused lines these days, there are moves afoot to make use of the 30km or so of disused line as a riding/walking trail connecting Birregurra to Forrest. The following website indicates that about 5 or 6km of track has so far been laid between Forrest and Barwon Downs, with the rest to be developed along the course of the line to Birregurra.
Naturally, having discovered a new (to me) trail, I had to investigate its history. This one - now known as the Tiger Birregurra-Forrest Rail Trail - was once used to transport timber from where it was cut in the surrounding bushland, processed in the sawmills at Forrest and then transported to Birregurra. In 1889 the line was opened as far as Deans Marsh and whilst originally surveyed as far as the township of Baramunga, financial limitations instead saw it terminate at what was to develop as the township of Forrest (which incidentally was named for a politician who fought to have the railway extended to that point). Extended to Forrest and opened in 1891, this branch line not only carried timber out of the region, but was also used to transport farming produce out and other needed supplies inwards. Tourists heading to Apollo Bay and Lorne also made use of the line.
Other towns serviced by the line included Pennyroyal, Yaugher and Gerangamete, however with the increasing use of road transport, the line closed in 1957 and was allowed to fall into disrepair. Today, all sidings have been removed and it is not always possible to see where the line once ran, however I gather that it is still possible to see some remains at certain points. The Birregurra Station still stands and is in use on the Melbourne-Warnambool line.
The West Barwon River at Forrest
Returning to our travels, it was only a short drive into the town of Forrest. Rather than stop here, we passed through, by now, following signs pointing us towards Lake Elizabeth and the West Barwon Dam.
Just a little out of town, we once again crossed the river and found ourselves in a picnic area by what had now become the west branch of the river. It was an appropriate point at which to stop for lunch, park the car and go for a wander. At this point, the river had widened a little and was not so overgrown. In some scrub near the opposite bank I came across a section of one of the many mountain bike trails which now form the basis of Forrest's tourist industry. At the edge of the track was a sign post informing me about the many miles of tramways which used to run in the area, all connecting to the rail terminus at Forrest, carrying in the logs, cut by the sawyers.
These days, there is no sign of the rail network which once served the area, however the effects of white settlement were none-the-less evident.
The Barwon River at Forrest
From our picnic table the view across the bridge and into the surrounding gum trees looked like nothing so much as a 19th century Hans Heysen painting, wanting only a drover herding cattle to wander down the unsealed road. However, turning barely 180 degrees and looking a little past the opposite bank of the river where non-indigenous plantings prevail, you would swear you had been transplanted to the England of a similar era.
Pretty as all this was, we had more exploring to do, so once again, we packed up the coffee cups, brushed off the crumbs and headed upriver - but that is a story for another day...

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